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Gender equality and the new masculinity

HK: One of the things our members have asked you about – do you think we are making any progress toward gender equality internationally, or any other areas that we should be working on?

MR: It is difficult. I think we are making progress in terms of equality between the sexes, and that is not the same thing. I think there is a danger when we say ‘gender equality’ we are merely looking simply to include women into what is really, patriarchy. So in terms of that, ‘Are we making progress?’ Yes, we are. There are more women politicians, there are more women in business and in the military. South Africa has 34% women in the military, and are lauded at UN for having achieved that. So there is the straightforward application of the good old fashioned sex discrimination legislation is having an impact in those areas.

In terms of gender equality, I would say ‘no’. All that has happened is that we are transforming this stereotype of the woman into that world, which is scary. At the same time we are fighting hard to say that a woman can have kids, and be the CEO of a company: the two are antithetic, and that is just plain wrong. Not that you cannot do both, but that you have to negate the importance of the one in order to show that you can achieve the other – that is patriarchy. It is all about competition, and proving that you are so much better than your rival, your competitors. ‘Having your cake and eating it.’ That is not what gender equality is about.

When we have gender equality, we will no longer have gender. We won’t talk about intersex, transsexual, homosexual, none of those things because it will be an understanding of people. Because we will have broken down the power dynamics that create gendered stereotypes. It is how we see each other, how we perceive each other. We perceive each other as unequal and then we have to compete, comparing like with like. That is not right, because also it undermines, or misunderstands, concepts of masculinity, as if men are a homogenous block, they are not.

I watched the film ‘Testament of Youth’ on the plane over. It is absolutely tragic really. The good part at the end where Vera Brittain who became a great pacifist – she lost everybody – she lost her fiancé, she lost her brother, she lost friends, they all died because they were sent off to the Front first, and she said ‘who were the ones sending them off? We women. We were the ones saying ‘Off you go for honour and glory’’. The same thing is happening in the Ukraine now. And the ones getting killed are the men. And the conscientious objectors, the real heroes, are the ones who said ‘no. A plague on both your houses. I am not fighting for the Empire’. They were the ones vilified by everybody, given white feathers. It still happens. And so the non-violent men have nowhere to go.

HK: There was a letter in the Press here asking why were the young men coming through as refugees? Surely they should stay in Syria and fight for their country?

MR: And who would they fight for? And who would they fight with? Belligerent evil dictator or ISIS? I mean why would you want to fight with either of those two? So in fact, this is my point, the guys, the ones who are leaving Syria right now we should be putting on pedestals and saying ‘well done. You have eschewed this masculine role and actually said ‘we don’t want to fight. We want to live in peace with our family, and have decent lives like you do. And we don’t want to kill anybody.’ So they risk this horrific journey in order not to do that, not to turn to a gun.

In Ukraine, the same thing. ‘Why did you leave Eastern Ukraine?’ ‘Because I am not going to kill my fellow Ukrainians. Why would I do that?’   Actually when I had that conversation, it was the same time as the Scottish referendum debate, and the guy knew about this and he said ‘In Scotland and England you are having this conversation with exactly the same things that we should be talking about in Ukraine – levels of devolution, who controls the economy, do we need an independent country – you are having a conversation and a referendum and we are killing each other.’ And I thought that was a really good answer. And he was a man that was getting a bit of crap for having abandoned the east, because if he was pro-Ukraine, he should be pro-Ukraine and be prepared to go and die for it. He was saying ‘no, you can discuss this without killing each other. Who benefits?’ So those are the guys that should be the epitome of the new masculinity that we want – the non-violent, wanting peaceful settlements. So we must not allow that to be overtaken by the horrific narrative that we have created all the time – the masculine warrior.

And now it is changing as well – it is the masculine warrior and it is the female warrior. I don’t know if you have noticed every single film also has the kickass woman. It is never just the hero that does the violence, it is now the woman who does the violence as well.

The masculinised response to the refugees, that is what gender is all about. It is about the stereotype of the violent male. If we keep on having that, we will have people living in fear, and while we are fearful, we will have a violent response: instead of thinking actually they are not: obviously they are not. Allowing and supporting, being proud of men who want to not do this. Because it is really hard not to. You’ve got the media baying at you, when you have women pushing for you to do it, and there is an excellent film by Deeyah Khan Jihad: A British Story. I was really taken aback because these were the guys who were the main recruiters for Western Europe to go off and fight in Bosnia, in Afghanistan – they have been all over the world fighting Jihad, and they are British. It is quite weird, they have big beards, Brummie accents, northern accents and they are funny, they are emotional, they are intelligent and you want to hear more from them. They have all now decided that Jihadi is wrong in Islam, it is corrupt evil, wrong. So they have changed their message and now they are trying desperately to de-radicalize the young men. That is what they do. One of them had this fantastic analysis, he said ‘we experience discrimination in Britain’ – they are all of Pakistani origin, they are not white, so they have experienced discrimination and they are Muslims, and they are in families. You see everyone else going off and doing their own thing but they are not going to get the job, they are not going to get the girl, or you are going to have an arranged marriage, you are frustrated by all the things, with all that. Basically you are pretty much a nothing, a sad person – and then all of a sudden, Jihad comes and you can grow your beard, you can have the biggest turban you want – and then you get the uniform and the gun, let’s be honest the gun is no more than, no less than a penis extension and you get a girl and then maybe – suddenly you are the cool guy – and it is as simple as that.

HK: So how do we get a peace message over to young people?

MR: We make it cool or sexy. Cooler and sexier than carrying a gun as a penis extension! Those people who go and do it, know that it is not cool and sexy to be in war.

HK: But it is too late then.

MR: It is too late when they can come back and have their legs repaired, nerves shattered and all the rest of it, then you know. But that is not a sexy message because we see the action films all the time. I think our message has got to be enough to get to those who know the truth as in ‘it is not good’ – to help them to understand that actually working for peace – that is what these Jihadis said – the bravest thing they have ever done is to work for peace, the most difficult thing to get done is to work for peace because it is the one thing that people are afraid of talking about because it does not look tough. So if we can persuade, particularly young men, it is difficult, it is dangerous, it is hard work and it is the most important thing you will ever do in your entire life. That makes it cool. We could even knit them a jumper and call it a uniform.

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