The Boys Are Back in Town

Article excerpt

A white male backlash apparently got under way this week in the United States. After 30 years of affirmative action in favour of women and minorities, men signalled their fatigue. A campaign began in California to outlaw positive discrimination. S hould 615,000 signatures be amassed on a petition, the proposal will be put to a referendum next year.

This initiative is not an isolated incident. The huge Democratic defeat in November's congressional elections has been dubbed the "revenge of white males" against the march of liberalism. Insecurity, largely born of rapid economic change and unemployment, has created a fierce male reaction. Many men now consider themselves to be the victims of political correctness and pluralism that leaves them at a disadvantage in competition for jobs. They want a "level playing field".

If Britain follows where America leads, what will this reactionary trend mean for men here?

This country does not have the banks of laws and regulations that the US has decreed to ensure affirmative action. So there are not the same rules and institutions to kick against. Yet economic indicators demonstrate that, relatively speaking, men are not doing as well here as they once did. Men still earn more than women, but the gap has narrowed. Meanwhile, the number of women in work has increased by 18 per cent since the late Seventies while male employment has fallen by 7 per cent. Girls are overta king boys at school. Research suggests that men still enjoy more leisure than women, but the difference has diminished significantly. Could there be a battleground in the making for a British male counter- offensive?

The campaign by fathers against the demands of the Child Support Agency is the clearest example of men organising around domestic issues which were once the preserve of women. But as yet there are few signs of a concerted backlash. True, some of the politically correct language of the Eighties' New Man has been ditched: it was often hypocritical. There is evidence that some men feel less guilty about behaviour that would have been ruled unacceptable in the heyday of feminism. Traditional male pursuits have been relegitimised and recategorised as healthy male bonding rather than merely oppressive to women. Even watching football has become respectable.

These developments mark a limited reassertion of masculinity. …