Are men a political issue? Diane Abbott certainly thinks so. In a speech to the think tank Demos (where I work) she claimed yesterday that masculinity is 'in crisis' in modern Britain and that this has implications for politicians and policy makers. Now I'm not given to agreeing with Diane Abbott but, on this, I think she raises an important and interesting set of questions - even if, sometimes, it feels as though she's not so much concerned about men as appalled by them.
It is true that being a modern man is less than straightforward. Why, for instance, are men far more likely to kill themselves, and more likely to die of preventable and treatable cancers, than are their wives, sisters and mothers? Why are boys increasingly outperformed at school and in work by their female peers? Why are modern men so prone to stress, depression and mental health problems, and yet so much less likely than women to seek the help they might need?
Young men in Britain are exposed to a bewildering set of expectations and influences, some ancient and some modern. Sexual norms may be slowly but significantly changed by access to vast, niche and sometimes extreme pornography. The 'provider' role, for so long core to male self-image, has been undermined for many men by the feminisation of the workplace (both in personnel and in character). The 'Superdad' demands placed on the modern, feminist father - caring and chore-sharing but also hard working and earning - makes for a life that is bewildering, full and plagued by contradictions for many men. Having a Y chromosome is no longer the personal and professional advantage that it once, undoubtedly, was.
Much of this is to the good. Who, but the most vehemently reactionary amongst us, would want to kick women out of the workplace? Who, but the most hopelessly optimistic, believes that we will so rapidly and effectively replace our devastated manufacturing base that it will match the more feminised and booming service sector? Who, except for those of us prone to reckless authoritarianism, would argue that we can eliminate online porn and return young men to an age of supposed sexual innocence.