I am not, by and large, much in favour of banning things. I’m still, I hope, a slightly naive liberal — believing in humanity’s capacity for improvement, and still clinging to the idea that when people are given all the information and the freedom to choose, they will, sooner or later, choose to do sensible things not stupid ones. I’d rather persuade than ban.
But of course, that’s a general principle, not an absolute rule. There are some things that should be prohibited, because the overwhelming evidence shows that even with all the information and the freedom to choose, we end up with results bad enough to justify intervention that limits the actions of individuals or groups.
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That is the basis for my conclusion that it’s time to ban men.
To be clear, I’m not advocating the elimination of my sex, nor that we be proscribed by law. My proposal is a modest one. I think men should be barred from holding elected office. Not forever, mind. This would just be a temporary measure, lasting perhaps 10 years — enough to cover three general elections under the infamous Fixed Term Parliaments Act.
At those elections — as well as those for devolved assemblies, local councils and mayoralties — only female candidates would be eligible to stand. The electorate would be unchanged: I have no desire to see men disenfranchised, not least because female politicians would need to compete for their votes. But for that decade, politics would be for women only. Men would be left to spectate, comment and criticise — and perhaps argue for faster progress towards the day when they too could wield power.
That’s the policy. What on earth is my justification for it? Why would anyone, let alone a man, propose such a thing?
Well, to go back to my initial premise: look at the evidence. We men have had an awful long time to get this right, to use our freedom and power to run things in the interests of the whole country. Have we taken that opportunity? Of course not. We’ve messed things up, and unless something radical happens, we’ll keep on doing so.
I barely have room to list all the ways in which we’re screwing up. Maybe I should start with the most visceral — and talk about how we abuse and kill women. Even the official statistics, which inevitably exclude abuse that isn’t reported, show that 1.3 million women experienced domestic abuse last year. That’s 8% of the adult female population. Those figures include 139 women killed by men, who are generally partners and relatives.
This should be a scandal, a matter of outrage. Likewise the horrible, insidious trend towards men killing women then claiming in court that it was “a sex game gone wrong” — and sometimes getting away with it. Perhaps in some cases that’s true, but if so it’s the poisonous fruit of a rancid online culture of pornography that depicts choking women during sex as normal.
Surely though, not all men do this stuff? Surely we’re talking about a minority? Yes indeed. But where’s the male outrage, the anger from the majority? Why is it that the only politicians and journalists who regularly yell from the rooftops about these horrors are women? The fact that domestic violence and abuse are still often confined to the subdivision of “women’s issues” is proof that men have failed to use centuries of accrued power and authority wisely.
Another exhibit: the women’s prison estate, a collection of women most of whom are victims of abuse and who pose a greater threat to themselves than society. It should shame us to lock them up and worsen their lives, but again: how many men say so?
More evidence for the prosecution can be found across the economy. Girls beat boys at school, but start to fall behind at university. Even when male and female careers begin on equal wages, the man will, on average, out-earn the woman within 10 years. The burdens of childcare and elderly parents fall on women, who don’t just suffer lower wages but smaller pensions and often worse health.
(This stuff is bad for men as well as women. I know several psychiatrists who think that male suicide — the biggest killer of men under 45 — is tied up with rigid ideas of male responsibilties to earn and succeed at work. If it were easier for more women to balance family and career, more men might do the same — and fewer men might die.)
Again, the failure to act — the collective male failure to resolve problems that are well-known and soluble but which happen to fall most heavily on women — is a sign of the failure of male leadership.
Put simply, if it were men being intimidated, beaten and murdered; men being demeaned and abused as entertainment; men whose careers were being routinely stunted — would successive parliaments mostly composed of men have done so little in response?
This isn’t just about policies and laws. It’s about culture too, about the messages sent from those who run the country and dominate the debate to the rest of us. Imagine what the country would start to feel like if it became utterly routine, not worthy of note, to listen to a news report or political debate in which every voice was female. What message would that send to a generation of children about gender roles and aspiration? We’ve had two female prime ministers to date and those exceptions are effectively used to tell girls that if they’re truly exceptional too, they can get to the top. What if that wasn’t exceptional but normal, boring even?
Would we get better government, better politicians, if we banned men from high office? Of course not; women are no more intelligent, sensible, competent or rational than men. This isn’t some soapy attempt to argue that all-female governments would be kinder to the weak, more generous to fluffy animals and less likely to go to war than those run by men. Female politicians are as capable of vice and virtue as male ones. They’d screw up too, then answer for their failure. That accountability is the bedrock of elective politics.
Which is precisely why we men should step back and give them the chance to do so. We’ve ballsed things up, for women and ourselves. Time to give up and let someone else try to do better.