Keir Starmer’s masculinity lessons miss the point
Policing banter in school won't reduce domestic violence
Keir Starmer has announced that under Labour, boys will be taught to respect women and girls. The National Curriculum will now include classes in “Banter: Not Even Once” and “Girls are Great, OK?”
I jest, but to what extent is Starmer’s plan to introduce discussion about the social treatment of women and girls into schools realistic? It’s a sorry sign of things when the sexes have to be taught to treat each other slightly better than a used paper bag.
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Labour’s concomitant aim to halve incidents of domestic violence against women and girls within a decade is an admirable one, but telling young men, who already drag behind girls at school and college, that they need to call each other out over misogynistic comments, however jokey, seems doomed to failure. If we can’t engage in cathartic light mockery of each other and ourselves, then the only alternative seems to be to outlaw humour altogether.
Education is of course only one fine sliver of existence competing with the broader culture. The problem is much deeper. Our socially “liberated” culture has provided absolutely no roadmap for understanding the different virtues of the sexes. We have no image of ourselves as sexually differentiated creatures possessing higher reasons for mutual respect. Instead, an amoral, nihilistic individualism, saturated with degrading images of both men and women, prevails.
For men and women to respect one another, we would have to understand in the first place that we are different from one another — a difference that in no way implies a hierarchy, but rather a complementarity. This idea of complementarity, however, does not entail that men and women ought to understand each other only through a sexual lens. After all, the vast majority of our interactions with one another in the mixed, heterosocial world are not sexual. If we thought more highly of ourselves — as awe-inspiring aspects of nature, or fragments of God, depending on your perspective — we might avoid the desire to collectively denigrate ourselves.
Of course, this is beyond any political initiative — it would require a total overhaul of our most fundamental presuppositions. Humanity struggles to live without higher meaning and values. What if we treated our bodies not as vehicles for indulgence but rather as gifts to which we have a higher duty?
The sexual revolution has proved to be a Cads’ Charter, benefitting the most irresponsible of men and leaving women and children without recourse to notions of duty, fidelity and commitment. In a totally liberated world, freedom turns out to be the right to make a mess and move on. For boys and men to respect girls and women — and vice versa — respect itself would have to be central to our entire culture. And who is in a position to put the brakes on now?
A small window into what a government under Starmer would look like, and it’s even more hideous and slimey than I anticipated.
“Hideous and slimy” – oh for heaven’s sake. Starmer’s initiative is naive and derives from a failing woke ideology etc etc – but your rhetoric is somewhat overwrought.
Starmer – well he is definitely toxic and I suppose just about masculine in a lowest common denominator kind of way
It’s clear to everyone that Starmer will try anything to become PM. I suspect this latest idea is not the major vote getter he thinks it is. He’ll probably receive a few extra votes from women but that’s about it.
Successful social engineering only works in a vacuum. In countries where there is access to the internet and alternate opinions it is more likely to produce the opposite effect to what is desired.
Boys marched off to separate classes for educational brainwashing by enthusiastic feminists will develop a deep resentment of females which will stay with them for life. The consequences of the Starmer plan will be the opposite of what is intended.
As a feminist I agree with you that this is a divisive policy which will do nothing to promote mutual respect between boys and girls. It’s more of the ‘slugs and snails’ v ‘sugar and spice’ stereotyping.
This is Starmer’s second policy announcement in 2 days cynically designed to portray him as on the side of women (the other one is equally pathetic – an anti drink spiking law when it’s already illegal).
I don’t know any woman who’s fooled by this.
Regarding your last sentence…
There are three standing next to him in the Times photo.
If they aren’t fooled by him then they’re taking him for a sucker.
Sadly William all cults attract handmaidens.
Well, as we all know…
“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
― Madeleine Albright
Even, apparently, if helping other women requires re-education camps for young boys.
He’s trying to recover the ground he’s lost with women by pandering to the trans activists, just as he pandered to BLM without bothering to find out anything about them.. Based on the Labour supporting women in my extended family he’s not succeeding.
Leaving the Starmer idiocies aside, this is a short but brilliant article, and summarises pretty much how i consider male/female differences should be promulgated with the positivity that Nina Power expresses so well.
I’d not heard of her before, but so impressed was i that i did a quick Google search and found she has a background in philosophy (i wonder if she’s been head-hunted for Unherd by Kathleen Stock?) and has also worked as a tutor in critical writing on art, a subject close to my own heart.
I’m hoping we see more from her with Unherd. It makes me happy just to realise such intelligence, aligned with common sense, still exists within the younger generation.
Not so young! I was indeed a Philosopher lecturer (for 13 years!) & art writing Tutor for a shorter period. But these are very kind comments – thank you Steve.
Yes indeed, a compelling piece, well-written from start to finish.
I was thinking Mary Harrington more than Kathleen Stock.
Stock’s a philosopher and has US connections (so may be more familiar with Compact, an online US journal which Nina edits), but i can see where you’re coming from.
So was I. That’s why I disagree with it. The best way to prevent misogynistic violence towards women is to give women the education and self esteem to live free from men.
Some downvotes there!! Every woman needs to spend time on her own imo, a voluntary celibacy for a year or so (unless she’s lesbian in which case that’s not necessary!!) It’s very hard to find yourself if you’re always with a man from a young age. Doesn’t need to be a permanent arrangement
That’s a rather disparaging opinion of women.
“… an amoral, nihilistic individualism, saturated with degrading images of both men and women, prevails.”
I agree with you Steve. Nina Power’s article was excellent writing which reflected a powerful intellect and balanced reason, as the above quotation demonstrates. Not all Unherd material achieves this standard. Thank you, Nina.
It is notable that Sir Keir is apparently not going to ensure that girls at school will be taught to respect men and boys, thereby acknowledging misandry which is arguably as prevalent as misogyny, just more subtle and nuanced (and socially acceptable in the Woke era)..
When Keir Starmer understands what a woman is he may be able to talk about respecting them. He could start by ensuring that his colleagues treated Rosie Duffueld with some respect. Her male colleagues have shouted and screamed at her for simply stating biological facts. Starmer is a vacuous man with no.principles who will jump on any bandwagon that he thinks will take him to number 10.
I was just wondering if he had worked out what a woman is yet.
Exactly. If he wants to demonstrate respect for women he could start by suspending Lloyd Russell-Moyle for his misogynist abuse of Rosie and Miriam Cates in the House of Commons.
He could follow that up by saying “transwomen are men”.
They’re panicking and realising that they’ve got the trans thing wrong but they’re not prepared to face down the activists in the party so they are doubling down on their disrespect and disregard by considering women so stupid we’ll be taken in by this.
Telling children what they can and cannot think or say is the exact opposite of education. They need to be able to explore, push boundaries, make mistakes and learn. A huge amount of learning is achieved by making mistakes.
The left often have this strange notion that there’s some perfect world or system out there where if we all just tried harder we’d behave perfectly. In a static, unchanging world that might be possible. But the world is not static – things are constantly changing and we need to be able to think on our feet (or “walk and chew gum at the same time” as Americans might put it). Making and correcting mistakes and learning as you go are critical skills.
Besides which, the job of teaching boys to respect girls and women is something that should be done at home in the family. Yet again, we are trying to outsource to schools responsibilities they should not carry. But, again, that’s the left for you – don’t trust individuals and families when you could nationalise everything and enforce central control.
One you institutionalise and centralise this sort of thing, it becomes harder to adapt and change if bad policies are chosen. Individuals can correct mistakes far quicker.
How will he get boys to respect women when he can’t even define ‘woman’?!
The problem with Starmer’s initiative is that it approaches the issue through the lens of ideological dogma rather than messy reality where sometimes toxic femininity is the spur to toxic masculinity. Most of the young are not idiots and know when they are being patronised by an slanted ideology and so the earnest endeavours to manipulate young men into accepting the ideological underpinnings to the lessons will likely fall on stones ground and could indeed be counterproductive.
Am I alone in thinking that we are soon going to come full circle with feminists re-packaging marriage and monogamy as desirable outcomes and schools re-purposing the old style English ‘gentleman’ as the new ideal for boys.
Could be. After all, it was feminists who demanded ‘casual, no-strings attached sexual freedom’ who were largely responsible for the situation many children now find themselves in. And why women are complaining that men don’t want relationships; they gave away their main lever, the prospect of sex, when they started to give away sex.
You’re not alone.
The Declaration of Feminism , November 1971, advocated the destruction of marriage as an institution because it “existed for the benefit of men; and has been a legally sanctioned method of control over women.”
Several prominent feminists are now reflecting on the sexual revolution that followed, lamenting the consequences of the “free sex” movement as damaging to women, and proposing a return to traditional dating, as opposed to hook-up culture. The pill made it possible for women to have sex like men, or so they thought until the emotional and psychological implications became apparent.
We’re currently at the stage of “well, we tried that and it didn’t work. We poured scorn on marriage and male chivalry but now we’ve decided we like it after all.”
The question now is… are men prepared once again to bend to whatever women demand or are they going to consider their own interests? Starmer proposes to preempt this decision in favour of women by introducing a policy of indoctrinating boys in elementary school.
Of all the caravan of plans to use schools, and teachers, as missionaries who will be called upon to recalibrate society, this is the worst.
Governments have become used to abdicating their responsibilities to one quango, or another, but to conscript all schools is beyond belief. It would be better to have a top-down demonstration of this by teaching Labour MPs how to respect Rosie Duffield.
Schools should concentrate on academic subjects, not social engineering. The study of literature can be used as a basis for discussing relationships between the sexes (not ‘genders’) but the literature must be the main focus.
Rather than taking time away from proper teaching in schools, the best way for any government to reduce misogynistic violence is to severely restrict access to pornography. There are no benefits to pornography and filters need to be put in place to prevent people in Britain accessing it.
It’s impossible to prevent access to the internet.
Barriers can be put in place but access will always be possible.
There’s also the question of placing restrictions on people in a democracy. Is the government our master or our servant?
Virgin Media have parental controls – at least for their FTTH service – that are highly effective in preventing access to pornography. If they can do it …
Britain acts a little like an alcoholic in denial in my view (and for sure not only Britain). The kind of person who will open a new credit card to cover the debts from an existing one, or do an equity release on the house to fund an addiction and profligate life style to say “see you said it’d be a problem but I’m doing fine”.
The problems are being postponed and the party is going on, but I fear there’ll come a day to hand over the keys one day.
The subheading to this article is “Policing banter in school won’t reduce domestic violence”
Just an observation…
That subheading has zero relationship with what Starmer is proposing. He’s not talking about policing banter, he’s talking about indoctrinating / brainwashing young boys is special boy only classes; teaching them about the original sin of their toxic sex.
Here it is again. “Boys bad, girls good”.
There is no in the education system on how to address boys falling academic achievements. The plan is: Keep telling them they’re sh*t until they sort themselves out.
In Starmer’s vision, what will the girls be doing while the boys are being “educated”? Domi Sci?
Chivalry for Beginners
Overcoming Toxic Masculinity
Avoiding Manspreading and Mansplaining
Learning To Nurture
Very thoughtful… Mutual respect and regard is the only way…
Here it is again. “Boys bad, girls good”.
There is no plan in the education system on how to address boys falling academic achievements. The plan is: Keep telling them they’re sh*t until they sort themselves out.
Well said Nina. Any imposed attempts to make boys and girls nice to each other will simply ramp up the sense of rebellion and resentment rife in young males, who are already feeling alienated.
I wish this piece had just come out and said become Catholic!
Interesting article, albeit no real practical prescription and at some point you have to design and do something if you think there is an issue.
The writer is correct though, this is much broader than a simplistic focus on toxic masculinity. But violence perpetrated by Men on Women remains far too normalised. It existed before the sexual revolution too so let’s not be using that as a rationale. I’d be interested in what she’d propose Policymakers do, if anything?
I suspect there is a bit more thought behind the Starmer initiative than truncated press releases really allow, but the key thing is he’s trying to push the issue up the agenda and a discussion about it important.
But he’s not simply “trying to push the issue up the agenda” is he ? He’s not simply raising awareness of a problem – he’s gone further and proposed actual “solutions”. When I say “solutions”, I mean pre-conceived policies which fit his particularly ideology without any requirement that they would improve anything (I suspect they’ll actually make things worse).
I don’t want “policymakers” to do anything. This is something that ultimately requires individuals and families to set better standards.
Perhaps I live a sheltered (or fortunate) life, but I’ve never come across anyone who I’d consider shows “toxic masculinity”. Are we quite certain that the sense that this is a bigger problem these days isn’t simply a result of more publicity ?
Don’t forget violence against men by women, which I suspect is way more prevalent than the narrative allows. According to Wikipedia on the subject:
is notable that when Erin Pizzey, founder of the world’s first women’s refuge; in Chiswick, UK, reported her data showing that men are abused by women almost to the same extent as vice-versa, she received death threats from feminists 
True, and don’t forget “violence” perpetrated by men on men.
I suspect more prevalent than men on women
It would indeed be nice, J, if there were something to “do” about the problem that has led to extreme polarization–if it’s not already too late for any government policy to reverse what has gone wrong. But that would require both politicians and voters to recognize what has gone wrong in the first place. I refer not to the “violence perpetrated by men on women that remains far too normalised” (which is one consequence of a deeper problem). Rather, I refer to the fact that hatred remains far too normalized–even condoned.
I suggest that hatred (unlike anger) is not a personal emotion and therefore not transitory. It’s a culturally propagated and institutionalized worldview that relies on the ideologically driven teaching of contempt for target communities and the mobilization of resentment against them or even persecution of them.
Hatred has many names, because it spreads by contagion. It cannot be contained, because one form of hatred leads to and reinforces the others. Cut one head off this cultural hydra and another replaces it. Misogyny is a form of hatred, but so is misandry. And those are only two of the many pervasive forms of hatred. The names change according to race, religion, language, class, sex, gender identity and so on, but hatred remains.
This is not a social, economic or political conflict. It’s a moral and therefore a cultural disease. Decade after decade of indifference or even hostility to the most basic building block of any society has left our own society helpless in the face of hatred. That universal building block is, of course, the Golden Rule in both its positive form (Do unto others as you would them do unto you) and its negative form (Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you). I’ve used the familiar biblical words, but this underlying and universal intuition does not depend on religion, let alone this or that religion. It depends on a combination of common sense and common decency.
And that, in turn, depends on helping young children learn empathy before the developmental window of opportunity closes. Only children who learn that can avoid the hypocrisy of double standards–it’s wrong to hate these people, for instance, but it’s okay to hate those people.
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