Gender and the neoliberal project.

Unpublished letter to The Guardian, 13 05 2013.

Gender and the neoliberal project. 

keywords: The Guardian, journalism, intellectual & political deficits, neoliberal assumptions, gender awareness & analysis.

As a devoted (daily) Guardian reader for all my adult life, I have been grateful for its critical journalism; its commitment to investigative journalism against the grain of the neoliberal years; the quality of its environmental and international coverage; and the boldness of its comment pieces, as well as sharp and lively financial and economic analysis.

The list of Guardian writers who have contributed over the years to my political sanity and understanding is lengthy, and of course includes some excellent feminist journalists. Add to this, the inspired work of Guardian cartoonists, plus Guardian letters, and the sense of a liberal, left-leaning political ‘family’ is tangible; one which is intellectual, socially and politically engaged, with a sensibility that is focused but not narrow, bold as well as compassionate, and funny not pompous. Despite this, I have become increasingly disturbed by two intellectual and political deficits.

Most recently, since the advent of the Tory-led coalition in 2010, a Lib Dem political heart has been more discernible, perhaps because, within the Guardian editorial team, this political allegiance has been sorely compromised by the Lib Dem presence within the ‘coalition’, and this has pulled The Guardian towards the political Centre and the Right. It must be tricky if members of the editorial team actually voted Lib Dem at the last election, and thereby helped get us into this social, economic and political mess. They must feel personally and professionally awkward, if not guilty.

So Guardian readers further to the Left of this government, stranded in the rightwing desert of British media, are frustrated by the unwillingness of our only independent newspaper to chart a coherent challenge to the intensification of the neoliberal project, which has brought such social fragmentation, and personal misery to so many across society. Providing a prominent platform for Roger Scruton this week increased this sense of political abandonment and lack of judgement. He has been looking for a political tribe within which to shine for some time. On this showing, he should just join the BNP or UKIP.

The second deficit is the lack of gender awareness and gender analysis over the years (despite regular, excellent, individual pieces). The reluctance to engage with and foreground men and masculinity (the social practices associated with hetero-masculinity in particular, such as VAWG) as social problems, makes the paper part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. Cynthia Cockburn & Ann Oakley (letter, 13 05 2013) ask what it would take ‘to prompt a responsible editorial assessment’ of a society in which the evidence of VAWG is simultaneously overwhelming and sidelined by politicians, journalists, religions, the BBC, for example.

These two deficits are probably connected: rooted in a gendered pubic school education and training (for elite masculinity), that has been insufficiently critiqued and reflexively understood by its consumers / ‘beneficiaries’. This lack of awareness (or denial) occludes the ways in which it is fundamental to both neoliberal values and practices (which, as Stuart Hall recently noted [The Guardian, 24 04 2013], have invaded and colonised personal life and behaviour, not just the economy), and historical, gendered dominance and VAWG across all areas of life and society.

It is not enough to report the personal consequences of these social arrangements and practices (the coercion, abuse, violence, murders, for example), without identifying these as social and political issues. As Cockburn and Oakley remind you, these behaviours (for example, “the profound problem of male sexual violence”) are “culturally shaped”, and therefore open to challenge and change.

These two issues, the perpetuation of neoliberal assumptions and practices, and the lack of gender awareness and analysis in the media, require men on the Left and in the middle to bring their intellectual power and social conscience to bear on themselves, as men advantaged by the “patriarchal dividend“, identified by Bob Connell (1987 & 1995) and other sociologists, as a key obstacle to men’s contribution to gender power change. This is not the time to be mealy-mouthed about either your responsibility as men or your power to contribute to these healing changes.

val walsh / 13 05 2013

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