Exploring the notion that rioting was about masculinity and entitlement…
I think that it is important to have dialogue about masculinity. I just also think we have to be really careful about not oversimplifying our arguments.
In my mind, expressions and manifestations of masculinity are fundamentally linked to other aspects of social identity. Where others see entitlement, I see disenfranchisement and marginalisation, alongside that notion of entitlement. For example, whatever entitlement a young black man may feel in his interactions with women, he is much less likely to experience that in his interactions with the ‘world out there’. His masculinity is therefore likely to be constructed with fundamental tensions. One where powerlessness sits alongside entitlement…except that the entitlement is inevitably impacted by marginalisation…it does not exist in a vacuum. Let’s not forget that in a Western historical context the black man was not considered ‘man’…he was ‘boy’ and ‘animal’. Starkey has reminded us that such thinking is alive and well in a brain next door! Masculinity must be interrogated in a context of class, race, sexuality etc.
I speak to and listen to young black men in London…I listen to my son. Many young men are terrified of being on our streets and only feel ‘safe’ in numbers. Of course, I know that they are often scared of other men…including men which represent the ‘system’…police officers etc. but that fear impacts on individual sense of power / powerlessness. I am not suggesting that this is the same experience as that of a young woman in a public space…but I do think that we need be careful about the assumptions that we make about how particular groups of young men engage with the world.
The aspects of masculinity that are destructive and problematic definitely surfaced throughout these riots..however, my own feminist response has me consider what role I can play in changing attitudes and creating ‘a different world’ as the EVAW slogan states. As a feminist, I can no longer say, of those aspects of masculinity ‘it’s not my problem’…I have come to know…in my heart and in my mind that it absolutely is.
On young people…
I know we cannot pigeon-hole all the people that rioted or looted…but I also know that we have created a society which does not love our young people. I grieve for the people whose homes and businesses were destroyed…but I also grieve for many of the young people…who looted and ‘rampaged’. Our society engages with too many of our young people through lenses of suspicion, cynicism and resignation. David Cameron speaks of ‘sickness’…one woman in her rage, called the looters ‘feral rats’. Some feminists have joined in, calling young people names such as ‘scum’. This is not new thinking, these are attitudes that are increasingly embedded in our social policies. The riots provide an opportunity to challenge some of that thinking and to listen to..rather than diminish our young people even further.
When is a protest a protest…???
I also find it interesting that we inevitably create hierarchies around what we ourselves deem to be legitimate responses to on-going, systematic oppression. ‘Delinquency’ can be resistance…it may not be a comfortable form of resistance, especially when viewed from a place of privilege…but sometimes the pressure cooker explodes and it’s horrible and messy. I’m not minimising the issue of opportunistic looting, but isn’t that often the case in these situations? Uprisings are often not tidy…and while we can look on, like David Lammy and say ‘this was nothing like Broadwater’ etc…those situations were also condemned. As were the Oakland riots in the USA in the early 1990s which was also marked by widespread looting including of people’s own communities. What seems to be senseless…is often the untidy, ‘unacceptable’ expression of deep frustration. That moment (sometimes iconic) when…each generation, each oppressed group finds it’s voice, articulates it’s rage, is often not the kind of protest that many of us now would want to associate with..Stonewall, Brixton and Toxteth may not have been ‘legitimate’ but for many of us…they ARE symbols of resistance that shape our thinking and remind us of the necessity of defiance.