Is anyone else as sick to death as I am about the reportage of the recent disturbances in London and other English cities? While some of the images and actions were very disturbing, as were threats to law and order and fear of the mob, the seeming pure joy of the media that it had a big story for the summer and the rush of politicians, journalists and experts to blame everyone but themselves, were breathtaking. There was a dash to take the moral high ground against the so-called uneducated, unwashed youth, despite the evidence that many of the perpetrators did not fit that stereotype. Also what was striking was a mass avoidance of any arguments that linked what had happened to recent incidences of law-breaking and moral turpitude – of politicians following the expenses scandal, of bankers following the global economic crisis, and of the media and police following the hacking scandals linking the Murdoch media empire to the London police force. So instead of making considered appraisals of the situation based on the above, the largely male politicians did what they do best – blame everyone else. Government ministers did not acknowledge for a minute that the riots had anything to do with any of the above nor the implementation of austerity measures including, in the areas affected, closure of youth support services such as youth clubs, summer holiday programmes and careers service. This is despite the fact that the events were happening more or less simultaneously. So in the absence or fear of an analysis, the cause of all this mayhem was held to be ‘criminality’ pure and simple, due to the existence of a ‘broken’ and ‘sick’ society. The main solution advanced was to lock the rioters up and throw away the key.
If anyone was deemed to have been responsible, it was lone mothers (and to a lesser extent) absent fathers, and also the so-called feminisation of state schooling – the preferred patriarchal order is more common in the independent sector. So the right-wing social commentator Melanie Phillips writes in the Mail Online about the rioters as ‘feral’ children with ‘feral’ parents who know their children are out on the streets and see them staggering back with loot ‘but either they are too drunk or drugged or otherwise out of it to care, or else they are helping themselves to the proceeds, too’. And the ‘feral’ parents are, according to Phillips, largely lone mothers
‘for most of these children come from lone-mother households. And the single most crucial factor behind all this mayhem is the willed removal of the most important thing that socialises children and turns them from feral savages into civilised citizens: a father who is a fully committed member of the family unit’.
The argument continues as follows: women go it alone as parents encouraged by the welfare state which subsidizes lone parenthood. Rather than take responsibility for their own pregnancy, many women take handouts instead. So their children grow up expecting handouts, well aware of their entitlements, with limited horizons and without the ‘civilising’ influence of a present father; and so the welfare dependency cycle is propagated. As a lone child brought up by a lone mother, I am outraged by this depiction, mainly from privileged people who have no idea what it is like to live in poverty.
The second hoary accusation against women is that there are too many of them in schools, as teachers, nursery assistants, dinner ladies etc and therefore particularly boys, who have grown up without father, do not have appropriate male models. Presumably the male role models which dominate the media such as footballers, sports commentators, politicians, journalists, musicians, comedians, ‘celebs’ are just not (good) enough. In a similar vein, Tottenham resident and Conservative party member David Allan blames ’horribly feminised’ schools for making education uncool for young men:
‘We need to try and create a culture where black youth who are feeling alienated from education actually find education cool….Even I as a middle-aged semi-intellectual gay man living in London finds schools horribly feminised places. God knows what a rambunctious (?) small boy who wants to be out playing football thinks’ (Cribsheet, 12-08-11).
So what can we do as feminists to counter these arguments? A good rant makes one feel better, it is true, but other constructive suggestions are also welcome.
Gaby Weiner, GEA Chair