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Diane Abbott to warn of British 'masculinity crisis'

image captionMs Abbott will highlight a number of employment, health and educational issues faced by men

There is a "crisis of masculinity in Britain" because of the pressures rapid economic and social change have placed on masculine identity, shadow health minister Diane Abbott is to claim.

In a speech on Thursday, Ms Abbott will warn a generation of men are in transit and unclear of their social role.

They are also under pressure to live up to "pornified ideals", with Viagra becoming a party drug, she will say.

She will urge more action to help boys see a less narrow view of masculinity.

Speaking at the think tank Demos in London, Ms Abbott will set out how she thinks changing social attitudes and movements in the labour market have left men "isolated and misdirected".

But she will stress that the problems men and boys face are not receiving sufficient attention because - "like the film Fight Club - the first rule of being a man in modern Britain is that you're not allowed to talk about it".


During the talk, Ms Abbott will highlight research by the Men's Health Forum, a charity which aims to tackle male health inequalities, which suggests that men are more likely to take their own lives than women, have lower educational attainment at all levels of the education system, are more likely to be homeless, and are less likely to access NHS services.

This is because there are structural and cultural issues which prevent men from seeking help, the research concludes.

The charity also suggests men are more likely to work full-time and to work longer hours than women, making access to services such as GP surgeries more difficult.

Social norms can mitigate against men expressing their emotions or appearing vulnerable, it adds, meaning common psychological disorders, including depression and anxiety, are under diagnosed in men.

Ms Abbott will argue that today's generation is "caught between the 'stiff-upper lip' approach of previous generations and today's cultural tornado of male cosmetics, white collar industry, and modernised workplaces".

The male role of the past as provider and earner has come under pressure from consumerism, she will say, leaving Britain's boys growing up in a culture of "hyper-masculinity", which is fuelling misogyny and homophobia.

image captionDiane Abbott wants schools and parents to do more to encourage boys to talk about the issues they face

The speech follows concerns Ms Abbott expressed in January that British culture was becoming "increasingly pornified" and was having a damaging effect on young people.

The rise of a "Viagra and Jack Daniels culture" - with men buying the drug as a performance enhancer rather than for medical reasons - is an indication of the pressure young men are under to live up to "pornified ideals", she will say in her speech.

To tackle this "masculinity crisis" she will call for a strengthened role for fathers in family life, with father-friendly parenting classes, meaningful parental leave for men and more conversations between fathers and sons about manhood.

'Altruistic tendency'

Ms Abbott will also call for schools and parents to do more to encourage boys to talk about the issues they face and she wants more male teachers in schools to act as role models.

Such actions should help establish a more "multi-faceted notion of what makes a man", the Labour MP will say.

Ms Abbott will say she is making the speech as a "card-carrying feminist", adding that successful women often wrongly get blamed for the problems facing men.

But professor Geoff Dench, a social anthropologist, argues that the advent of feminism has led to a situation where women are able to do everything for themselves, leaving men feeling less valued with a diminished economic role.

"All human beings have an altruistic tendency and value being able to help other people. For many men, this is only possible through families and working for families." he says.

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