Watching the car crash that is the US election 2016 play out has, at times, been shocking, frightening, unsurprising and downright fascinating. The question I keep coming back to is, ‘Why this? And why now?’. We are seeing a huge backlash against the establishment which is seen to be elitist and corrupt. Put simply, the status quo is not working for much of the population.
In America, men are more likely to be drawn to the rhetoric of Donald Trump. Nate Silver (the polling statistician) tells us that if only men were to vote this year, Trump would win every swing state and get 350 electoral votes (compared with Clinton’s 188). It is hard to read this as anything but that a lot of men are feeling disempowered. It makes sense to these men to vote for someone who promises to make America great again, returning to a time when they themselves had greater power.
As feminism has marched forwards, the men have been forgotten and many are struggling. In the US, there are more black men in prison that there were slaves in 1850. Nearly a quarter of white men in the US with only a high school diploma aren’t working, or even looking for a job. In the UK, a white working class boy is less than half as likely to get five good GCSEs as the average student. The male suicide rate has been increasing since 2007 and is significantly higher than that of women.
The divisive language we are using around gender is extending the gender gap, that is the distance between men and women, not reducing it. The House of Commons hosted a brief conversation ahead of International Men’s Day in three weeks time, and the initial response from the Women and Equalities minister was, “I think women could be forgiven for thinking every day is International Men’s Day”. The language we are using doesn’t help; ‘Toxic masculinity’, ‘mansplaining’, even (dare I say it) ‘rape culture’ all demonise and shame men as a collective group. Men are not the enemy – we need to work together if we are going to make a difference, for the good of everyone. Calling Donald Trump an alpha male is an insult to all of the men out there. Our issue lies in how we are defining ‘maleness’ using an incredibly narrow aspect of what we call masculinity, which is in itself culturally created rather than biologically determined.
The Oxford Dictionary defines an Alpha Male as ‘a man tending to assume a dominant or domineering role in social or professional situations’. Our understanding of leadership is based on the masculine stereotype of ‘control, direct and assert’. And yet we see leaders such as Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela and Justin Trudeau leading in a gentler and softer way. We are seeing an increase in so-called ‘feminine’ values being equally perceived as leadership – including selflessness, empathy, collaboration and patience, as explored in The Athena Doctrine.
The challenge of our times is how we can ensure greater freedom for women, whilst not constraining that of the men, and how we can break down the gendered stereotypes that are behind many of our frustrations. Whilst leadership values remain gendered, it is difficult for both men and women to be authentic and have the freedom to express their full leadership range. The women are castigated as unfeminine for displaying anything labelled as masculine. Equally, it is difficult for men to be able to lean in to important skills such as vulnerability, empathy and collaboration because we’re living with a cultural backdrop that still labels them as feminine and therefore ‘less than’.
We are not going to solve our gender challenges by only focusing on half of the population. When we do that, we firstly risk an angry backlash. We also collude in excluding half of the population on the basis of gender – it’s just that this time it’s the men. We have created #HeANDShe to bring men to the debate, to talk about how the current status quo around gender is harming both men and women and to ask what could be possible if we were to integrate rather than separate?
The next #HeANDShe conference is on the evening of 29 November at Mullen Lowe’s offices near Old Street. We will be discussing what is next for masculine leadership alongside Martin Daubney (former editor of Loaded, Broadcaster), Geraldine Gallacher (managing director of Executing Coaching Consultancy), and Sue Unerman (chief strategy officer, Mediacom UK).
Roxanne Hobbs is the founder of The Hobbs Consultancy