Militant feminists and politically correct men stirring up issues - Tory MP
Militant feminists and politically correct men are stirring up non-existent issues between men and women, a Conservative MP has said.
Philip Davies insisted "some of the forgotten men's issues" should be dealt with in Parliament, with everything in the House of Commons appearing to start with the assumption that "everything is biased against women".
The Shipley MP criticised an "equality when but only when it suits agenda" for women, adding he has been fighting the "blight of political correctness" for the last 10 years.
Mr Davies said it was "only right" in the interests of "gender parity" for International Men's Day to be debated in Parliament as happened for International Women's Day.
Leading a Westminster Hall debate on the event and male suicide, Mr Davies told MPs: "I want to be very clear - I don't believe there is actually an issue between men and women.
"I think often the problems are stirred up by those who might be described as militant feminists and the politically correct males who sometimes pander to it.
"You don't just need to take my word for it. Before the Equal Opportunities Commission was merged into the Equality and Human Rights Commission it conducted research which found that women had very clear views on these matters.
"Their findings included the following conclusion: there was little support for the idea that women as a group are unequal in society today.
"Presumably that went down like a lead balloon in an organisation dedicated to fighting for women's interests and rights and so it was pretty much swept under the carpet.
"One of the most depressing things to happen, in my opinion, was the introduction of the select committee for women and equalities.
"After everything else, in 2015 we have a separate committee to deal with women's issues on top of the women's minister, women's question time and the many strategies in the country which only deal with women.
"For the record, I couldn't care less if every MP in this House was female or if every member of my staff was female as long as they were there on merit.
"I want to say that to assume that men can't adequately represent women is a nonsense, just as it is to say only women can represent other women.
"As a man I can say quite clearly that Margaret Thatcher represented my views very nicely indeed, but I'm not sure she would have been the pin-up to many of the politically correct, left-leaning women that are obsessed with having more women in Parliament today.
"It seems to me that we've therefore got this equality when but only when it suits agenda in Parliament that often applies just to women."
Mr Davies said some people believe "only men can be sexist" as he criticised positive discrimination.
He also said plenty was heard about efforts to increase the number of women on company boards and in Parliament, but t here is a "deafening silence" when it comes to boosting the number of men who have custody of their children or want to be midwives.
Mr Davies told MPs: "In fact, generally there seems to be a deafening silence on all the benefits women have compared to men."
Conservative former minister Christopher Chope (Christchurch) suggested there is also a "deafening silence about the shortage of male teachers in primary schools".
Mr Davies also questioned why men have to wear prison uniforms while women do not, asking: "Where is the equality of that?"
Fellow Tory Andrew Percy ( Brigg and Goole) noted that working-class men have some of the worst prospects in life in his area.
Addressing the "obsession around gender equality", he told Mr Davies: "(They) suffer some of the worst health and have some of the poorest life chances and simply replacing one middle-class, privately-educated man with a middle-class, privately-educated woman is doing very little to increase the diversity and opportunity for working-class lads."
Earlier, Mr Davies said he would prefer, in many respects, not to lead a debate on International Men's Day.
He said: "When you think about it, in so many ways, considering women and men separately as if they live lives in complete isolation to each other is ridiculous. Neither group is isolated."
Mr Davies said every woman has a "vested interest" in men's issues due to their male relatives.
He added: "The problem is virtually everything we do in this House and debate in this House seems to start with the premise that everything is biased against women and something must be done about it - never an appreciation that men's issues can be just as important and that men can be just as badly treated in certain areas as women."
The Yorkshire MP later turned to his attention to male suicide and its causes.
He said figures show the number of female suicide victims has reduced from 10.9 per 1,000 people in 1982 to 5.1 per 1,000 in 2013.
MPs heard that male suicide rates are higher, with 19 per 1,000 in 2013 compared with 20.6 per 1,000 in 1982.
Mr Davies said statistics show that more than 4,500 men took their own life in 2012 and nearly 5,000 in 2013, adding that the total number of lives lost in the last 30 years is more than 130,000.
He said: "A staggering number of people who have needlessly died and a staggering number of families left behind."
Mr Davies told a Labour MP to "get out more" and that she was "part of the problem" after she accused him of misogyny.
Liz McInnes intervened as Mr Davies was claiming there is an "in built bias" towards women in families which leads to them getting favourable treatment in child custody cases.
The Heywood and Middleton MP said: "I do feel that the evidence you have just presented has been anecdotal and there is no concrete evidence - you've just given us individual cases and I am concerned that this discussion is straying down a slightly misogynistic streak."
Mr Davies replied: "I'm sorry you feel like that.
"Again, this is part of the politically correct culture we have in this place, that the moment anybody raises anything that affects men, people are accused of being misogynists.
"That is absolutely part of the problem, you are part of the problem, why these issues never get debated, because it's raised as something to try and deter anybody from ever raising their head above the parapet.
"There are lots of people in your constituency who are affected by these issues and perhaps she ought to go and consult some of your constituents about the issues that they face in these areas and you may learn that it's right to raise these issues in Parliament, it's not misogynistic to raise the issues that some fathers in your constituency have in having trouble of getting custody or access to their children.
"If you don't think that's a problem, then I think you need to get out more, perfectly frankly."
Mr Davies said the "stereotypical image" of domestic violence being carried out by bullying men on "poor women" needs to end as a round a third of victims are male, if those who are abused by family members other than their partners are taken into account.
He went on: "Something else that needs to change is the reaction to violence against males, certainly when it comes to female-on-male violence.
"For some it's almost seen as a laughing matter, yet nobody would be laughing or turning a blind eye if a female was victim."
Concluding his speech, the MP said : "Some people cannot see common sense for the blur of their rose-tinted, politically-correct glasses.
"But I hope that the message goes out around the country that we politicians are not blind."
Former equalities minister Maria Miller criticised Mr Davies for treating equality as a "competition between men and women" and attempting to belittle sexist discrimination women face on a daily basis.
The Tory MP said: "You never fail to challenge the status quo, you never fail to speak without fear or favour and I commend you for that.
"But International Men's Day is also about promoting gender equality, that's one of the objectives that's set out.
"And for me, striving for equality isn't a competition between men and women.
"Women face discrimination on a daily basis, that's not a myth, and you do not do your case much good at all in attempting to try and belittle that."
Ms Miller went on to highlight the gender stereotyping of families which means fathers sometimes do not play as active a role in their children's lives as they may want.
She said 41% of men face negative attitudes towards taking up full paternity leave, and that fathers are twice as likely to have requests for flexible working rejected by their employers.
The Basingstoke MP said: "There is clear evidence that in day-to-day life we could be doing far more to support fathers' roles, particularly in their children's lives, and challenge what has become I think a continuing gender stereotyping in this area, that it is in some way unacceptable for men to take up a more active role in their children's lives."
Labour's Madeleine Moon, who has long campaigned on issues around suicide, called for improvements in men's emotional education and an end to the expectation that men should "man up" when faced with problems.
The Bridgend MP said: "The emotional education that we give to young men in this country is very poor.
"No matter how modern a society we have become and how diverse a society we have become, we still seem to educate our children in a feeling that they have to 'man up', that they have to be strong, that they can't talk about emotions.
"That's where some organisation, particularly sports organisations have done fantastic work in relation to suicide prevention."
SNP MP Paul Monaghan said he found many of Mr Davies' remarks "unrelated to the title of the debate".
The MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross said both he and the Scottish Government are "deeply concerned" about suicide rates, adding a prevention strategy is in place.
He said: "That clearly sets out the actions the Scottish Government is taking to prevent and further reduce suicide in Scotland.
"The statistics on Scotland on suicide, which currently indicate a downward trend even in male suicide rates, show that the Scottish strategy is achieving outcomes that run counter to the general trend for the UK."
Mr Monaghan also said: "Suicide must not be thought of as an issue that is solely affecting men just because the number of deaths is higher among men.
"Any campaign targeting suicide must be focused on the entire population."
Shadow mental health minister Luciana Berger asked if the Government agreed there is a need for an "urgent review" of its suicide prevention strategy, which was published in 2012.
She said: "I think it's fair to say t his strategy hasn't been as successful as any of us would like and (Ms Moon) raised concerns that this strategy lacks teeth with no time frames or tangible reporting mechanisms by which to measure its success by."
Ms Berger added: "We also do need timely access to data about suicide. It's not right there's a two-year delay to receive these figures and I ask the minister what plans he has to improve the availability and transparency of information relating to what is actually happening across the country in relation to suicide."
A "revolution" in the way suicide is prevented is required given that the number of suicides is increasing, Ms Berger said.
Health Minister Alistair Burt said the debate had shown that gender equality is "not a zero sum game" and insisted his approach to mental illness is that men's and women's issues deserve equal attention.
Turning to the issue of male suicides, Mr Burt urged men to get in touch with friends they have not seen in a while as a potential prevention method, stressing "blokes do this worse than women".
He recalled his recent shock at seeing an old school friend's obituary in an alumni magazine - although it turned out to be a mistake.
Mr Burt went on: "It shocked me and I remember saying to him - do you know what this teaches me?
"We have got a number of friends we haven't been in touch with for a while, we don't always know where they are, and we're going to end up seeing each other's families at each other's funerals.
"So if we haven't been in touch with friends for a bit and we've reached my sort of advanced age ... we could just miss something.
"Again, I think blokes do this worse than women, if it wasn't for my wife keeping up with friends, if it wasn't for her using Facebook and things like that, my social life would be much worse.
"So again that's something men can think about and if we haven't been in touch with our friends for a bit, let's just do it this weekend."
Mr Burt said the Government was committed to "challenging the inevitability" of suicide, adding that he would constantly review the suicide prevention strategy drawn up in 2012.
The Tory minister also highlighted moves minsters had taken to create a parity of esteem between mental and physical health, introducing access and waiting time targets for mental health and investing £11.7 billion in the area last year.
Mr Burt said: "I want the Government's position to be that we challenge the inevitability of suicide.
"Whilst I know that as far as our statistics are concerned, we are mid-ranged for societies such as us, that's not good enough.
"Do we need to know more? How do our strategies compare with others/ Have we identified the right drivers? And are our local and national strategies flexible and dynamic enough to respond? And why, in a world where gender equality is encouraged as the norm, do we have to speak specifically about men because this does affect men more than women?"