Photo by Stefan Spassov on Unsplash


The bulk of this essay was written in 2021, shortly after the murder of Sarah Everard in the UK.

However it tackles ideas and themes which I pondered long before that event. After the murder and subsequent trial, there was much outpouring in the media and online of how violence affects women and also, it’s fair to say, a lot of misandry and general animosity towards men (online especially).

I spent a lot of time examining how violence (and the threat of it) had also affected my own life. Also, how the world has changed with regards to gender in my life time.

Spread across six parts, it aims to cover how gender and gender related topics were growing up for me as a child, experiences of violence and intimidation I experienced – and then use these as background to an examination of how violence and related expectations around violence and gender influences wider society.

Finally I will come to the conclusion – that men MUST be allowed to change their gender roles in the way women have.

I fully expect to have to come back and update this essay in future as my ideas evolve but it stands as a start point and the launchpad if you will for many of my other views on life and gender politics.

Lastly, please forgive the fact the essays are somewhat rambling at times and seeming unconnected. There are conclusions at the end and I think it helps to have some of the background in your mind to understand how I came to them. Please stick with it if you can!

Part 1 – Growing up

I was born in 1981. It was the year the first Delorean rolled off the production line in Ireland, Indian Jones hit the cinemas in raiders of the lost ark and Princess Diana got married to Prince Charles. There would soon be the war in the Falkland Islands (o Las Malvinas dependiente!) and Margaret Thatcher was the first female prime minster. The country was well on its way to the Thatcherite/Reganite capitalist economic model that dominated the culture in the 80’s and that some would argue we still follow now.

I was born in North Manchester, into what I consider to be a middle class home. This didn’t mean wealth however. When I was born, we didn’t have a car, a working TV and we didn’t have expensive foreign holidays. I lived in a firmly working class area.

My first two childhood homes were terraces and townhouses. My neighbors were usually, factory or papermill workers, posties or shopworkers. I didn’t know any lawyers, doctors or solicitors. Degrees and advanced education were rare. Practical skills and knowledge of “doing” rather than “knowing” were most common.

When it came to how the world ran, growing up where I did in the 80’s, things were pretty clear. “Gender politics” wasn’t a word we knew or used, but it was clear where everyone stood.

Boys and Girls

There were toys and cartoons for boys. There were toys and cartoons for girls.

I grew up on Transformers, MASK, Jayce and the Wheeled warriors and Centurions. Wrestling was on TV and I loved Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior and Randy Savage. When I was a little older and I could sneak off to a friends house to watch a film that was not intended for my age. There was Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Jean Claude Van Dam. There was The Terminator, Robocop, Total Recall, The Running Man and The Predator. There was James Bond and the A-Team. Knight Rider and Airwolf.

Looking back on it, the media I grew up on, I think was, to the most part, steeped in traditional gender roles. There were notable exceptions of course. Sarah Conner in both Terminator films was tough (“for a girl” of course). Ellen Ripley in Alien was a hero like anyone else. Cheetara in Thundercats was cool and Gladiators on ITV on Saturday evenings had male and female athletes who were both good at what they did.

But I would say for the most part the heros were men or male. Those doing the violence were generally men. And those being saved and protected from violence were most often, women. Women and children (sometimes animals) actually to be specific. And quite often the men (or robots) would be willing to risk everything to do the protecting and saving. Or to do the kidnapping/killing.

There was also definitely a strong sense of good and evil and goodies and baddies. It wasn’t ambiguous what good and bad was. It seemed fairly black and white.

It was ok to use violence against baddies. Most of the baddies wanted to use violence themselves to hurt innocent people or innocent things, so our hero’s would be forced to use violence to stop them.

The action was amazing! Machine guns, lazer guns, rockets (endless rockets), headlocks, atomic leg drops, car chases, rocket boosters, space ships and things which could suddenly transform into other things were amazing to a small boy in the 80s.

The theme tunes were awesome too.

Girls had their cartoons and toys too of course and even though I wasn’t much involved with them, I think they were laden with gender re-enforcing concepts too. Girls had My Little Pony, Jem, Rainbow Brite and Care Bears. They weren’t about shooting things and blowing things up. They weren’t about being protectors. They were more about being pink, soft and fluffy. They were about making friends, solving puzzles and being caring and nurturing. There may have sometimes been danger and the need to protect innocents but the level of violence used in doing so was somewhat less than you’d see in the equivalent boys cartoon.

You never saw a Care Bear fitted with quad lazer cannons.

The situation between boys and girls when I was growing up was nicely summarized by my friend Paul and his sister Rachel.

Rachel had a toy doll she would play with every day. It was able to somehow drink milk from a bottle (or at least simulate it). From the age of 5 or 6 she would play with this. Looking at it now, with a bit of a social justice slant, one could argue that essentially, she was just using this to train to be a mother later in life (what her gender role was/would be).

Whatever the case, Paul found a way of detaching it’s head and used it as a football.

So it seemed clear. Girls were for nurturing. Boys were for strength and protection.

It’s very easy to look back at all of this and sneer and be negative about it. Or to paint pictures that “Robocop” (or any other particular media) was in some way responsible for violence in the outside world. But that’s not what I’m doing here.

The point I’m making is that, for the most part, the media when I was growing up, was very clear in making it apparent what men did and what women did. And there was no difference made between sex and gender. These were basically, two words for the same thing. Were you a boy or a girl.

And this made total sense at the time, because that’s how the rest of the world was. It’s a common theme it seems now to look back at older cultural values and sniff and sneer at them – but I think it’s much more helpful to just accept that’s how things were then.

Jobs and work

When I grew up, even though there were no real systemic barriers to anyone doing anything, it was pretty clear there were things (and roles/jobs) for men and women and so too for girls and boys.

Where I lived, men had to provide for their family and they had to protect their family. They went to work and they were expected to be successful (or at least try to be). They were expected to have “the main” job and be the economic provider. They had to be tough and fast like Sylvester Stallone or Steve Segal. If someone attacked their family, they had to be prepared to step up and risk themselves to defend them. There was an expectation. It wasn’t written down or explicitly enforced but it was definitely there.

They were to bring home money each month/week to pay for the house, the food and the belongings. Along with being the economic provider, they were also expected to do other tasks, like fixing things, being good at DIY, “mending the car” or fitting the satellite dish. They would drink, maybe smoke. They would work tough jobs, often physical. They were protectors. They were providers. They were expected to be responsible (even if they didn’t always manage to be). Not living up to these ideals would be met with scorn or shame. From other men and other women.

Women on the other hand, had a different role. They would often work but it was also ok if they didn’t. Being a “housewife” wasn’t shameful or looked upon as evidence of “oppression” and many of the women I knew spent their time primarily taking care of children it seemed.

They would do things in the home. Cook, hoover, wash and go to the shops. Many worked also but there wasn’t the expectation it seemed to me that they’d have the “main” job. Women could be teachers, or nurses, or hairdressers. But they wouldn’t often be doctors or electricians or plumbers. There was a “milkman” but not a “milkwomen.” It seemed there were “jobs for men” and “jobs for women.” There was the queen of course! And Margaret Thatcher. But these were exceptional it seemed.

Childhood gender roles
It was the same for us children as the adults. Boys would play rugby and football. Girls would do dance or netball. Netball was a girls game. Rugby was a boys game.

Boys played with transformers, monster in my pocket or Star Wars figures. They played wrestling or army at break time. If someone got angry, there might be a fight.

Girls played with Polly pocket or dolls and at break time did skipping or handstands. They talked a lot. We didn’t like each other much (although this all suddenly and somewhat miraculously changed when we got a little bit older).

Perhaps it was different in other parts of the country but where I lived, it seemed there was a super clear divide between what was a boy and what was a girl. What was a man and what was a woman. And nobody wanted to cross that divide. Not where I lived anyway.

If you were a boy that liked skipping ropes, or that wanted to play Polly Pocket you were probably “a gay.” And you didn’t want to be that. That was your worst nightmare. Once you were labeled “a gay” or a “poofter” or a “poof”, life would become hard for you. We didn’t really know exactly what those terms meant as children but – we knew it wasn’t good.

Equally, girls didn’t want to really be labeled “a tom boy.” Being a “tom boy” wasn’t quite as bad as being a “poof” but it still meant other girls wouldn’t want to be your friend. You wouldn’t get invited to parties as much. You’d have to sit by yourself at lunch time probably. You’d struggle to be “accepted” by your own kind again – and life would be hard.

Being gay and lesbian was not just taboo then, it was just never spoken about. “Gay stuff” was to be rejected at all costs. Men were men, women were women and that was that. “Hetro-normative” I think is perhaps the current term people probably like to use for this? I’m not entirely sure.

And so we policed ourselves through mocking and shame to keep order. And our grown ups/ parents policed us too much with the same methods.

When I was 6 and wanted the “al la carte kitchen” toy for christmas one year, I was advised by a parent that “father christmas won’t bring you that, it’s a toy for girls” (because of course, it was only girls that should cook in kitchens).

Equally later on when I said I wanted to use pocket money to buy Sylvanian families figures (because I had seen the collection my friends sister had and I thought they were cool) I was reminded that these were for girls, not boys. I saw them just as “figures” – like toy soldiers or something. I didn’t even really realise there was a gender to them. But I never got them. They weren’t for me.

And again, even though looking back on this with more modern eyes it looks ridiculous now, I’m not deriding any of this. At the time, it was perfectly fine. People weren’t wrong THEN to hold the views they had. That’s just how it was. There was a clear order for things.

It was the same at home.

Gender roles in my home

Even though the divorce rate in the 80’s was between 12-14 divorces per thousand marriages (higher than previous decades), my parents stayed together.

My home was quite similar to everyone elses otherwise though. What was very slightly unusual was that my father didn’t work at the papermill or in industry. He was a teacher (a college lecturer). My mother was always at home with me until I could go to school, at which point she got a part time job at the supermarket. Dad went to work and bought in money. He cooked dinner on Sundays and would do wallpaper, painting and would always mow the grass. He had a driving license and was 100% responsible for getting and looking after the car when we eventually got one (my mother never learned to drive, she maintains to this day that driving is too frightening).

My mother would cook the rest of the days other than Sunday. She would fix clothes sometimes. If a new pair of trousers were too baggy she could do this thing called “taking them up” which would make them fit somehow. She would go to the shops usually and would always without fail be the one to take us to get school uniforms, or to the doctors if we were ill. She would pick me (and later my brother) up from school. Later on she got a full time job in a school too as she had originally trained at college to be, what was once termed a “nursery nurse.”

And it became clear to me at an early age the generations that came before us had the same roles. We had inherited it from them. My grandparents had a similar setup. Both grandfathers worked (one was also in the army during the war) and grandmothers stayed at home to look after children, perhaps working part time until such a stage that their children could take care of themselves (at which point they took up full time work). They also had “traditional” setups at home – cooking, cleaning, repairing and maintaining for my Granny and Nanna. Working/providing, protecting, fixing, mowing and BBQ’ing for my Grandads. Oh and driving tanks and fighting nazis too.

So this was the way the world worked and had always worked. The gender roles were clear. And it somewhat made sense? I mean, women had breasts and could carry babies. They seemed a bit emotional and they cried more. It was ideal then that they take care of children.

Men on the other hand had stronger upper bodies. They cried less. It was ideal then for them to do work, particularly physical work. Nature seemingly wanted things to be this way? Nobody said it quite like that but – it was how it was understood?

And it was clear, as a boy growing up what life would be for me.

I needed to be tough. I needed to be a protector and a provider. I didn’t want to be a “poof.” I would get married and my wife would have children. I would go to work and bring home money for them. My wife would maintain the house.

This was extremely clear and easy to understand.