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Meanwhile: British men finally get their say
Robert Taylor
International Herald Tribune
LONDON : When British journalist Neil Lyndon wrote an article promoting men's rights in 1990, he soon regretted it. He became, in his own words, "a pariah - a professional and social outcast." His income plummeted and his friends and neighbors disowned him. Commentators declared that he must be impotent, or be ashamed of being a man. Nearly all agreed that he had "gone off his trolley."

Standing up to British feminist orthodoxy in the 1990s was akin to mugging the elderly, and Lyndon suffered accordingly.

Fast forward to 2005, and the men's rights that Lyndon wrote about are part of the mainstream. Pierce Brosnan produced and starred in a film about a father's fight to see his children. Bob Geldoff has become a tireless campaigner for divorced fathers. And recently, a distinguished British television journalist, Michael Buerk, joined in declaring: "Life is now lived in accordance with women's rules ... men are merely sperm donors."

Buerk has suffered the tired rejoinder that he must be acting out of personal pique, but he hasn't faced anything like the castigation that Lyndon weathered a decade ago, and his views are being debated sensibly.

Britain seems to be reaching a tipping point. Men can not only stand up for themselves for the first time in a generation, but now they can even right some perceived wrongs.

So what's changed since the 1990s? According to the campaigners, the ways in which British men are discriminated against have become so damaging that they simply can't be ignored any longer. If a man marries and has children he has a one-in-three chance of losing his home and a one-in-ten chance of losing contact with his children. Men die, on average, seven years younger than women; the vast majority of homeless people are men; and over three times as many men as women commit suicide.

But the more fundamental answer is that Britain's men have gone political. In 1990 Lyndon could rely on little organizational backing. But since then the number of men's rights groups has exploded, with the UK Men's Movement, ManKind, Families Need Fathers and Fathers4Justice leading the way. At first these organizations acted conservatively, putting the case for men in the fields of health, education and the family law courts, and operated below the media radar.

The turning point came when Fathers4Justice decided that real change could occur only if the political agenda was grabbed and shaken. When one of their campaigners dressed up as Batman and clambered along Buckingham Palace's walls, he thrust the cause of men's rights into the face of the public.

More importantly, the stunt made the government take notice. Tony Blair's government only takes an issue seriously if it's on the front pages - its ministers are more influenced by shenanigans than reasoned debate. Once Fathers4Justice started pulling media stunts, all the things that Lyndon was lambasted for suddenly became addressed by the government. More money was spent on men's health issues. A refuge was set up for male victims of domestic violence . And divorce courts are taking the position of fathers more seriously.

The campaigners welcome this, but point out that it's just a start. Lyndon's 1990 article focused on "the atmosphere of intolerance surrounding men," and the way in which the British media portray men as clumsy, lazy, cheap and desperate. This portrayal still exists. As one example, the BBC had to apologize after airing a television program called "Bring Your Husband to Heel," which showed women how to use dog-training techniques to modify their husbands' behavior. Few can imagine a similar program about controlling the behavior of women.

Still, things are changing to a degree undreamed of by the pioneers of the men's movement. Men throughout the country are starting to defend themselves. Even Neil Lyndon is back writing for the papers.

The test lies with a government that appears to speak through gritted teeth when saying anything positive about men. One of Blair's earliest innovations was to appoint a minister for women, so perhaps, having examined the headlines, the prime minister will now give similar representation to the other half of the population.

As for the minister for men, how about naming Lyndon?

(Robert Taylor is a London-based journalist. He was communications director for ManKind between 2000 and 2001.)