How men can help forge a real equality

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Lesley Riddoch (Perspective, 5 August) writes powerfully of her experiences of machismo at Oxford in the 1980s.

I was there a decade earlier and can confirm the prevalence of a certain type of 
aggressive masculinity, which the Jungian psychologist and poet Robert Bly termed “negative patriarchy”.

In his still groundbreaking book Iron John, Bly made the point nearly 25 years ago that men needed a new set of images of manhood, which honoured what men could bring to the good of society without disrespecting strong women.

Like Lesley Riddoch, Bly doesn’t seek to condemn men who behave in stupid and brutalised ways, but instead to understand why they do, and to offer some suggestions for change. Interestingly, one way that men appear to be able to confront and transcend the inherently unhealthy male machismo ideal is by surviving a great ordeal, and the piece on Andrew Marr (same issue) is an excellent illustration of this.

Marr describes how before his life-threatening stroke he was driven, selfish and egotistical, and is now exploring ways to become more empathetic and understanding.

Having a brush with death may not always be the best way to learn new ways of behaving, but for someone as aggressively macho as Marr seems to have been, it may have been the only solution.

But the recent high-profile cases of macho posturing on social networking sites show how far we still need to go to create a positive masculine role model.

Meanwhile, I recommend reading Robert Bly – he’s a great writer who is well worth exploring by both sexes trying to understand the other.

(Dr) Mary Brown


Professor Polly Arnold – now Crum Brown chair of chemistry at Edinburgh University, has issued “a call to arms”. Her project, “A Chemical Imbalance” aims to work for a greater recognition of the role women have taken in science and will take in the future.

The original 19th-century Prof Crum Brown will hopefully be spinning in his grave, being stolidly opposed, in his day, to allowing women into his lectures. Myself, I’m delighted that Prof Arnold is taking up the cudgels to help take Scotland towards a more equal society, though sad that by her estimate it could take us perhaps 70 more years to achieve a gender balance.

In my own sphere, primary science education, I still see barriers to girls being able to achieve and one of these has been the lack of visible female role models in science.

Until we get a balance there is every reason to take positive action, for example, to find more representations and 
stories of women in science.

As yet we still have no 
female science representative apart from that one dead sheep, in our National Portrait Gallery’s Pioneers of Science exhibition!

I did read with some glee a rejoinder to my previous 
letter, “Poor Science”, (28 July), from a reader who pointed out that there was indeed a portrait of a woman scientist somewhere on the second floor and that there was another portrait of a woman whose son had become a scientist. Wow.

But back to my point, we need role models for our children and there are very many women scientists out there whose stories could be told in our schools and who could perhaps help persuade more girls to think about science as a career.

Roger Meachem