London’s Burning – Riots, Class and Masculinity

A brief glance over the news in the past 24 hours and you would be forgiven for thinking this country feels more for property than human beings. “The worst rioting in decades as crowds of youths smashed windows, emptied shops of their goods and set properties on fire.” (Sky News)

Images of burning cars, shops and other buildings are splashed all across newspapers and news websites. Hardly a mention anywhere of the human element , aside from the obvious demonisation of young hooded ‘thugs’ looting shops and clashing with police.

“Rioting has spread across London with cars and buildings set alight on a third night of unrest, with trouble flaring in other English cities.” (BBC)

I could only find two articles buried amongst the other stories that focus on the human element. One about a boy who was mugged and another about the Turkish community standing up against looters and rioters. Aside from these it is all about what has been done to the city, the buildings, the cars, the plasma TV’s and so on and so forth.

Unbelievably the media are still using lines like “a small band of Anarchists are responsible for this”. Since when do anarchists give a damn about grabbing the latest Nike trainers or plasma TVs? How many anarchists would loot stores and ignore the book shop in this process?

“Anarchists oppose merely government, not order or society…Liberty is the Mother, not the Daughter of Order” wrote Proudhon, and most anarchists would be inclined to agree. Normally, anarchists demand abolition of the state because they think that they have something better to offer, not out of a desire for rebellion as such. Or as Kropotkin put it,

“No destruction of the existing order is possible, if at the time of the overthrow, or of the struggle leading to the overthrow, the idea of what is to take the place of what is to be destroyed is not always present in the mind. Even the theoretical criticism of the existing conditions is impossible, unless the critic has in mind a more or less distinct picture of what he would have in place of the existing state. Consciously or unconsciously, the ideal, the conception of something better is forming in the mind of everyone who criticizes social institutions.”

Another interesting but completely overlooked element in all this is that, overwhelmingly, these are male rioters, clothed in hoodies and looking ‘tough’ or like ‘hard men’. Why is it always 99% males out trashing buildings and burning things? Our culture of masculinity is one of the ‘hard man’ ,’the warrior’, ‘the thug’, ‘the tough hero’. Violence is so intimately woven into the culture of masculinity, and if we begin to look through this lens we can start to see something emerge. These are people with no real prospects, jobs, education, community or future. Mix this up with an oppressive police force on a daily basis and you have a spark and powder keg. How else could a generation of males raised on a diet of aggressive masculine culture, react to this? Lashing out is what ‘men’ do, is it not? In football you will see players lash out at other players violently, in movies protagonists often deal with problems through destruction and violence. The very popular World Wrestling Entertainment, which many more people watch than you would think, also displays this message of dealing with problems through violence.

Destruction, theft and violence. Why is this always something which the poor are involved in? Put simply, the rich loot and destroy on a far larger scale but through ‘legitimised’ ways. The recent economic collapse is a great example of the wealthy looting the nation through the bail-outs. Gentrification of entire communities forcing people out of their homes, all in order to rebuild homes which can then be sold for a very good profit. Then we have war. Whilst the poor may be seen to loot and destroy areas of London, the corporations and government take part in major operations to destroy and loot countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, to name but two examples. Once again this is overwhelmingly male dominated.

We have a major crisis with our masculine culture. The mentality and behaviour towards society, women and other men is destructive. Let me end on a quote from Gaia Charis article ‘Dangerous Children’.

“The limitations and taboos of the masculine paradigm do not predispose it to the promotion of personal growth….and this is the template for living that males inherit. Maleness also inherits the legacy of power and therein lies a problem for us all. Regardless of individual males’ views on their own access to power (more of which later) we do remain overwhelmingly governed by those whose formative gendered identity extols incompleteness and encourages a propensity for detachment and aggression as proof of that identity. The daily evidence of this suggests that we are living in a world run by dangerous children. And children don’t like to share.”


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Barbara Evans
    Aug 10, 2011 @ 13:46:46

    Very well written well done.


  2. Larissa
    Aug 10, 2011 @ 14:45:17

    Great article , very refreshing to see a different perspective ;)


  3. Rhiannon
    Aug 10, 2011 @ 16:32:44

    Talking about hegemonic masculinity and class is indeed completely absent from mainstream/corporate media commentary. However your intersectional analysis is missing what I see as the key identity: race. To quote Paul Gilroy, “there ain’t no black in the union jack.”


    • Morag Eyrie
      Aug 10, 2011 @ 16:45:51

      Hi Rhiannon! Very good point- thanks. I’ve read one or two bits and bobs touching on the race intersection around the riots but nothing mainstream. For one thing it was clear watching events unfold that the riots were fairly multicultural. However the initial flashpoint was definitely around racism and the fascists have come out of the woodwork in droves to make sure that racism continues to be overt and covert in everyone’s understanding of the issues. And I include the BNP, the EDL and the BBC in that. I’m currently pondering the coded use of the word ‘youths’ as a racist term- I’m sure it wasn’t used in the same way during the student / cuts demos which were mostly white young people.


  4. whittingehamewonderer
    Aug 11, 2011 @ 08:08:58

    While this morning we wake to headlines of women being processed through the courts too, do we fully appreciate their role in events? To what extent are these women free to choose their role and does gendered poverty play a part? The media’s coverage of the criminal justice process tars everyone with the same brush but I hope that there is an analysis of those charged and convicted to see whether property or people are at the forefront of the generally male dominated judiciary’s decision making.


    • Morag Eyrie
      Aug 11, 2011 @ 10:41:09

      Thanks whittinghamewonderer for your comment. I think there is definitely more to come re girls and women and the riots and so on. All I’ve seen so far is the two much-distributed videos: the woman who stands up to the rioters and the two girls who talk about how cool it all was (actually I think the latter was just audio).

      I want to think about this a bit more and maybe write about it, because for all I admired the first woman, I also related to the girls. I was that girl when I was young: I was the angry punk rock anarchist kid who hung out with punks and (non-racist, in New Zealand) skins. We were pretty bad and we enjoyed the fuck out of it. It’s been a theme of my adult life and my feminism, thinking about why intelligent, angry girls and young women are drawn to and support the kind of young men that buy into the masculinity that Glen talks about in his post. So that’s all percolating as a post for me! I’ll leave it there.. nothing worst than a blog comment the length of an actual post!


  5. gaia charis
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 22:29:18

    Great and insightful piece and thanks very much for concluding with a quote from my work. ‘Dangerous Children’, the book, will be published in both print and Kindle form in 2012.


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