I’ve made the move to WordPress!

You should be automatically redirected in a few seconds. If not, please visit:

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A gendered reading of the UK riots

It's the fifth night of rioting today and I am yet to make up my mind about how I feel. On the one hand I have a 'Cameron - take that!' feeling; on the other, the loss of lives and damage to properties and local shops (don't really care about Debenhams and JD Sports and Poundland) is making me cringe. But there's another question that has been lurking in my mind about these riots - what are the gendered dimensions of this spurt of violence?

In hundreds of photographs of the riots floating around on the internet, it is obvious that the majority of rioters are young men. That doesn't come as a surprise given the inherent 'masculinity' of gang culture and violence. But is personal safety and security the only reason that women have largely kept out of this storm?

With the dust settling this afternoon, there were quite a few write ups discussing these riots as a consequence of socio-economic disparity that has been growing in recent times. Though Cameron and co have been quick to dismiss it as 'sheer criminality', the opinion that these riots are not a random incident has been growing. Surely there are cultural, social and economic aspects behind the firing up of this violence.

In that discussion, we need to spare a thought about whether men feel more disaffected than women in this economic downturn. Though studies show that women (especially single mothers) are going to be hit harder by spending cuts and the current economic downturn, there is a possibility that the joblessness (impending or current) is more of a threat to masculinity than femininity because of the expectation and assumption that men are the primary breadwinners. The social pressure of being able to feed a family makes men's lives more vulnerable in the current situation and these riots, though many would disagree, are to a certain extent an ironic expression of that vulnerability and the looming emasculation.

At the other end of the spectrum, these riots have also seen men as playing that very role - that of breadwinners and protectors. There has been plenty of praise for the Turkish and Asian men who defended their communities from violence and rioters. In this defence of their communities, these men have been the alpha male models - men who defend their 'properties' and women (so synonymous) from the enemy - true epitomes of masculinity. Here again, the visibility of women has remained minimal demonstrating how ownership and guardianship of properties, businesses and communities is still in the hands of men.

But there is one narrative in these riots that has been speaking exclusively about women - and, very interestingly, that is the narrative of moral responsibility for these rights. Who to blame for these riots? Let's put it on mothers who have failed to bring up their children decently because it's these children who are causing a mayhem out there. Twitter is full of 'momma' tweets and jokes, here's a sample -

Discussion of the riots on Mumsnet drew similar comments -

So, let me get this straight - though women have been mostly invisible (both physically and vocally) throughout the riots, when it comes to assigning moral responsibility, women are made hypervisible. The synonymity of parenting with mothering in this narrative is only half as disturbing as the view that it's single mothers who have ruined our society.

And to add to that, I am yet to come across articles on the gendered dimensions of these riots in the mainstream media. There have been plenty talking about the cultural, racial and socio-economic aspects of the UK riots, which is good, but it needs to be recognised that gender, just like class, race and culture,has a bearing on this violence which needs to be taken into account when analysing these riots. So let's start talking about it.


  1. My son is not marrying your daughter.

  2. Newton's law missed over-reaction

  3. Hi Anonymous,

    My daughter wouldn't marry your son either - I am glad you got the main point of the post! :-)


  4. This is great, really interesting. It is amazingly refreshing to see a new take on something that has been debated so strongly in the past few days.

    The gendered perspective is welcome, useful and at present under-discussed. I wish more people would follow this analytical thread.

  5. @dcockayne - Thank you, I am glad you liked it. I was very disappointed by the lack of discussion on the gendered dimensions of the riots in the media. Gender, as is usual, has been sidelined in this debate and we need to talk about it.

  6. the normative framing of gender in this 'hypervisible' regard is indeed quite frightening. some very nuanced points that beg for further discussion..

  7. Thank you, I am glad you found it interesting. The points here do need to be developed further. There wasn't enough discussion around the gendered aspects of the riots in the mainstream media.

  8. Interesting piece but it could be argued that the male dominance at these riots maybe connected to the lack of male role models for most of the young men that were rioting.