Do feminists really all hate men?

Today I saw a tweet giving significant credit to an article about feminism on The Telegraph, written by Natasha Devon.  I don’t know Devon, but her bio at the end of the piece seems pretty spectacular so I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt that she’s probably very intelligent, successful and I’d probably agree with her on a lot of things. 

It was thoughtfully written, and an honest account of one woman’s life experiences. But there were a number of fundamental arguments contained within where I feel that a little wider reading and research would potentially sway Devon’s opinions, as well as examples where it seems that an unfortunate run-in with someone who represents a niche faction of feminism has affected her opinions.

 A couple of examples of my issues:

-        “But cultural “feminist” changes, the types that insist lads mags, Page 3 and wolf-whistling are automatically offensive and should therefore be scrapped from the public consciousness, I have always struggled to comprehend.”  This argument bugs me because (as anyone who saw the BBC’s Blurred Lines recently could parrot as well as me), although this content does not make people who do not hold sexist views suddenly turn sexist, it DOES (along with rape jokes, Essex girl jokes etc) help those who already hold sexist views believe that their view is acceptable and shared.  This is why it is important that we do not tolerate a culture of sexism (whether that’s media representation, pub banter, or emails from the head of large sports organisations).

-        “At the end of the session, one of the Society’s senior members said: “It’s great that you don’t think there’s any misogyny in your world, but I think if you talked to these men for long enough you’d find there were some pretty sinister ideas about women buried somewhere beneath the surface.”  All I can say here is that an anecdote is not a statistic. If it is not OK for one woman to say “I encounter sexism therefore all women do”, and it is not ok for another to say “I don’t encounter sexism so we are all liberated”, it is also not OK to say “I met a very opinionated feminist who thought all men are sexist, therefore all feminists think all men are sexist”.  Indeed the vast majority of serious feminist discussion that I have been involved in always involves a feminist male participant. One recently started two separate fights with my mother and sister on Facebook. Another is my husband who has been known to text me from the pub to get statistics and facts because he’s single handedly defending a moral high ground and in need of back up.

-        “During the subsequent inevitable Twitter storm (during which “feminists” threatened to “rip me apart”, called me a “piece of s—” and a “brainless bimbo” in an incredibly sisterly fashion)”.  This one is pretty simple and builds on the above. If not all men are sexist, then we can’t expect all women (or even all feminists) to not be arseholes. I promise not to rail against men in general because of a few very specific dicks I have met. I’d ask that the author extend the same courtesy to the many thoughtful and careful feminists out there.  I can say without doubt that feminists are a pretty tight self-policing bunch. The overly aggressive and nasty in social media get called out pretty quickly, without a need to jettison the entire ideology and social movement as the author appears to do here.

-        “The Everyday Sexism movement is a fantastic idea – an opportunity for an open debate on the ways in which genders mindlessly form prejudices against each other. So why have its followers largely excluded men from the conversation? “You can’t be sexist towards men!” was a university student’s response to this question at another debate I attended (she was studying feminism, by the way). Which is a bit like saying black people can’t be racist.”  Yes clearly, not a logical argument at all. So let me have another go at the question; let’s look at the twitter account for Everyday Sexism.  A bio that reads “Documenting experiences of sexism, harassment and assault to show how bad the problem is & create solidarity”. So no explicit closed door to men.  As one of the 144,000 followers I’d assert that this sweeping statement about followers largely excluding men is unfair and unprovable. I’d suggest a contrasting and equally unproven hypothesis: perhaps men have significantly fewer experiences of sexism to share, and/or are less interested in following the experiences of those who do experience sexism.

-        “In Britain in 2014, girls are entitled to the same education as boys, they can then go on to get any job they want and be paid the same as a man.” Not really. I’d just refer you to Fawcett for this one, and their excellent sustained campaign for equal pay. http://fawcettsociety.org.uk/equal-pay/

To counter Devon’s conclusion that “I’d like to see today’s feminists give men a bit more credit – they might just be surprised.”, I’d like to suggest that I’d like to see some of today’s feminists give other feminists (or just women, if they don’t associate with the F badge) a bit more credit. They too might be surprised that we are not the man-hating stereotype that the media paints us as.  Indeed, my two favourite human beings are of the male variety.

 

Guest post: International Women’s Day; though I have freedom, I don’t have equality

This (our first ever guest blog post) was written by @VivEgan41 to mark International Women’s Day

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, and I did some marvelous things to mark the occasion.

I woke up next to my boyfriend with whom I have a respectful, loving relationship. I don’t have to worry about getting pregnant with any unwanted babies because I live in a country where contraception is easily accessible and affordable. If something ever goes wrong, I’ll have access to a safe abortion if that’s how I choose to handle it. I may get married one day or I may not, but it’s not something I have to think or worry about – neither my self-worth nor my financial standing will be affected by it. I don’t feel judged by society that I’m unmarried and sexually active.

I went to work in my job as editor of an online magazine. I’m lucky that, in a fraught market, I get paid a decent wage, the equal of what a man would be paid in my job. I’m extra lucky that I have the skills to do the job because my parents invested in my education, and encouraged my talents and extra-curricular activities. I’m respected by my colleagues in a workplace where there are more women than men, and they’re in roles of authority, and no-one thinks it’s weird. Harassment of any kind is about as likely as my boss doing cartwheels down the corridor (really unlikely).

After work, I bought two bottles of red wine. I don’t live in a time or a place where women drinking booze is frowned upon, or outlawed. I walked around alone, at night, without fearing for my safety, and without being judged for not being accompanied by a male relative.

I visited friends for dinner. A male friend, Jack, cooked, as he does pretty much every day. Sometimes I cook for him when we hang out. We both enjoy cooking. We usually share the washing up, or else Jack does it because he’s a bit of a neat freak, and I let him because I’m not a neat freak.

There was a game of two-a-side trivial pursuit, boys versus girls. The girls lost by a narrow margin, but no-one implied, even as a joke, that it was because women aren’t as intelligent as men (if anything it was because I’m Aussie and didn’t know the answers to questions about East Enders and the British Parliament, but who’s counting?).

OK, so I didn’t do anything particularly out of the ordinary yesterday, but everything I did on International Women’s Day was a small, but miraculous thing thing because I enjoy freedoms as a woman that are unprecedented, anywhere, ever. I will never forget – and I’ll always be grateful – that I’m benefiting from the struggle of the women who have gone before me. I call myself a feminist in honour of them, in honour of the women who still lack the freedoms I have, and in honour of the continuing struggle for the freedoms we’re all still striving for, because though I have freedom, I don’t have equality.

When every last woman in Saudi Arabia is allowed to drive, when no female foetus is aborted because of her sex, when no employer begrudges maternity or paternity leave, when no female politician’s worth is judged in tandem with what she is wearing, when images of women are no longer grossly misrepresented by the print media, when there is no genital mutilation, when every other day isn’t International Men’s Day, when we have equal political representation and boardroom presence, when there is no violence against women, when we have stamped out a thousand little instances of sexism and scared off a billion misogynists, then we’ll have equality.

The Sun’s view on professions

It’s often not the conscious gender conversations that reveal a person’s true beliefs. The way to ascertain that is by looking at the less conscious clues that they leave behind.

And so, herewith some evidence (if any more were needed!) of The Sun’s view on gender roles in the UK.

It’s The Sun’s Olympics campaign video.  I saw this for the second time at the cinema last night and was struck on both occasions by the enormous lack of women and the total absence of any professional women.

You can view it for yourself but in essence it shows a heap of “normal Britons” running down a beach.  Below is a list of the characters represented by men, and those that the females are depicting.

The Men

  • Runner (x2)
  • Milkman
  • Chef
  • Dentist
  • Firemen
  • Hairdresser
  • Judge
  • Mechanics (?) (x2)
  • Generic business men (men with briefcases and suits)  (x2)
  • Football coach / P.E. teacher?
  • Postman
  • Footballer
  • Stretcher bearers
  • Traffic warden
  • Surgeon
  • Ice cream man
  • Gymnast

The Women

  • Lady having her hair done
  • 2 ladies with no apparent occupation (differentiated only by carrying handbags)
  • Mums with buggies (x2)
  • Hen night girls (x3)
  • Gymnast
  • Possibly a wheelchair sprinter… not 100% clear on the gender in the low res file

While the battle to kill off Page 3 girls and other top-shelf content in mainstream media is worthy and has my support 100%, I think it’s important that we don’t forget the responsibility of these media outlets to question and self-moderate their subconscious gender messages as well.

For me, the sub-conscious messages are the more dangerous. Their subtlety equips them with the same power as any stealth weapon.

Aborting progress on women’s rights

I feel compelled to write a blog post on this topic because it is, for me, one of the core tenets of women’s rights. And I genuinely believe that there is a large and organised campaign to erode those rights by religious groups.

In Britain it is legal to have an abortion up to 28 weeks. From 24 weeks it is only allowed to save the life or protect the mental and physical health of the woman, or in cases of extreme abnormality of the baby.  I think it important to note that the law passed in 1967 to give women this right of choice over her own body and life did not apply to Northern Ireland – part of our state where abortion is still illegal at *any* stage of pregnancy (unless saving the life of the mother or to prevent the mother becoming a “mental wreck”).  This creates an incredible imbalance of abortion access for Northern Irish women, where those with money can hop on a flight and head to a British clinic, and those without remain vulnerable to back room illegal abortions.  But that’s one for another post, because here I want to focus on the slow erosion to the right of choice for women in the rest of the UK.

In 2008 there was a parliamentary debate about whether the legal limit for abortion should be reduced to 20 or 22 weeks.  In a vote, the amendments were thrown out.

But today there is a group of cross party MPs (notably Nadine Dorries and Louise Mensch (cons) and Frank Field (lab) – see my previous post about why it’s irrelevant that many of them are women) who are reigniting this battle against choice, and this time they are being more subtle in their attack.

Hand in hand (for me), with a right to abort an alien collection of cells from a woman’s own body, goes her right to impartial advice and counselling when making the decision whether or not to abort (and afterwards, whatever her decision).

In 2011 Nadine Dorries’ bill which would strip abortion providers of their counselling role lost in parliament by a strong 250 votes. The idea behind the bill was to stop the highly reputable and supportive work of Marie Stopes and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) in giving impartial advice to pregnant women.  Cleverly for the pro-life folks it opened the door to other advisory groups stepping into the process, including those who have an openly stated pro-life stance (and those with a less open pro-life stance).

Her argument that any clinic that charges women to carry out abortions cannot possibly provide impartial advice, falls flat on its face when you consider the opinionated bunch who will arrive to take over the role.    There is no evidence of anyone acting inappropriately in these counselling services – and the proponents of this policy amendment refuse to conduct an investigation which, if inappropriate methods were discovered, would hand them the key to unlocking the votes for their bill.  Does that imply an acknowledgement that the investigation would find no such thing? That’s how I see it. And on the point around “evil commercial baby killers”, let’s not forget that BPAS is a not-for-profit charity.

For a more eloquent and intelligent protest on Dorries’ 2011 bill, I recommend Zoe Williams’ Guardian article.

And yet today she and her cronies are back, with revised policy options (a waste of the tax payers time when it’s already been so clearly opposed?). This new approach has 3 options;

  1. Nadine Dorries’ original idea, to remove counselling roles from organisations which carry out abortions
  2. No change to current process (Yes please Nadine, and I believe that’s what our elected members have already chosen…)
  3. Abortion organisations would still be allowed to provide counselling, but other independent groups would now be licensed (and eligible for NHS funding I believe) to provide abortion counselling. (Picture your GP handing you a list of options – some are pro-choice, some anti-choice. Or perhaps in your postcode they are all anti-choice….).

I’ve stolen the quote below from the excellent article in the Guardian on the latest shinanigans.

Tracey McNeill, director of UK and Europe at Marie Stopes commented that the current system offers women “access to impartial, non-directive and expert support from trained counsellors, if they decide they want it. We simply don’t believe that organisations whose own publications describe abortion as ‘a most grievous sin’ can provide impartial pregnancy counselling to women. “

Well said.

This whole move is just another attempt to complicate and slow down the abortion process, and to make women feel bad about their decision to take control over their bodies and their lives.

And in the last few days, traditionalist and right-wing paper The Telegraph has had a string of front page investigations (when was the last time it did any investigations??) about improper behaviour by abortion clinics. Notably not ones associated with Marie Stopes or BPAS.  They very cleverly focused on the discovery that these clinics were allowing abortions to be carried out when the woman’s stated reason for the decision was because the foetus was female.  Because that makes even the most convinced pro-choice feminist have to chose between two lesser evils.  Coincidental timing? Any benefit of the doubt I may have given Dorries about her lack of involvement in this particular scoop was jettisoned when I saw her perfectly prepared response and subsequent coverage in the Telegraph.

It’s imperative that we all keep abreast of this wrangling and oppose Dorries’ efforts to get us all to take a step back in the womens’ rights that were so hard fought for in the 60s.

Campaigns for women, but not at the expense of men

There’s a lobby group, sorry “think tank”, which has come to my attention lately, that doesn’t sit right with me. It is called Women On and its mantra appears to be “Women On campaigns for women, but not at the expense of men”.

In a previous post, I had a bit of a skirmish with its founder Charlotte Vere on twitter, and vented my 140 character-limited frustration on the blog.  But this mantra has kept me thinking.

Spurred by her apparent defence of the status quo against all comers, I asked Charlotte at the end of our debate whether there was anything she  believed needed *changing* for gender equality? Having spoken out against quotas for boards, and in support of page 3 nudity, photoshopped “beauty” and Top Totty beer in Westminster, I was struggling to think whether there was anything recently that had angered my feminist sensibilities and upon which we had agreed.

Her response was to list three areas upon which I can agree with her: “Taking gender out of parental leave. Improving choice in childcare. Improving education re careers etc. etc,”.

The first in particular was spot on for me. I am passionate (to use a much repeated and slightly nausea inducing Cameron favourite word) about the campaign for gender equality in parental leave. I believe that when raising a child within a couple, that couple should be able to decide who takes time out of their career to care for the child. As a woman, I shouldn’t have the advantage of maternity leave over my partner (and nor should I have to bear more than 50% of the resulting workplace discrimination for being a human of child-bearing age).

And I was actually reassured to find that we agreed on some things – because I am (currently!) a right-leaning feminist  – though increasingly questioning the viability of that position.

So I sat back and tried to work out the route that the line – over which we disagree – runs.  And I think the problem starts with her mantra. “Campaigns for women, but not at the expense of men”.

Some equality issues have clear and obvious benefits for men as well as women. Some equality issues have more subtle benefits for both genders.

But you know what? Sometimes for women to get their fair cut in the world, a man – or men generally – may have to lose some of their privilege. It’s the natural consequence of the fact we are not starting with a clean sheet.

If men currently hold all the board positions, some men will “lose out” on future positions, if women are to get their fair share.

If NHS spend is finite, then increasing spending on childbirth facilities will have to take money from other programmes – potentially ones that serve male, or multi-gender publics.

If social services spend is finite, then increasing funding for domestic violence survivors, or rape survivors will find money going to help more female individuals than male (*Big note to readers: survivors of both these crimes are both male and female – and child secondary victims/witnesses are certainly both genders, but statistics currently show victims of these crimes as being disproportionately female).

And if men are currently enjoying the view of female tits and arse in their morning paper over breakfast, and in their paper over lunch in their work canteen, they might just have to start enjoying other imagery so that I don’t have to sit there feeling insecure or vulnerable. And you know what, while we are on this? It *ISN’T* my problem that I feel insecure while you ogle a beautiful woman’s breasts. You would too if I were copping an eyeful of cock over my cornflakes. Let’s please admit that.

I guess my point is; I don’t want to shit on men. I don’t want to put them *below* women in the pecking order. I don’t want to create an aggressive matriarchy, replacing the current patriarchy in all behaviours and characteristics barring the gender of the oppressors. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were all truly equal?

BUT we can’t all be winners all the time. And controversial as this sounds, some men might just need to step back from pole position, if there is to be room for others at the serving hatch of life.

We are so busy getting men onside with our equality cause, that I fear we sometimes forget (or perhaps deliberately gloss over) these facts.  For women to start drawing for second place, men will need to step out of first and into second alongside us.

So if you are a think tank that refuses to support causes that are currently dealing unfairly for women, because you are worried that men will suffer a bit in the journey to equality…. you don’t speak for me, and you cannot represent me.

And I am a little bit scared about the power you seem to be building within Westminster and the media, particularly among the vulnerable-to-having-their-heads-turned-back-to-the-status-quo right wing women.

I am woman, so I can naysay

I get really annoyed when anyone arguing against feminist matters uses the defence “I’m a woman and ….” or “XX <insert name of famous woman> does that / said this”.

Should we believe that, while many men unknowingly follow and conform to misogynistic societal norms (because they can’t all be premeditated chauvenistic b******s), women would be immune to these norms?

Sometimes these arguments are delivered with particular aplomb when the woman whose opinion is being used is a feminist herself.  As if political parties all follow the same black and white party line at all times….  Should we bring in a feminist Whip to give us a more united front, or can we perhaps enjoy our different perspectives, and use them to properly debate the facts of an issue without trying to trump one opinion over the other?

When the editor of The Sun quoted Germaine Greer’s support for Page 3 during his Leveson enquiry hearing into the inappropriateness of the feature, did I recoil and think “Ah, well, she’s written SOME BOOKS, so boobs amid news must be EMPOWERING!” No. I did not.

I have a gay friend who believes that gay marriage is a bad thing.  I think his opinions come from his religious beliefs. But can his opinion (with the added trump of his sexuality) hush the mouths of all the others, straight or gay, who believe that gay marriage is about equality and an all round Good Thing?

So for the record, for every woman you can find who thinks feminism is stupid and irrelevant, I can find another who also agrees with your naysayer.  And yet I go on believing my point.

And if you are a woman and think that your chromosomal catalogue adds weight to your opinions of comfort with the status quo, read around a bit. Try to believe that a sample of one from a pool of 3.3 billion is not statistically representative.  Get a few (statistically recognisable) facts into your arsenal of opinions.

Then let’s talk.

Body confidence and culpability

I’ve been having an interesting debate with someone on Twitter this morning (Charlotte Vere, founder of Women On; “an independent, non-partisan think tank that aims to transform the debate around women”), and wanted to share because, frankly, I cannot understand how my sparring partner is justifying her opinions anymore. 140 characters is limiting in this regard. While it produces some very appealing soundbites, you don’t get to explore complex matters in appropriate depth. So I’m reverting to the blog, and I invite my fellow debater to comment if she wishes.

It started like this, from her:
“Body confidence? Banning photoshop won’t help.”

I checked whether she was just being provocative because it seemed like an incredibly weird position to take, especially for a woman who supposedly “campaigns for women, but not at the expense of men”.

No, she meant it.

And so began the discussion.

Over the course of the morning, between my meetings, I’ve been responding to her defence of photoshopped images of female bodies and faces in the media. Her argument, it seems, is that women are responsible for our own body confidence, cosmetics and dieting are in no way a bad thing, and the media has no effect on any of these things. Images of ideal beauty have been around since the year dot, and worrying about your body is just a teen “time of life thing”.

To avoid overlaying my bewilderment to the source material, here are the original tweets:

Me:  do you really believe that about photoshop or was that a provocative comment? I can’t tell.

Her: Yes, I do. Banning Photoshop is ridiculous and nothing to do with giving people ‘confidence’ in their bodies

Me: but what, then, do you believe is undermining their confidence in their bodies in the first place?

Her: ’twas ever thus. The solution is in education and building self esteem, not focussing on bodies in magazines. [cont] When I was in my teens, girls and boys obsessed about how they looked. There was no Photoshop then. It is a time of life.

Me: there were, however, idealised & ‘perfected’ posed images. Photoshop is the next step in that. Now the images are impossible. [cont] women have long aspired to an impossible goal. I’d argue for more diversity in female images in general for healthy self-esteem [cont] also the problem is not a teen problem. The diet/cosmetics industries wouldn’t be booming if so niche.

Her: They have always been impossible for us mere mortals. Always.

Me: that’s my point. Who is this immortal woman and why have we created her? She only serves to undermine real women.

Her: She only undermines real women who lack confidence and THAT is my point about body confidence. It is not about banning Photoshop! [cont] What’s wrong with cosmetics?! What’s wrong with dieting?! It is up to you if you chose to use/do either.

Me:  firstly there’s nothing wrong with cosmetics. There is something wrong when women feel the *have* to hide their natural face

Her: Most women I see in the street clearly don’t feel that need!

Me: secondly, where do you think confidence comes from? It’s about our standing against society expectations and ideals. [cont.] and the media creates society’s expectations and ideals so should be held responsible for the consequences in confidence

Her: Nope. Confidence comes from managing our own expectations. You have to understand who you are and what makes you special. [cont] Again no. ‘The media’ as you call it is a hodge podge of different ideas and you can pick and choose which ones you embrace.

Me: no woman is an island. Our own expectations are also built through our interactions with society. [cont] women are told what society values (young, “beautiful”, flawless) & we aim for that to be valued too.

Her: Sure. Her interactions with her society, her family, her community … the list is endless. Banning Photoshop is not the answer! [cont] ’twas ever thus. Society might idolise one thing or another. Most people don’t waste time on trying to be that thing.

I later referred her to Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, because I didn’t want to paraphrase such excellent proof of my argument.  She replied “I am good thanks. Something tells me I would not agree.”  A shame, I feel, surely we should spend more time reading things with which we disagree than those who already sing the songs we do?

Luckily someone else stepped in and joined my side of the debate, because I was running out of energy to continue.  The upshot for me is that (and here she sets out her stall)…

Photoshop relies on our innate trust in the truth of photography (“the camera never lies”) and sells us a lie.  If we see a cartoon, or hear something described, we know to question it (or some of us do anyway), but when we see an image it is sold as a truth – it certainly never has a big warning sticker that says “this photo has been subject to photoshopping. This woman doesn’t really look like this at all, she actually looks pretty much like you”.

Photoshopping is just part of the problem.  If the images in our media better represented us as humans (rather than projecting an aspiration as if it is norm), I would be happier.  And I genuinely believe we would all be more confident. We would however see a substantial drop in spend on cosmetics, fashion, cosmetic surgery, diets…. and I guess that would in turn hurt the advertising spend of these companies with, guess who, the media that use the aspirational images in the first place.  Interesting that…