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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.

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.



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.

Speaking out online

Tonight I am attending a panel discussion which is being run as part of Social Media Week London. It is entitled Is a woman’s opinion “the miniskirt of the internet”? and will be based on Laurie Penny’s article of the same name.It will be about the often violent and threatening verbal abuse women get for engaging in discussions online.

So given the timeliness of the discussion, I wanted to share an experience a male friend of mine had last night on twitter.  Because its an interesting comparison. It’s a story of a man sticking his neck out on a largely women’s issue, and the response he got. 

This friend, let’s call him Sam, because that isn’t his name, and I had been talking a lot this week about the disgraceful behaviour of The Grammys, inviting Chris Brown back to perform three years after he had to cancel his performance because he was in a lock up mulling over his violent attack on a fellow human being.  It got us into a wider discussion about domestic violence, mutually tutting over the terrifying statistics and generally feeling impotent to do anything.

And then last night Sam (not his name, though), saw one of his idols tweeting a “funny” photo of a white couple, with a baby – posed in 80s family photo style,  In the photo the woman had a huge black eye, and the baby on her lap was black.  The tweet said:

“Just to bring you guys a smile before the day is over 😉 makes you think when we complain it could always be worse”

Raw from the discussion we had just been having, he responded:

“I don’t think joking about domestic violence really works as way to cheer things up to be honest. She’s got a black eye. not cool.”

To which this idol replied:

“Yes and he got a black kid, fair trade 😉 she will heal in 5 days he will pay for college”

So I’m just going to walk away from the justification of any sort of domestic violence by this dude (as well as the assumption he’s made that the father will be the wage earner, that he’ll be paying for anything etc), because people are wrong every day of the week.  And he is just one man. What I want to share with you is the response that this “idol” (using inverted commas because I’ve never heard of him, though in this community he is obviously a bit of a god) and Sam got to their discussion.

1) “that’s not even a real black eye” (it was, by the way)

2) “who said joking about something means you condone it and are for it?!! There’s a big difference.

3) “every time we talk I see your pic flipping the bird That’s domestic violence too, many women receives that pic at their home :-/” (really??)

4) “Life’s too short to take everything do seriously”

5) “lighten up..ur just assuming she got the black eye from domestic violence its just a picture not a story”

6) “hahaha.. Take the black eye anyday!!! Take 2!! Lol. X”

7) “Look at the picture, and get a sense of humour you bloody tube!”

8) “well I thought it was funny… Lol…. Agree to disagree haha”

9) “I was waiting for that one uptight douche and sure enough,lol.”

10) “ever hear of “satire”….lighten up a bit”

11) “does your boyfriend beat you up or something man cause you are over reacting. It was a joke u buffoon”

And when Sam was commented on the defence mounted by the followers, Idol said:

“it’s not my fault I have a great crew of friends here, and when I’m in a fight they jump in with a flying kick 😉 I love them”

Wouldn’t it be nice if victims of domestic violence were all so lucky.

I wanted to close this post with some of the statistics on domestic violence in the UK. Hopefully a quick glance at these will remove any doubts about the unfunnyness of domestic violence “humour”.

  • Over two women per week are killed by current or ex-partners
  • One in four women in the UK will experience domestic violence in their lifetime
  • Between 1 in 8 and 1 in 10 women experience domestic violence annually
  • Less than half of all incidents are reported to the police, but they still receive one domestic violence call every minute in the UK

(stats from Women’s Aid)

Why the silence?

I haven’t updated this blog since August and I probably owe some of the readers an explanation.

In August I started a major life move, from Australia, where I had lived for 18 months, back home to the UK.  6 months later things are beginning to settle and my brain has space again to turn to some of my interest areas.

However, it is not just life pre-occupations that have prevented more posts on here – I have not seen as much to arouse my need to vent my spleen.  The Australian papers provided daily motivation to get on my soap box, but either gender equality is less prevalent in the UK, or we just aren’t as trained to think about it over here.

I am going to have to work a bit harder to look for gender issues now, and in that search try to identify whether they are hidden, or less of a problem.

I also plan to continue to seek out examples of gender inequality (and fabulous acts of feminism) abroad too.

Do please drop me an email (contacts in the contacts tab above) if there is anything you think I might be interested in seeing.