How to be a good feminist

1. Don’t tell others they are bad feminists, or how to be good feminists, because this makes you look like you reckon you are the arbiter of what makes feminism ‘right’. Which makes you look really arrogant. And arrogance isn’t an attractive or useful trait.

2. I lied about there being a second thing. That’s it.

Women, sports and equality

A conversation about the BBC’s Women of the Year on Twitter (one of the entries is a female panda) turned into a little reminiscence over the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year – where not a single woman was picked. Later, someone at the BBC wrote, “Do we value women’s sport in the UK?” – that’s one for John Rentoul’s Questions To Which The Answer Is No, surely?

I’m not massively into sports myself but someone asked me the following:

I hadn’t actually put forward any of my thoughts about women in sport at this point; merely linked to the last BBC link where sportswomen talk about the value of women’s sport in the UK. But, my thoughts go something like this: Mainstream sport is dominated by men. There are all-women football teams and tournaments, but they are not widely appreciated or known or celebrated (or paid as much!) as all-men football teams. I, personally, would like to see mixed gender/gender-blind football teams competing internationally. But this is problematic – it would need to be agreed and happen internationally. Perhaps we could start with national mixed-gender football teams?

Straight Bat then said that sport is dominated by men because they are “generally physically superior…With true equality, there’d be no chances for women in sport.” I’m not sure I agree with that analysis of the differences between women and men. I don’t know much about sport but I would imagine (hope?!) there are sports in which women outclass men.

Ultimately, it really depends on how you define equality or how you want to ensure equality for all. There are two different ways of looking at equality – and two philosophical terms that, to me, are applicable to it: deontology and consequentialism/utilitarianism.

Deontology is Kant’s idea that the morality of an action is based on the whether or not the action in itself is good, and adheres to rules. Thus, telling the truth is good – regardless of whether it hurts someone and other consequences. In deontologism, lying is therefore inherently ‘bad’ – regardless of the outcome of the lie, ie if people are saved from being hurt. Deontology can be morally absolutist, which I find to be problematic – as I believe morals are flexible depending on circumstances – and I find it hard to believe that anybody could be a full-on Deontologist.

In terms of equality, you could argue that deontological equality is equality-in-itself. So in this case, you would argue that there should be absolute equality in sports (and other matters), regardless of whether or not women can compete at the same level. It’s totally equal, and it doesn’t matter what the consequence is. ie it doesn’t matter that – if you believe men to be biologically stronger than women – men will always win. Because women are equal at the first instance.

Consequentialism is generally considered to be the opposite to Deontology, and unsurprisingly holds that the morality or right-ness of an act is determined by the outcome. So, if lying saves someone from being hurt, then it’s ethically sound. If telling the truth will hurt someone, then it’s better to not tell the truth, because no one will be hurt.

Applying consequentialism to equality would mean that you would pretty much artificially create equality where there isn’t any. See: All-women shortlists, all-women sports, rules that require a 50/50 split gender-wise, and so on.

With regards to sport I would like to see mixed gender sports teams taking over all-men sports teams, and due prominence given to women in sport. I would like mainstream media to cover women in sport in a way that isn’t patronising or condescending. I would like to see the general public to respond to women in sport in a positive way, without making them out to have male attributes (see Fatima Whitbread as an example of this)

Having thought about this for a while, it’s occurred to me that I am for the most part a deontological egalitarian. I want there to be a level playing field and equal opportunities for all. This is my ideal. No one would need to be given artificial prominence in order to appear equal. But I don’t think that the playing field will be levelled to such a pure extent for a long time – if ever. So I suppose consequentialism and creating what is essentially ‘false’ equality is the only way to tackle gender inequality – for now.

Why The Good Men Project Sucks

Trigger warning for rape/sexual assault.

The Good Men Project has been getting on my nerves for the last fortnight or so, and I’ve struggled to really put together some coherent thoughts about it. But there’s a couple of blog posts by co-founder Tom Matlack that I just have to take issue with. He first wrote “The Feminist I Used To Know“, and then “In The Beginning, It Was About Storytelling“.

I’ll start with the first. Not only is the title insulting, but the standfirst begins:

The Good Men Project started with the goal of empathy. Empathy for other men. Tom Matlack hopes that today’s feminists can understand that.

Because feminists really struggle with basic concepts like empathy, because they are all nonsensical, stupid harpies that don’t understand human emotions. The post begins off in a patronising tone. Not really started off on the best foot, has it? Then he screenshots this:

If that isn’t the definition of antagonism-parading-as-ignorance then I don’t know what is. Of course he knows what feminism is. It’s disingenuous of him to suggest he doesn’t. He even says at one point that he grew up with feminists and he considered himself one.

He whinges about how women don’t really understand that he really is a good guy, and that he’s done nothing wrong – and then says:

Even the idea that women, or some women, would prefer men to be more like them than more manly sends the twitter-sphere into orbit. The idea that it’s not okay to treat all men as rapists, despite the preponderance of rape committed by individual men, is wrong.

I assume by this he is saying that he feels women, or feminists, treat all men as rapists. I am going to guess that this is based on the wonderful, must-read essay Schrödinger’s Rapist. The point of the essay seems to have flown entirely past him, though. The point of Schrödinger’s Rapist is that women do not know what rapists look like, and therefore cannot predict that they will be raped, or act accordingly (by presumably protecting themselves) – because they look exactly like other men. Contrary to popular belief, the ‘rapist’ is not someone who jumps out from behind the bushes, and looks distinctly evil; he is the man in the suit you work with every day; he is the friend you’ve known for years; he is that charismatic and charming man from the house party last week. He is a familiar acquaintance. Until he rapes you.

But I don’t know a single woman that treats a man differently because of this idea. All they do, is act a bit wary. I don’t hear stories of women attacking men for assuming they are rapists. Do you? It’s almost like Tom kind of likes missing the point. He seems to do it so often. How any man could possibly be offended by or misunderstand the idea of Schrödinger’s Rapist is really beyond me. And the second men say that it’s offensive, they lose any kind of credibility with me. I’m sorry – how does your wish to chat me up/stare at me/touch my arse trump my right to be left alone and feel safe? Why is it offensive that I want to live my life in peace, feeling safe and unharassed?

He says he is a feminist, then says:

I don’t understand being angry at men at-large, or to criticize those of us who are trying to get really honest in hopes of building a stronger foundation for intimacy and relationships and goodness in the realm of fatherhood and husbandhood.

Being angry at ‘men at-large’ – this is called the patriarchy, no? This is exactly what feminism is about – fighting the patriarchy; the unwritten, widely-accepted rule that men are better than women. If you don’t understand that and you can’t tell the difference between singling out individual men, and looking at ‘men’ as an entire group (ie as oppressors) then I’m sorry but you don’t get it, and you’re not a feminist. As for the last bit of that sentence – writing about ‘feminine power‘ and how women are the ‘rivers’ to the ‘mountainous’ men, and how being a woman is sexy and powerful – is not going to endear you to any feminist that I know. That’s an actively backwards step in the world of gender, in fact.

Another post I’ve read, “Is It The End Of Men?” the female author asserts that the problem with feminism is:

I was taught to believe that the plight of women was so difficult that I failed to see that men had problems too.

I don’t know a single feminist who would not admit that men suffer under the patriarchy too. What kind of feminists had she been surrounding herself with? The difference is that one cannot take on the world at once, one must pick the battles they feel they are more interested in. Of course, most people are more interested in what directly affects them. But I don’t think any feminist worth her salt would read something like The Rape Of Men and say that men being raped is not an issue. What is interesting is that where the common ground is, is that men are nearly always the perpetrators (again, not always – women have raped men, but not in the numbers that men rape women, men and children). So in short, of course men have problems – no feminist denies that. Again, someone missed the point here.

In the “In the beginning it was about storytelling” piece I can accept that the GMP was created in order to document stories that mainstream media were not interested in. This is great – just don’t start talking about gender issues that you don’t know anything about. That’s all I ask. I don’t doubt that Tom has good intentions. I don’t doubt that there are some genuinely heart-warming posts about how hard it is to be a man, on there. But every single thing about the Good Men Project that I’ve seen (even the name – geez, want cheese with that whine?) gets my back up, and I wish he would see that for what it is, rather than bitching that nobody understands him – again.

@Hubbit has written something about the GMP here, too. I recommend reading it.

Things I don’t understand about the Olympics

1) What sort of people go to the Olympics? I don’t know anyone normal that’s remotely interested in it. If I wanted to see people running around, I’d go to my local park. I don’t get the attraction, I’m sorry.

2) Why did we even bid for it when we haven’t anywhere near the infrastructure to cope with such an influx of people? The city can barely cope with the people that live there (Trust me on this – I’ve lived in London my whole life. Sometimes getting out of the underground system it feels like I’m clawing my way out of a wooden coffin)

3) How is this going to help bring money into the country? Links with point 1 I guess – the type of people that are there are not the kind of people who will be shopping at local shops and using local services, are they? Is it really going to have a big effect on the people that live there, other than cause mayhem on local transport links?
Interestingly, Ken Livingstone said he specifically wanted to have it in East London so that money would be spent on that area – a deprived area. This suggests to me that the only reason the Olympics is good is because in preparation for it, the deprived bits of London were made a bit nicer. I would love to see how this has panned out in hindsight – have those areas of London been made significantly better? Are people there happier, feeling less deprived? Or is it all superficial? I think back to the riots in the summer and I have my doubts that people in London are much better off because of this.

4) Since when did we have money to fund this massive vanity project? Though I confess, a lot of the money was budgeted long ago – the budget for the opening ceremonies has been doubled. Um, what recession and soon-to-be-huge-financial-crash?

5) This will be the legacy of our Olympics. . . . . . . . . I am just sat here open-mouthed.

6) Athens hosted the Olympics in 2004. Greece is now crippled with debt. This is an interesting piece about the true legacy of the Olympics for Greece. Although I don’t think it will be as bad, I think we are on the precipice of a huge financial fall-out and this is pretty much the worst time to have the Olympics on.

I needed to blog this because every now and then I hear something about the Olympics and it makes my blood boil. It seems like a huge waste of money to me. I want out of here by the time the Olympics roll round – I think London will become a nightmare around that time (even moreso than normal) and I am not the least bit interested in watching people run around a field.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the Olympics will be a massive success, maybe London will become a much nicer and friendlier place. Maybe we will get the cash injection we badly need, and it won’t totally cripple our economy (though I fear we are past that now) due to overspending. Maybe this time next year we can all have a jolly good laugh about how I (and many others) thought that there was going to be a huge financial crash of epic proportions – far beyond the one in 2008 – that we are not prepared for, and we’ll all look back on the Olympics with a wistful fondness.

Maybe.

The thing about the Lib Dems…

Is that they really don’t seem to have a point at all. They were voted in by younger generations, primarily on the basis of one policy. The tuition fee policy, where university tuition fees would be free. At best, economic illiteracy and at worst, a brazenly cynical ploy to get some claws into government – which they have so desperately wanted for years. In 2010 we saw what the real game was. The tuition fee policy was not only dropped in the coalition agreement (how long did that take them to figure out?) but the outcome was that tuition fees cap would in fact be tripled, to £9,000. The Lib Dems were the only political losers in this battle, as both Labour and the Conservatives refused to outline exactly what they would do with tuition fees… He set himself up for a fall, really. Ever since, Nick Clegg has served in the interests of the public as an unhappy human punching bag. Is anyone surprised?

Vince Cable, once someone who could be admired outside of the party; someone who seemed to know what he was doing, threw away most of that credibility when he unwittingly boasted to undercover reporters about his ability to bring Murdoch down. He said he could use the nuclear option and resign. Is this now the same over Cameron’s Europe veto? Cable commands a following within his own party, and I suppose that is where he is counting on having sway. Perhaps.

Both Clegg and Cable are reportedly furious that Cameron has left Britain isolated in the EU but I am really scratching my head about what they can do about it. They were supposedly going to bring Tory policies to the left. All that I have seen since May 2010 is more Tory policies going through. The DWP has been shaking up benefits to a ridiculous extent, demonising disabled people and the unemployed – and now want cancer patients to go through testing to prove they are unfit to work. I was going to go through more but I couldn’t even list them all – there are that many. Where have the Lib Dems been a balancing tool or even had any genuine influence over policies that are blue, through and through?

What does Nick Clegg even do, apart from whinge about being rightfully hated? What else does Cable do apart from secretly plot to bring empires crashing down, and the blurt it out to the nearest reporter, like a blundering old fool? They seem to have wasted a golden opportunity, and I really don’t think that the Lib Dems will survive the coalition as a unified party – nor do I think they stand a chance of ever being voted into government in the next 50 years. But do carry on, fellows. I’ll grab the popcorn.

Gender dysphoria and female chauvinism

One of the great things about reading so much about feminism is that I’ve been able to roughly plot where I fit on the scale, and I’ve shuffled around on it a lot now. I’d say I would probably understand most theories, I’d be able to debate what feminism means to me and what I think about certain things from a feminist perspective – I’ve read enough and talked enough about it, to be able to do that. I hope.

A while ago I wrote about wanting to look at things a little differently, wanting to learn more about things I feel I’m lacking in. One of these was trans* issues, I remember, because I specifically set out to find some good blogs on it, and I found some people who were willing to discuss it with me from a reasonable perspective (ie they were nice and explained things when I acknowledged I was ignorant).

I feel I have to confess something that has been bugging me and been a source of internal discomfort and conflict, for a long while. Something I don’t really know how to reconcile with properly but I hope I am already. The reason it makes me feel uncomfortable is because I have never really known many people to feel the same way – at least no one that I know – so I feel a bit weird about having experienced it.

The crux of it is that when I was growing up, I really didn’t like women, or girls. I looked up to my mother, my sister, and my grandmother, as rare outposts in an otherwise pink and fluffy world of barbies and hairdressing. It’s not that I didn’t like them as such, it’s more that I found them so totally at odds with my own experiences and beliefs that I just didn’t really associate myself with that gender at all. I considered myself not male, not female, but somewhere in between. Just a Soph. I hated the colour pink, wearing dresses, looking ‘pretty’. I was told off for looking scruffy. I wanted to play in the dirt, climb trees. I wanted train sets and things to build. I wanted to get my hands dirty. I emulated Power Rangers, and was freakishly knowledgeable about dinosaurs.

Perhaps this is not an isolated experience but growing up it really left me in what I perceived to be a tricky situation. I definitely wasn’t a boy because I didn’t look like them and they had extra bits that I didn’t have, but I also definitely wasn’t a girl because girls weren’t brave, they liked fairies, and they needed to be rescued by princes. I planned an alternative Princess Rapunzel in my head: Were I in her shoes, I would have cut my hair, make a rope out of it, secured it to the bed, and gotten out of the damn tower myself! As if I would wait for some dopey prince to come along and do it for me!

I feel like I experienced a extremely mild phase of gender dysphoria (can’t find a better word for it, but what I actually mean by this is where your perceived gender does not align with which gender you feel you are – in my case, both were equally alienating). I did actually start thinking at one point that perhaps I wasn’t supposed to be a girl. That maybe I was born in the wrong body. It seemed to me, to be easier to be a boy, because they could do all the things I couldn’t but really wanted to. They could be scruffy and not be told off. They got train sets and Meccano and Lego and nobody said they were being silly for wanting them. They could be dominating and loud and disruptive, and that was seen as okay; when I tried to do the same, it was ‘unladylike’ and inappropriate.

I also went through a patch of realisation where I could count my female role models on one hand, and I even struggled to do that. Then I realised that most, if not all of these female role models were gay, or represented as if they were, because they were strong women. I figured that you are probably more likely to emulate/look up to those that you most identify with. I most identified with and related to men, and gay/butch women. Therefore, I must be gay! It was confusing for a time, as you may well imagine. Suffice to say that I am definitely into men (yes, despite being a man-hating lesbian feminist – so tedious an accusation) and my friendship circles tend to be male-dominated too. I still find men a lot easier to speak to than women, and they tend to like and trust me more immediately than women do (I have had more than my fair share of jealous girlfriend drama, thankyouverymuch!)

I wanted to write this because I was reminded of it when talking about privileges that cis people have over trans people. I am probably doing trans people a gross injustice but I do feel like in a small way I have been through perhaps part of what that feels like – to feel totally at odds with your given gender. To look around and be like “I don’t fit into any god damn box there is! Why do we even have boxes anyway?” Even now, I sometimes think: “But do I have to be female? REALLY?” It always seemed to me that gender was a hindrance to what I identify as and want to be, rather than something that I am totally on board with and want to have celebrated. I am quite fascinated with the idea of how I’d be received differently if I identified as male; if I mixed up gender assumptions. I don’t like the idea of genders – I think it’s harmful to expect people to fit in the blue box or the pink one. I’ve always more strongly associated myself with male characteristics, but to be honest I’d quite like to smash the whole gender thing.

So, this was my confession – I didn’t like women growing up, and I’ve never really liked or understood gender, either. As an adult I’ve obviously changed and I see things more for what they are – that I didn’t like women because of what I saw in popular culture and what I saw around me, and I rejected femaleness because it didn’t fit in with my view of myself – rather than blaming myself entirely for it. That helps to assuage some of the guilt. I do honestly think my negative feelings towards women/being a woman myself (for I assume they are interlinked issues) is because of gender socialisation that I saw around me and didn’t fit into. I’m just frustrated that the world is so strongly conditioned to continue in one way, that it took me two decades or so of existence to realise that I am not a total bitch for feeling the way I did.

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