On the gender war, ‘post-feminism’ and masculism

Too often it feels like I am engaged in some kind of gender battle whereby I’m fighting for the wimminz and having normal relations with men feels like sleeping with the enemy. Literally. It feels like I’m constantly fighting to try and stay true to my what I genuinely believe (you know, the whole Patriarchy thing and actually taking a hard line on The Issues), but also not be a raving sexist. Is this even possible?!

I had been thinking that perhaps post-feminism or a post-feminist view of the world might help allay this battleground feeling, and I wondered the benefits of straight egalitarianism as opposed to feminism. I’m not convinced that egalitarianism, or indeed a ‘post-feminist’ outlook, helps at all.

The risk with anything ‘post’ is that it seems to suggest that we are somehow ‘over it’ – ‘post-racism’ means we’re beyond racism being an issue and implies institutionalised or systemic racism is no longer a thing. We’re beyond it and everything is cool. Except, we’re not. We aren’t beyond needing feminism – if anything, we need it now more than ever: People working at UK Feminista counted and “found the number of grassroots feminist groups has doubled in the past two years… It shows what a resurgence there’s been in feminism and how people across the UK are fighting back against the attacks on women’s equality.”

While on the one hand it would be great for me to not frame the issues into very specific and narrow contexts, it’s extremely difficult to talk about them without any context at all, without acknowledging gender as an issue, or without attempting to separate the two genders. Because gender is inherently an issue – without referring to official statistics, I know off the top of my head that men are broadly more violent and aggressive than women, for example. Is this biological, a result of hormone differences? Perhaps. (Cis)women (and transmen) are the only ones who can physically give birth. Should I ignore this very simple and straightforward, undeniable biological fact? Or should I try to pick apart the which traits/behaviours are biological and factually unchangeable, how much is socialised and internalised, and how much cannot in fact be accurately applied to half the world’s population and is simply a different personality/view?

All this talk of egalitarianism and being fair to all genders brings me to a really important point that I think has needed saying for some time: We need to make a space to discuss men’s issues – exclusively. Feminists talk of derailing tactics when they discuss issues – “What about the menz?” – and this is a valid and frustrating thing that comes about time and time again. But at the same time, when is it appropriate to talk about how the Patriarchy shafts men too? Where are the spaces for all genders to discuss scenarios where men really are worse off?

Some will think in response to that, that I am calling for masculism or that MRAs perfectly plug this gap. They don’t. Most MRA boards, blogposts or websites that I have come across are nothing more than a thinly veiled, highly misogynistic and vicious attack against women. Many men in those spaces call for the rape and aggressive oppression and domination of women and this is clearly not on. There is rarely any critique of the Patriarchy as it screws men, and far more bitching and whining about how the be-breasted of society don’t have sex with them enough. Or something. I’m not really sure.

I have yet to see a discussion about men’s issues that I am concerned about in those spaces – the issue of genuine reproductive/parental rights and protection, for example. Do men have real control over reproduction? They can father children and not know for years, if ever. Is it fair that, should they genuinely not wish to have children, they can be ‘forced’ to – and then end up paying for the child they didn’t want? Of course it isn’t. How the state could possibly protect against unwillingly becoming a father, I don’t know, but this is just one of the things I think needs to be looked at and seriously considered.

Masculism for me isn’t an ideal response because it seems to ignore what I feel is the real issue. The Patriarchy. Too often I hear “men go to war to fight for women” but I find this to be a disingenuous connection – rarely in history do we find that women have been the leaders in war scenarios. Men kill men. What we are skirting around is the fact that this is symptomatic of a Patriarchal society, not one in which women lead or have any means of systematic control. Ultimately, egalitarianism is the goal here, and I’d like to think that can be achieved through feminism – I seriously doubt much can be achieved through masculism as is – and I think that while a post-feminist outlook is great on an individual basis (so you don’t judge people on gender! Wonderful!) it’s not at all useful for critiquing the society we currently live in. And this is necessary for progress.

The strange relationship between the Mail and women

The Mail Online is one of those really annoying news outlets that you can hate more than anything else, and still have a bit of admiration for. I admire the MO, because it knows what its readers want, and it delivers time and time again, without fail. It is a tremendously  ridiculous, runaway success story, and one that other newspapers look at with a mixture of envy and annoyance: How do they do it? It is vile – and badly written. More curiously, why is it so popular with women?

Here is something of a shocker for you: The answer is the patriarchy. You see, from a young age, women are implicitly relayed information through culture, MSM, other people that tells them roughly the following:
– You are not skinny/fat/loud/quiet/smiley/dour/round/hour-glass-shaped/bubbly/housewifey/etc enough.
– Everyone else is. Look at the front pages of magazines! These are what real women look like. Get a grip on yourself, girl.
– In order to be less inadequate you need to invest. Invest everything. Invest in make up, invest in skincare products, invest in bodycare products, invest in shoes. Bags. Plastic surgery. A little black dress. Suitable-for-work skirts – not too long, not too short either. Buy a cute dog. Even the dog has to look good – get it groomed every 6 weeks. Cut your hair every six weeks. Dye your hair the second it starts going grey – it’s unsightly and makes you look old and no one wants to put up with that in their face every day. In short, look good, but not too good because otherwise men may not be able to control themselves and may accidentally rape you.

The Mail Online does this whole patriarchy thing so well. Where else would you find horrified articles about the size of someone’s arm/leg/part of their body, alongside a certain Liz Jones bemoaning her latest facial doesn’t actually make her look ten years younger – or an outraged piece about how young girls are wearing less clothes and it’s disgusting (complete with several gratuitous photos, of course) next to, I don’t know, some article about a burns victim saying that no one talks to her anymore and she gets stared at in the street.

It’s just a smorgasbord of bizarre put-downs and lift-ups, really. On the one hand, some bits are inspiring – on the other, we all know deep down inside that we are worthless and we quite like being reminded of that. (Remember: you are brought up taking certain ‘facts’ for granted, that are actually fictitious, and it takes a long while to re-wire your brain to realise that things are in reality very different!)

I imagine the people that read the Mail Online and take it very, very seriously, look like this:

Not worthy!

Women, history and development

At Fem11 last year, Sandi Toksvig said something that has stayed with me and rattled around my brain for a while. She said, isn’t it funny how, before the invention of the written word, women were treated equally, or at least not with the contempt they are treated with even now. Isn’t it funny how men have rewritten history: Florence Nightingale is the passive “lady with the lamp” – whereas she was known in her time as the “lady with the hammer”, because she broke into cabinets for medical supplies etc.

According to Toksvig, before the written word and the development of language, history and traditions were passed down orally – usually through women, to their children. The role of the woman in this society was highly valued – they were integral to the ongoing survival of the tribe/society. They gave birth to children, they taught them about their cultural roots and where they came from. They taught them how to survive.

Not much of this, in actuality, has changed. Women still give birth. Women still pass down information, skills and education to their children – albeit much less so. They tend to be primary caregivers still, too.

What has happened now, I think, is that we are now valuing synthetic successes above evolutionary needs (for obvious reasons). That is, we care more about man-made money, man-made success – short-term goals, as opposed to evolutionary or long-term ones. We are not really too concerned about the future in terms of the future of mankind as a species, and we are not really too concerned about our pasts or where we came from. The future has been neglected worldwide – children are devalued on a constant basis, alienated from their own society, and made to feel like their opinions are worthless. Point me in the direction of a young person who feels truly valued by Western society. Point me to any facts and figures that say we are succeeding at diverting very real and imminent environmental crises. And in terms of our past, we keep seemingly forgetting where we came from, and the mistakes we’ve made before. We must do, because we keep making them.

Thus the role of the woman has not in itself changed, but the meaning society gives to the role, has. It has been taken for granted that women will want to procreate with men, that women will be primary caregivers, that women will allow themselves to be subjugated in every different way.

Is this ‘present hedonism’ an altogether male phenomenon – is it cocksuredness and arrogance? Or just a symptom of modern life and a nasty side-effect of technological development?

Matriliny != Matriarchal society

I was reading “Why being superior is never the answer” on the women in Meghalaya. I tried to publish this as a comment and for some reason it’s not working so I thought I’d expand and blog it.

What really annoys me about the BBC piece (“Where women rule, and men are suffragettes” – which inspired the blog post) is that it’s total nonsense and we should really be calling the BBC out for that. All of the pieces that I have seen on it are entitled “Where women rule” or “Female-dominated society”. IT’S NOT. Google matriliny for crying out loud. Matrilineal society doesn’t mean that women are automatically in charge. In fact, that’s not even anywhere near the case.

Read this, it’s quite interesting. The women there have very little political empowerment and, so I have read elsewhere, little interest in ‘invading’ politics or the religious system – all priests are still male, for example. They suffer from domestic violence (at the hands of those husbands who are alcoholics, I assume), and in a way they suffer greatly from the very assumption that matriliny automatically empowers women in every way: What charity, or what people would bother trying to protect or champion the rights of a group who are already seen to hold the power?

And – hey, BBC – comparing that to the suffragette movement? Wow. That’s totally not cool.

I’m actually quite annoyed, and the more I think about it the more it annoys me. It’s like everyone who talks about Meghalaya is going “HA! Look, wimmin! When you’re in charge the poor men suffer! THINK OF THE POOR MEN!” and it’s used as an argument against feminism as a whole. These morons completely neglect to actually look into the real situation on the ground and look at the education and health issues that they have there.

Not to mention that I really don’t think a lot of feminists are *genuinely* looking for a female-dominated society in the same way that the patriarchy works. In my experience, it’s a ridiculous argument used by people who have *no* idea what they are talking about, have never bothered reading anything about feminism, and feel the need to attack you personally because attacking the patriarchal system they live in and thrive under is deepy personal to them.


Consent is sexy

Alternative title: “I’ll want to have sex with you more if you want to have sex with me enthusiastically as well” – AKA “If you don’t want to have sex with me that’s fine but I won’t try and have sex with you anyway, because that would make me a rapist”.

Consent is very sexy indeed. I happened across consentissexy.org a while ago and not only do I mostly love it, but it also gave me some food for thought. A lot of recent discourse around consent has – for me, at least – been around Julian Assange and his sexual conduct. Consequently, I’ve been reading loads of information and blogs on the subject of consent and I think broadly, the ‘model’ of consent I would go with is that of enthusiastic consent. (There are of course, limitations and some odd situations where it might not apply – I think it’s a good one to keep in mind though)

Enthusiastic consent is basically, I suppose, a way of figuring out if you’re really doing the right thing – are they ‘into’ it in the same way as you? Is their body language a bit off? Are they looking upset or a bit nervous? Ask them if they’re okay. That’s it. Just think to yourself: how is that person feeling? It’s just a check, to make sure that everyone is enthusiastic about what’s happening. I think if everyone followed this honestly, it would help to clear up and perhaps prevent some horrible situations.

I had a whole raft of posts in my browser for ages because, um, I think collectively they explain it better than I could.

It’s not that they don’t understand, it’s that they don’t like the answer – a lot of rape apologism/’misunderstanding’ is around this idea that consent is somehow difficult to understand. You don’t sign a piece of paper, or explicitly say “ok, let’s DO THIS” (Well, you might do…!) but this article talks about research that shows that ‘no’ is very discouraged in our society, and that when it comes to anything, we all hesitate to say a straight-forward no. Rejections are couched in “I like you but”s, or “I would LOVE to but I’m busy then”. We all understand rejections in other social contexts, so why not sexually?

Not saying no is a very, very long way from saying yes – this kind of follows on from the first one. It asks, why are people so reluctant to say no, and why do people think that if someone doesn’t explicitly say no, then it’s an automatic yes? Not saying no is not the same as saying yes!

The (non-existent) terrible, horrible, no good, very bad consequences of enthusiastic consent – this discusses enthusiastic consent in more detail.

Under Duress: Agency, power & consent (part one: “no”) – this discusses consent and the power of ‘no’ more clearly.

Consent is not a light-switch – this is interesting. Consent to one act is not necessarily consent to another. That’s really important. Consent is an ongoing state depending on your interaction at that time. You cannot consent to something later when you are asleep, and it shouldn’t be assumed that because you have consented to one thing, that you consent to anything else.

The only thing I have left to add is a fantastic comment at the end of the consent blog at I Blame The Patriarchy, which is the best analogy of consent, I think:

Nobody asks their friend ‘Want to play tennis?’ then when Friend says ‘I would LOVE to, you know I love playing with you – but I am really tired and I have this thing I have to do really early,’ shows up at 6pm on the court expecting to see their friend. Nor do they just start serving balls at their friend’s face.

Sometimes consent is difficult. It’s not a magical on-off switch, and no one is really going to explicitly ‘give’ you it. You just need to figure out where the other person is comfortable (ie at what level of interaction), which requires ongoing communication and awareness of their responses, even in body language etc. It’s kinda hard at first maybe, but, y’know, consent is definitely sexy.

Understanding power structures

If you’re going to study any isms, the first thing you should really look at is power structures – how society has traditionally structured itself and evolved. In feminism, this is often called the “Patriarchy” (rule of the father/male role models). In terms of intersectionality – which is about where feminism meets anti-racism, meets class issues, etc (ie minorities in different categories) – this is called the Kyriarchy… The interaction between different systems of domination and submission.

I start with the Patriarchy as this is the one I most commonly can relate to. This is the idea that in western society most things are geared towards men – that society values the role of men much more than the role of women, and denies women the same opportunities and equality. There are lots of stats around but what is most well-accepted is that there are more CEOs who are men than women, and more MPs who are men, than women. Why is this? There is nothing in the requirement of being a CEO or an MP that inherently discounts women – it is not an explicit requirement, for example, to have a beard or a penis, or any other thing which we dictate to be ‘male’. Levels of testosterone or maleness should not dictate that you cannot be a CEO or an MP. Yet women continue to be under-represented in these fields. Women are also paid much less in work – again, there are statistics and reports on this out there, should you wish to find them. Yet women are over-represented in the public sector – why is this? This is what feminists talk about as the Patriarchy – that “men” as a group are generally dominating, and much better off than women are. That is entirely different to saying that individual men hold power – although some do, this is clearly an inaccurate generalisation.

It’s a fairly simple concept, once you understand it, and one you can apply to any arbitrary category of society – for example, with regards to sexuality, ‘heterosexuality’ is the dominant group and ‘homosexuality’ is the oppressed. It follows thusly:

– Cisgender people are dominant, transgender people are the oppressed.

– White people are dominant, non-white people are oppressed.

– Men are dominant, women are oppressed.

– Middle class is dominant, working class are oppressed and exploited. You could even take this one further and look at the ‘ruling classes’ (ie politicians, nobility, etc) as dominating over all, including the middle classes. Then the middle class dominate over those below them, and so on – so the lowest class in society is oppressed by all of those above it.

That is not to say that anyone who happens to fit into one or all of these dominant groups is a horrible person – just that society is automatically geared towards giving them an advantage. They are privileged. These are social structures of power. It is easy for one person in the dominant group to have power over someone in the oppressed group. And while it is possible for someone in the oppressed group to be horrible to, or not like, those in the dominant group, I maintain that it is impossible for there to be ‘isms’ in this context. It is in fact entirely understandable why people in the subordinate group may hate those who have been oppressing them. Allan Johnson explains this in The Gender Knot (2005):

“Given the reality of women’s oppression, male privilege, and men’s enforcement of both, it’s hardly surprising that every woman should have moments when she resents, or even hates, ‘men’.”

It is not possible for women to be ‘sexist’ against men. It is not possible for non-whites to be ‘racist’ against white people. There is a distinct difference between group interactions (ie systematic oppression from society and its rulers – who are, incidentally, mainly cisgender, straight, white, middle class men) and individual interactions. There is a difference between me growing up in society, feeling that the message I’ve heard is “as a woman you are worth less than a man” – and me insulting an individual man, telling him he is not good at something/making generalisations. That might be wrong and not-very-nice, but it is not sexist; it is not misandrist (I have already argued that misandry doesn’t exist here and here). It is me disliking an individual man. Whereas a man doing the same thing to me, does so in a generally anti-women and hostile environment that affects me to a large extent and has a negative effect on my behaviour and the way I perceive myself (see street harassment that happens worryingly regularly if you happen to be a woman and go outside your own house). That’s sexism, and that’s why women need to fight back.

The reason that women – and other oppressed groups – feel the need to have women-only safe spaces, and should be allowed them, is that they can achieve much more without the interference of the aggressors. Some women feel deeply uncomfortable discussing feminist ideas in front of men, because they feel that men will dominate the conversation – this aggressive hijacking of the conversational thread or debate happens all the time in every day life where the dominant groups take over. It’s called derailing, and as a ‘privileged’ member, it takes a while to see that you’re doing it. This is why, when people discuss racial issues, I fully support them and I add my two cents if need be – but I’m more intrigued about following what the people who have to live with abuse due to their skin colour, have to say about it. I try to listen more and speak less. What can I possibly have to add? I have never been the victim of a racial attack and I never will be, and I suspect they are fed up of white people claiming the mantle for themselves.

What is really interesting about power structures is that once you see one (of course, I started with the patriarchy) you begin to see all. I once would have considered myself the victim of a ‘racist’ attack, where I was called a “white whore” “white prostitute” “fucking white slag” and so on by a group of young black men. I was shaken up by the experience – but the more I thought about it later on, the more I realised that, had they called me “whitey” I wouldn’t have had an issue. There is no historic meaning or basis for insults against white people – whereas there is a rich, awful history and background to, for example, the ‘N’ word. What was hurtful and awful about me being shouted at was that I was being called a prostitute, a slag, and a whore, simply because I was female. It didn’t matter what colour my skin was – it was sexism rather than racism. I think this really sums up my understanding of power structures, and it’s why – among a great many other things – Diane Abbott isn’t a racist.

Thatcher’s unique brand of feminism

Curse whoever thought up The Iron Lady film. I have to put up with sycophants banging on about how great she is, and lefties banging on about how awful she is. She’s back in public consciousness, when I really would rather she wasn’t.

So, the Guardian asked people, “Was Thatcher a feminist icon?” – one of those questions to which the answer should be “no”. Should be. Yet people still look to her as an inspirational figure, apparently. Or, according to some Tories, they should do. ‘Cos she was a woman and she did things.

Thatcher is a feminist and a supporter of the feminist movement in the same sense that I’m a big fan of gouging my eyeballs out. Which is to say, I have never done it, I never want to do it and I hope to Christ I never have to. She hates feminism. She even once said “I owe nothing to feminism”. She was resolutely anti-feminism, anti-women’s lib.

What people don’t get… The most infuriating part about this whole thing, is the assumption that women who ‘do’ things are feminists. By this definition… Why, we are all feminists! I’m a feminist because I once opened a jar by myself. Hugh Hefner is a feminist because he’s empowering women by allowing them to be photographed naked. What a guy! David Cameron is a feminist because he is married to a woman.

Feminism is not about doing things yourself and achieving. It is not about the small things. It is not even about doing big things. It is about being acutely aware of, and contributing to, a wider group of women – the ‘sisterhood’. It is about doing things in the realisation that your actions have an effect on how other women are perceived. She participated in and propogated the patriarchy – what use is complicity in oppression to any other woman?

What did Thatcher contribute to the wider movement of liberation for women, but disdain and contempt? From what I can tell, she hated women, she presented herself as a man and thought of herself as a man, and she didn’t care much for those women whose lives were ruined by her policies. There is no semblance of common-ground with other women, or any idea of solidarity – that together we are stronger; that one’s suffering is the suffering of all. Put simply, she was in her own league and that’s the way she liked it.

Thatcher’s unique brand of feminism, then, was actually what we would normally, in any other human being, characterise as ruthless individualism. She did things for herself, she didn’t further the cause or lay the path for other women to succeed in politics. On the contrary, I think she has harmed the cause.

If she’s a feminist icon then she’s an icon to the already selfish and ignorant. She will never stand beside me as a sister, and those who consider her to be a feminist icon are no sisters of mine either.


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