Monday, October 09, 2006

Hurray for feminism...

...or something similar. I hate memes, or chain letters or whatever they are called and am delighted, for that reason, not to have been included in one of the latest 'tags' to be going round that I noticed at Stroppy land namely: 5 things feminism has done for me.

Alas, you cannot buy fat barbie in the shopsHowever, I thought it would be quite a good idea if at least one chap joined in on this one and so I've taken it on myself to go for my top five things feminism has done for me.

Incidentally, without getting into too much of a frenzy of pedantry I wouldn't describe myself as a "feminist" partly because whenever I hear a bloke say they are a feminist I have an irresistible visceral urge to scream "fuck off you tosser!" into their ear and partly because I'm never quite sure how far labels get us anyway.

When people say anything like "As a Marxist I think..." I always think I bet there are loads of Marxists who think the exact opposite, what I wish they'd say instead is "This is what I think, and here's why..." Much the same goes for feminism, there are plenty of self identifying feminists out there, but until you actually hear what they have to say on issues like abortion, men, pornography, marriage and trade unionism you are still in the dark as to what they actually think.

So here goes, five things the feminist movement has done for me

1. The Nuclear family

My personal experience of the nuclear family has not been an entirely, ahem, happy one and the break from the rigid post-Victorian moralism that kept people who didn't love each other within spitting distance of each other is jolly good. Or worse, like my Dad's parents, a social standard that brought them together in the first place despite having no real feelings for one another because getting married and having kids was the thing that was done - I'm not so sad to see the back of that particular zone of emotional disfugurement.

Obviously I'm not for polyamory or anything [shudders theatrically] but the fruits of serial monogamy have been delightful I must say, both in terms of a far healthier way of operating than being locked into a valueless relationship that has run its course and having partners that are both sexually experienced and emotional mature. I assure you dear reader, this does have its benefits.

2. Family planning

The right to an abortion, easily available contraception and sex education have not just been welcome steps forward but are absolutely revolutionary in terms of how we live our lives. If it wasn't for this and point one (above) my own life would be quite, quite different today. Whilst I'm certainly not opposed to wives and babies I'm very much in favour of getting to choose when and if they become part of my life.

I'm pretty certain that the 17 year old me would have been a pretty poor husband and father and I'm very glad that, due to the advances that feminism fought for, it never happened. Family planning isn't just something that has enhanced people's sex lives (or simply allowed them to have one) it's a social revolution allowing us to make choices about children, sexual health and orientation that simply were not open to us before.

3. Breaking down barriers to advancement

It may sound strange that allowing women to be promoted into positions that were only available to men previously should be something of benefit to both sexes, or perhaps it doesn't, I don't know, but it certainly seems that way to me. When my Mum was at school not only was she not allowed to take her best subject (Maths) because it was not a girl's subject she was all but forced to become a nurse.

I don't think it's in my interest for my Mum to have lived a life constrained by gender conventions that simply do not suit her temperament. It can hardly be in my interest either that the best person for the job of, say, the heart surgeon who may have to operate on me, has not gone to the best person because gender roles forbid it.

The best person for the job is something that benefits the whole of society, not just the person who gets the position they applied for and, whilst we still have a long way to go to a totally open job market, the difference between my generation and my Mum's is difficult to over state.

4. Learning to cook

How many skills have I got that my father just never will? How many men have no confidence to do the simplest things around the home because they come from a generation which told them it was "women's work" and so they never learned.

I suppose it also has benefits the other way round. I don't have a clue around cars, traditionally only men might have been able to help me spark my alternator, or whatever you do with it, thus limiting the number of people who could help me out when stuck. I hate cleaning the oven though and very rarely do it.

5. Making workplaces habitable

When I left school I went to work in Hayters Lawnmower factory in Spellbrook (Essex) and I thought it was hell on Earth. The job was boring and monotonous, but I could tolerate that, what I found very difficult to cope with was the constant use of the c word, the vile and misogynist tripe that my workmates constantly came out with and the dull as ditch water view on what was and was not homosexual behaviour.

I'm not saying these attitudes have gone away but the progress made at work in terms of professional behaviour has made my life far, far better - and I'd like to thank feminism from the bottom of my heart for that.

It sounds obvious to say but the fact is I've met many women I like, and I enjoy spending time with them as friends - if women are only there to fuck or to cook why would I have ever wanted to talk to them in the first place? I think I would have missed out on some very interesting, funny and challenging conversations over the years that rarely, if ever, strayed onto sewing, wedding dresses or recipes for bread and butter pudding.


AN said...

I am so glad you said this:

"whenever I hear a bloke say they are a feminist I have an irresistible visceral urge to scream "fuck off you tosser!" into their ear "

I also have a similar feeling when people say they are a Marxist, to which i usually think "oh give me a break"

I also know nothing about cars, which is an acheivement being not only a bloke, but also my dad was in the motor trade and I an a chartered engineer.

AN said...

BTW - a good tip Jim, is try to only shout "fuck off you tosser!" inside your head.

I have found from expereince if you actually say it out loud it can inexplicably cause offence

Louisefeminista said...

Jim, I was thinking of tagging a bloke but suppose I was interested in tagging other women to see what they believe feminism has done for them.

I also find it rather desparing when I hear a bloke describe himself as a feminist and mutter obscenities under my breath in response and "tosser" has been shouted.

I agree with what you say about the heterosexual nuclear family and there has been a significant body of work written by socialist feminists on the issue (unlike some on the revolutionary left who think it starts and ends with Engels).

And as a self-identifying socialist feminist here are my views on.... :)

1. abortion: support a woman's right to choose.

2. Men: They can benefit from feminism as well.

3: Porn: against censorship (but for a developed analysis see the blog)

4. Marriage: On a personal level I am against it for political reasons as it props up patriarchal norms. And marriage is a bourgeois institution.

5. Trade unions: I am an active member and steward. And I have worked with so many good women at grass roots level. But as a woman there is so much for to fight for....

Apol. for the essay

Daniel S. Ketelby said...

Hi Jim, interesting discussion... did you ever encounter the "men's movement" at all... I'm thinking of the pro-feminist, men's liberation and mythopoeic wings (see Wikipedia on "men's movement" for more information).

I've looked at a few of Christian and secular texts (Steve Biddulph's Manhood [secular] is a good place to start if anyone's curious), and been in both secular and Christian men's groups, which I believe has helped me in my life's journey...

Jim Jay said...

Louise: I hadn't meant my little list of questions to find out what a feminist really thinks to be definitive - but it's interesting to read your answers anyway. The same goes for Marxists, Labour Party members and all sorts really. Political labels just don't do more than give you an idea of how the person defines themselves.

I used to be against marriage but the left was so sniffy of it and refused to see the positive reasons as to why someone might want to get married I've kinda gone the other way in reaction.

I think love is a good thing and people should be free to express it however they choose - marriage is one option. For me the problem with the nuclear family was always it was the only way and it was a prison.

Re: The men's movement - I have come across it before and tried to read stuff from that perspective, but find it hard to relate to. I think this is where the primal scream comes from.

I think my problem with it is they want to see men as special and I'm not into all this touchy feely crap. I don't even hug my Mum so I'm unlikely to find male bonding particularly appealing.

Renegade Eye said...

Primal Scream came earlier than the men's movement.

I never heard the word tosser before.

I hated in I believe the 1970s, when feminists would protest against pornography, with rightist neighborhood groups.

Louisefeminista said...

Jim: Ah good to see you are against all this hugging stuff. When anyone hugs me I get a bit well, tense and I am crap at it anyway. Yes, I see your point re: marriage and it is personal choice but like I said on a personal level, for me, I am against it for the reasons I outlined. But you are spot-on re: nuclear family as it is a bloody prison for most of us!!

Renegade Eye: Yeah, Primal Scream (though not the band.. :) did indeed come before the men's movement.

Tosser is a fab word and very good to shout it at the top of your voice. Very liberating!

Yes, radical feminists had very strange bedfellows when it came to protesting against porn in the 70s and 80s. Not the kind of people anyone with progessive ideas wants to rub shoulders with!!

AN said...

I have never hugged Jim's mum either.

On the male bonding issue it is interesting to what degree rugby clubs occupy that space where men who don't even come out as gay to themselves in their own heads can suck each other off "just for a laugh".

But I digress, wasn't there an earleier different "men's movement" in the late 1970s around the magazine "Archilles heel" that had an entirley different aganda of liberating men from those macho stereotypes of male bonding, etc.

I seem to remeber the MIGs being involved.

AN said...

Jim, when you say:

"Obviously I'm not for polyamory or anything [shudders theatrically]"

Why obviously? It works for some people, and isn't that a valid choice?

Louisefeminista said...

"But I digress, wasn't there an earleier different "men's movement" in the late 1970s around the magazine "Archilles heel" that had an entirley different aganda of liberating men from those macho stereotypes of male bonding, etc."

Yes and it was still going in the 90s.

Jim Jay said...

Re: primal scream. I wasn't clear. I actually meant the men's movement stuff I've come across created an urge in me to vent a primal scream - but rereading it I can see it looks as if I'm saying they invented the concept, which was not what I intended.

Tosser. Mmmmm, it does feel good to say. It essentially means the same as wanker ie someone who masturbates (not many of those around I would have thought) so for instance you might use the sentance "I tossed one off in the bathroom" - although please, not at a dinner party.

It has a much sharper cadence than wanker I think. In lovely Essex, where I'm from originally, we use both but "wanker" always sounds a bit nasal and whining where as tosser is harder and more throw away perhaps.

"Toss one off " is more dismissive than "I had a wank" I think. Anyway. Please children, never use these words in front of your parents.

There may have been an earlier men's movement - certainly the stuff I've seen is more recent. The premise of getting in touch with our masculinity horrifies me. I think its far better to see gender roles as social constructs and try to get in touch with what you, as a human being and an individual, think and feel - if you must do this stuff at all!

Jim Jay said...

oh yeah - re: polyamory - oooooo - yuk!

AN said...

oooo - yuk!


But isn't that you making value judgements about what other people find acceptable?

AN said...

What I mean is you wrote:

Obviously I'm not for polyamory or anything [shudders theatrically]

which you obvioulsy think is accpetable, but if you had written

Obviously I'm not for homosexuality or anything [shudders theatrically]

then that would have been quite unacceptable

what is the difference?

AN said...

and would you have written:

"re: homosexuality - oooooo - yuk! "

No you wouldn't, but I think it raises the same issues

Jim Jay said...

One blindingly obvious difference between homosexuality and polyamory is that gay people suffer from discrimination in society and polyamorists do not.

I find the comparison pretty vacuous to be honest.

I am allowed to have my own tastes you know.

Also: if I'd have said "homosexuality - ooo yuk!" I'd have been saying something that I didn't feel and wasn't honest. the only possible circumstance I might say such a thing is in a humourous attack on homophobes.

stroppybird said...

"so for instance you might use the sentance "I tossed one off in the bathroom" - although please, not at a dinner party."

See, this is why I never go to dinner parties. I am sure I would get drunk and say something to offend. It would bring out the worst in me.

Anyway, thanks for the anaylsis of the use and meaning of the qwords tosser and wanker. Agree tosser is a better word to shout at people .

AN said...

I don't think that's right Jim. It is only a vaccuous comparison if you minimise the difficulties of people who practice polygamy and polyamory. I would be intersted to know why you think gay people are more oppressed than polygamists, beacsue I am not at all sure that is true.

Firstly, I think that there is a lot of social pressure against polygamist and polyamoraty love. I It is extremely difficult for people with unconventional "family" arrangements, and it can be used against them in child custody cases in court. There is a tremendous amount of social stigma even to having affairs (a form of polyamory that around 40% of us experience), especially when children are involved, and people are often involved in very unhappy webs of deception and despair.

Bigamy is still illegal while civil ceremonies between lesbian and gay couples are now legal, which rather disproves your point. There is no recognition of polyamorous relationships in welfare or benefit law, or the law of probate.

There is in fact probably more social disapproval of menage a trois arrangements than there is of gay relationships, and it would certainly lead to discrimination at work, etc.

It would be a mistake to assume that becasue there are swingers clubs for alienated sex that there is no discrimination agisnt people who really do live in communal loving sexual relationships.

You are allowed to have your own tastes of course, but by saying that you were "obviously" disgusted by polyamory, it suggested to me not a statement of personal preference but a contribution to a normative consensus against polyamory.

On a personal basis I find the idea of gay sex something I wouldn't at all want to get involved with, but I would be careful not to say "homosexuality - ooo yuk!" for political reasons. In the same way I find the statement "polyamory - oooooo - yuk! " inappropriate, as it implies not just that you are not personally interested but also that you think it is OK to express disapproval.

AN said...

mmm and I am not sure whether you are saying that because there is swinging and dogging then polyamory is socialy acceptable?

These to me seem evidence of the degree to which polyamory is stigmatised and alienated, rather than a a socially acceptable life-style choice.

After all cottaging was/is an expressin not of the acceptability of gay relationships, but rather of their reprression.

Jim Jay said...

I didn't say I was "obviously disgusted by polyamory" - you're making that up.

From those I know or have known who have polyamorous or open relationships child care, etc don't have the litany of problems you describe.

Polyamory and polygamy are different. I have expressed no opinion on polygamy (and not much of one on polyamory either come to that) I think that's red a herring to make it sound like polyamory is vergeing on the illegal, which it isn't.

Having an affair, even a long term one, is not what I understand by having a polyamorous relationship -that is what is commonly called being an arsehole.

Polyamory is in the open, has the consent of all parties and attempts for maximum honesty and emotional openness. Affairs are the exact opposite.

Likewise dogging is not polyamory as it is not about multiple loves.

A C Baker said...

'Polyamory is in the open, has the consent of all parties and attempts for maximum honesty and emotional openness.'

Where's the yuk in that?

'I wish they'd say instead is "This is what I think, and here's why...'

I can't quite work out what you really think about polyamory, or why, so far?

Jim Jay said...

Well quite - as you say I've said very little about it as the post is about feminism. I may post about polyamory at some point as it is something that interests me in more than one way, but not at the moment...

but as you will have noted of my three contributions the first two were ambiguous joking remarks - something that was entirely lost on some others.