Sunday, July 04, 2010

From the archives: why feminism is good for men

This article first appear last year in the lefty daily paper the Morning Star.

Whenever I hear a bloke describe himself as a feminist I reach for the sick bucket.

I certainly wouldn't describe myself that way, despite believing in equality and having right-on positions on the major issues of day.

Sometimes labels don't get us very far.

When men describe themselves as feminists they are telling us something about their politics, but that is not the same thing as actually having consistent positions on women's equality.

For every political stance you can think of there is someone who describes themselves as a feminist.

It can give an indication of how someone sees themselves but it doesn't tell us what they think about sex work, trade unions, abortion, marriage or a host of other issues.

Despite feminism's continued relevance, it has become so devalued as a term that it gets used to describe almost anything.

A recent piece in the Guardian, which should know better but never does, described fascist sympathiser Brigitte Bardot as a feminist because "she represents the power of women. What's iconic about her is her shape, the way she occupies space."

Was this what the pioneers of feminism were struggling for - to be defined by their "shape"?

There's a middle class version of feminism that focuses on language while ignoring social inequality.

I can't be the only person who has had a female manager who is more than relaxed about the all-female cleaning staff being paid a pittance and given no respect while insisting that the workplace uses bizarre jargon in order to avoid "sexist language."

It's enough to give equality a bad name.

However the feminist movement has brought enormous social advances - and not just for women.

Struggles led by feminists have brought about significant positive shifts over the decades, although no-one sensible would argue that these battles are over.

The break from the rigid moralism that kept people who didn't love each other within spitting distance provided a massive step forward in quality of life for millions of people. Divorce has saved countless couples from emotional disfigurement.

The right to an abortion, easily available contraception and sex education have not just been essential for a woman's right to control her own body but have been absolutely revolutionary in terms of how we all live our lives.

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.

I'm 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 had to happen.

And feminism has broken down barriers to advancement for men and women. It may sound strange to some that allowing women to be promoted into positions previously the preserve of men should benefit both sexes, but it certainly seems that way.

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," but she was all but forced to become a nurse, which did not suit her.

It was not in anyone's interest that the job of, say, a heart surgeon, did not go to the best person because gender roles forbade it.

The other side of the coin is that many men of my dad's generation simply never learned skills such as cooking because it was assumed that a woman would do it all for them. How many men have no confidence to do the simplest things around the home because they have been told it is "women's work?"

Feminism has gone a long way to making workplaces habitable too. My first job was in a lawnmower factory and I thought it was hell on Earth.

I found it difficult to cope with the constant use of the c-word, the misogynist tripe that my workmates came out with and the dull-as-ditch-water view on what was and was not "homosexual behaviour," even down to your choice of biscuit or how you wear your jacket.

These attitudes have now gone away but feminism should be heartily thanked for the progress made in workplaces in terms of how people behave with each other.

Feminism may not be about bettering men's lives but there is no question it has improved them.


Derek Wall said...

'Just as the feminist struggle is not against men but against sexism and patriarchy, the indigenous struggle is not against whites or mestizos but racism'

Hugo Blanco

Anonymous said...

"We are, as a sex, infinitely superior to men, and if we were free and developed, healthy in body and mind, as we should be under natural conditions, our motherhood would be our glory. That function gives women such wisdom and power as no male can possess."

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Diary of 27 December 1890. Published in Elizabeth Cady Stanton as revealed in her letters, diary and reminiscences By Elizabeth Cady Stanton, edited by Harriot Stanton Blatch. Harper & brothers, 1922. p 270

The matriarch of modern feminism, in her secret heart of hearts, believed that women were infinitely superior to men. Not superior to men in some regards. Not better than commonly given credit for. Infinitely superior.

So you'll pardon my skepticism towards claims that feminism is good for men.