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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Feminism may have won a few battles, but it has fuelled a war that is still raging

Because men are now berated for being ‘male chauvinist pigs’ and women can go to work, we suppose that feminist ideology has become reality: misogyny’s reign has ended and we are liberated. Women have won the right to choose, apparently, and are no longer confined to the abhorrent evils of the kitchen or child-raising. We may step from the ashes of our charred brassieres and embrace the equality of opportunity that now awaits us.

Yet I argue that this opinion is not only misguided but dangerous. Our society is still saturated with attitudes which are detrimental to women and men alike. These are the result of two factors: some aspects of feminist ideology itself, and society’s skewed perception of what constitutes feminism and the resulting behaviour.

I do not intend to spout pure vitriol against feminism. Undoubtedly, it has caused positive change in our society. Early feminism was extremely honourable in its aims: to allow women to step out of situations that were tantamount to slavery. Until the 20th century, women were considered the legal property of their husbands. Shockingly, it only became illegal for a man to rape his wife in 1992. Feminists are right when they talk about the ‘glass ceiling’ that confronts us; a recent survey of businesses found that in 16% of them, women were still paid less than men for doing exactly the same job. These injustices must be confronted, and feminism set out to do this.

Yet despite these admirable objectives, the ideology of feminism has also caused women to suffer. Rather than give women more choice over lifestyle, it has merely changed the one choice they have. It is now seen as a rejection of your femaleness to not want to work. Feminist thought has caused having a vagina to be synonymous with having a career. To want to stay at home and look after your children – or to even have children at all – is sneered at, and women who choose to do so are despised. Feminism loudly argued that staying at home, having children and not working is a waste of our abilities, and should be avoided at all costs.

But far from liberating women, this has constricted their choices. Not only has this social conditioning meant that women often automatically choose a career rather than considering other options, it has meant that if they do not want to work, they are condemned. A practical example? A college teacher asked me, in front of our class, what I wanted to do in life. I replied that I would like a career in journalism, but if I got married and had kids, I would rather stay at home and bring them up. In response, a girl in front of me turned round and declared, “Shame on you!” This is a perfect embodiment of the attitude now prevalent in society. Women have not been empowered. Rather they have been coerced. Working mothers now face the impossibility of juggling a career and parenthood, a situation which is worsened by the costliness of childcare in this country. Furthermore, many women feel guilty because they are not bringing up their children themselves. Yet they feel that to do so would be to reject their identity as women, because of a false ideology.

Further victims of feminism have been our men. You may argue that was the entire point of the movement: to show men they can’t trample women underfoot. Indeed it was, and still is, necessary for men to change their attitudes. Yet we are now faced with a generation of men that do not know what masculinity is. Extreme feminism has stripped men of their identity. Unfortunately, this extremism has not stayed on the lunatic fringe of society; it has seeped to all corners of it. Think about it: how many times have you heard a man being called ‘useless’? Men can’t multitask; they apparently have no feelings, and if they do, they’re gay; they can’t do anything for themselves (apart from maybe loosen the lid of the jam jar). This is what we have come to believe in modern-day Britain.

What are men supposed to be? They are no longer allowed to be our protectors, our husbands, our fathers. They have been reduced to redundant members of society, whose only purpose is to be criticised and berated for their derogatory attitudes towards women and incapacity to be of any use.

This is one of the most dangerous consequences of feminism. What is more, it shows that feminism has turned to the very behaviour that provoked its wrath. It aimed to rid society of unjust attitudes and discrimination against women, but in the place of these things it has instated hatred towards men. Let me say something controversial: women need men. And men need women. We complement each other. We do need men to loosen the jam jar, just as they need us to show them how to actually change a loo roll. Yes, we are different, and there is no denying our differences. But these differences are to be celebrated, not criticised. There is no point in pretending that women and men are the same, because we are not, and that is a good thing.

Men now need to learn how to be men. Girls, it is not an insult if a man opens a door for you or pulls your chair out for you in a restaurant. Feminism has spurred us into resentment and we need to unlearn this. We must respect, not ridicule, each other.

Not only has feminist ideology in itself caused problems, a misguided interpretation of feminism has meant that exploitation has been mistaken for ‘empowerment’. I speak of what has been referred to as the ‘Nuts-and-Loaded’ culture, which has recently been much criticised by those who have a clear perception of its true nature. Far from illustrating our emancipation, it only serves to show just how backward our culture is in terms of respecting women. Just when did women decide that taking their clothes off in order to be the subject of a man’s seedy imagination and masturbatory sessions was empowering? Being paid money is no justification. Women who claim they are empowered by this are deluded. Kinga masturbating with a wine bottle on live television is not empowerment. Neither is Jordan, with gravity-defying breasts, posing for the camera. It is pure degradation, sanctioned by those being degraded.

The key misperception in society with regard to this is that because women are now able to control how men feel, often whilst earning large amounts of money, we have somehow conquered sexism and male chauvinism. Yet this is a fundamentally flawed view. Why do women take their clothes off? Because they know men will enjoy it. They are allowing a man’s desires to shape who they are and what they do. Moreover, the people who pay them to do this are men. The following line is from the number 1 song in the charts at the time of writing: “I need you to strip… I need you to grind like you’re working for tips”. How, in a society which is ‘post-feminist’, can we allow that sort of attitude to pollute our airwaves on an hourly basis? This is a men’s industry, in which women are merely pawns who think they are queens because they are getting rich. Women are degrading themselves within the context of an entirely man-made agenda, in the name of liberation.

Far from living in a Utopia of equality, we are surrounded by a mess. In order for women to be truly emancipated they must feel able to choose the lifestyle they want, without the rest of society hurling abuse, subtle as it may be. Men must learn to be men. And women must stop pandering to patent sexism under a false pretext of empowerment. Only then will true feminism have achieved its goals.

1 Comments:

  • A brave, interesting, and well-written piece. But what does it actually mean for men to be men? What defines a man? And can that be standardised across different cultures?

    And while, as you know, I agree with much of what you say about women, what pre-suppositions are you working on? And why should they be more valid than anyone else's?

    By Blogger Cora, at 3:51 pm  

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