Write about female objectification in the comment pages of any major paper and you're in for a pasting. No matter how reasonably you put your arguments variously for or against ladies' tits in public places, you will be instantly, brutally and often personally attacked in the comments, on other websites and in the living rooms of the right-thinking. Oh, unless you're David Mitchell, in which case you get a 500-comment thread all about how fantastic you are, and a storm of gushy agreement on Twitter and in the feminist blogosphere.
It's more than a little annoying that when a man decides to write something positive about feminism - for once - he is rewarded with attention and praised for originality of thought, when lady feminists have been saying exactly the same things for years and have been lampooned for it. Mitchell's article about Cambridge university's pole-dancing classes for Comment Is Free is absolutely fantastic, but it doesn't cover any new territory. On the same site in October, Rowenna Davis wrote a brilliant, witty piece about institutional sexism at Cambridge - and was called a silly little woman in the comments. Any lady feminist on Comment Is Free gets the same treatment, no matter how funny they try to be - look at what happens to Bidisha. Or Bea Campbell. Or, for that matter, to me.
It's bloody enervating. No, it's infuriating. And yes, it says a lot about the barriers of mistrust and prejudice that women face - from men and from other women - when they attempt to say something meaningful in public. But I can't help it. The article -'Actually, you won't find female empowerment halfway up a pole' - still fills me with joy, and makes me want to whisk David Mitchell away to my secret socialist-feminist volcano lair and seduce him (I'm anticipating a dazzling swordfight when Robert Webb comes to his rescue).
Men like Mitchell have a role to play in feminist dialectic. Quite specifically, they have a role to play in educating other men about what feminism means and why it's important. Because feminism must address men, as well as attacking patriarchy. We are long past the point where we can make our arguments only to one another.
And when you're addressing men, it's nice to have a man on side. Because like it or not, men are much more willing to listen to other men than to scary scary women. Like it or not- and I don't - what sounds like a bitchy attack coming out of the mouth of a female feminist often sounds like brotherly advice when it comes from a bloke.
On every liberation front - and make no mistake, feminism is still very much a liberation front - defectors from the other side have a vital role to play. When what you want is to actually share a society with the oppressors in the long-term, when your options for liberation do not reasonably include the total annihilation of all ball-swingin' manpersons, then you have to get men onside sooner or later. And it helps if they can crack a joke.
David Mitchell is one of a growing trend for male comedians who understand that they don't need to fall back on misogynist jokes as part of their repertoire, that lazy misogyny actually dates their work and alienates half of their audiences. Bill Bailey and Charlie Brooker would be other examples of public funnymen who realise that sexism is stupid - so stupid, in fact, that a lot of material can be mined from pointing out the various ways in which patriarchal capitalism is bloody ridiculous. The Daily Mail's feature spread on the toes of the party leaders' wives, for example.
Too often, it's only the men with ugly views who comment on feminist articles. Sexist commentators are a self-selecting bunch, because unlike the silent majority of blokes who don't sit in their pants hating women on the internet all afternoon, they just don't care who they hurt. In fact, the silent majority of blokes are usually quite anxious not to hurt or offend the women in their lives, and their silence doesn't denote absence - it denotes a trepidation about getting involved in feminist discussions, for fear of making a mistake and being lumped in with the greasy-keyboard misogynists.
The trouble is that this process is self-selecting: feminists are so used to being attacked that it's sometimes hard to listen to what a man might have to say without assuming he's going to make horrific, bullying, unhelpful comments. When you're far too used to hearing tiresome internet and debate-room whiners squealing 'what about the meeeenz?', it's sometimes hard to pick up on men who are genuinely interested in women. It's hard to spot those blokes who aren't just out to score cheap points or question your right to speak, because really, there are so few of them. And only more male feminist allies will break this stalemate.
Feminism needs to enlist more men brave enough to admit to having feminist ideas. Like Mitchell, it might be a struggle to get them to actually use the word 'feminist', but 'empowerment' is a good temporary substitute for those still too delicate to handle the f-word. The silent majority of men, particularly younger men, are sympathetic to feminist aims. We need them to be brave enough to speak.