Now that’s out of the way, let me start by making one thing absolutely clear: feminism is for everyone.
Feminism is not solely the preserve of crop-haired, man-hating, bovver-booted dykes in dungarees; nor is it festering in dry academies. Feminism is simply about assessing who our culture has made weak and who it has made strong, and just what in hell we’re going to do about it. And since the most keenly felt social dividing lines in contemporary society are still drawn between men and women - with little to no room for the many thousands who place themselves most comfortably between those binaries - feminism affects all of us on a basic socio-political level.This is because feminism is about nothing more or less than the politics of gender.
Whether you’re a boy, a girl, transsexual, transgendered, gay, lesbian, bisexual or a straight-laced, rugby-playing man’s man from Wigan who’s never even heard of Germaine Greer, you - yes, you - are being fucked over by your gender. More on this later.
The question is - what are you going to do about it? One of the things that infuriates me most since I’ve started dabbling my tiny toes in the murky, scum-skinned, crisp-packet-floating waters of gender politics is people giving me excuses for their lack of engagement with modern feminism. These range from the merely uninformed - ‘I can’t be a feminist because I want to get married and have children’ - to the dazzlingly anodine -’I can’t be a feminist - I shave my legs.’ However, the one which sets my tits on edge most often is: ‘I can’t be a feminist - I’m a man.’
I’m sorry, what? You mean that just because centuries of social discrimination have put you on the winning side of the power divide, it’s not your problem? Of course it’s your problem; it’s your problem because wherever society makes people unfree, your personal freedom is implicated, circumscribed. However, simple inertia isn’t the only reason that some men are reluctant to come on side.
More often, and equally disturbingly, what I hear from intelligent, reasonable men and boys is the reluctance to engage in feminist debate because ‘it’s not my place’. Feeling themselves implicated by the mere biological fact of their gender in centuries of oppression they assume they have no right to comment or even be involved; and are embarrassed when called upon to do so, despite having deep respect for women.
This is, of course, nonsense. Sadly, though, the ‘not our place’ attitude, puerile and ignorant though it may be, is one that some women feminists - particularly so-called ‘radical’ feminists - have allowed to fester. It is, however, utter drivel. Boys: as former oppressors, we want you on side. We NEED you on side. In fact, we can’t do without you. Lucky for you, there are many, very basic things you can do to raise your own and others’ awareness about feminism and gender politics. For your delectation, for your edification I have constructed a list of suggested activities.
Ten daily feminist activities for boys.
1. Use ’she’ instead of ‘he’.
Pronouns matter. Using ‘he’ where gender is disputed is not acceptable; neither are words like ‘mankind’ to stand in for ‘humanity’. It is simply not good enough to say that you meant to imply men AND women - the words we use affect the way we conceive our world. Try using ’she’ instead of ‘he’ where either would do; you’ll find it makes you think about basic gender categorisation in subtle, important ways.
2. Change your porn habits.
Everyone likes a good wank, don’t they? However, not all groin-bashing-material is equal. When ‘harmless fantasy’ involves the exploitation and abuse of women -either in the industry itself, which is deeply murky and unequal, or in the situations portrayed - it’s not okay, I’m afraid. We can save the Great Porn Debate for another time. Thankfully, however, there is a great deal of woman-positive pornography out there: particularly professional voluntary sites like the excellent Suicide Girls, the delights of which I’ll leave you to savour for yourself. Sites like Pornotube also contain a lot of voluntary, amateur stuff which - whilst not half as polished as professional pornography - are good for a giggle, and often show footage which is both a lot closer to real sex, and surprisingly hot. If anyone has other links to share and discuss, do comment below.
3. Stand up for yourself.
Gender stereotyping works both ways. The next time someone tells you, even in jest, that you’re useless/unfeeling/clumsy/ emotionally stunted/ lack creativity/ are sexually boorish/bad at cooking purely because you’re male, don?t take it. Remind them how angry they’d get - and rightly so- if the sentiment were reversed. Gender discrimination, any gender discrimination, lessens all of us, and you have a right to refuse to be implicated in it.
4. Shave your armpits.
Most girls do it. You should too. Why do we do it? Because armpit hair is icky. Why should you do it? Because armpit hair is icky.
There, I’m glad I got that one off my chest.
5. Learn to give compliments properly.
Wolf-whistling, cat-calling, whatever you choose to call it: it’s not flattery, it’s aggressive, and it’s harrassment, and we don’t appreciate it. I know very few women indeed who like being wolf-whistled at, and those few tend to have very low self-esteem indeed. If you’re in a group of people doing so, don’t join in.
Conversely, if you really want to give a woman a compliment? Come up to her in person- one-on-one is much less intimidating - and tell her that she’s beautiful. Be as specific and non-explicitly sexual as you can - compliment her hair, her eyes, her laugh, her sense of humour, her fascinating intelligence. And then - if you can - walk away, so she doesn’t have time to get embarrassed or to feel that you’re expecting anything in return. I know about three men who have this down to a fine art, and all of them - shock of the century - are popular with the ladies.
6. Learn to love cunnilingus.
7. Educate yourself.
Take time to get to know the real issues facing women in contemporary society. An excellent and highly readable primer is Naomi Wolf’s book The Beauty Myth; another is Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs. Make one of the big feminist websites, such as Feministing or The F Word, part of your regular reading. Think about what you read; talk about it with your female friends to see how their experiences match up. You’ll be very surprised at what you’ll find.
8. Be nice to your mum.
Mums can be a pain, I know, but take time to think about whether or not you’re fair to yours all the time. This culture vilifies motherhood, and everything about it; and that vilifcation is eroding respect for women in one of their many highly important roles. However awful your mum is, try to appreciate her from time to time, and think twice before you bad-mouth her in front of your friends.
9. Don’t pay for everything.
You’ll like this one. The notion that, on dates or in relationships, men should be responsible for a greater share of the financial burden than women, is outdated and nonsensical: the message, essentially, is that the woman can?t support herself properly, and shouldn’t have to now that you’re there to do it for her. Offer to split the cost of a meal or a cinema trip; if you want to treat her, allow her to treat you in return. Everybody wins!
10. The Great Door-Holding Debate.
It’s a classic trope: the poor, unreconstructed ‘gentleman’ holds the door for a young lady, only to be rewarded with a rigorous ear-bashing for daring to be such a chauvinist; others like him become scared to follow suit, only to be criticised for their lack of politeness. So, what the hell do you do?
Simple answer: you hold the door, for anyone, wherever you can, because it’s simple good manners and makes everyone’s life that little bit easier. I try to do so all the time, and so do lots of women I know, because politeness should not depend on gender relations but upon simple human decency. If you get shouted at - which will only happen if you’re very unlucky - take comfort in the knowledge that it’s not you that’s unreconstructed, it’s them. If you’re still nervous of door-holding, Pennyred suggests that you start with easy, soft targets. Such targets include: people holding a lot of shopping; people pushing buggies or in charge of small children; old people; and, of course, other men.
If you manage successfully to complete these assignments, please send a full class report to Penny Red at Red Pepper, along with your phone number, kinks and basic measurements.