I think I am an average bloke, really. I am not different than you, or about to preach you to position myself as better. I am not better. And, I guess that, like many men, when I am exposed to the spontaneous #MeToo movement (not exactly a ‘campaign’), I get at the same time hopeful and inspired and upset, but also reflective and ashamed about certain regrets, immaturities and retrospect stupidities (although I don’t think I’ve ever touched a woman without her ‘consent’). But what I have to say is not about me, as an individual, but about our society and time.
We might just be living a momentous shift in the appreciation of, and resistance to, the unfair treatment and structural inferiority of women. But because anti-feminist arguments are still common, let’s start by taking stock of how much we, men, have actually benefited so far from the gender-equality movement: by creating the conditions for fathers to have significantly more meaningful and affective relationships with our children; by having our life-partners shoulder in the house’s responsibility for income; by ridding us of the tedious and violent position of being in a constant cock fight, or being always ‘strong,’ if not by generally liberating us from emotional repression; by allowing men of alternative sexualities to be equally happy, as well as letting us all have a larger variety of sexual and other non-conforming experiences; by making the women and girls we love live up to their potential with confidence and security, and by letting our boys enjoy their lives in more ways than before. Feminism provided/s us with new opportunities, as well as betters our practice of fairness and emancipation from domination, so we benefit both as men and as human beings.
(If you disagree with all of these, you should probably stop reading now).
Having said that, if there’s one thing that the #MeToo wave has shown us well, it is that the road to fairness is still long. As men, we have a lot to contribute and gain from the desirable change, which now must go beyond the current accusatory politics that spotlights individual cases. In this contribution I focus on two issues that I think are most urgent (both of which were and are studied and theorised thoroughly by many brilliant (mainly) women over the recent decades, but with insufficient attention from men).
The first is –
The normalisation of misogyny
Let me tell you a story. Once, when I sat with my then-toddler boy at a restaurant, he turned towards the large wall-mounted flat-screen which was playing music videoclips and pointed to the women singing and dancing there, and said to me proudly with his angel voice and the very small vocabulary he had: ‘Pants, Daddy! No trousers!’ – ‘They are very silly, aren’t they?’ I replied, adding with a smile, ‘They’d be cold!’ in an attempt to keep a sexualised situation innocent. Of course, men singers very rarely perform as naked, as ‘sexy,’ or as seductive as women in pop music. More importantly, older music videos and performances didn’t use to be like that. It seems that the phenomenal combination of voice, music and dance talents is no longer sufficient to draw our attention, if the performer is a woman. So, what does it say about us? And, should we be concerned that our young girls are consequently learning to twerk or dance sexually?
Don’t get me wrong, I surely don’t think that dressing or performing in a certain way legitimises mistreatment or violence, but sometimes dressing in a certain way is itself a manifestation of the violence. In other words, even someone is walking naked on the street doesn’t give anyone the legitimacy to harass them, yet, at the same time, being coerced (e.g. by ‘popularity,’ ‘demand’ or ‘norms’) to a certain nakedness or dressing code, particularly of a gender, is socially violent.
This reminds me that my lovely little daughter, Ella, who is not even two, loves Rihana’s song Umbrella, because she likes it when we sing to her ‘Ella Ella eh eh’! But, sadly, I couldn’t let her watch the music-video to show her what the singer looks like, because even innocent songs like this beautiful one, which is purely about friendship in time of trouble, are being so unnecessarily and inappropriately sexualised in videos. What does this say about us? And why is it always women whom are being sexualised, or having their appearances policed and criticised? Surely, part of the answer is that pop culture is a reflection and amplification of social norms, which in today’s world translates popularity to profitable ‘demand.’ But the question remains, What is the demand for, and why.
Another example is the way pop singers and comedians popularised and legitimised the word ‘bitches’ as a reference to women. The animalistic/dehumanising word euphemises prostitution, and reduces a woman to her sexuality and ‘promiscuity;’ or, alternatively, refers to a somebody as ‘being a cunt’ (!), which is yet another feminised enforcement of properties of pettiness, bickering, fighting, annoying… Both words are also scornfully addressed at men sometimes, as an emasculating tease. In fact, women use them too, because, well, women also take part in reproducing misogyny, (like Bond women clothing shop near my house where they put up a negative-stereotype-reinforcing joke sign that reads: ‘“I don’t need new clothes” – said no women ever’).
There is something very casual and taken for granted about the way we take part in, and are being exposed to, sexism. While my impression is that racist stereotypes grew out of fashion and lost legitimacy in some advertisement industries, everyday sexism remains evident and popular as ever in commercials, at least in the UK. Just try and reverse the sexes of print or video adverts and witness the gender expectations embedded in it. The same is true for national politics: had Phillip Hammond’s ‘banter’ about women would have been based on an ethnic or race group stereotype, for example, I think he would paid a price for it.
Perhaps Donald Trump’s notorious ‘locker-room talk’ was not so exceptional, as we want to think, after all. I don’t mean that adult men pride exploiting and groping women without consent, but that we can recognise in this talk the way men endlessly compete over alpha-male symbols from an early age. With regards to women and sex, this competition is epitomised in expressions like ‘to score,’ or to ‘get’ some, or in talking about intimacy as if it was a [sports] record (e.g. ‘third base’).
We all know what I'm talking about... Credit: South Park Sexual Healing (S14E01)
From sexism and sexualisation to misogyny and violence
So far, I focused on the omnipresence of sexism (or, better: genderism and misogyny) in the most miniscule and automatic practices and discourse of our everyday culture. I’m sure you can think of many other examples, sadly. But there is another aspect of misogyny which is more urgent and less visible (considering its seriousness), which we, men, have a gender bias to overlook. I’m talking about physical violence and abuse. In a nutshell, there’s just so much of it, and so little is reported or acted upon. The epic proportions of violence against women, including domestic, are just so incredible that it wouldn’t be wrong to assert that violence has a gender, or maybe even has a sex. Corresponding with our ‘boys will be boys’ culture, which praise the familiar type of masculinity that aims to be rough or tough, we must now recognise that we have, actually, become really dangerous.
Interestingly, our male violence problem manifests not only in the margins, but in unexpected, unconscious and unintentional ways throughout our misogynistic culture. For example, it is not only that our film and literature products have significantly less female major-characters, especially in leading, or identifiable, or active, or depth rolls, or who speak, especially about things other than men, or that women are often the passive and/or are rescued trophies (incl. for kids) – but that they are much more likely to be ‘killed’ by men writers. Violence against women in video games is even more explicit, sickeningly visual and just seriously fucked up ( – how is it even legal!?). What does the fact that these ‘sell’ tell us if not something about the violent misogynistic fantasy, which surely links the abuse women face on the screen or online to the physical world?
It is harder for men to grasp, because we seldom calculate the risks of, say, walking home at night, or of going home with a date, or deliberate next to whom would be safest to sit on the bus. Women, however, constantly think about these mundane actions and manage men as serious risks. Their well-based fear and experiences rarely cross our minds. However, this violence must concern us, men, too. If we see women as human beings, we have a responsibility to defend their rights and safety. Otherwise, our ignorance/disinterest/indifference/tolerance effectively translate to acquiescence.
Let’s take this opportunity to ‘man up.’ Let’s make a special effort to be interested in this issue, listen and act. We can start by reading, attending and watching more women-led feminist works and action groups.
Thanks for reading.