Today is March 8th, which is International Women’s Day, and I have a question for you: are you a feminist?
To answer that you first have to define feminism, but it’s actually much harder than you’d think. The official definition something along the lines of:
“Feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. Feminists typically advocate or support the rights and equality of women1.”
That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? But the people shouting with the loudest voices over this issue tend to be hard-liners. That is to say, they have their own definition above and beyond what is written there, and are not shy about expressing it, or loudly denigrating those who disagree with their interpretation, and that I do take issue with.
You see, what I believe is that yes, women should have the vote, and the basic rights accorded to men, and be treated equally in the workplace, etc. But I also strongly believe in the difference between the sexes, which is based in our biology and is irrefutable. And I believe in the right of any individual, male or female or trans, to behave exactly as he or she wishes to behave, provided that they do so within the law and without hurting anyone else.
This means that if I want to dress up to the nines for an evening out with my husband (whose name I have taken, because I wanted to), and go out in full make-up, perfume, high heels and sparkly/gauzy/frilly dress, it is absolutely my right to do so and expect to be treated respectfully2. However, if I put on a skirt which barely covers my naughty bits and a top cut right down to my navel, and go out alone to a late-night club, it is absolutely my right to accept that I do so at my own risk, in the full knowledge that it is going to excite some men3 and that I am putting out a subliminal ‘Hey guys! I’m available and I’m up for it’ signal. Because that’s the way hormones and social signals work.
We all use a non-verbal language which I’m going to call ‘Human’, and we use it all the time4. It’s partly about facial expressions and gestures, the ones we all know about; the nods and smiles and waves, the hands on hips and the stabbing finger, and we know full well what we’re saying, don’t we? But the rest of Human is the really interesting bit, and the bit most of us know little about. Pheromones play a large part in Human communication, but so do body position, head tilting, small contractions in the muscles around our eyes and mouth, tensions in the hands and fingers, weight shifting, respiration depth, pupil size, rate & pitch of speech, and so on. Whether we like it or not, we are all sending out these social signals, all the time. And sometimes these contradict what we are telling people in words.
So. There are feminists who see the softer side of their gender-driven natures as something which will betray them and which must be suppressed, and it’s absolutely their right to do so if they wish, but it can happen that a women believes she is behaving like a strong feminist, whereas she is actually saying something entirely different in basic Human.
This is a problem because it appears that many quite ordinary, decent men can get confused, because they have no clue what women want – in particular, the individual women they meet and deal with on a day-to-day basis. For instance, many young women wear tee shirts with slogans across their breasts, and yet if a man dares to allow his eye to be caught by the writing, he is glared at and made to feel as if he’s assaulted them. Isn’t this a little unfair? Unless, of course, you yourself never, ever, read a guy’s tee shirt?
I have always been a bit uncomfortable with the feminist movement, while at the same time approving of many of its aims: equality in pay and opportunity in the workplace, the right to vote, to take public office, to be taken seriously as a person first and a woman second.
However, I strongly disapprove of anyone dictating to me what I should and shouldn’t do, whatever sex they are, and I reserve the right to wear make-up and/or a bra (or even a corset if I should so wish) dye my hair, and to remain unoffended by wolf-whistles, compliments, or the odd wink from a tradesman. Quite frankly, I’m tired of all the nonsense. Of course women should be able to feel safe on the streets and in the workplace, but is it really necessary that all men should be regarded as potential rapists in order for this to happen?
Do we really want to put the whole masculine gender into a such an invidious position?
This is a far from scholarly blog, but it seems to me that the worrying increase in levels of depression and suicide in men – particularly young men – in our society today may possibly be linked to a communication problem. They are reading the subliminal messages of the women they meet, who appear to be giving the right signals, but then they are slapped down when they make an approach. Result? Confusion, leading to anger and frustration, and – because society now requires more self-restraint than ever before – this can be transmuted into depression, which actually seems to be a fairly predictable response. Remember, too, that ‘Care in the Community’ means that we have people living among us who may not actually be very good at ‘Human’, or indeed at impulse control – and this includes vulnerable men as well as vulnerable women5.
Chrissie Hynde may have been indulging in ‘victim blaming’ herself, as spokeswomen from the feminist movement have said, but there is a teeny tiny little grain of truth in what she says, because, like it or not, there are always consequences.
Perhaps what we all need to remember is that in this life you can pretty much do what you want … if you can take the consequences. This does not, however, in any way mean that I excuse those who choose to perpetrate violent crimes against women.
1 From Wikipedia
2 Of course, people might laugh .. especially since I’m likely to fall flat on my face if I attempt to walk in high heels.
3 Ha. Well, stranger things have happened! I might be the wrong side of sixty and weigh enough to be worth two whole smaller people, but you know what they say. There’s no accounting for taste.
4 Some of us are considerably better at it than others. Some of us have a really feeble grasp of it – at least at the conscious level.
5 Who may not have great judgement skills but also need to be protected.