Over the years I have spent a good portion of my time talking and writing about feminism, specifically male feminism. It is something that I have felt passionately about since my early teens; though it wasn’t until my mid twenties that I felt I could start writing about it. And even then, it was naive and ignorant of me to think that I had an understanding enough to voice my opinions in such a way. But, in doing so I had the learning curve of trial and error, which in itself is educational and beneficial when forging into new territories of social injustice.
The term feminist has many connotations for people the world over. They may all believe in the same core principal of equality but many lack the understanding, as with numerous words, of what it actually means to practice.
I will spare you the clichéd addition of the oxford dictionary definition.
As with all views and opinions, my stance and understanding of feminism changes as frequently as the Middle Eastern countries that we decide to bomb.
I find it impossible to stick to one core understanding because I am constantly being educated.
Observations, conversations and arguments all shift our thoughts in one direction or another. If we are open enough to admit our mistakes and judgments, then each one of us will reach a more cognisant peak of the treacherous mountain of sociality: “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognise, accept, and celebrate those differences.” A. Lorde. This is not to say that one should disregard ones own opinions, but rather be informed with each new idea.
It isn’t easy in contemporary society being a man or boy and seeing the lack of equality in the same way as our fathers and grand fathers before us. On the outside, we can clearly see that women have a whole host more rights than they did in the generations before us, but it is the inequality under the skin that we rarely get to see. We watch women on TV hosting their own shows, running large companies (though still rarely) and being a lot more in control of themselves as individuals; something which would have been deemed laughable by the patriarchy not that long ago.
When asked what Feminism is in the 21st century, many males from generation X still see the archetypal feminist as an armpit hair, crew cut wearing lesbian. All you have to do is type in ‘Feminism for men’ on Youtube to scratch the surface of the outright hatred at the thought of gender equality. One such video entitled ‘Three biased feminists Vs one men and boy’s rights activist’
The video is your standard debate with a men’s rights activist, passing the blame about high suicide rates and male depression onto anyone that utters the words woman, whilst ignoring everything that is said but the rest of the panel. Scroll down to the first comment and the tirade begins. “Isn’t it amazing how much more attractive a woman becomes when she isn’t so bitter?” I’ll leave it at that. Because we now see women in seats of power, many assume that the battle for equality is won; now the opposite sex just want more. Watch one video and it will lead to a whole host more that include comments calling for the rape and submission of whichever women happens to be in it and worse. The fight isn’t over, it has just changed course.
As men, we can make sense of stories of abuse and assault or workplace discrimination/harassment, and we can form our own opinions as to how and why those events unfolded, but we will never be able to fully grasp the severity of the feelings those actions invoke.
I have been sexually harassed by countless hen parties having worked in the bar industry for years, but not once did I feel a sense of danger or threat.
I can say; “Yes I understand your struggle, I’ve experienced it as well” but that is simply not true. I have not been alone on an empty street and had someone grab at me or make vocal threats, or on a crowded train and felt lecherous eyes all over me. Our understandings of these situations are entirely different because they are rarely our own.
This makes the phrase; “I understand” almost condescending, even if it’s meant in the most well intentioned way.
The problem now lies within the fact that we are at a catch-22 situation. If we can’t understand if from experience and we can appear condescending or patronising, how are we supposed to deal with these issues as penis wielding boneheads?
Most of us will never truly understand what it is like to be a refugee because most of us haven’t had to flee from a war zone. That does not mean that we cannot fight to stop these wars occurring. The same applies with feminism.
We don’t need to fully understand the situation to know that it is wrong. Rather than spending our time trying to fathom what it must be like in order to feel pity for someone, we should use that time to get to the route of the problem and go from there.
There are many women’s issues that we cannot get involved in purely because it isn’t appropriate for us to interact in them. Women are capable enough and do not always need the male hand to help guide them, something I think many men can react to in an overly defensive way. Sometimes it is more about listening and accepting that what we can offer to a situation sometimes isn’t helpful. Insert obvious pun about women and directions for comedy effect.
It is easy enough to forget in day-to-day life something that does not affect us personally. So sometimes you let your friends slide when they say something misogynistic about a woman that walks past, but they are your friends, so it’s funny. You obviously wouldn’t let a stranger get away with that though, would you?
I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine about the issue of public intervention and its many avenues of peril. We had both stood up for women on many occasions, and had both ashamedly not in others. The talk turned to the dangers of intervening and how to judge the situation accordingly. The day before, there was the same conversation on the radio about standing up for women in public. Various callers came and went, some for, some against. A few thought that if they wanted equality, women should be able to look after themselves. Then a guy rang up who told a story of his sons’ chivalrous behaviour on a late night train. The story ended with his son being thrown under a train and killed; yet he never once expressed regret for his sons’ decision to stand up for that girl. A friend of a friend’s dad was sent into a coma when intervening when a man punched a woman and one of my younger brothers was punched in the head recently for confronting the same scenario.
The likelihood of retribution for getting involved in someone’s ‘private’ matter is always going to go one of two ways, with or without violence. Unfortunately, tackling the problems as you see them is the only way to start heading in the right direction. Hostility does not always mean that you’ll receive a punch in the mouth; even the most brutish meatheads are human and can be reasoned with. If you don’t go in all guns blazing determined to be the Disney hero you might change someone’s thought process.
The less macho and more frequent cause for action is sat on your sofa with you watching a movie or in the pub talking about the weather. This has always been a bone of contention for me, mainly down to the fact that I was raised sarcastic and will most likely die from it as well. There are rarely any holds barred in my family, and the same applies to my friend group.
So where do you draw the line when it comes to ‘laughs’ and misogyny? My friend Oofi sums it up better than I can. “You could pull the classic line here of “chances are if you’re punch line is rape or pedophilia then the joke isn’t funny.” But lower down the misogyny/PC scale and within the safe space of friends and family who know, love and support one another is it okay for a man to make a “you’re just a girl” joke to a woman? I think it is, most likely because I would respond to a friend I knew well with some derogatory remark about his penis size and all the love would continue, but that is in a safe space amongst friends. Should those jokes be made in public where they contribute to a narrative of jokey micro-aggression, which makes misogyny funny? No I don’t think they should be.”
Sometimes it feels like political correctness gone too far, and this is where I come to a head. I am lost and sat on the fence.
With each joke there is an element of truth deep from within someone’s psyche, but at the same time, some of the best humour we have produced in our history has also been some of the darkest. This is in no way excusing some of the vile things I’ve heard people say and just ignored because they were my friends, but a genuine malaise in my head on how to deal with it.
I suppose the correct answer is that it is never acceptable to ‘jokingly’ talk of misogyny outside of your friend and family circle, the fact that it can be humorous at all is partly instilled in the very root of the problem. That although in this century we think women are freer than they have ever been, many problems still remain un tackled by the populous as a whole. Only when we take these ‘minor’ issues seriously will we start to see a larger change toward the continuing gender inequality gap.
By Dominic Knight
Artwork by Tabitha Knight