I had this whole article planned and ready, and then Yuppee’s own Jenny Delaney went and posted her own article dispelling the myths of modern feminism, beating me to the punch. The b*tch! See, I like to consider myself a feminist too. Mostly because every new batch of Freshers brings a new bunch of girls positively eager to reinvent themselves in the light of burgeoning adulthood, and pretending to have a sympathetic academic interest is a magnificently fiendish way of getting in their pants.
Well, I think that’s pretty much my “provocative statements” quota done in the first paragraph! But now what? I have recently finished Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman – which is just an excellent book and, incongruously enough, one of the most relatable reads I’ve come across – but as Ms. Delaney already mentioned that too, that’s out. How can I put my own spin on the feminism debate, when there are plenty of people already doing just that? I suppose by doing the same thing I always do when in doubt – rely on my penis. Hey – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
First things first, does everyone have a silly hat? Don your silly hat; the levity of the silly hat helps prevent ‘serious’ morphing into ‘pretentious’ (I have a gaily-coloured sombrero for occasions such as these). I do like to think of myself as a feminist, in a very broad-strokes kind of way – I’ve never read Kristeva or Sioux, but I’m generally pro everyone being treated equally, regardless of what you’re packing in your underwear – penis, vagina, three gerbils and a Twix; it makes no difference to me. Well, I mean, if you’ve got three gerbils and a Twix in your pants I would probably have a healthy amount of curiosity and a number of questions for you, but I wouldn’t stop you, y’know, voting or anything.
The thing about being a dude who is also a feminist, though, is that it feels a bit… wrong? Inappropriate? I support equal treatment for men, women, and gerbil-pants-stuffers, so I must be a feminist, right? That is pretty much the definition. If someone asked me if I was a feminist, I wouldn’t say no – but I wouldn’t bring it up in a conversation, either. On some level, some tiny little part of me half expects any female within hearing distance to erupt into indignation and moral outrage. “You can’t be a feminist”, they would cry, “you’re a man!” The implication being that because I was born with a penis, I’ve been inducted from birth into the Great Patriarchal Conspiracy. Saying you’re a man who is a feminist feels a bit like when you’re a kid, and you do something which, although it has not explicitly been forbade, you still know is going to catch you a wallop upside the ear when you get caught. You’re just waiting for the slipper to fall.
It can be tricky in other ways, too. A successful hegemony, pretty much by definition, is insidious, and trying to work out if a given action, stance, or statement is working against – or in a twisted way, for – the status quo can be a right ‘mare. Take holding the door open for a woman, for example. Is it good manners, or subtly patronising? I was raised to consider it good manners, and unless I’m in a particularly spiteful mood, I will generally hold the door open for a woman. If you’re on the fence, though, and overly concerned with avoiding patriarchal patronising, there’s a relatively simple way around it: just hold the door open for everyone. If you’re going to hold the door for a girl, why not for a guy? Girls occasionally hold the door for me, yet I somehow manage to quash my natural “don’t strain yourself with that heavy door, love” reaction (I do, by the way, understand that the “Chivalry: Yay or Nay?” issue goes a bit deeper than door-holding, but baby steps).
Of course there is much, much more to feminism than the door-holding debate – more than I hope or plan to address in one article – but I suppose one of the most pressing questions is: can a man really be a feminist? I mean, guys haven’t ever had to face issues like the glass ceiling, have we? We didn’t have to campaign for the right to vote, and it’s never been legal for our spouses to rape us. Most guys don’t feel obligated to put on make-up before we can pop to the shops, or keep up a strict waxing regime (although as a fairly hirsute gent, my continuing refusal to put anything sharp near my dangly bits is occasionally a source of shock). Without that shared history of – and in some cases, ongoing – oppression, can a man be a feminist in anything more than an academic sense? Is it enough to treat people equally, regardless of genitals, or should we be out burning bras as a form of reparation? Do we, perhaps, need to be rabidly, stridently, feminist – the better to compensate for our lack of ladygardens? After all, it seems like equal treatment for all goes – or should go – without saying at this point, so is that enough to earn a guy a label when he’s never himself suffered for his sex?
So, what do you all think? Personally, writing all this out has made me consider aspects of being a male feminist I hadn’t before – if anything, I’m less certain of what it means now, or even if I am one, than I was when I started writing. Can guys be feminists in any meaningful sense? And what would it take? Shit, do we even have any right to try, considering we were, historically, the oppressors – or are we trespassing in territory in which we don’t belong? Maybe this is all some dastardly patriarchal attempt to usurp and divert a movement with bigger fish to fry; perhaps you guys can help me puzzle it out, so get writing!