Feminism: Connection & Progression (aka What’s Next?)

the-futureIn the twenty first century, what, and where, is Feminism? There are close to 4 billion women in the world now, and the personal is ever political; that’s a buttload of politics. Are we still solid, guys? Would addressing you as ‘girls’ instead be patronizing, or more feminist? (I have many more questions, the masses. Please do not flame me yet. [P.S. How many readers constitute a ‘mass’?])

Aren’t we due another wave? There’s only been a few, and feminism’s totally internet-famous now. Today, internet culture has revolutionized life for everyone, not least those engaged in the gender equality movement which is at once exciting, thriving, and relentlessly, miserably co-opted. Just this week, the #nomakeupselfie campaign, for example, while raising money for a good cause, has simultaneously unleashed the ‘bravery’ of women who briefly don’t wear make-up as a defiant act in the name of freedom and peace and charity or something.* (The date is 21st March 2014. #Progress! [Have you looked at any rape statistics recently? Maybe 2014 could be the year we engage with that via hashtag!] )

Where can we possibly go from here? Is the concept of ‘post-feminism’ still a joke? Do I ignore or denounce Bill Maher’s pseudo-liberal sexism? How feminist is spending all day on social media sharing videos about advancing equality, of which none encourage spending vast chunks of my short life on the internet sharing videos?

As a distraction from the nervous determination for answers and clarity, and the accompanied sweating, I shall conduct some research. This shall be a defiant, strident act in the name of my own autonomy, and of using the internet productively. And of imaginary feminine freshness.**

The To-Do List (?)

In The Factuary’s “What Do Feminists Have Left?”, comedian Guy Braunum concurs that women of America (and of the rest of the world, FYI) have come a long way, baby. This video has a lot to tell us about the mainstream approach to feminism. Not only because of the US-centric, humour-imbued, internet-hosted habitus of contemporary feminism, but also because of its specification, categorization, and foregrounding of particular issues over others. And of white media personalities dropping sardonic lines.

(Typed to the accusatory reflection in my computer screen…)

[‘Media Personality’? Please. – Ed.]

Acknowledgment of equal pay, rape culture, reproductive health, micro-aggressions and media representation is right on. It’s good to have a challenge or five, but really? Five fronts on which ‘feminism’ has to continue to fight? Were we to eliminate these struggles tomorrow, would that be gender inequality checked off the list of Worldsuck? Can any one entity express a finite list or end point for feminism? How many more questions do I need to ask before I get to the point?

To boil it down to one question (oppressive kitchen-centric terminology – Ed.): with ‘internet feminism’ clearly alive and kicking, which ‘wave’ are we in now, and is there an end goal (or five) to that wave – how and who is feminism, what or where should it be, and be doing? *Sweats*

PSYCH! I hid, like, 3 whole questions in there! (So… so many…)

Waves (aka The Officially Recognised Stages of Western Feminism)

First-wave feminism tackled (certain) inequalities in law: we know these baby – wave-makers, broadly speaking, as the suffragettes. They achieved representation, statues outside Parliament, and songs in Mary Poppins; all of which they bloody deserved. They were willing to trade eating, breathing and not being trampled to death for the sake of being recognised as actual human beings with totally normal brains, capable of putting a cross in a box because of some reasons. It was easy to define an end point at which they’d succeed, because what they wanted to change was already written down, listed and numbered: the First-wave feminism to-do list already existed in the laws of Parliament; Pankhurst, Davidson et al would just put their thing down, flip it and reverse it. But this extended, at first at least, only to women over thirty and of a certain economic status. #successfail

Second-wave feminism, in which women rejected de facto inequalities that remained, spanned the 60s and 70s. Between first- and second-wave, everyone was too distracted by some pretty serious international breakdowns in relations to pay attention to the intra-relations of the nation (save for Vera Lynn, who released her much-ignored feminist reggae album Intra-Relations of the Nation in 1943.) The grudge held after women got some legally-mandated equality lasted ages, until… like, right now. Simone de Beauvoir, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan & later bell hooks, amongst others, were the anti-Smurfette Principled Justice League of battling non-legal structural issues, such as unequal family and workplace frameworks, designated and prescribed sexual behaviours, and ensuring women’s reproductive freedom. All they wanted was a holistic recognition of woman’s human being-ness in attitude and belief rather than just mandated lip-service. But society (some ladies included) was all like “…Ew.” #onelovefail

Third-wave feminism (c.1992-?)… is harder to define. One, because it’s not necessarily ‘over’, and therefore lacks a hermetic historiographical place from which to examine it; and two, because its basis is in opening the understanding of feminism to its own far-more-diverse-than-allowed-to-be-acknowledged history and culture, and the nature of gender itself. But is this broadening of discourse and increasing intersectionality succeeding on the ground? And what constitutes success?

The myriad voices and definitions that have created, and continue to form, third-wave, are a testament to its recognition that previously the experience of women of relatively affluent white culture was made paramount, and the infrastructure of binary gender identity had been taken as-seen, ignoring and excluding the continuing struggles of women of colour, transgendered people and those of the working- and under-classes. #seeingpastowneyelidsfail

 Fighting and factioning

Prejudice from within and without feminism persists (often irretrievably embedded in the unconscious); the disparity between those foregrounded and those marginalized rages on in feminism as it does in society. ‘Feminism’ is not necessarily a monolith of progressive energy that women are either in or out of, for or against (and depending on your utopia, if you have one, may or may not need to be); feminism is its own Venn diagram within society’s. We disagree on as much as we agree on – our definition of what makes women’s lives better will never be able to be singular once we specify outside of simply: ‘respect’.

The womanist movement, beginning in the 1960s, throws into relief the long-standing failures of mainstream feminism to fully represent the needs and rights of all women, in a context not simply of gender but of class- and race-based oppression. Womanism is an umbrella under which ‘feminism’ is simply one element, alongside spirituality, and restructuring all relationship dynamics; a clear demonstration of intersectionality and social activism. Womanists delineated this expansion of understanding decades before any activists or bloggers would band together in its name under the label of feminism.

While social movements such as these can be understood as linear processes, insomuch as they exist within linear experience of time, ‘feminism’ is not necessarily a series of ever-successful stages with beginnings and ends. There have been recognized waves of activity, but these constructions aren’t exhaustive and completely omit particular people, struggles and groups. To this day, we still fight for what the suffragettes originally fought for: a recognition of all people as intrinsically equal beings, rejection of oppressive hierarchy and confines, and ensuring our ability to collectively remove the godawful from power. And at no point did those fighting for gender equality stop for decades at a time for rest, or victory laps around Donald Trump and all his acquisitions.

Cyberspace

Are we succeeding at our new, supposedly diverse and inclusive feminisms en masse? Generally, female-centered culture is still viciously twisted and shoved through the funnel of mainstream culture, which has willfully ignored undercurrents of progression in favour of trivializing debate and flogging globally-waning self-worth.

But, the internet! YES! And, unfortunately, sometimes, still no.

The internet is a two-sided, defaced coin in feminism’s utility belt. It’s afforded women huge gains in their ability to communicate, connect and organize. It has provided everyone with self-publishing and distribution platforms, broadcasting previously ignored and suppressed voices and experiences. It is the Room of Everyone’s Own. And thus, the room is also used by the defensive, the ignorant and the sexist; the asshats of the world still have dented egos when logged on and they’re looking to use them. They are packing Angry. It’s the same perilous tundra as the real world, with equally ambiguous intimacy.

ORGANISE

Feminism, womanism, gender equality et al cannot but be foregrounded in, and driven by, intersectionality. It won’t work unless it acknowledges and understands the personal, political and partitioned world that we inherit, and undermines the oppressive structures of individualism, economics and education (cultural as well as academic). Otherwise, we’re gonna have to Van Gogh it. Once dissected and posthumously appreciated, we can move on with the best bits. All collective, anti-oppressive movements by definition need to transcend ego, and require hard graft, structurally and personally. And pithy names, like Intersectionalists Against Kyriarchy or All of Us Hating Ignorance & Violence Together Forever. (HighFiveFreezeFrame!)

Having the cyber-tools to share and debate productively at the touch of a button relies on us actively and consciously doing so. Mainstream culture funnels us to certain places; it operates smoothly on decades of carefully formatted infrastructure and the (morally bankrupt) economic freedom to do so. Solidarity is paramount. Anti-feminist haters, while painful, can be easily debunked, but feminists fighting over feminism is some shit, and particularly tiresome shit to wade through. Fair in-criticism must be embraced and accepted, however difficult; and there’s a fine line between criticism and fighting. I don’t remember the last time someone was called out (calmly) and they just acknowledged it and apologized. Heaven forbid we might learn something from one another.

Can we balance consumption with production? Slacktivism with activism? Challenging with acceptance? All extended hands and discussion, incorporating each others’ needs. (Extend a hand to an MRA sometime, you might surprise him.)

This is how we avoid being defeated by violence, and having to resort to violence ourselves.

* I have no beef with anyone who participated in the #nomakeupselfie campaign. Some of my best friends are people who participated in the #nomakeupselfie campaign. I jest to make a point about perspectives and trends in mainstream culture.

**(On your behalf, Dove approves this message, the whole article, and all of Feminism.)

Connect with:

Feministing – a feminist blog with a diverse staff who write on intersectional feminism, and provide us with the busy-life-friendly Daily Feminist Cheat Sheet.

@feministing/feministing.com

 

KrissyChula – the funniest woman on YouTube.

@krissychula/www.youtube.com/user/krissychula

 

Hartbeat – the other funniest woman on YouTube.

@HARTgotBEATs/www.youtube.com/user/hartbeat

 

LaciGreen – the sexiest and most positive sex-positive person I’ve ever had the pleasure of sensing.

@gogreen18/www.youtube.com/user/lacigreen

 

Paris Lees – journalist, presenter & trans activist and all round sweet and considerate person (it seems like.)

@ParisLees/lastofthecleanbohemians.wordpress.com

 

Writers of Colour – tireless online organisation promoting work by people of colour; very active on Twitter.

@WritersofColour/mediadiversified.org

 

Jay Smooth – video blogger & Hip-Hop radio guru who vlogs on politics, race & culture.

@illdoc/illdoctrine.com

 

New Statesman – British mainstream leftist magazine. Politics, pop culture & several feminist columnists & editors.

@NewStatesman/newstatesman.com

 

Jackson Katz – educator in gender, specifically the construction of masculinity. The first man in the US to have taken Women’s Studies. Check out his amazing TED talk.

@jacksontkatz/jacksonkatz.com

 

ADDENDUM: On posting this article online, one reader pointed out that while she agreed with a lot of the points, the article still read as ‘white-washed’, containing little alternative history to that which I was critiquing. She suggested this reading; ‘Whose Feminism, Whose History?’ by Sherna Berger Gluck, Maylei Blackwell, Sharon Cotrel & Karen S. Harper (which you can read here: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B_HfOnXTgYJoWENoTnpITlM1Ymc/edit?pli=1)

It provides an engaging, complex and well-woven history of some of the womens movements in LA over a number of decades. My article scratches the surface of the problem of mainstream history, whereas this provides a deeper account of many women’s marginalised, intersectional struggles.

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The Other Objectification (is Objectification)

male objectification

Picture a strong female. Either a real one that you know, or a character in a story. She has a name, and, please, some defining characteristics and purpose.  Now: objectify her.

Thank you. The thought experiment is now over. But one last thing before you go.

What did that look like? I am going to assume, quite safely, that your woman lost clothing, changed poses, became younger, and was suddenly holding firearms.

Did you note that I specified ‘strong’ female, instead of just a normal one? Did you wonder why I felt the need to employ this already tired definition?

Sexual objectification is the most visually enticing and rampant extension of objectification, and consequently the most discussed in cultural discourse and at the forefront of ‘women’s issues’. It’s also undeniably the swag younger cousin of the sexual ‘difference’that women are perceived to embody, and therefore the unwitting scapegoat of sexism itself.

What all the slow-motion jiggling and ever-so-slightly-open-mouthed back-breaking poses distract us from is its insidious has-been of an older cousin (if you’re enjoying the familial analogies: the true purveyor of the incestuous birth-giving of contemporary gender understanding).

Pure, unadulterated, everyday objectification!

This is the true barrier to understanding and dismantling discrimination; sexual objectification is the skin that’s formed on top: it’s everywhere, we can’t help but pick at it (….enough analogies: Ed.) We often nonchalantly miss, and at worst express contempt for, the existence of female agency. This is general objectification borne from a history of oppression, repression and ignorance that, after legislative and rhetorical gains for human rights (sorry, women’s rights) remains active in our cultural understanding.

It is found from discussions of women’s clothing and how they ‘should’ appear (#bitchesplease), from the niqab debate to the rape apologies, to the complicated transition to motherhood/or not, and far beyond. Our ideology states in deafeningly silent address that women are subject to ever changing goalposts, that we fail to meet the standards set out for us, and we fail because we’re women. And also that we live in a post-racist, post-feminist, post-stratified society and we’re humourless about this hilarious utopia.

British MPs cannot legislate what women can wear in order to make them more free to wear what they choose; wearing a certain outfit does not instigate or make you complicit in an assault; a woman does not lose her agency once she becomes pregnant, in favour of the ‘agency’ of the fetus; a new mother’s priority is not to “lose her baby weight in just six weeks!”. These are all very obvious examples of an ignorance of women being people who should and can make their own decisions, and yet scores of people who have risen to hold cultural and political power are happy to entertain these ideas, even fight for them. In front of everyone. Awkward.

At 51/52% women are the majority, yet a minority in all visual, aural and public spheres except childcare, nursing etc. (natural, woman-y jobs.) Examples of ‘strong female characters’ in our media are blithely given – look at those storylines, look at the ratios, look at the positions of the women. The non-leads are girlfriends, wives, mistresses, strippers, prostitutes, mothers. All of these are positions that necessarily feed off the male agent, the one who can, the one who acts. The ‘strong female lead’, then, is foregrounded, but still primarily malleable and sexy; a mirror of the problematics of the stock male lead (i.e. these characters are designed to feed the identities of a notional male audience.) As John Berger said in Ways of Seeing (1972) “Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.” This creepy cultural classification remains, centred around sexual objectification, underpinned by the wider objectification at hand, which ensures that examinations of patriarchy’s structural underpinning of the inequality and violence in society go largely unheeded.

This is our culture of white, straight androcentrism, in which (certain) men are people and women are quietly standing next to them, no matter how loud they shout. Situations are changing, but those who are fighting (globally, on a multitude of jutting, cascading fronts) are fighting centuries of prejudice and misunderstanding. A similar situation can be seen working in our post-racist, non-stratified utopia; indeed, the ubiquity of whiteness is as conspicuous as the ubiquity of the middle class heterosexual cis-male. The ubiquity being:  in positions of power, pretty much everywhere.

We often automatically see objectification as sexual objectification, because it appears in our visual field daily. Treating someone as an object runs far deeper and wider than just sexual dynamics – it begins with ignorance and a lack of understanding, becoming an issue of violence and prejudice against anyone we don’t understand. It takes particularly viscious forms in sexual violence, assault and warfare (military AND class.) We are all guilty of it at some level, whether conscious or not. What are we willing to accept, and what in ourselves and how we interact (or not) with others needs to change, individually? Culture is sometimes, but rarely, overhauled in anger; 95% of the time it needs purposeful recreation by sustained debate, active co-operation, and most of all listening to other people speak.

Discuss it; discuss humanity, choices and difference with people who aren’t like you. They’re all people. And they aren’t like you! It’s the most fascinating, banal thing.

Women in Pornography: Annabel & Grace

chongI was first introduced to Sex: The Annabel Chong Story in the second year of my Film Studies degree in a week titled The Pornography Debates, part of the segment on gender representation. Now that I choose to write about gender in culture I regret not plunging myself into full engagement with the course; but despite my mental absence, I remember this documentary with trepidation.

 

Grace Quek is a Singaporean woman, better known under her porn star alias Annabel Chong, who gained notoriety for breaking the record for having sex with the most men at one time (251 in 10 hours) in The World’s Biggest Gang Bang. Her story caught the attention of student filmmaker Gough Lewis (who I recently learned was her then boyfriend,) who directed the ‘Annabel Chong story’, a story in fact about Grace Quek, sexual politics, the pornography industry, exploitation and emotional instability.

 

Quek’s story is both mesmerizing and frightening, and as a character she evokes immense respect, frustration and pity. I distinctly recall troubling, hugely ambivalent feelings of anger vs excitement, and dismissal vs curiosity; on first viewing, I had no idea how I felt about the story of Annabel Chong: a plastic, often embarrassing character that essentially never existed. I now see that Quek’s story is “where it’s at” (one of Chong’s favourite phrases), and it raises fascinating questions. The Pornography Debate’s place in gender theory is as frustrating as it is appropriate, and this film delineates the complexity of this regrettable dynamic.

 

Perhaps the most obvious question could be phrased as “is being a porn star a feminist act?” This reductive question has a longer answer. Quek went about being a porn star in the name of equality and expression and it could be convincingly argued that her venture was a feminist act. (Though Quek never uses the word ‘feminism’ specifically she often espouses feminist rhetoric.) Definitions of ‘feminist’ are often very disparate, and pornography debates illustrate this. Her claim that attempting to sleep with 300 men was a piss-take of the masculine notion of ‘stud’ is a legitimate concept found in both academic and everyday discussions of sexual politics. A student at USC during production, Quek’s academic excellence is evident in footage of her contributions in class and her teachers’ testimonies to the fact; she clearly and purposely conflates her academic work with that of her chosen career.

 

I don’t see Quek’s actions as ‘feminist’ ones, regardless of having faith in her stated intentions. The most solid insight that the film gives is that the pornography industry operates on a strong current of violence and sadism and systematically engages in exploitation. Much of this is directed at women, whether genuinely or just for show, and women participate either knowingly or with a view to ‘liberating themselves’. Quek’s claims that she wants to change views on female sexuality from stereotypes of passivity to aggression, and that she really enjoys sex, are just fine. Yet these claims are somewhat eclipsed by other revelations, and the insight provided into the industry she participates in. Participating in something on its own terms and claiming it as your own does not equate to subverting or defeating it.

 

Some of the most telling scenes are those in which Quek is at work; in an interview discussing her upcoming record attempt, John Bowen, director of the World’s Biggest Gang Bang, who speaks either for or over her, matter-of-factly informs the interviewer that “Little Annabel” is going to “take them orally, anally, vaginally, any way you can do it” for “as long as it takes”. After continuing “right now, we’ve got a nationwide search for 300 guys who wanna come in and fuck ‘er”, she is eventually addressed directly, with a pat on the head: “Why don’t you stand up, sweetheart, and take your clothes off and let the people see what they’re gonna fuck.” Quek giggles, smiles and agrees throughout, constantly glancing towards and deferring to Bowen and jumping up to strip meekly at his word. Later we are introduced to the notorious Rob Black (Porn Director of the Year 1998, who made his name with rape fantasy films), who, in discussing the commoditization and legislation of sex work angrily asks why you can’t “have a guy fuck a girl, and while he’s fuckin’ her, have another guy come over with an axe and cut off her fuckin’ head?” This regulation on “our sex”, he believes, is “bullshit.”

 

It is, of course, wholly possible to be a ‘feminist’ porn star (though an indistinct, nebulous concept), yet in the 90s porn industry Quek needed to do more than turn up for work, have sex and inform us she likes it to be advancing her agenda of destroying the cultural limitations on female sexuality. Other than a phone call with Black in which Quek sternly demands more money than her co-stars, she is rarely seen challenging anything of the ideology or systemic exploitation of the industry. In an admirable though contradictory statement, she also claims that she doesn’t care that she never received the $10,000 that she is owed from Bowen for the record she set, because she didn’t do it for the money.

 

As the film progresses, the more we learn about Quek, and the more her self-exploitation/liberation becomes unbearable. After discussing being gang-raped as a teenager, and subsequently addicted to drugs, we see her self-harming while tearfully admitting that “life makes you numb” and this is a way to feel her pain. I don’t feel it right to speculate on the exact link that all of these elements of her life have, but on seeing her advertising the gang bang, uncomfortably and monotonously inviting us to have “intercourse” with her while batting fake ‘come-to-bed’ eyes into the camera, it is all the more upsetting to know that a vulnerable and victimized individual is actively pursuing a venture which requires her to be an object for others’ pleasure, in a potentially masochistic process of hyperbolic de-ja-vu. Quek’s face during the gang bang scenes displays immense pain; we learn that the reason she stopped at 251 men instead of the intended 300 was due to tearing in her vagina.

 

The original ambivalence that I felt after seeing the film reflects the ambivalence and complexity borne from the issue of female sexuality and its exploitation under patriarchy, specifically as a commodity. Long misunderstood as sinful, shameful, and worst of all, commodifiable objects in themselves, many women continue to understand their sexuality and bodies on these terms. It then follows that choosing to sell one’s own body and sex equates to liberation from the sinful, shameful, externally-owned scenario. In fact, it ensures the perpetuation of a cultural climate that understands the owning, selling and availability of women for others’ pleasure as commonplace and inevitable. Feminism is about improving the lives of women, away from violence, disrespect and wider inequality and under-representation. To promote equality in the porn industry, the violence, degradation and dehumanization of women must be attacked. Quek bravely and determinedly participated in the porn industry for her own complex reasons, but hardly on progressive terms. She has since retired, and I sincerely hope she has spent time healing.

Thatcher: Yay or Nay?

thatcher ayn ladyHaving made a plea to people on the day of Thatcher’s death to cease talking about it within the week, but preferably the next 48 hours “so we can start talking about things that tangibly matter again”, here I am 72 hours later, bringing it up once more like the hypocritical, contradictory human I am.

There are a couple of things that I am itching to address after being bombarded with questions from several sources, without and within, for the last few days. Here goes:

Q. Did Margaret Thatcher help Feminism?

A. On close inspection, it appears that Feminism is not the simple unified monolith we want to believe it is. Visit Wikipedia’s entry for Intersectionality, and you’ll begin to see the brilliant potential for complexity and disparity between the people who identify with feminist movements towards gender, and more broadly social, equality. Further, there’s even people who identify as feminists who believe in female supremacy (aka sexists), and some who advocate posing for photos as an object and sharing the money gleaned from mass ogling between oneself and Rupert Murdoch. Amazing! Intersectionality is so important, because you can’t really be in favour of equality for one group of people, and not in favour of equality for others. The definition of equality itself, in its minutiae, is up for debate, really. No wonder our post-modern society is screwed. Or is it…define screwed?

Thatcher herself called feminism “poison” and said she “owed nothing to women’s lib”; I don’t know why. Maybe she was a bit selfish (i.e. human) and wanted all the 70s’ “women might almost be competent, like men are…maybe. Tits are a distraction, though” glory for herself. I agree in part with the idea that with regards to women’s ability to lead and succeed in a traditionally male-dominated environment, she led by example. (Do us all a favour, read a much fuller and more creditable article on this debate.) As a leftie, I believe that example was a nefarious one, damaging to many and therefore damaging to her ‘legacy’, and potentially to the future of women overseeing the welfare of a country (pun intended). Saying she was an ‘example’ for feminism overall is like saying Pinochet was a pioneer in military-canine tactics. Margaret Thatcher said things which I agree with and think are ‘well-feminist’. She also said Pinochet was a “friend” who “brought democracy to Chile”.

Anyway, it’s likely that we’ll never be able to accurately quantify the effects of anything on furthering feminism, since Thatcher cut funding for the UKs only public Fembarometer in the late seventies; a move almost as damaging as the recent cuts to arts funding that would otherwise promote the study and interruption of hegemonic culture, e.g. gender studies.

Q. Is it alright to gleefully celebrate Thatcher’s death?

A. Nah, not really. It’s a bit sick, a bit childish, and quite contradictory. If Thatcher really was heartless, as those who want to piss on her grave next week claim, then it’s the kind of thing she probably would have approved of, chuckling smugly over a glass of brandy while financially struggling people did the pissing and dancing as a minimum-wage profession.

Many people who are avidly celebrating her death are also people who advocate the love and compassion that she scrapped funding for during her reign as Conservative MP Most Like Ayn Rand Without Physically Being Ayn Rand. You can’t have fairness, altruism and humility both ways.

That’s not to say I don’t get it, I do. I can understand people enjoying the symbolism that her tragically well-timed death brings especially since her political legacy is so painfully alive, reverberating in the cuts and reforms that took effect less than a week before. Still, her leaving office was the time to gloat. Her death is a time to reflect, discuss and mobilize the fuck out of attempts to highlight the inequality that right, conservative, elitist, Capitalist, unyielding policies produced then, and will further now. Let us talk loudly, act dauntlessly, and galvanise those who are frozen by apathy, not boast when nature simply takes its course (which is not our doing to boast about anyway). Grinning whilst toasting to someone rotting in hell is not a realistic or beneficial way to promote a cause of equality and inclusion.

Ultimately, like most things in life, it’s not as simple as asking Thatcher: Yay or Nay? We should take heed of the beautiful and magnificent Tony Benn. As ever, his thoughts are balanced and respectful, duly damning, and true to his political philosophy.

We need masculism, because…

pin up boysAbout a week before I became aware of the failed intentions of Twitter hashtag #INeedMasculismBecause I posted this for the consideration of my facebook friends:

 

Anyone ever come across a name for someone who opposes masculine normativity? For example, Jackson Katz: while he’s certainly a feminist, his ‘bag’ is writing about the construction of masculinity. He is brilliant. But what is he? A Man-in-ist? An Andronist? I feel this agenda should warrant a name other than ‘Gender Equality’ (since feminism has a specific name…even though we’re all really after the same outcome.)

 

While feminists, womanists and other marginalised activist groups have long been looking at the tangible ideological impact of under- or false-representation and the pervasive persistence of prejudice against societies ‘underdogs’, have we neglected the plight of the overdogs? Does the straight white male of Western society have a leg to stand on in discourses of oppression?

 

The first, simplest answer is: no, not in the way that you probably think I mean.

 

The Men’s Rights Activists, and other petty-minded people of the twittersphere (and, unfortunately, of the real world) poured out their shallow misunderstandings and perverse frustrations about life in the most predictably (and sometimes bewilderingly) sexist ways, for everyone else’s mocking pleasure. They formed a mighty and fascinating display of reasons why we need masculism, ranging from #INMB without us, where’s the workforce? to #INMB Feminists and Arts students are intellectually challenged. I am a mathematician. Said nutters’ defensive responses to people expressing palpable systemic inequalities in society reminds me of the complaint that it’s unfair to whites that black people have their own, special history month. Those entitled, privileged black bastards.

 

However, we need masculism. And it is important to distinguish the very specific reasons why. Before knowing the extent of ridiculous by which this ‘trend’ had been born, I had a Eureka moment: Masculism! That’s its name! I’d always considered ‘Maninism’ to be Feminism’s equivalent, but this failed my terminological standards due to sounding like an art movement that no one had ever needed because of anything. I’d almost settled on Andronism, though I didn’t feel it would ever catch on in the public consciousness due to a general unfamiliarity amongst my peers with the combining form andro- to mean male. (My lexical snobbery slaps me in the face as I realize that Masculism was the feminism-equivalent label in the first place. Even the MRAs worked that out.)

 

It should be fairly obvious that gender equality means gender equality. With that aim in mind, it would be counter productive to examine the minutiae of how the female and the feminine is problematically defined, and ignore the definitions of masculinity. (Personally I believe that) gender is a construct. We learn our traits, our neuro-automatic behaviours, and some of us are lucky enough to successfully un-learn the ones we don’t want during our lifetimes. Thus, at its most simplified, I believe males and females ‘exist’ in reality, whereas masculinity and femininity do not. So masculism, as I would (humbly) define it is about examining sexist assumptions about men, traits that have been defined as the ‘pillars’ of masculinity, and the representation of manly men men men in the media. (If you don’t get that last reference, you’re life is infinitely better than someone who does.)

 

We cannot equate masculine stereotyping to the oppression of and continuing sexual dehumanization of women. Even if we could, we do not need to play off against one another as though only the ‘worse off’ gender is allowed to campaign for fair representation and treatment. And I’m not even defining masculism as it is apparently usually defined (as in, “Who’s defending the fragility of MY rights, bro?!”) so I can only say how relevant I consider it to be in the context that I have assigned it. But if we are to progress towards a truly gender-equal society, we must examine what has been defined as ‘masculine’ as well as ‘feminine’. All inequalities within, and stereotypes of, gender normativity are a result of the patriarchal system by which ‘things’ have been, and to a huge extent, still are run; by examining all these restrictions and expectations, that normativity breaks down for everyone’s benefit. I can’t say it any better than Jackson Katz, who inspired me to ask the initial question with regard to male representation; he highlights the ways in which respectable masculinity is equated with violence and intimidation, and a disregard for compassion, sexual intimacy and respect for ‘others’. His work focuses on the perpetuation of these trends in contemporary media representation, though these stereotypes are reinforced in wider society, and have been throughout history.

 

The Media Education Foundation, with whom Katz works, are an organisation who distribute videos and educational resources highlighting the ideological impacts of trends in media representation. As a good example of the most base sexual power relations that our culture continues to reproduce, (if you can stomach it; I only got half way through and never finished it) watch Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex & Power in Music Video; a disturbing and thorough (a worthwhile but depressing combination) look at the gender power dynamics of the American music video. Many young adults will recognize these explicit videos (and idents, and backstage documentaries etc.) as staples of their childhood viewing; at 24, watching a woman’s bare buttock being branded with the MTV 2 logo is disturbing not only because of its sexualizing and dehumanizing nature but also because looking back, my friends and I grew up surrounded by these images, and since they were being broadcast by adults who ‘knew better’, assumed the were nothing worse than ‘edgy’. And edgy is exactly what most teenagers are told they should want to be. Within the music video universe, the smug, bragging, belligerent, fully-clothed face of masculinity can be seen amongst the female body parts, lauding it over everyone with their miming skills, unrestricted. But this is a restricted and shallow brand of masculinity. This sells a powerful idea of what men can do, should do, can have and should want, and the vulnerable young male is also given his acceptable gender position. Fortunately for him, he has a plethora of other male characters and masculine traits in his cultural sphere; but a frightening number of them blend respectability and likeable comedic frivolity with violence, indifference, domination, ignorance, hypocrisy, infallibility, and a distinct lack of compassion, intimacy and vulnerability. Much more research and education needs to be provided on our beliefs in gender roles as a whole, taking into account our belief in fixed gender itself.

 

So in the context of the construction and representation of gender and the power dynamics between us all, this idea of masculism could become radically transformative. If it catches on.

 

(Finally: there were a few tweets in the INMB feed that really broke my heart, and were obviously a cry for help. Jackson Kent tweeted #INMB it’s my fault that I get an uncontrollable boner at a woman’s overexposed cleavage; then, lashing out in pain, wrote #INMB women are fucking stupid. If you’d like to send Jackson a message of support, you can tweet @analwipe1.)