Reluctant feminism

Someone recently asked me if I identified as a feminist. “Nooooo!” I said, waving them off with a casual hand gesture and a giggle. “I wouldn’t say I was a ‘FEMINIST!’”

And I’m not alone here. The results of a recent survey showed that only 29% of American women and 42% of British women identify as feminists. So most of us are in agreement that we’re not…right?

I was promptly introduced to the world of feminist non-fiction – and just in time too. In the words of the very smart, funny and talented (and happily married, btw) Caitlin Moran in her book, ‘How to be a Woman’:

“What do you think feminism IS ladies? What part of ‘liberation of women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF SURVEY?”

I realised that, to live as a functioning modern woman who expects equality, to go off to work and demand as many opportunities as any man, to own the right to slope off to the co-op for fags without shoehorning myself into a corset and summoning a chaperone, I HAD to be a feminist. It is an intrinsic part of living in the culture that has become second nature to myself and most people I know.

So now I realise that I am, in fact, a feminist (29 years after I was actually born as one – better late than never I suppose) there are a lot of things I’m seeing differently. Things that, once they’re seen, really can’t be unseen.

Things like horrific supermarket adverts that joshingly show mums being run ragged whilst dads piss around with water pistols or computer games. People, both male and female, saying things like, “That’s just how it is”, when you apologetically point out something outrageously sexist. And men. I’m seeing men differently. Yes, sorry guys – most of this is going to be about you from here on in. But the good news is, if you also believe in equality for women – YOU’RE A FEMINIST TOO! Congratulations!

We ladies shy away from calling ourselves “feminists”, basically because we want to avoid being tagged as bra-burning, hemp-sack wearing lesbians. And by the by, I know heaps of gorgeous, smart and talented lesbians, who – shock revelation – actually wear clothes other than hemp sacks. They even manage to put on a bra in the morning to go about their daily business. Because guess what boys – and I don’t expect a man who has never had to run for a bus with his boobs jiggling about to understand – bras are not for you; THEY’RE FOR US!

And it is this point that, even in our modern society, still doesn’t quite seem to be getting across. We women all think we don’t belong to men. And the men know they don’t own us. But deep down, in the darkest depths of their subconscious, do they all REALLY know that?

Before I go any further, I want to point out that I know a lot of clever, lovely, beautiful, respectful and brilliant men. I’ve also met plenty of outrageously atrocious women in my time. And I’m not a bra-burning, hemp-sack wearing lesbian, although sometimes I wish I was.

This blog is about one tiny slice of one side of one story. There are a million slices of a million stories out there, but I only get a certain amount of free storage space on my blog, so this is the slice you’re getting today.

Maybe I’m just getting old…but some of the behaviour I’ve been witnessing from men of late seems to have hit a new low. And really, this isn’t actually about men and women at all – this is about humans, treating other humans with an ounce of decency.

A (smart, gorgeous and completely non-fat) friend of mine had one of these vile pieces of pond scum burst into her life for a flash moment last night,  throwing himself like a steam train into the path of her celebratory night out by proclaiming she was a “fat bitch”. Apparently, she had offered him some chips.

Raise your hand if you’ve been there. It’s happened to me plenty of times. I’m overweight.  But I’m not a monster. I’m not expecting a pitch from Channel 4 anytime soon, asking me to partake in a hour long Bodyshock special, documenting how, “Britain’s fattest single pre-30 year old still dances to Beyonce in underwear” or similar.

But overweight or not, the fact is, I am fully, completely and acutely aware of my own body. And boys - you can take that as a given for every woman on this planet you have ever, or will ever meet in this lifetime or the next. You might think it’s helpful to point out our problems with your constructive criticism, but there’s really no need. We’ve got this.

The slight consolation I take is the realisation that actually being overweight is a mere coincidence, as these men throw out random insults from their repertoire to women of all shapes and sizes, like some kind of vile lucky dip. What’s it to be tonight, ladies? “Fat bitch”, “stupid cow”, “ugly fucker” or “slut”? Take your pick, there’s plenty more where that came from.

But whatever. We’ve heard it all before, right? Happens all the time. That’s just how it is.

Ermm nope. I’m not sure at what point our culture dive-bombed into this horrific parallel dimension where it became completely acceptable to have a couple of drinks and then be absolute cocks to each other, but let’s all just stop for a second and realise – THIS IS NOT OK! We are the most intelligent creatures on earth, the top of the food chain, living in one of the world’s most developed and privileged lands and the best we can do is spend our weekends running around hollering, “Fat bitch!”, at each other?

If anyone reading this – and I’m talking to guys and girls here - ever has the time or inclination to throw random insults around, just think of this: that person’s mum might literally have died today. You have absolutely no idea what is going on in that life. And you have zero right to enter that life uninvited.

Perhaps the most perplexing part of this culture we seem to have got ourselves tangled up in is the calibre of the men doing the insulting. They’re not all lookers you know. I’m not sure which beauty god resigned and put the spotty guy from the taxi queue outside Wetherspoons in charge, but they really need to take a look at their recruitment policy.

And even away from the shitshow of the Saturday night pub scene, it seems things aren’t quite adding up for a lot of women at all stages in the dating cycle anymore. As I steadily trundle down the slope to thirty, I hear of a new long term relationship or marriage break-up on almost a weekly basis. Everyone has their own reasons, but the general thing I’ve been hearing a lot is that they’re just not happy anymore as a couple. Nothing went earth-shatteringly wrong. But, at the same time, nothing went earth-shatteringly right.

This conversation raises a lot of pity smiles and understanding nods and declarations of “aw, he’s a ‘good guy’”. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I go around awarding the accolade of “good guy” to basically any man who has managed to avoid beating his partner or shagging her sister.

But really, does that not just make him a “guy”? Not doing bad things doesn’t automatically make you good. We women tend to have a habit of placing the title of “good guy” on men we don’t really know that well, just because they’re fulfilling the most basic requirements expected of normal human beings.

Men behaving in ways they damn well should be does not constitute a congratulations. This is the bare minimum; the plain beef burger. We really need to start seeing a bit of cheese and bacon on there before we go handing out awards.

So what’s the general consensus here ladies? Are the split relationships, the random insults and the ogling eyes in bars our fault because we’ve allowed that behaviour and rewarded mediocrity?

I hear a lot of women dissecting the problems of troubled relationships, saying things like: “Well he’s acted that way because she’s allowed it for so long.”

No. It’s most likely he’s acted that way because he’s a selfish, self-indulgent prick. This is a grown man. He’s been to school. He has a job. He has interacted successfully with humans in the past. He knows how to act correctly. And he’s chosen not to.

This isn’t about woman allowing men to act in a certain way. This is about women allowing themselves to act in a certain way. Women allowing themselves to accept below-par behaviour and brush it under the carpet. Women allowing themselves to make excuses for the men in their lives who have not treated them correctly because they just don’t bloody feel like it. Women who are standing in bars, allowing themselves to be hit on and offended simultaneously by whoever feels like pushing themselves into their lives, and not speaking up and saying, “are you actually KIDDING me?!”

Girls – your choices are your own. And your bad choices are your fault. But the bad behaviour of men, is most definitely, their fault.

Demand the respect you deserve. And dish out that same respect to people who deserve it. Like it or not, we are all feminists now. The next time a man makes you feel uncomfortable, ask him calmly what the hell he thinks he’s doing. Ask him why on earth he thinks that’s ok. You’ll probably get called a bitch. But that’s fine, you can handle it. Because the next time he wants to shout a random insult at a woman who is simply going about her life, he might just think twice. And that, my fabulous female friends, is how we’ll slowly change the world. 

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