My approach to gender equality is not one most feminists favour (by feminists, I mean the second and third-wave Western kind – a mouthful, but a crucial point of clarification!) While many agree that essentially, feminism should be a negotiation with patriarchy, they don’t tend to think this extends to the most misogynstic kind. What negotiation is there to be a had with a rapist, a hardcore underage teen porn baron, a sex trafficker, they might demand?
The biggest problem with the feminist movement has been that, by and large, it has failed to capture the fervour and favour of men. Its castrating call to arms has frequently fed into stereotypes of harridans and harpies, who would rather lick dog spittle off the street than allow a man to kiss any inch of them and praise their physiques (the so-called objectification issue apparently the most salient issue of contemporary feminism).
And, after all, why should we pacify those, who, for thousands of years, have denied us our physical, mental, economic and educational autonomy? It’s like feeling sorry for the two Israeli soldiers who are in hospital today after ‘defending’ themselves (with machine guns, no less) against the peace activists, at least 10 of whom are reported dead, and many more injured, on board the Gaza aid flotilla yesterday. It would be bad taste to admit to schadenfreude, but you don’t need to be pro-Palestinian for the Israelis’ display of disproportionality to curdle your sympathy towards them.
So, why feel sorry for patriarchy? Well, because its victory has been pyrrhic. Like it or not, the truth of the matter is (and here’s where the ‘real’ feminists string me up by the straps of my subtly padded bra) that men are victims of gender inequality too. From the fear of taking proper paternity leave, when the pay gap means it makes more economic sense for fathers rather than mothers to return to work, to the effect of watching so much porn that you can only cum over the image of your girlfriend on your mobile phone, rather than the flesh and flesh reality of her naked next to you (scoff all you like, but I know I’m not the only woman this has happened to), men are struggling. The problem is, the prevailing social machismo being what it is, there is no comparable movement to feminism by which men can express this. And when there’s no acceptable vernacular in which men can voice their unease, no space for dialectic between those who profess to drool at the thought of bukkake-ing over a spread of tight-vaginared teens, and those that mutely reflect on how they would rather have hot, connected sex with a woman they know and love (frequently the inner Jekyll and Hyde debate faced by the same man), what else is there but to brace your biceps and carry on?
There have been a couple of attempts, of course. Robert Bly and his Masculinist movement in the US in the 80s, for example, which saw men retreating into the wilderness to bond as they chopped logs. Arguably, Bly’s concern wasn’t with the rights of women, but about the threat of feminism to the rights of men. It failed anyway, because Bly was ridiculed for what was seen as a neo-imperalist invocation of ‘native’ American masculinity. This side of the Atlantic, there was the so-called ‘new man’ of nineties Britain who was mulched under foot by his Kali-esque contrabland; she tied him to the kitchen sink by her Louboutin laces, before proceeding to pinball their offspring out of her rehymening vagina in between her power lunch and the coralling of those last few ‘real’ men in the boardroom. The media disposed of him as soon as it could. Capable of too much multi-tasking, post-feminist woman, it advised us, was actually disappointed to find herself having and doing it all, and being simpered to by a man who ‘saw’ to her physical and emotional well-being, not by rogering her to Angel in the House-land and back again, but by cooking a better souffle than she could.
It’s still letting them off the hook though, I hear you cry. Where are all the men organising their gender equalitest piss ups in breweries across the land? Why is it left to us women to organise their revolution for them?! You give them a choice and they sit it out on the sofa, preferably in front of women’s beach volleyball, until it’s passed discreetly like a bad bout of KFC-induced wind…
The sterotypes aren’t going to help us, I’m afraid. In the new political age of coaltion, surely the time has come to attempt a male-female gender equality movement. A movement which aligns men and women with a common aim of interrogating gender stereotypes. A movement where we test new definitions and possibilties of what it is to be male or female, perhaps in a bid to reject the binary opposition altogether (the utopian ideal queer theorists have posited for years now).
But first, we’ll need to coax some men into putting their sheep’s heads above the parapet. In the meantime sisters, I’m afraid you may need to temporarily avail yourselves of those sticks…