Before I gleefully start tearing Germaine Greer‘s opinions to shreds, I expect I should be honest and admit that I’ve never read any of her work in its entirety. The Female Eunoch sits right next to Sean Hannity’s Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism and Liberalism in a list of books I have absolutely no desire to read but really should before I start attacking them. But then I’ve never claimed to be perfect and this post was spurred on by a conversation at work today so who cares? Like Hannity (somewhat ironically I suppose), Greer bugs the Hell out of me. I don’t like her. I’ve never liked her even back to the days when I had little idea of what feminism was and she was just some old bird on the telly that looked like my head of year at school. But we’ll get to her in a minute.
I could conceivably be called a feminist, if you go by the OED’s definition which states it is, “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of sexual equality.” Jokes aside, I believe wholeheartedly in this idea, the same way as I believe in equal rights for pretty much everyone else. Big deal, so should you. Despite this, I’m not fond of being called a feminist largely due to the connotations the word holds in my mind. I have no idea if these thoughts are mirrored elsewhere but for me the ‘F’ word harkens back to bra-burning, bitching about the right to vote and general, everyday man-hating.
The roots of the movement are more than understandable. Men haven’t exactly done well with equality over most of our societies histories and women quite rightly thought they deserved more. People such as Emily Davison made a name for themselves through, “deeds, not words,” and eventually in the case of the UK, they were granted the right to vote in 1928 and things spiralled from there. Just as an aside while we’re here, The Representation of the People Act which granted them this right also changed the fortunes of most of the male population who, being working class, were also unable to vote before this but that detracts from the story so most just ignore it.
I suppose that it was post-war, post-boring-beige-50s that ‘modern’ feminism began. The liberating ideals of the 60s set against the backdrop of marches for black civil rights and the anti-Vietnam movement also energized women in their quest for equality. In ’63, The Feminine Mystique was an overnight success and in ’66 America’s National Organization for Women (NOW) was formed and would go on to protest existing laws regarding abortion (Roe Vs Wade wasn’t till ’73, remember) and of course beauty pageants with the admittedly catchy, “rights not roses,” being their mantra of choice.
I don’t have a problem with any of this though I’ll admit I never really got the idea of burning bras… though that doesn’t matter too much as it didn’t really happen en masse. No matter. Bring up the History of Brassieres on Wikipedia however, navigate to the section on this myth and the first name that comes up is Germaine Greer with her iconic quote, “bras are a ludicrous invention.”
Okay, first of all, I like bras. Wearing one doesn’t really do it for me but I like the way they look on the opposite sex. Secondly, they serve a purpose, particularly if you have a physical job, say maybe, a jackhammer operator. The pontification wasn’t solely directed at that one, “instrument of torture,” as Judith Duffett termed it however, but rather everything that supposedly pointed towards the objectification of women as sexual objects. Trouble is that war against high heels, short skirts, lipstick and pretty much anything else that made a woman look good backed feminism into a corner. Yes, it was about equality but because men were still allowed to try and look good, it became all too easy to label feminism as an anti-society belief which sought to deny a crucial part of womanhood.
We all like to look good and this desire is massively more prominent in the fairer sex – I will brook no argument on this one ladies; I’ve seen it in action too many times. Whilst rampant superficiality as popularised by the Lord Henrys of this world is certainly something to be avoided, there’s no harm whatsoever in trying to look your best. I do it, you do it, where’s the problem? Greer obviously disagrees which is probably why she dresses like a cross between the Queen and a dog-eared pencil case.
At this point, writing this article has taken me, on-and-off, roughly four or five hours because I’ve spent most of my time researching it. A break at work however and a conversation with two female co-workers later and my concentration has been knocked somewhat. The abject indignation they’ve shown because I, as a man, have the gall to write about feminism has blown me away. I was reminded immediately of a controversial Boston Public episode that aired in 2002 in which a white teacher almost lost his job for encouraging a class debate on the use of the N word. This is arguably the most hated word in the world which is why I’ve neglected to write it in full and without further detail, you automatically know what I’m talking about. When the teacher explains to Chi McBride‘s principal that he’s simply trying to foster understanding of the word, the enraged response is, “you think you understand n****r?” This flashed to mind because shortly into my own conversation I was confronted with the same angry retort regarding feminism and gobsmackingly, “I don’t think you have a right to talk about that.” Ignore the fact that bigotry annoys me as much, if not more than them. Ignore the fact that the two girls I was speaking to are my own age and as such weren’t around for restricted voting rights or the marches of the 70s – because I’m a man, I can’t possibly understand as well as they can.
This isn’t an argument I’m entirely closed to, believe it or not. I wouldn’t currently presume to write an article on the N word because I’m not sure I do understand it fully or if I’d make enough of a valid or original point to justify the potential furore it’d kick up. I don’t feel nearly as hesitant when it comes to feminism however, particularly since in principle, I just agree with it.
What have been called my problems with feminism are really problems with the ‘old-school,’ militant, man-hating feminism that’s still too common in society. This is the sort of feminism that to my mind, Greer represents. The sort of feminism that labels me as patronising because I helped lift heavy boxes or held open the door, ignorant to the fact that I do the same for men all the time. The sort of feminism typified by such insipid statements as, “testosterone is a rare disease,” and, “perhaps the only place a man can feel secure is a maximum security prison, except for the imminent threat of release.” That’s not about equality; it’s just sexism on the flip side of the coin. When Dr King delivered, “I have a Dream,” by the Lincoln Memorial did he rally against white people? Did he voice his distaste for the oppressors? Of course not. He spoke of America, “our nation,” and said, “the marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people.” Feminists of Greer’s ilk, take note.
So do I think feminism is itself, obsolete? Not neccesarilly. As of 2007, women in full-time employment in the UK were making on average 17% less than their male colleagues and the figures got worse if you looked at part-timers. In 2004, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in America stated that women made only 75.5 cents to the male dollar. This may be taking place in a professional environment but it has its roots in personal society and until we’re devoid of sexism in our lives it still needs to be combated in exactly the same way as racism and I fully support this.
What I don’t support is the pointless objection to things such as beauty pageants, Playboy spreads and the general ‘sexualisation’ of women. Whatever they may once have been, nowadays pageants are little more than a five-minute distraction for most males and a chance for a few pretty girls to bask in a bit of attention and maybe grab a bit of cash or a modeling contract. The only people being exploited in lap dancing clubs are the sad guys who can only see a bit of skin up close by paying for it; not the dancers themselves. Page 3 is at best a chance to admire the female form in its magnificence and at worst, just some bird from Essex who got easy money and a bit of fame for flashing her boobs. There’s no reason to expend time, money or energy opposing these things.
The brand of feminism I support would be the ‘new-age’ incarnation of it, given voice by people such as Katie Roiphe who says, “I think the proper reaction to a beauty pageant these days is to be bored by it. I would have thought that old version of feminism, which was violently opposed to lipstick and high heels, had died out by now. It’s an extinct image of feminism – that you can’t be both frivolous and serious or care about clothes and read books at the same time. And, in a way, it’s sort of depressing that these same old-fashioned battles keep on being recycled.” Marie Berry who started the feminist magazine, KnockBack, states, “As a woman, you can’t not buy shoes and wear dresses. Plus all of that stuff is fun – it doesn’t take away from your power as a woman.”
Feminism to me is about equality and I don’t see why I can’t understand that simply because something dangles between my legs. It’s true that as a child I was allowed to be scruffy and get in fights without much backlash because, ‘that’s what boys do,’ and I’m not under nearly as much pressure to look good as my female friends are but to be blunt, I don’t believe I put as much of a premium on looking good as they do either.
Sure, as mentioned I like to look good at times and this was most obvious recently when I shaved specifically on the morning of the 30th so that when I went out partying on the 31st my stubble would be, ‘just right.’ But I don’t doll myself up simply because I’m going to walk through the town centre. I don’t buy a new shirt just because I’m going to a work party and my footwear collection is limited to what I need – everyday boots, scruffy trainers and smart shoes. Part of this is of course because as a man there’s less of a demand for me to scrub up and part of it is because as a man, I just don’t care as much.
I’m not saying women’s desire to look their best is a good or bad thing; simply noting that it exists and I’ll also say here that any woman reading this who says their attitude is the same as mine with regards to fashion forfeits the right to use this social pressure as an argument for feminism. Either you care or you don’t and if it’s the latter, society obviously has no impact on you in this regard.
Equal rights for women should be a desire for us all, as should equal rights for all other law-abiding citizens in our various nations to the extent where it’s debatable whether any form of feminism is required as a separate movement to other civil rights groups. The bra-burning mentality of the past however, should be left there. Men are not the enemy; society is the enemy. Whether it’s your mother instructing you on the need to look your best in company, your father telling you girls can’t play football, your boss refusing to pay you the same as a man in your position or Germaine Greer telling you you’re weak because you made a conscious choice to become a housewife, it’s society that needs to change.
I believe in this cause with all my heart, and can continue to do so as I hold the door open.
So get off my fucking back about it and man up. Feminism is dead. Long live Feminism.