Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Times, it ain't a-changing

Thank you Mr Richard Morrison of the Times. You have given me material for a post after my holiday sluggishness, and have made the already very long list of 'People Who Pissed Me Off 2006'. Morrison is the author of a snappy little article entitled Sexual equality: the final piece of the puzzle. I intend to comment upon my favourite passages in a very picky-choosy manner.

The 30th anniversary of the Sex Discrimination Act has triggered a lot of “state of the sisterhood” articles recently, mostly written by middle-class females who see the fight for sexual equality entirely in terms of what their generation of middle-class Western females has or hasn’t achieved.

As we shall see, Morrison thought the best way to counter such myopic thinking was to write an article about the fight for sexual equality in terms of how it has affected middle-class Western males. I would like to suggest that Mr Morrison expand his reading habits a little, and perhaps even look to the feminist blogosphere (I can't write a post without some sort of self-promotion).

Wise blokes smile vaguely and keep their mouths shut when the women in their lives start agitating about perceived inequalities.

Well it beats actually trying to do something, no doubt.

The first [thing] would be to recognise that feminism has transformed the lives of more than women. No less profound, but far less discussed (because men don’t analyse gender anything like as much as women do), is its effect on men.

Of course it has changed the lives of men and women. No arguments here- it was damn well meant to. And of course men en masse don't analyse gender as much as women- men are treated as the default human being. The dominant class rarely analyses its position, or questions its authority. Men's truths are treated as universal truths, which is ridiculous in a world that ascribes different charactaristics to males and females.

What will happen, for instance, when the unstoppable force of the sexual-equality movement reaches the immovable wall of Islam?

Yes, because according to the Western View of the World, Islam is a never changing, easily defineable ideology which threatens us all. Here's a clue for you Dick: read some Islamic texts, even listen to some Islamic feminists before you make sweeping statements.

In fact the new [feminist] militancy alienated sympathisers. What did persuade the all-male Commons to give women the vote in 1918 was the vast contribution of women to the war effort. In short, women were empowered because, for the first time in history, men decided that the country would work better that way.

So what men decide is, as usual, the most important development. Never mind the argument that the vote was 'given' to women in order to silence those who wanted to keep their jobs and not go back to domestic servitude after the war.

[gender equality was] a complex revolution that would have happened anyway.

Yay! Down tools fellow feminists! All we have to do is sit around and wait for the men to make the right decisions! I'm going to go back to that crossword.

It was electric gadgets that liberated housewives.
According to Ann Oakley's studies on women and housework, electronic gadgets have not reduced the hours that housewives spend on housework, but rather given them new, harder to achieve standards of cleanliness and style to keep to. Don't get me wrong, I don't plan on ditching the washing machine, hoover or dishwasher. I'd just like to point out that it's a rather more complex picture than our friend suggests.

It was computers that liberated female office staff from the mindless slavery of the typing pool.

Because computer work is never mindless or dull, and this new technology immediately protected women in offices from sexual harrassment and unequal pay by... um... emitting gender-positive vibes.

It was labour shortages during two world wars which proved that women could do manual or managerial jobs.

Horray for war. It's not like anything crappy happens to women during war, after all.

And it was the Pill that liberated women from the shame and sordid backstreet abortions of unwanted pregnancies.

The Pill of course had very positive consequences. But it also reduced the perceived responsibility of men for the consequences of their sexual activity, made women more sexually available to them and did sod-all to change the attitudes that condemned women for obtaining abortions in the first place.

And there was one other vital strand in this revolution: the attitude of men. I don’t claim that, even among middle-class Western males, there was widespread support for female emancipation. But neither was there the incredulous opposition that would have greeted the notion in any century before the 20th.

That's why there wasn't ever a backlash against feminism in the (male controlled) press, why men have always welcomed women into their realms with open arms, why there is no longer any violence against women.... oh wait a minute....

Yet while whole forests have been felled so that the challenges facing modern women can be endlessly analysed, little attention has yet been paid to the revolution’s impact on men.

Feminism is to blame for the depletion of the world's forests? That's a new one on me. Very inventive. Don't say patriarchal apologists always lack imagination.

In the home, the office and particularly in schools, the prevailing ethos is increasingly female.

Apart from the minor details that in the office the high ranking ones are most likely to be men, that headteachers are mostly men and poorly paid classroom assistants mostly female....

So men, hard-wired since Neanderthal times to be competitive, aggressive decision-makers, suddenly find themselves floundering like ships without rudders, charts or compasses.

I decided not to be petty, and not point out that scientific research suggests that Neanderthals are not our ancestors, and thus whatever they did has bugger-all to do with how male homo sapiens live today. (Oh crap. I was petty. My bad). Instead I'd like to ask what exactly Morrison means by 'hard wiring'- is this biological? Social? Is it possible that he's made a vague statement to hide the fact that his comment is pure assertion? And how come men are 'hard-wired' to behave in this way, yet were always open to the arguments of feminism? Could this be a cheap gender stereotype that is always brought out to dehumanise both sexes?

Odd though it may seem, then, the final stage in the liberation of women may well need to be the restoration of a sense of purpose and self-esteem to the old enemy — men. But for our generation, I fear, that may be a paradox too far.

'Enemy'? Patriarchy's the enemy, mate, not men. Perhaps men could help themselves to restore their self-esteem and purpose? Yes feminism changed your lives, it was meant to. My advice would be to stop thinking of how you can be proper 'men' and think about how you can be wonderful human beings. How you can behave with courage and dignity, and oppose such dreadful things as the violence of the strong against the weak, the world wide sexual slave trade, pointless wars, the rich nations' abuse of the poor. This is what I'd suggest that both men and women do, and that feminism exists to do.

Your purpose and your self-esteem are in your hands.


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