The women are taking over

Quick, everybody run. The women are taking over. Where can we go that is safe? I know, to the hills. Women can’t climb hills, can they? They can? Where will this equality madness end? I know, we’ll hide in a jar with a stiff lid.

Then again, if all the men do that, how will we get out? Damn it, we’ve played right into their hands.

One of the interesting facts about the equality battle (and considering the attitudes held by the more extremist members of both sides, ‘battle’ would seem to be the appropriate word) is that those for and against equality for women often end up using the same arguments.

Again, the women are taking over

There’s an interesting (and by interesting, I mean bloody annoying) thing that both feminists (read: some feminists) and misogynists like to do whenever a woman shows the slightest bit of promise in an area that is, at the present and/or historically, male dominated. It’s to loudly and proudly declare ‘The women are taking over’ or ‘See women can do this too, the time of men is limited’.

It’s funny how that sentiment is used as both a pro and a con of women being empowered. But it’s a stupid attitude that doesn’t really help.

I’ll give you an example.

Men aren’t funny anymore

Rather ironically, this was the premise of a recent article I read in one of those newspaper supplement magazines the other day. It’s ironic because the article (written by a man) was meant to be a ‘Yay for women’ piece about the fact that comediennes are now beginning to get access to the high profile success their male counterparts have had since whenever one male caveman first hit the other in a face with a custard pie. Yet instead, it spent most of the time talking about male comics.

The premise was thus; comediennes such as Sarah Millican and Miranda (both hilariously funny, clever and talented women, in my opinion) are becoming very popular, with Miranda soon to be the first comedienne to play the O2 arena.

Except that the article wasn’t 2,000 words on why this is a good thing, and what it shows. It didn’t celebrate the fact that women are finally being given the opportunity to prove that society doesn’t have a problem on the whole with women being funny, and that we are happy to flock in droves to see comediennes, just as we are with comedians. Nope, the article had to take the supposedly empowering angle of ‘The women are taking over’, based on the fact that men are no longer funny.

There are three reasons why this article was, to use the correct Latin, pissing annoying.

It really doesn’t help anything

The article’s claim that men are no longer funny centred upon the assertion that all man-humour is toilet humour, and most of it is about our genitals. The idea of a man who doesn’t spend all day cupping himself is as fantastical as Gandalf handing out dragon eggs from the back of his hippogriff. Except that Gandalf, as a man, would also be cupping himself, so he’d have to bring a woman along to hand out the eggs for him.

It’s ironic that, considering one of the main battles faced by feminism is the fact that perceptions of women are shaped a lot of the time by unjust and untrue stereotypes, that certain feminists seem to operate on the basis that all male stereotypes actually are true. Stereotypes and ill-informed gender perceptions are what got us all in this mess in the first place. As a tactic for solving the problems of gender equality, it’s akin to being trapped in a burning wooden house and deciding to set fire to the wall in an attempt to burn yourself a hole through which to escape.

It’s obviously not true

The article used three examples, one of which was Ben Elton’s allegedly awful new sitcom as an example of how men have fallen from grace as far as comedy is concerned. I can’t remember the other two, but they certainly weren’t examples of comedians in their prime. In fact, while mentioning popular comedienne Sarah Millican, you’d think the article would have mentioned some of the male stand ups working the circuit, such as Michael McIntyre, Eddie Izzard, Rhod Gilbert, Bill Bailey, Jimmy Carr and Dara O’ Briain.

I’m not going to bother doing an exhaustive list because there’s no point. Everyone has male comedians that they like. Saying men aren’t funny is so obviously untrue (rather like saying women aren’t funny), the writer may as well have said ‘Nobody’s driving cars anymore’.

It’s incredibly patronising

Even an article about how women are breaking the glass ceiling ended up being about men’s failure rather than women’s success. The article was meant to be saying ‘Look, see, women can be as funny (or more so) than men, they’ve just been held back by negative gender perceptions and misogyny in general’, but instead its main message was ‘See, now that men are crap, women can have a go!’

Sarah Millican (or insert the name of a comedienne you like, if you don’t like her) is no less funny as a woman because Rhod Gilbert (again, insert own comedian here) is a funny man. We don’t need to devalue Rhod Gilbert in order to make Sarah Millican better; she’s arrived on the scene, made a name for herself, and is now doing better than a lot of the male comics who turned up at the same time. Not because she’s a woman, just because she’s funny. Funny enough to break through the barriers.

The women aren’t taking over

It seems that every time one woman becomes successful in a male dominated field, the women are taking over. It’s used both as a hysterical cry for help by those who don’t like or value women, and simultaneously as a rousing battle cry by those on their side: look how far we’ve come, we’re taking over.

I can’t stand either of those attitudes. There are several books on the market at the moment, not to mention plenty of articles, about how women can do everything, and so men aren’t needed any more. Our time is up, etc etc. I can’t see the point in these. All they do is reinforce what the people who hold those views already think, and justify the fears of all the men who don’t want equality because they are secretly terrified that a woman will replace them. Society still holds masculinity up as an ideal that all men should strive for; being usurped by a woman is perceived (even by plenty of women, it must be said) to be incredibly emasculating. A book telling these types of men, who we really need to win around, that they are useless, isn’t going to help.

It’s patronising and it’s rubbish. The women aren’t taking over, they’re not going to, and society/the species/people in general needs both genders in order to function properly. We each balance out the flaws in the other.

Most women just want to be able to feel safe, not feel like their gender is a burden, be able to make their own choices, and get the same opportunities as men. They don’t want to rule the world, they just want to be.

If a woman gets a successful job, telling her ‘Well done, you’re leading the exodus’ is pointless. You might as well give her a reassuring slap on the ass and pin her CV to the fridge so everyone can see that you’re proud of it.

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Women, relax! Your status as ‘not a man’ is secure!

Since the beginning of time, women have not been men. It’s a fundamental point of our species, really, in the same way that men aren’t women. However, unlike the fact that men aren’t women, the idea that women aren’t men is something that a lot of people are still very keen on focussing on.

Take Wikipedia, for example. They’ve recently started mass‐migrating the names of American women novelists out of the category ‘American Novelists’. It’s all right though ‐ apparently ‐ because they’ve now got their own category ‐ ‘American Women Novelists’.

This annoyed quite a few women, who, for some unimaginable reason, didn’t want to be defined by the fact that they were not a man. I consider myself to be a pretty well adjusted ‘Not a Tomato’, and so I cannot imagine why these not‐men might consider it offensive to have to constantly be described and categorised in relation to what they are not. Hell, we’re all ‘Not Koalas’ here. Can’t we just get along?

Of course, what the above paragraph meant to say was, yes, this is absolutely ridiculous. Wikipedia has responded to the furore that has been created amongst these ‘novelists who aren’t toasters’. It seems as though it has recently created the page ‘American Men Novelists’ and begun migrating some of pages across (note: I’m assuming that this is a newly created category, as all the articles on the gender segregation topic reference the fact that there is no ‘American Men Novelists’ category). The other thing Wikipedia has done is to reconsider the idea, and is currently discussing the idea of putting all the pages in the ‘American Women Novelists’ category back into the main category.

Whether or not Wikipedia’s decision sticks is really beside the point. What it highlights is a general attitude that certain occupations are roles for men, and that a women doing any of these is therefore somehow an anomaly. So if a man writes a book, fair enough, that’s what men do. If a woman writes a book, it’s worthy of note that she’s a woman (sorry; not a man) because…erm…well…because women aren’t natural, or something.

We might as well just go the whole hog and introduce a rule that says every time a woman tells a man that they have written a novel, or are going to write a novel, he must pat them on the head and say ‘Aww, good for you’.

I had intended to write a more in-depth post on why ‘Category: humans/Sub‐Category: Men/ Sub‐Category: Humans Who Aren’t Men ’ shouldn’t be treated like anomalies, but quite frankly it’s baffling that it should even need to be spelled out.

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Writing as a man feminist; when no means no

I have spent a lot of time on the protagonist of Politics in Blood (which someday will get published and y’all be able to read it). I wanted Fray to be a ‘strong’ female character (check out this post by Danielle Shipley about ‘strong’ female characters, and then follow my quote back to my post which explains why I keep using inverted commas when I write ‘strong’ female characters). I wanted her to be a woman that women could ‘get’, understand and identify with (in as much as you can identify with a master criminal). I wanted her to be a character that women could read and not be embarrassed by.

In order to do that, I spent a lot of time reading feminist blogs and columns. I wanted to know what kind of things made female characters ‘weak’ or stereotypical. Luckily, pretty much everything I found, Fray wasn’t guilty of. Every now and then I’d find something I hadn’t thought of.

Turning points

But actually, there was one moment when I realised something very important. Which is that, just because I’m a man, doesn’t mean I can’t disagree with something feminism asserts.

The example in question was a really simple choice. I was going back over my first chapter and decided that I ought to describe Fray a bit more. In thinking about the clothes she was wearing, I hit upon an interesting conundrum. Trousers or skirt? After I’d decided what I’d be wearing (joke), I returned to Fray’s wardrobe.

I spent a little time on Google looking over results and reading some feminist thoughts on the subject. I found out two things:

  1. Trousers are evil (and so are men).
  2. Skirts are evil (and so are men).

As Danielle Shipley so rightly points out in her latest post, you can’t please everyone. Some people thought women wearing trousers was a sign of male oppression, as wearing trousers is a ‘man thing’ so women wearing trousers are ‘trying to be men’. But the other side of the coin was people arguing that skirts are a sign of male oppression because they’re a garment just for women, etc etc.

Deciding to say no

I realised after a while that I was spending far too much time thinking about it. It’s a stupid issue. Women can wear what they want, as can fictional women. It doesn’t matter; skirts and trousers aren’t evil, or good. They’re just things that people put on, like hats, or a pantomime horse costume. There doesn’t have to be inherent sexist overtones in a piece of material.

It was an important decision to make, because up until that point, I think I’d operated in the same way a lot of men clued up about feminism do, in that they tread very carefully because we’re obviously guilty of everything. Look at us, with our man faces. Oh, the hate that pours off you. What, you have facial hair? You oppressive bastard; I feel so oppressed right now.

But after reading certain pieces of feminism by people who believe that the world would be a better place if all the men were dead, or kept in zoos, and that mothers should kill their children in order to escape gender roles, and that sex with a man is always rape, I realised that feminism, like religion, capitalism and democracy, is great as a concept, but as soon as you give that concept to humans, they don’t half screw it up.

You can’t please everyone

There is no way I’m ever going to write a woman who everyone thinks is a ‘strong’ character. There’ll always be someone who will accuse me of sexism, and of taking breaks in between writing in order to stab women and then laugh about it. One woman’s idea of equality is to be able to choose to look after her children, not be forced to; whereas another’s is that she has a career while her husband is forced to stay at home. There are people who want true equality, and people who just want to flip things around so that women can have thousands of years oppressing men in order to even things up.

I realised some very important things on that day, just from pondering a simple costume choice for my main character.

I realised that feminism, like everything, isn’t one idea (even jam). There are different factions within the belief (as there are in…jam). Some of them want a better world for everyone, and the start of that is equality in the sexes (these, I like to think, are the true feminists ((or jamists – ‘what do we want? Equality for all jams! When do we want it? Whenever there’s toast, please’)), so just hate men and feminism gives them a handy cover to say whatever they want and get away with misandry, and others think men are the cause of all evil in the world and that no woman has ever done a thing wrong.

What happens when you disagree with your beliefs?

It opened up a very large moral conundrum, however. I’d openly acknowledged to myself that it was possible to disagree with feminism, whilst still believing, and wanting to uphold, its main principles. But half the problem in this world is that there are those who disagree with feminism full stop (or period, for you Americans). How do you be a man who supports gender equality, yet still disagrees with certain parts of feminism?

In the same way, I imagine, as gay Catholics do. You look at what you believe, and then you realise which bits have been twisted and distorted by people. I don’t believe in God, but I think religion is a wonderful thing. It gives hope, joy and morality to people all across the world. At its core, every religion teaches tolerance, understanding, charity and acceptance. How people have managed to take those core messages and extract homophobia, racism, sexism and general badassery out of them is another issue entirely. It’s like turning gold into lead. (Or something worse, but I haven’t quite decided which swear words I want to appear on this blog.)

What it’s all about

Feminism, at its core, wants equality for everyone. True feminists (I believe) are as worried about the gender stereotypes and expectations that are placed upon men, as they are all the societal constraints that women have to suffer with. Being a man and believing in feminism is not a case of hating oneself or one’s gender; it’s about wanting to make a better world.

So, while I’ll uphold feminism, and will continue to write about it, and try and do my little part to make this world a better place, I also know that it’s OK to stand up and say, ‘You know, I don’t agree with that’.

That women are abused and treated as second class citizens are massive issues that need to be dealt with. But as to whether they want to wear a skirt or some trousers, well; let’s just say I won’t be picketing any branches of Topshop any time soon.

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#TellaFeministthankyou and is chivalry evil?

Twitter brings people together. Without it, it’s very hard to abuse random strangers on the internet. Hastags clearly exist so that people can find others with contradictory beliefs, and then abuse them for exercising their right to free will. In fact, the internet in general took humanity one step closer to being reduced by hate to the dribbling monkeys we once were (or weren’t, depending upon your point of view).

For those that don’t know, using a hashtag on Twitter groups your Tweet with all others using that hashtag. It means you can become a part of a huge global conversation, and see what other people are saying on the same topic.

Yesterday, the top trending hashtage was Tellafeministthankyou. Naturally, this caused quite a few arguments.

Different personalities and beliefs coming together…to stab each other in the eyes

There were the genuinely grateful, the women who do their part, the men who do their part, the men who appreciate women, the women who appreciate men, the people who were just having an ironic joke, the people who were a little bit miffed, and then the men who hate women and the women who hate men, or other women.

There were lots of sarcastic Tweets about not being able to make kitchen jokes anymore, as well as the occasional bombardment of ‘How dare you campaign for birth control’ and ‘thanks to you I can’t raise my children properly.’ Just to clarify, any woman who storms into the home of another woman and drags her into the city to force her to have a high profile career, is not a feminist. Feminism is about freedom, the right to be equal, and the right to choose*.

*(Feminists who believe all women must renounce children, have careers, give up sex, or stop enjoying the company of men, is the exact same problem that feminism is trying to fight; people trying to force women to conform to their idea of what a woman should be. Forcing a woman to have a career is no better than forcing her to stay at home, have children, and look after the house).

There was one argument that kept cropping up that I wanted to look at, because there’s a lot of conversation that goes on about it, and the middle ground often gets lost in the extremes.

Feminism and chivalry

Some people were complaining that feminism has killed chivalry, some were thankful for it. If you don’t know, feminism regards the concept of chivalry as insidious sexism. The idea of opening a door for a woman, because she’s a woman, automatically implies that she is weak, needs help, or should generally be looked after.

Whether it’s offering to help a woman who is struggling with something heavy, or giving up your seat for her on the bus, these are things that society only expects people to do for women. Because they’re supposedly weak and delicate beings who need to be looked after like a small bubble of thoughts about kittens and babies who’d disappear in a second if exposed to the jagged, harsh reality of the real world.

The reason the feminism and chivalry issue is so interesting is because it is so bloody complex. You could argue that chivalry is good, or it’s bad. I think in both cases you’d be wrong. Twitter showed that many people were vastly missing the point of the debate, getting caught up with actions rather than the motivating responses.

Context is everything

A little example to clarify. A man comes home from work; his wife has dinner ready on the table. Now, the sexism in this scene comes from the context. This image isn’t an intrinsically sexist one, in the same way a powerful board room full of only white men isn’t intrinsically racist. It’s the context of the situation – i.e. all those men got the high up jobs over their female and/or black/Asian colleagues because they were white men – not the end result. If a woman genuinely, without pressure or fear, decides that she wants to give up her career to raise her children, that’s fine.

Of course, the problem at the moment is that women aren’t allowed to make choices like that. The sexism in society comes from the fact that equality is just a concept, not something that is practised. There is still an expectation that a woman shouldn’t choose to have a career, she shouldn’t make the money, or know how to fix a car, or wrestle a kangaroo to protect her husband.

Feminism and chivalry the sequel

This is all relevant because most of the Twitter discussions regarding chivalry were about opening doors.

The idea of chivalry is wrong because it is all about acting upon the underlying belief that women are somehow in need of help. If chivalry was universal, it wouldn’t be a problem. But the medieval idea of honour amongst men is not stabbing them in the back or making an iPad case out of their skin, whereas being honourable towards women was about not breathing too hard near them because the poor things were so fragile they’d break like a candyfloss lamppost in a monsoon.

I think chivalry can stay, it just needs a bit of retasking, that’s all. The underlying message is what needs changing, not the actions. I don’t believe that any of the following actions are ‘wrong’:

  • Opening a door for someone
  • Allowing someone to enter/exit a room/lift/pantomime horse outfit first
  • Saying ‘after you’
  • Helping someone carry something heavy
  • Getting involved in a fight to protect someone you care about who is at risk

When this becomes a problem, and why feminism and chivalry come to blows, is when you do the above because the other person is a woman. If you walk past a man trying to carry a cast iron safe in order to help a woman who has two books in her hand, that’s a problem.

I particularly like this article on feminism and chivalry on Everyday Feminism, as it acknowledges the difficulties for both genders. There are feminists out there who simply attack chivalry, and brand any man who tries to be nice to a woman as an evil sexist. The article linked to examines it from both sides, points out that in some ways, many women are just as at fault for the prevalence of chivalry, and that men have a genuinely tough time trying to work out how to not be a sexist because the expectations society places on their gender makes it incredibly difficult to show respect to women without seeming less than a man.

And it is important to acknowledge the plights of men when it comes to societal expectations, as these govern the way they ‘have’ to act and behave. It would be perceived as incredibly embarrassing if a woman were to help a man carry something heavy, and most men would feel hideously rude remaining in their seat on the bus while a woman stood. Society needs to allow men to break the expectations on their gender at the same time as allowing women to. We can’t achieve true equality while the hands of one side are tied by preconceptions and assumptions.

But the bottom line, which makes arguing about opening doors pointless, is that it’s the context of the action that is important. Opening doors for people is fine, better than fine in fact. It’s great. Opening doors for women only, then letting them go to smash into the faces of the men behind them, is most definitely not a good thing.

If you offer to carry a woman’s shopping for her because she’s a human being who might like a little help, and you would do the same for a man without a second’s thought, don’t worry, you’re a nice person.

Bottom line is, just be nice to people. That’s a huge part of what feminism is really about.

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That Bittersweet Phrase; ‘Strong Female Character’

I’m quite interested in how gender is portrayed and defined in literature and in films and television. However, being somewhat of a pansy, I have refrained from writing about it before now, through a fear of ‘getting it wrong’. The last thing I want to happen is to be misinterpreted and  labelled a massive sexist (or even a small sexist – quality over quantity, right?).

Then I realised that actually, that fear of getting it wrong is one of the problems we have today when it comes to gender. Which is where the title comes in. You might be thinking, ‘Well Rewan, you little/large/supersize sexist, what’s what with strong female characters, eh?’ To which my reply is, absolutely nothing, I love them. Hopefully written one myself. My problem is not with the idea that the phrase describes, but more what it’s attributed to.

This is getting confusing, right?

Put simply, I don’t believe that what is often described as a ‘strong female character’, actually is one. The problem is the word ‘strong’. People take it too literally. We have this interesting problem now that male authors/scriptwriters/directors are aware that it’s definitely not ok to have only one woman in the cast, whose role is to cry uncontrollably and get saved by one of the men, whom she then repays in sex (I mean, come on, he saved her life right? We all know prostitution is wrong, and that you can’t put a price on a woman’s body, but he saved her life. Surely that’s enough, yeah?) They know that their female characters have to have depth and purpose.

The second half of the problem comes from the misunderstanding that, whilst it is true that women can do everything men can do, the fact is they probably wouldn’t. Because men and women are different. Feminists often like to suggest that the world would be a better place if run by women. It wouldn’t, it’d just be screwed up in a completely different way. What’s wrong with the world today isn’t men, it’s people. Back to the point, male writers (I expect) often feel as though they cannot create boundaries for their female characters in the same way they would with their male ones. They worry that, as there are all these people out there talking about how women are equal to men, they’d better make their female characters do exactly what their male counterparts would have done, otherwise they’re a sexist.

Man with tits

Which is why you get this horrible class of female heroines who never feel any emotion whatsoever, who can calmly watch their parents dissolve in acid without even the inclination to even think about the possibility of crying, who strut around and have a left hook that could knock a bison over, who carries a gun twice as big as any of the male characters, and spends most of the book/film topless, because they’re a woman and they’re comfortable with their bodies and their sexuality, no matter what society might try and say.

These characters are so awful to read. Mostly because they’re prats. Female or male, I can’t stand this type of stunted, emotionally crippled, trigger happy idiot, because they have no depth. That’s what any character needs, depth. And, to be honest, what is this kind of character anyway, apart from your typical male action hero with breasts?

Let women be women

That’s the problem. Writers have become too worried about being called sexist that they feel their female characters have to measure up to their male characters. A lot of problems in society come from this idea of having to compare women to men. What would a woman have done in that situation? Bet he only did that because he was a man. Writers spend too much time judging their female characters from the perspective of their male characters. Which means that if a male character is physically strong, and a female character isn’t – you’re a sexist. Which is rubbish. But I think a lot of writers operate like this, thinking the way to empower women in their novels or films is to take them one step further than their male counterparts. Leading man got a pistol? Better give the leading woman a machine gun. Leading man got a sword? Claymore it is then.

It’s this kind of comparison that really hampers the creation of strong female characters. Surely the whole point of feminism is that women are their own people? If we continue to define our female characters by looking at what our male characters are doing, that’s just another form of marginalisation. You don’t create a strong character by making the others around them weak. If your character is not strong on their own, then they are not a strong character.

It seems obvious, but…

These terrible heroines come from several assumptions, that run like this:

1.If women have been forced by society into the role of care-giver, so their whole lives revolve around looking after other people, then making my female character not care about anything or anybody but herself is inspired. Liberation, baby!

2.Women used to be referred to as ‘the fair sex’, and were always thought of as weak. My heroine always carries a warhammer, which she can lift with one hand. This character is shaping up to be amazing! Perhaps I should get posters made of her, seeing as so many women are obviously going to look up to her as a role model, they’ll probably want her on their bedroom walls…

3.Crying is supposedly a sign of weakness, and another stereotype of women is that they are too emotional, so my character won’t have feelings at all. My god, I’m a literary genius and the most epic feminist there’s ever been!

It’s all bollocks. A character like that is just a hideous anti-stereotype, and the problem with creating characters that directly oppose a stereotype is that you are still shaping your characters by using stereotypes. Your characters are still defined by gender stereotypes, even if you use them as things to avoid.

At the end of the day, the key is just to find the right balance between gender and character. To say ‘forget about the gender of your character’ would be wrong, as it will affect what they do. Men and women are different, and that’s an important thing to remember. Neither is inferior to the other, but we will react differently to situations based upon our gender. Are your female friends indistinguishable from your male friends? Of course not, and although personality is most of that reason, personality is built upon a foundation of gender. It’s inescapable, but that doesn’t mean it has to govern everything.

Political points don’t make it right

When writing my female characters, I tend to keep in mind one question, and that is ‘Is she doing this because she’s a woman, or because it’s what her character would do in that situation?’ Saying ‘she’s a woman, so she would do this’ is making things a lot more political than they need to be. At the end of the day, it’s not about what your female characters do, but whythat can make them strong, weak, empowering, or sexist.

It’s the difference between crying because the scary monster has attacked, and crying because the scary monster just ate the man/woman you love. It’s ok to have a woman cleaning the house, if the story demands it. What wouldn’t be right, is if in The Hunger Games, Katniss entered the arena, looked around, and thought ‘bloody hell, this could do with a sweep’.

Male is not a blueprint

The bad kinds of ‘strong female characters’ come from people pausing when writing and asking themselves, ‘what would a man do in this situation?’ Be loyal to the character, because that is the key. The character and the situation defines what should happen, not gender. It is ok to have a character cry at the big scary monster, if that’s what the story demands.

Having a crying woman, or a woman who cleans, or looks after a family, or gets overly emotional, or whatever, doesn’t make you a sexist, if the story demands it. But if your story is a science fiction piece, in which robots do everything for humans, does the wife really have to walk around with a tray of drinks for the husband’s male guests?

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