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.
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:
- Trousers are evil (and so are men).
- 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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