I'll start by explaining what this post isn't. This isn't one of those 'feminism has gone too far, what about men?' posts. It will not feature me figuratively (or literally) bestriding the narrow world either like a Colossus or like one of those superhero idiots from Fathers4Justice and crying out against the wrongs feminism has done to men. I also won't try and spout some weak drivel about how feminism has achieved its goals so why don't you just pipe down, girls? Finally, I won't be saying anything like "the most oppressed group in the UK today are white, heterosexual males" because that truly is the mark of a moron.
Just so we're clear: I'm cool with feminism. I'll cheer for Greer. I'm surfing the third wave (or is it the fourth?). Me and feminism are like Thelma and Louise. If you started to bristle when you read the title, you can relax. If you were hopeful about the title and are starting to bristle as you realise I'm an emasculated flounce of a man you may walk the plank now.
However, I think there is a general problem when it comes to men and feminism. Some feminists say it's the oppressors' rage at seeing their patriarchal power and dominion threatened; I say that, in a lot of cases, it's just that men don't get it. Why would we? When I was at school (independent, all boys- I know, it was never going to be a Dianic love-in, but still) no one ever came to speak to us about balancing a career with children or explained to us what might happen if we became teenage fathers. It just never came up. Not our issue - that was for our friends at the girls' school. Same with putting condoms on root vegetables (Matron showed us a Femidom once but that was universally considered a bizarre anomaly). For some reason this bit of sex ed silliness was judged to be a strictly feminine art, ignoring the fact that this (a) absolved us of all contraceptive responsibility and (b) was totally useless if you were gay and would never encounter one of the appropriately trained females.
A female teacher once tried to explain why holding doors open for female staff was patronising but was silenced by a lot of self-congratulatory braying about our 'chivalry' - James who sat at the back of the class had a girlfriend and she loved it. So did his mum. No arguing with that. This did raise an interesting point, though - that misogyny is in the eye of the beholder. As a result, both boys and men get constant mixed messages. A huge issue like attitudes to rape are dicey but get at least some airtime - however, the subtler relationships between men, women, sex and violence are rarely investigated in male circles.
Internet porn has become the secret training manual of the adolescent male libido and men spend the rest of their sex lives trying to simultaneously replicate and rein in the effects of this with real women. Porn, like a host of feminist issues, is a ground for debate. Are men and boys the purveyors of porn or its victims? Is it men that need to change or is it the porn? To what extent does feminism rely on curbing natural male desire and the commercial interests of consenting female performers? These are surely questions that could do with being put to young men earlier and more often, allowing them to discover what they think about it for themselves rather than leaving them to their own devices and attempting some type of crude 'correction' of their mores at some later stage.
Getting men more involved with feminism may have its pitfalls, of course. An issue like abortion is often framed by saying it is a woman's right to choose and anything approaching an argument for men 'having a say' is anathema. That said, slavish adherence to this principle also produces a culture where the responsibilities and consequences of sex become the preserve of women, their partners' gleeful thrusts unburdened by any remote consciousness of the serious effect pregnancy, wanted or unwanted, can have on women's psyche or freedoms. Striking the right balance is difficult but can only come about by opening up the discussion and working out the kinks as we go, rather than what's happening now - i.e. nothing.
I can see how the liberation of women has been the business of women themselves. Trying to 'win men over' to feminism could be construed as weakening - like a hostage bargaining with her captor. However, there remains a risk that feminism is side-lined as a special interest category purely because half of the population aren't involved in the discussion. Engaging men more directly could make feminism the powerful, omnipresent, penetrating force it should be. See, now I've said 'penetrating' in a post on feminism - there are the wages of patriarchy for you.
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