The Blog

Feminism Is Not About Female Behaviour

When oh when will men stop "correcting" women on their feminism? It is not demeaning to women, how they choose to represent themselves. It is demeaning though, and extraordinarily patronising in the most perversely ironic of ways, for a man to appropriate feminism to his side of the argument to "correct" female behaviour.

Week before last I wrote a blog about why Benedict Cumberbatch should stop censoring his Cumberbitches. Incredibly my article was not put into his hands for a good read as only last week Mr Cumberbatch reiterated his view of the term Cumberbitches, considering the term "subservient, demeaning" and "They've gone down the route of reversing the negative backlash of however many years of feminism and it was a little bit worrying".

As well as pissing me off (again), it got me thinking about his constant inference that he knows more about what makes a good feminist than his female fans. I'll tell him now, he doesn't. I'll say it clearly - female behaviour has nothing to do with feminism. Feminism is the fight back against male behaviour towards women.

When oh when will men stop "correcting" women on their feminism? It is not demeaning to women, how they choose to represent themselves. It is demeaning though, and extraordinarily patronising in the most perversely ironic of ways, for a man to appropriate feminism to his side of the argument to "correct" female behaviour.

The internet's favourite actor though is not the only man to think women might need a hand in understanding this whole feminism thing. But sadly it's not just men who seem determined to define acceptable female behaviour - there are too many women only too keen to take up that mantle also.

Caitlin Moran is seen as one of this country's leading feminist lights but her book How to Be a Woman is full of corrective analysis. In a visit to strip club she declares that "any argument in their favour is fallacious" and as for the women themselves, "Girls, get the fuck off the podium - you're letting us all down."

Because of course the women HAVE to be complete victims to work in a strip club. I mean, no one actually wants to work there, RIGHT? And the girls surely don't know what's good for them. Load of crap and riddled with stereotypes and good feminist/bad feminist judgment.

But then Moran has the temerity to say that "we shouldn't have a problem with burlesque" because "with burlesque...the power rest[s] with the person taking their clothes off." I mean, talk about someone talking shit about something they know nothing about.

So all those women I performed with in burlesque, when they performed under their burlesque alter-egos it was ok but those who then went on to do a shift at Spearmint Rhino suddenly betrayed the cause? They were the same women!!

And if it's not "burlesque good, stripping bad", Moran's taking on pubic hair - "keep it trimmed, keep it neat but keep it what it's supposed to be."

Again, it is not female behaviour that should be subject to disapproval or approval. Not only does it rob men of accountability for their demands of women but it also judges women incapable of making a "correct" choice without "education."

Waxing is not a feminist issue. Whether a woman waxes her hair or not, it doesn't make her any more or less of a feminist. Some women want to wax everything off because that's what they want. Good for them. Other women like to let it all grow. Good for them. I don't care what choice they make and neither should anyone else.

I can't believe we've gone from men telling women how to be a woman, to women doing just the same. Indeed the very title of the book itself is an explicit example of how feminism persists in analysing female behaviour rather than male.

This is nothing new though. Even the great suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, the woman who orchestrated a decade-long female campaign of violence and civil disobedience, despised any woman who didn't extol the virtues of chastity and prim external appearance. Indeed she even disowned her own daughter Sylvia when she had a child out of wedlock.

It's also one of the reasons why I won't read Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In. Setting aside that its title is the kind of glib advice you'd normally see on a fridge magnet, it infers to me that it's female behaviour that needs to change if women want to succeed. Yeah, because that's what's been holding women back - their own behaviour.

Deeply depressing. And not borne out by any of my own (not insignificant) executive experience in the Square Mile. There are many superb female candidates for the top jobs in the City - and they are not looked over because they are struggling to make themselves heard. It's the men who are stopping female equality in the workforce, not women.

This ongoing forensic analysis of female behaviour has profound consequences.

Young women growing up adoring these celebs who criticise female behaviour find their own opinions and preferences censored or "corrected", causing them to doubt themselves, increase their insecurity and take responsibility for perceived inappropriate behaviour. This is then reinforced by a misogynist society which seeks to hem women in and approve of only a very narrow view of acceptable female behaviour.

This then has repercussions for serious hot topics such as rape, domestic violence and abuse. Whether its rape victims being cross-examined on their dress or conduct, or women out on Friday nights told not to drink, to avoid eye contact with men, to not leave their drink unattended for a moment, to not take unlicensed cabs home, to always use a well-lit path, to not wear short dresses...

I know, how about this instead? MEN! Look at yourselves here. And stop telling us that the way we behave brings such crimes our way. Change your behaviour, not ours. We do nothing wrong and have a right to exist and to live our lives with abuse, violence, aspersions on our moral code and without your patronising "corrective" suggestions.

And women, don't do that work for them either.

Real feminism should defend women's choices. This demonisation of "other" women has got to stop. Feminism is not about a privileged few insisting they know what's best for the rest. The focus must be on male behaviour, not female.

The next feminist polemic should be titled How to Be A Man, because that's what feminism needs to tackle. In fact, I'm going to stop right here and go start that book right now.