Thursday, 21 August 2014

Everyday sexism

In the face of sexism, maybe we all need to be a bit ruder and nastier.

The Everyday Sexism Project documents 'experiences of sexism, harassment and assault to show how bad the problem is and create solidarity.' Here are a couple of examples:

Carrying baggage

I bought some luggage from a nice man in a shop, talked to him about needing a big bag because I have a baby and lots of stuff to carry. I faffed about a bit, not sure whether or not to buy it, and when I went ahead he said: "you can always pretend you’ve had it for ages – that’s what you women do."

I wondered what he was talking about. But then it clicked – 'he thinks I’m hesitating because I will have to explain to my husband why I spent the money!'

As it happens I (a) have a good job and make my own money and (b) don’t have a man to answer to since he buggered off (with all the luggage).

It’s a very minor incident - a crass comment made by someone from a different generation who didn’t really think it through. But it does highlight some widely held assumptions about women, namely:
  • we are financially dependent on men
  • we have to answer to men for decisions we make
  • we are more likely to make rash consumer choices than men

Should we talk back?

My little run-in with everyday sexism was a very minor anecdote, and no, I didn't pull him up on it, because he was basically a nice man, who didn't think before he spoke.

Maybe I should have, but I didn't want to offend him, and I suppose I was also afraid of the "Tuh! Women" reaction that I was quite likely to get. Probably I should have pulled him up on it, because how can people change if we don't tell them what they're doing wrong? And how can society if individuals don't?

I should have been a rude, nasty girl.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

New men

In the 1980s and 90s they used to talk about ‘new men’ a lot. I guess I thought we stopped talking about new men, because most men checked that box these days. Or not.

What’s a new man?

The New Man was a 1980s idea, it was someone 'who rejects sexist attitudes and the traditional male role, especially in the context of domestic responsibilities and childcare, and who is (or is held to be) caring, sensitive, and non-aggressive' (Oxford English Dictionary).

So they respect women as equal to themselves, will do the washing up, cook dinner and take care of the child. They sound lovely. What's not to like?

The trouble is, if the ‘new man’ comes in and does all that – cooking, cleaning and bringing up baby, then when he leaves, he makes it worse than it was before.

Becoming an old man

All too often, a new man becomes an old man. In the words of feminist journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown at an event recently, 'then the new man buggers off with the young blond'. I know the feeling.

Lots of women have brought up children by themselves, as their beloved was away earning money, fighting wars, or simply pissing it all away in the pub.

Some women today find blokes who are happy to do their share, and respect them as equal partners. That is lovely. Except when they leave it is much worse, because then, suddenly the woman has to do all that stuff that she’s not used to doing alone. It’s a #firstworldproblem but it’s still pretty shit.

It's not just the men who leave their partners. It's any man who doesn't pull his weight when a child comes along, having given the impression that he sees his partner as an equal, wants to be a hands-on father and doesn't believe that all domestic work should be undertaken by women.

Setting the cause back

By appearing to support female independence and equality, but then taking action to destroy these things, men are setting the feminist cause - the fight for equality - back. And they should be vilified for this.

Shouldn't we have reached a point now where we can expect men to support their wives, mothers and daughters' rights to equality and independence.

This is not to say men shouldn’t embrace any of the tropes of new-manness, for fear of leaving women in the lurch. But failing to take your domestic responsibilities seriously, and leaving women to cope either alone or with little or no support, shouldn't be acceptable. Surely we've come further than that?