Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The fragility of woman

This week the fashion designer Stella McCartney revealed a new collection that celebrated the fragility of women. This pisses me off.

Why not celebrate the fragility of human beings? After all, we're all relatively fragile. It only takes chance - an accident or illness - for us to be here one minute and gone the next. 

Why fragile is bad

In a time before feminism, women were seen as fragile, stupid creatures, who needed men to protect and guide them. Then came feminism, which has been fighting tooth and nail to knock these assumptions on the head.

Just because we're not as physically strong as men doesn't mean we're not equally intelligent, capable and physically and emotionally tough. 

Foreign and Commonwealth Office,
via Wikimedia Commons
Because the gist is that if we are fragile in comparison to men, then we really are not as capable as them. And not as capable is not as good. 

Among some bollocks McCartney wrote about clothes, was this little nugget: "It's about the the fragility and the movement and the warmth of summer, in a woman, and bringing out your strength. Strength on its own in a woman is quite abrasive and not terribly attractive sometimes. And this collection is celebrating the gentler side."

Quite apart from the fact that this makes me want to exert some of my "not terribly attractive" strength on McCartney's warm summery person, it seems to me that she is harking back to Victorian notions of feminine fragility and gentleness - notions that we should have left behind more than a century ago. It's sad and shocking to find a woman in 2014 speaking in this way.

'Put down that hammer and get back to rocking the cradle', she seems to be saying.

Purchasing fragility

I had a look at McCartney's website. You can buy diamond-encrusted jeans for 550 quid. I buy my jeans from New Look. They're considerably cheaper but don't come with diamonds. But what this really means is that to purchase McCartney's diamond denims, or any of the fragile floaty garments she's talking about, you need to be pretty flush. Not in the least bit fragile, financially speaking.

In fact, you could do with being the kind of powerful, independent woman that McCartney herself is - a hugely successful businesswoman (let's overlook her famous dad). McCartney is an institution. She ain't fragile. 

I'd urge you to not buy any of McCartney's clothes in protest, but since I'm 99% sure you can't afford them anyway, I won't bother. 

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Why feminism is good for men

Yesterday, he got the breakfast.
A typical dismissal of feminists and feminism, by people who don’t understand, is ‘man-haters’.

This is ridiculous. It assumes that just because you champion one group of people, you want their opposite to be persecuted.

If you champion gay rights, does that mean you hate heterosexuals? If you oppose discrimination against black people and ethnic minorities, does that mean you dislike people with white skin?

Just because we believe that women should have equality, doesn’t mean we want men to be discriminated against. We want to be equal, not dominant.

It’s about turning a man’s world into everyone’s world, which sounds cheesy, but that's what equality is.

Men: we don't hate you. We just want the world to accept we're as good as you.


Maybe some women do hate men. Personally, I have my moments. But this is nothing to do with feminism and everything to do with personal experience and prejudice. Some of them aren't helping their cause, by behaving very badly.

Dismissing feminists as man-haters is not only simplistic – it’s just plain wrong. In the same way that suggesting that all ardent feminists are lesbians. It’s just not true.

Good for men

Feminism calls for a world which is not dominated by pre-ordained gender roles.

In a truly equal world neither men nor women would feel pressure to live up to the stereotypes of their sex.

Men are expected to be macho – physically and mentally strong, with a defined set of practical skills and a natural inclination towards scientific disciplines. Women are seen as delicate, nurturing and artsy.

In a truly post-feminist world, we and would no longer feel inadequate because we’re no good at make-up and don’t wear high-heels.

There would be a lot less pressure on boys and girls to conform to gender expectations. We could all just be. Wouldn't that be nice?

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Is chivalry dead? Should it be?

Chivalry is a Medieval idea - the set of values that knights signed up to. What we mean by chivalry derives from courtly love, an aspect of chivalry which involved stuff like writing poems about how much you loved an important woman, even if you didn't care for her all that much. It was just what you did, circa Medieval times.

These days it's all about opening car doors, carrying her luggage and laying your cloak down over the mud so that the lady won't get muddy toes (OK, that one was a while ago).

Is chivalry OK?
So if a bloke offers to carry a bag for you, when you're not overloaded, or offers you a seat on a train because you're a girl and so shouldn't have to stand up, is he being nice, or is he like totally dissing your status as a strong and independent woman. Is it an act of respect or disrespect?

'Chivalric' behaviour such as paying the bill and giving up seats on public transport is well-meant. Blokes do it because they want to be nice. They see it as showing 'respect to the ladies'.

But this kind of behaviour derives from the false assumption that we are the less capable sex. As such, it is inherently disrespectful. We may not be able to lift equally heavy weights as men can, but we are no less capable of standing up on public transport. OK there is still a gender pay gap, but there's no reason to assume most of us can't pay our way, thank you very much (in fact letting men pay for us in restaurants etc could reinforce the idea that there should be a gender pay gap, because it makes it so darn expensive to be a man).

How it should be
You have to feel sorry for men (no, wait, you don't) - it's really confusing out there. How are they supposed to behave?

A bloke in my gym a while ago told me: "I was going to offer to help you with that, but then I realised how ridiculous that would be." His point was that if I need help to move weights around, I should probably have picked a different hobby. I liked that he told me this and therefore managed to look good both as a chivalrous man having the impulse to help, and as a fellow human being respecting my capabilities. Clever.

If I'm standing up on a train, a man shouldn't give his seat up for me unless I'm pregnant, ill, or struggling to transport an extremely heavy life-sized, framed portrait of David Tennant (this last hasn't actually happened yet).

They should, by now, respect us as their equals. This means that, if we're struggling with a heavy bag, then yes please, offer to help up. But not because we're weak and feeble women - because we're human beings struggling with heavy bags, and hopefully they'd do that for a man as well.

Treading carefully
All this brings us to the question of how to behave when a man displays chivalrous behaviour, AKA suggests you're a weak and feeble woman through a kind but ultimately undermining action.

And this is the tricky one.

If you're a rude, nasty girl then you can point out the error of his ways, thus helping to spread the feminist cause and royally pissing him off. If we all did this, all the time, then pretty quickly the message would get through.

If you're not a rude, nasty girl, but a polite, nice one, then you can still do your bit. If a man offers you a seat just because you're a girl, then decline it. If he tries to carry your bag for no good reason, ask him firmly but politely to return it. Etcetera.