By the time you finish reading this you will either a) despise me with such seething contempt that you will draft a death threat on the nearest piece of paper to hand or b) your faith in humanity will be restored. If social media is a credible yardstick of popular middle-class outrage then I suspect that you will feel the former, but either way I hope you read to the end…
It’s a cringing, groan-inducing cliché but bear with me. I am the most open-minded and laid-back person that you will ever meet. I realise that is something many people say to appear approachable and endearing, but I rarely get upset (I think I once lost my temper back in the late nineties), my tolerance for offence is very high and my humour is disturbingly dark. In fact some of those closest and dearest to me consider it their ultimate goal in life to successfully cause great offence to me. So when I say that I am rapidly approaching thermonuclear rage then you know that something seismic has happened to cause it.
Last year, having had my fill of a long series of ranty man-hating tweets in my timeline, I posted the following subtweet:
This tweet stopped a lot of people in their tracks. There was a palpable open-mouthed shock online. A few raged about it. Some quietly commended me on ‘speaking out’. The tweet prompted a conversation with a strong-minded feminist friend of mine who was incandescent upon further discovering that I - a professional woman with a PhD - would happily give up my work if I married someone who preferred me to be a stay-at-home housewife. Or that I would love to have the body of a supermodel and be paraded in next-to-nothing at fashion shows and sports events. No I didn’t consider the ‘Beach Body Ready’ ad campaign to be offensive and I thought the model in the poster looked amazing. Would I wear high heels and a short dress for an evening and grin-and-bear-it while men leered at me in order to raise thousands of pounds for a children’s charity? Most probably (so long as I was allowed to glass anyone getting too gropey without permission). As I explained to my friend – I’m not preachy about my views on my own femininity, I don’t wish to prove or disprove anything in particular by holding these views, nor do I insist that others adopt the same approach, it is simply my natural inclination.
Since then I have been doing some soul-searching to investigate why my opinions caused offence and a combination of factors may have contributed to my position. I was raised as a tomboy with a fiercely independent mind but I was also exposed to a great deal of sassy sexuality. We had prints of Gil Elvgren's pin-up girls on the walls at home, my parents adored Freddie Mercury and my first crush was on Frank-N-Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I had posters of women from burlesque shows on the walls of my teenage bedroom and worshipped female entertainers like Dita Von Teese. Sexuality was something fun and it could be innocently exploited for entertainment value. At school I performed well academically but day-to-day survival depended upon social acceptance amongst both the girls and the boys in my class. I found equal delight in a high score in an exam and a compliment on my appearance from a boy. Both made me feel good about myself. While taking my A-levels I worked as a model for a local artist and I later modelled for a designer fashion label, but although internally confident I was painfully shy and not particularly ‘girly’ – I didn’t wear make-up or dresses and I was into geek culture in a big way so I spent most of my time hanging around with boys. My childhood best friend was a popular-in-class Afro-Caribbean boy and we spent every hour of every day together. There was never a physical attraction between us, his sharp humour and relaxed personality sat well with my own. My male friends outnumbered my female friends and I considered them all to be equals - if they hurt or upset me then they did it because they were dicks and not because of any gender difference.
So that’s the melting pot that I’m working with – a childhood with mostly male friends, an irreverent and accommodating personality, and a love of sassy sexuality and feminine charms.
I can’t recall when I first became aware of the latest strain of feminism, it crept up on me through a variety of sources – the media, magazines, the beginnings of social media – but it was around the time that I started university when I encountered the first seeds of feminist outrage. Women began sneering at other women who worked as models and insisting that they covered their bodies because they were being ‘exploited’ by men within the fashion industry. The concept of exploitation in this context was completely alien to me. Was I being exploited when I worked for that local artist? I’m pretty sure that was my decision. Was I wrong to do that modelling in my late teens? I’m pretty sure that was my decision too. Did these women want to stop me wearing a short dress when I go out on a Saturday night with my friends? Hold on a second. I had been raised in a society that told me to express my individuality, celebrate my body and embrace the empowering ‘girl power’ of the Spice Girls, and now I was being told that I must abide by a set of social rules dictating what I could and couldn’t wear and how I should and shouldn’t behave? And these rules had been invented by women who claimed to be standing up for my rights and freedom of expression?!
Then followed a wave of sexual assault allegations and the spotlight turned on men in general and their behaviour around women. Was the media accusing all men of being sexual predators? What about my male friends? Surely not them? I watched with horror as the men in my life begin to react respectfully to these sensitivities (which was admirable) but I also leapt to their defence. Yes there are creepy and dangerous guys out there and women need to be aware of their existence, but it was cruel to make sweeping generalisations of all men. I would be horrified if my male friends withdrew from our friendship due to insecurities in my presence. I reminded male friends that nothing had changed between us amid these increasing tensions – they should not treat me any differently than normal and if they ever wronged me then they did so as contemptable human beings, not as evil men picking on an innocent and simpering woman. I admit that this blanket approach has effectively eradicated some of the most predatory in our communities; however the panicked scattergun nature of the warnings has hit some of the most vulnerable too. I wrote an article recently in response to scattergun attacks on men in academia and the noticeable impact that this had on their behaviour. I worry too about a couple of friends who are very nervous around women and I suspect that a fear of causing offence has called a halt to any chances that they have to meet a partner!
Allegations of unacceptable behaviour and cries of exploitation have been escalating for a while, but I had no idea that these accusations would grow into the colossal slew of outrage that we are now experiencing. This outrage manifests itself in a different form each day – only this week we have seen the withdrawal of grid girls at F1 races and the removal of ‘offensive’ artwork from galleries. And, by and large, it’s mostly batshitcraziness. A few years ago if you told me you were a feminist then I would be impressed and intrigued and ask you to tell me more about the worthy causes that you are fighting to call out injustices against women. Nowadays when someone tells me they are a ‘feminist’ I retreat into the farthest corner of the room until I can ascertain whether that person is a devotee of the man-hating, scream-at-the-sky, attention-seeking fascist regime shitshow that modern feminism has become. The truth is, while a few genuine old-school feminists still exist and many horrifying mistreatments of women take place every day that need to be addressed, I suspect that some modern-day ‘feminists’ despise even the most blameless of men and look for any excuse to attack them. Or – sharp intake of breath – some ‘feminists’ earn a salary from employment that relies upon pointing the finger at examples of offence and so it is in their deepest interests to exploit the deep mines of outrage, or even to create some where none can be found. It’s super-cool to be a man-hater right now, like possessing a popular pet breed or drinking the latest nutritional food replacement…
While I could rant on for hours about the misguided puritanism and dubious intentions of modern feminism, I have two serious concerns that have prompted me to write this. My first concern is that if we keep shrieking about the most banal and illusionary atrocities then men will begin to treat all women with either kid-gloves or utter contempt. Male or female, if you are sympathetic to my thoughts so far then you are most probably either A) too afraid to voice your opinions and you may have even have started avoiding contact with particularly forthright women, or B) called a sexist for voicing your opinions and treated like a social pariah which in turn makes you feel incredibly frustrated. A plea to the men/women in class A – if you are a decent and innocent person then you have nothing to fear. If anyone inflicts guilt on you without good reason then they are the evil in society, not you. And a plea to the men/women in class B – please don’t go firing off indiscriminately in your anger and accusing all women of possessing the same puritanical viewpoints because you might hit one of your many female allies like me. And you need us on side, not against you. In addition, class B, bear in mind that there are many genuine cases of oppression and exploitation out there that require and deserve our full attention, so avoid falling into the trap of tarring everyone with the same disdainful brush - point out the ridiculous but don’t be heartless.
That last point leads to my second and most serious concern: the new breed of ‘feminists’ would do well to revisit The Boy Who Cried Wolf. I have personally experienced instances of mistreatment in the past and I have friends who still suffer real and serious mistreatment by men at work and/or in relationships. Amid this maelstrom of faux rage, who will believe them when they speak out? If ‘feminists’ are focusing their attention on only the most convoluted and fashionable sources of outrage then I fear that they will dilute the credibility of genuine cases, society will tire of the incessant daily bandwagons and eventually we will all grow immune to the most serious of allegations.
That’s all I have to say. I’m sorry if you hate me now. I look forward to reposting this in the year 2050, when our society has eradicated all forms of pleasure and we gather around pianos in the evenings by candlelight, singing songs with lyrics that have been sanctioned by our feminist overlords, covering our bodies that we are simultaneously encouraged to celebrate and censor while the human race creeps evermore towards extinction as men have become too afraid to approach women and women consider men so far beneath them that they have stopped breeding. Please, for the sake of those women at risk of genuine harm or oppression and also for the sake of our enjoyment of this passing glimmer of life that we get to experience, can both sexes take a step back, reassess what constitutes the real problems of the world and call this new puritanism out for what it really is – batshitcrazy rantings by bored attention-seekers who are intent on diverting the spotlight to themselves and their website hits/likes/RTs/view ratings/ego and away from the genuine injustices that women face.