Years ago I happened to read the mansplainer wankscience classic that is Simon Baron-Cohen’s The Essential Difference (cover quote: “Women will want to talk about it … men will sit silent and brood over its details”). It was every bit as rubbish as my feminine intuition had told me it would be, apart from the appendices, which featured some cool multiple choice quizzes (a bit like the ones Cosmo used to do in the 80s). According to these, I have a high SQ (Systemizing Quotient) and a low EQ (Empathy Quotient), or, to put it in everyday sexism terms, a male brain! Get me!

Naturally, I was rather pleased about this. I may be a feminist but I’m also pretty damn responsive to the sexism that surrounds me every minute of the day. “A male brain?” thought I. “That must mean I’m dead clever!” Of course, this joy was tempered by the fact that my low EQ must mean I’m pretty shit at being a woman. No wonder my partner called me “dead inside” for failing to cry at the end of Ice Age 2! But at least from that point onwards I’d know that it wasn’t my fault for having been debating the merits of US foreign policy with some right-wing tosser on CiF when I was meant to be following the trials of Manny the Mammoth; it was my male brain wot made me do it.

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Yesterday Buzzfeed published a spoof guide to contemporary feminist terminology. As a contemporary feminist, how I laughed. Laughed and laughed and laughed. Then, after about half a second’s laughing, I thought “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if someone wrote an actual guide to some actual feminism? One that actually mentions male oppressors and doesn’t spend half the time focussed on which feminists hold unacceptable views?” So despite being female and therefore crap, I decided to give it a go.

Gender (noun):

  1. Oppressive hierarchy, situating adult human males (as the construct “man”) at the top, adult human females (as the construct “woman”) at the bottom.
  2. Nebulous thing that makes you want to wear certain clothes, have certain ideas, do certain activities, adopt certain mannerisms etc. Otherwise known as “being a person”.

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It was the free eyeliner that did it. After over a year of avoidance I caved in and bought a copy of Glamour and yes, it’s as rubbish as it ever was (but “hey, it’s okay if your new sandals require strategically placed plasters to be wearable”. So, there’s that).

Peak Glamour Rubbishness comes on page 91, with a piece by Stephen Armstrong on “girl envy” (yes, I know). It’s one of those sleazy, sugar-coated MRA-in-disguise articles that tells you “hey ladies, you’re so great, what with your ability to multi-task, always look perfect, bear my children and do lots of shitty jobs so that I don’t have to!” Gee, thanks. Always good to know my subjugation is appreciated.

The piece goes on for three pages, providing plenty of choice nonsense to pick from. My particular faves include Armstrong quoting a fellow journalist, George, on what women are like once they’ve had given birth:

Mid-life crisis? Women have no time for that shit. From the outside, pregnancy looks like a nine-month crash course in the meaning of life. We men, on the other hand, seem destined to spend our late forties seeking enlightenment in Lycra that doesn’t fit, on carbon fibre bikes we can’t afford, doing triathlons. Yes, childbirth might do us a favour.

Yes, George. That is EXACTLY what it’s like. Post-natal depression? Never heard of it. Unhappy mothers in their late forties? Don’t exist. And then there’s Armstrong himself on why it looks like we ladies are “having a lot more fun”:

When we see you across the room – through a bustling party, in a high-powered meeting, back to the table after 15 minutes in the powder room or walking towards the bed – there’s something about the way you move, your mischievous smile, the smart joke and the totally sorted view of what’s needed that stops our heart and catches our breath.

It’s at this point you start to wonder whether Armstrong has met any women in real life or bases his whole reading of half the human race on TV adverts and rom coms. Certainly, he doesn’t seem to think women have an inner life in the way that men do. We don’t have any of those messy crises. We don’t feel conflicted or challenged or incompetent. We just sashay across the room, spreading sweetness and light, making everyone feel better with our “totally sorted view”. Jesus Christ. Thank god we’re not actual real, live people since that would really make things inconvenient for Stephen and George. (more…)

One of many seemingly trivial things that infuriates me is the sight of the strappy summer top or dress. This is an item of clothing under which most women would want to wear a bra and yet, unless it is the fashion, bra straps are not meant to be on show. Up till now there’s been no real solution to this. Strapless bras slip down, while transparent bra straps have never fooled anyone. However, the bra-free alternative — nipples at your navel — is even worse. So you see these clothes in shop windows and in magazines and after a while you start to think “is it me? Do other women have breasts of helium? Who — apart from the woman who’s buying the smallest size — is meant to wear these things?” It is a mystery and like many fashion-related mysteries, it’s one that will make you feel a failure at womanhood for no reason whatsoever. (more…)

In response to yesterday’s post I have received a lot of well-meaning messages informing me that “gender is not a binary”. This is, I assume, to disabuse me of the foolish notion that there’s only boring old male and female. I am reliably informed (as if I didn’t know it already) that there is plenty more in-between. Hence we don’t need to panic about gender itself oppressing people. There’s enough to go round! Don’t fear it, queer it! Everything is awesome! etc.

I am not convinced by this argument, not because I have any doubts about the number of gender identities currently on offer. There are loads. It’s like being in an Eastern Bloc country just after the Fall of Communism – look at the choice! No more shall we join a uniform stream of Men and Women trudging miserably out of the People Factory. We’re free at last! (Or at least we would be if it wasn’t for those pesky TERFs still clinging on to their Stalinist views on gender equality.) Gender is not a binary – it’s not! That Facebook drop-down provides all the empirical evidence we need. The trouble is, it might not be a binary, but it sure as hell is a hierarchy. (more…)

To My Sons

Today is International Men’s Day, a day upon which to celebrate all things manly. Being a mere woman / failed role model I’m not sure what all these things are (Top Gear? rewiring plugs?), so I’ve had to visit the International Men’s Day website in order to check.

There are, apparently, six pillars to International Men’s Day (how phallic is that?). These include promoting positive male role models, celebrating men’s positive contributions to society and improving gender relations.  All pretty woolly stuff which, if you squint a bit, actually sounds quite feminist (which is weird given the absence of women over the age of six in all the IMD stock photos). There’s also focussing on men’s health and well being (nice) and creating a better, safer world (which sounds ace, if not terribly male-specific). Finally there’s highlighting discrimination against men (that’s probably the most important one. Don’t ask me why. I just know it is). It’s quite a lot to cover in one day, isn’t it?

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When only one in five MPs are women and 85% of Cabinet ministers are male it’s easy to worry that women’s needs will be ignored. After all, if our policy makers inhabit a world in which the vast majority of people are men, isn’t that likely to colour their view of the people they represent? While it’s clear that women do not all share the same concerns, wouldn’t an environment in which being a woman is not in and of itself anomalous offer a good starting point from which to consider the diversity of all women’s views? I think it would; it bothers me that we remain so far from achieving this.

Of course, it could be that I worry too much. After all, it’s not as though the average MP has no contact whatsoever with womankind. Male MPs might, by and large, have been raised in creepy, ultra-posh all-male environments, but it’s not as though they never come face to face with real, live women in the here and now. They have wives! PAs! Nannies! Cleaners! Some of them even have daughters! What’s that if not an emotional investment in the future of the female population?

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According to a piece in today’s Guardian, “the girl power generation are confused”. I’m not surprised. I’m confused, too, not least because I’d always assumed was part of said generation. Alas, it turns out I’m too old. Already 21 when Wannabe was released, I can’t be one of the “twentysomething women” who can claim to be “the most liberated and educated women ever”. So liberated, in fact, that they get to be defined by a 1990s girl band (the lack of a corresponding Boyzone generation can be taken as clear evidence that the pendulum has swung too far).

But wait! Said twentysomethings might be liberated and educated, but as you’ve already guessed, they’re still not happy! And not just because previous generations were awarded enigmatic letters such as X and Y whereas they got the sodding Spice Girls. Today’s young women are unhappy because too many people have written too many books telling them what to do. From The Rules to He’s Just Not That Into You, books have bombarded women with “contradictory messages” which leave them “in a bind, and without much help in figuring out what they actually want” (see, that’s what happens when you make the ladies literate): (more…)

In terms of both attacking the whole of womankind and of making individual women feel utterly worthless, the Daily Mail has, to put it mildly, got some serious form. I first became aware of this in 1993, upon arrival at university. I was eighteen years old, shy, a self-identified feminist but with no self-esteem to speak of. Our Junior Common Room received every newspaper going, but I’d always gravitate towards the Mail, if only for two reasons: 1) it didn’t feature topless women (or at least, not as a daily feature), and b) it wasn’t a massive broadsheet (back then, you couldn’t get the Guardian or the Independent in a half-way readable format and I was too self-conscious to sit alongside other students struggling beneath a newspaper the size of Helvellyn).

In the early nineties the Daily Mail was obsessed with the new “trend” of “date rape”, or, rather, the new “trend” of young women “crying rape” just for the sheer hell of it. Of course, it’s not a new trend at all; we women have always been “crying rape”, often when people have forced us to have sex against our wills. Anyhow, twenty years ago the main victims of this rape-crying epidemic appeared to be poor male students. I remember two cases in particular. One involved a female student who’d claimed she’d been raped despite the fact that someone had pinned a sign saying “slag of the year” on her door. To read the Mail, you’d think this was all the proof anyone needed that she was a liar. The “slag of the year” sign! Must be true! The other case involved a young man who was acquitted of rape, then posed for a multi-page feature with two “female companions” kissing him on either cheek as he explained how he was great with the ladies and that raping them was so not his style.* I don’t know the truth about these cases. I only know how reading these stories made me feel, in a place far from home, a place dominated, both numerically and socially, by male students (one of whom drunkenly broke into my room in the first week).** It didn’t make me feel outraged; it made me feel really bloody terrified.

These days I’m not scared of the Mail. What’s the worst that can happen? So I get raped, beaten, old, ugly, discriminated against, told I’m useless. World, do your worst. The Daily Mail itself is a mere backdrop to this, the muzak in the lift that moves between levels of genuine hate. To a large extent, I don’t believe in the Mail any more.

What has happened between then and now? Why could it frighten me then, but now leave me unmoved? Part of the reason is that I’m older, and no longer live in a dodgy hall of residence with doors that don’t lock properly, surrounded by men whose hormonal impulses could be used to justify anything and everything. But that’s not all. The other reason is that I think the Mail is not what it used to be. It’s gone beyond itself, beyond parody. The logical response to it is not to feel fear; it is, quite simply, to laugh.

Let us now examine the features in today’s Femail, right now, on Friday 25th May 2012:

  • piece on why women today are too fat because they don’t do enough housework (illustrated by 1950s women doing the hoovering vs 2012 woman lying on sofa eating chocolate – yay! go 2012 woman!)
  • Olympic volleyball team strike a pose in bikini and briefs (although if you ask me it does look a bit nippy out – I’d recommend a nice cardi)
  • ‘What went wrong when I let my boyfriend cheat three nights a week’ (Really? I can’t possibly think what could go wrong with that. After all, you did get that article published)
  • Toe curling tootsies: Jennifer Aniston’s feet are veiny, Kate Moss’s have a serious deformity and Penelope Cruz’s need surgery! (still, let’s hope having crap feet keeps Jen’s mind off being a barren failure of a woman)
  • Can corsets ever be comfy? (no)
  • ‘It is not my job to create something comfortable’ (i.e. Christian Louboutin basically admits he’s shit at designing shoes)
  • What pregnancy did to our bodies: Six brave women reveal the toll having a baby has taken on their figures (interesting definition of ‘brave’, eh? Reveal your perfectly acceptable self in the one place it’ll be deemed ugly as hell. I think the word we’re looking for is ‘fuckwitted’)
  • Amanda Platell on why women over 40 shouldn’t be offered IVF because they’ve just been pissing about having careers and stuff, and it’s about time they realised life’s not all fun and games (for some reason this piece is illustrated by a photo of Amanda posing seductively in a red dress. Is there a message regarding Special K somewhere in there? How come I’ve missed it?)
  • Dating at 38? Men will run a mile vs How women over 30 are more likely to have sex on a first date (so what is it? Is life for us over 30s shag-central or not? Or are we all shagging fellow women while the men continue running that mile? Anyhow, all sounds cool to me)
  • How almost 70% of women would sacrifice sex for the perfect bikini body (i.e. shocking indictment of men’s sex skills / tremendous endorsement of women’s wanking skills. Gotta be one of these, because let’s face it, who can be all that arsed about wearing a bikini?)

I could go on. Let’s face it, all of this is hateful, but it’s also laughable. Is it possible to get upset by this any longer? Don’t we all suspect, deep down, that the Daily Mail has been infiltrated by a feminist network, headed up by the amazing Samantha Brick, and utterly intent on causing the whole thing to implode, leaving only rubble, bile and desperate mocking laughter? I’ve long wondered whether this could be the case, but the Samantha Brick affair has convinced me of it. Samantha is not a person; she is a figurehead, a focal point upon which everything converges. All she has to do is say the word, and the whole edifice will come crumbling down. If she didn’t exist we’d have to invent her. But she does and we don’t!

There was no Samantha Brick in 1993. Only the “slag of the year”, whose face you never, ever saw. Ladies, the time has come to say that perhaps we’re moving forwards. Perhaps it’s not all bad, and perhaps some small victory is within our grasp. Samantha, we’re counting on you.

* You often hear it being claimed that merely being accused of rape is the worst thing that can happen to a man. Good job they’re able to get over it. Strangely, I’ve never seen a rape victim posing triumphantly with her “male companions” following the conviction of her attacker. Isn’t it about time these victims lightened up a bit?

** The room break-in was not the start of an attack, at least not on me. The student was midway through a row with his girlfriend and had got the wrong room. Perhaps looking for something to say he asked me for a piece of paper and a pen. I don’t know what he did with them – maybe he wrote “slag of the year” on her door, shortly before kicking it in.

Where I work I’m lucky enough to sit near two people who are very, very funny. It’s hard to put into words quite what makes them so amusing, but they have a genuine knack of making me, all our colleagues and, above all, each other laugh. It’s all down to their relationship with each other, and the banter, and, every now and then, the songs. One will start singing, then the other will join in, and suddenly they’re parodying Beyoncé in a manner that’s both original and tremendously well observed. All this sounds potentially very annoying, but it isn’t because it’s relatively infrequent and extremely well done. If we worked for some trendy, fake-liberal company like Apple or Ben and Jerry’s, they’d be in line for some annual bonus for being all-round office merriment makers. Or at least they would be, if they were men.

Their type of humour – light, almost silly, but concise, and based on the bringing together and filtering-down of countless snippets of knowledge – does, I think, require a huge amount of intelligence to pull off. It’s a level of intelligence that some might not expect to find in two women in their twenties. And hence some colleagues, men in particular, seem to find it a little strange. They laugh – it’s impossible not to – but then always end on some patronising, belittling note: “Tch! You two! You’re worse than my kids!” As if to say well, sure, you’re funny, but you probably don’t even know why.

We have funny men in our department too (hell, we’re just comedy central). The difference is, they’re not quite as funny (as are none of the other women, either), but also, no one accuses them of being like children. After all, that would be stupid. The humour is self-conscious; they know they’re playing the fool. Not like those crazy females, who don’t really have a clue how or why they’ve struck comedy gold. In any case, comedy geniuses or not, these women keep their humour under wraps when it comes to a boardroom presentation. It’s probably just as well.

Today’s Observer features a piece by Dan Boffey called “Why women’s jokes fall flat in the boardroom“, covering some research completed by linguistics academic Dr Judith Baxter:

An analysis of the 600,000 words used during 14 meetings, seven led by a woman and seven by a man, found sharp differences between the use of humour by men and women in the boardroom – and how the jokes are received. Baxter discovered that the majority of male humour (80%) in business meetings takes the form of flippant, off-the-cuff witticisms or banter. About 90% of it receives an instant, positive response, usually as laughter.Yet most female humour during the course of a meeting is self-deprecatory (70%) and more often than not (at least 80%) is received in silence, according to Baxter.

I read this and it makes me feel instantly miserable. What a quick, direct and effective way to undermine women. Just don’t laugh at their jokes. It’s guaranteed to make a person feel crap. It doesn’t surprise me that female humour is therefore also more self-deprecatory. What do you expect if you’re already in a hostile environment? You’d hardly want to put yourself out on a limb.

Some research into why women are less likely than men to ask for pay rises has suggested that this may, in part, be based on the fact that if they did behave in the same manner as their male counterparts, they would be perceived in a far more negative way and actually undermine their own progress. It’s no good telling a woman to be more like a man; act more like a man when you’re still expected to be a woman, and you’ll piss people off all the more. This is why Baxter’s own advice, based on her research, seems to me to shy away from what’s really required:

What should senior women do about it? They should learn to develop the running gag or light, teasing banter with male and female colleagues at appropriate moments such as the beginning and ends of meetings, passing in the corridor, or while making a cup of tea.

Doesn’t this seem a little, well, patronising? Do women really need to learn the “right” type of humour? Or do we need to learn to respect women enough to appreciate their jokes?

Because I think humour is linked to intellect (one of the many, many reasons why Frankie Boyle isn’t funny), whenever people suggest women “just aren’t” as funny as men, I think it’s a way of saying that actually, deep down, they just aren’t as clever. It’s the new, acceptable way of doing it. They might outperform boys at school, they might be outnumbering men on degree courses, but hey, they just don’t make us laugh. It’s not their fault. It’s just the way they are. Hence we piss ourselves at Russell Brand but smile politely at all the crap “token women” who appear on panel shows. It doesn’t bother us that if these women were saying the same things as the men, we still wouldn’t find it as funny. Oh, it’s in the delivery, we’ll airily say. What part of “the delivery” do we mean? The part that comes with anything being said by someone with a higher-pitched voice? Or the part that comes with us assuming that whatever the subtext of a joke could have been, it probably isn’t there after all, because a woman’s unlikely to get it?

It’s hard to argue seriously about discrimination in humour. You can hardly order someone to find something funny, on the basis that it would be bigoted not to. Furthermore (furthermore! look how serious I’m being!) you can’t objectively measure how funny the telling of a joke is; you can only judge from the response, which can be clouded by all sorts of prejudice. Certainly, from what I see in daily life, women are every bit as funny as men because they’re every bit as clever and capable of making crazy associations, and of puncturing delusions, and of twisting language, and of basically using their minds for fun and to entertain others. We find them less funny only when being so would give them a kind of power.

Funny, that.

BTW, in case you’re wondering whether I’m ever funny in the workplace, no, I’m not. I sometimes make the odd stab at it, but I’m so tired and over-caffeinated people can’t tell whether I’m serious or not, so they end up getting a little bit scared. I do, however, have a good reputation in my workplace for being hilarious on Facebook. I have actually heard colleagues recommend that others “befriend” me, not because I’d be a good friend, but because my Facebook statuses are apparently a laugh a minute. I’m like the Mr Kipling of Facebook: uploads too many boring pictures of her children and won’t add any fish to your virtual aquarium, but she does make exceedingly witty observations about her crap life. It’s reached a point where I can’t take the pressure. What if I lose my touch? I won’t just let myself down, I’ll let down women in my workplace and dampen the “being funny” torch we seek to hold aloft. See, I bet men don’t have similar worries. No wonder they’re laughing.

Hey, anyone up for a game of “judge the abortion”? Excellent! Let’s go!

Which of the following women should not really have been allowed to exercise her fundamental “right” to choose:

  1. a rape victim
  2. an educated, middle-class woman in a stable marriage who already has one child

So, which of these did you go for? If you chose neither, then congratulations: you are in possession of some basic human empathy! If you chose 2, then don’t worry; we just need to work on your understanding of the word “choice”. And possibly also “person”. If you chose 1, then you are Bel Mooney. Hey, hiya Bel! Been writing any cold-hearted diatribes for the Daily Mail of late? What’s that? You did one only yesterday? Hey, can I have a look?

It turns out that in yesterday’s Mail, Bel wrote a corker of an article, and I missed it (I was too busy ranting about Marie Claire and being fat – it’s an important life I lead). In it, Bel reveals herself to be that very middle-class married woman who has an abortion. And what’s more, she has “no regrets”. Shocking! Can you imagine reading that in the Mail? Shouldn’t we be burning her alive or something? Well, actually, it would appear not. Contrary to all preliminary appearances, Bel’s abortion was in fact a “good” one.

The thing is, Bel wasn’t one of those feckless women who doesn’t use contraception. She simply forgot to take her pill “in the chaos of moving house” (i.e. she’s a probably homeowner – how can you be cross at a homeowner?). Plus she’d had scepticaemia and her first baby “needed specialist nursing skills” (which is of course fair enough). And then her GP told her “if you were my daughter I’d counsel a termination” (who says the medical profession is paternalistic?). Anyhow, the fact is, you’ve got to see a termination such as Bel’s within a very specific human context. There are so many factors to take into account within one woman’s life. The trouble is, Bel, the same is true for every woman. Even those you dismiss of being “grown-up women” who “are just too sloppy to take proper control of their own bodies” (give them a chance, Bel. They might be moving house).

But alas, Bel is angry. Angry because “countless unborn babies are being sacrificed because women [presumably the ones who aren't exchanging contracts with the estate agent] are too irresponsible and/or indifferent to treat sex and fertility with the seriousness it deserves”. Which poses an interesting philosophical conundrum. If these women are only getting pregnant due to their irresponsibility, then surely if they were more responsible, said unborn babies wouldn’t even exist? And surely some women who’ve been irresponsible go on to have their babies anyhow? Look, can you see where I’m going with this? The thing we all need to ask ourselves is HOW MANY POOR UNBORN BABIES NEVER EVEN COME INTO EXISTENCE DUE TO WOMEN ACTING “RESPONSIBLY”? It’s a fucking tragedy. Perhaps I’d have given birth to the next Einstein if I hadn’t been so sodding responsible all these years.

It’s not that I think a very small proportion of women having repeat abortions is a good idea. It seems a remarkably painful and faffy way of avoiding motherhood, if you ask me. But the sheer numbers involved – as babies “lost” – doesn’t bother me at all. I just can’t see the value in worrying about the never-born. Considering how common both miscarriage and abortion are, I wouldn’t be surprised if most women have had a pregnancy which didn’t lead to a live birth. I’ve had one. The baby, if it had ever become a baby, would have been due on 14th March 2007. Thinking about this doesn’t make me sad. It creates a kind of parallel life, one in which other people wouldn’t exist and other choices would have been made. But it doesn’t really matter. I value the children I have.

Of course, other women suffer as a result of the choices they’ve made and the regret they feel. Just to reiterate this point, Bel publishes a selection of their letters from her “postbag” (I’m presuming she means email inbox and/or letter in-tray; perhaps she just enjoys pretending she’s on Blue Peter). Having established the sheer, incontravertible “rightness” of her own abortion, she dwells in painful detail on the feelings of women who lack the same confidence and have become absorbed in lives that never were. It’s really kind and empathetic of her. I’ll definitely be adding my missive to the “postbag” next time I think I’ve fucked up.

Oh, and the rape victim thing? That comes in the penultimate line:

The old feminist battle cry of “right to choose” certainly never meant getting caught out because you were too drunk to say no.

Erm, I think you’ll find it did, Bel. I think you’ll find what you’re alluding to here is rape. And I think, to be honest, feminists such as myself will be breathing a strange sigh of relief on reading statements such as this. At one time I thought I was weird in believing that a society that doesn’t fully recognise a woman’s bodily autonomy through abortion law is also one which is more likely to condone rape. Thank you, Bel, for making my point for me.

I have never ranted about the same thing three times in one day. Okay, that’s not true; I’ve just never done it on a blog before (and each blog post tends to be the outcome of a million in-my-head rants, so perhaps you could call the posts “concentrated” rants. A bit like smoothies. How many should one have in a day?). Anyhow, I am STILL fuming about the sodding Second Sexism book discussed in the Observer. So here goes:

I am now starting to wonder what the actual intent and effect of the coverage given to these books could be. Is it to encourage harmony between the “two” sexes? To permit women to see the error of their feminist ways? Or could it be that most people will ignore it, feminists like me will be pissed off, but a small minority of men will use it to feed the growing resentment they feel against women, women they blame for whatever their lot is in life? Which of these do you think it could be?

I’m wondering, too, if it could feed the most extreme type of resentment, the type that leads you to gouge a woman’s eyes out and imprison her for 12 hours without calling for help, while you dwell on your own fate and what she “made you do”? Obviously I’m referring to what happened to Tina Nash. Do you think this has nothing to do with a wider cultural trend towards believing that if men suffer, women must therefore have the upper hand? A belief that if men lash out, it’s in part because they’re oppressed and manipulated by the women in their life? Of course, it has been universally decreed that Tina Nash’s ex was “a monster”. But what about Raoul Moatt? Ched Evans? These men have, for some, become folk heroes, brought down by evil slags. I don’t see a huge leap between this type of thinking and the assertions made by men’s rights activists and writers. Men suffer, therefore men are victims of women, or at least of a system that apparently favours women over men.

This morning I was listening to The Killers while getting dressed. The album Sawdust features a cover of the Kenny Rogers classic “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”, the lyrics of which are from the perspective of a Vietnam War vet who’s been seriously injured and is now confined to his home awaiting death (so, trauma-wise, it’s way beyond being piqued at a Jo Brand joke). His woman, Ruby, wants to get dressed up and “take [her] love to town”. This seriously pisses off our ‘Nam vet, as you’d expect. So much so that, by the end of the song, he tells us “if I could move I’d get my gun and put her in the ground”. Nice. But trauma does that to a person. The trouble is, the trauma isn’t all Ruby’s fault.

“It wasn’t me who started this whole crazy Asian war” sings Kenny/Brandon Flowers, plaintively. True. But it wasn’t Ruby, either. Nor was it Mrs Eisenhower (or maybe it was. You know what Lady Macbeths we all are “behind the scenes”). But anyhow, the world is shit, and there’s Ruby painting her lips and rolling her tinted hair like none of it matters. Stupid bitch. Wouldn’t you want to kill her? Not the people who sent you to war, not the politicians, not the generals, but her. The stupid bitch with her lipstick and curls who’s leavin’ now cos you just heard her slammin’ out the door (after a day that may or may not have been spent emptying bedpans and being shouted at. We don’t know. Anyhow, she’s a stupid tart and deserves to die).

We attack those closest to us, because they’re there. I don’t even dislike this song; I actually find the lyrics quite beautiful in the way they depict someone who’s totally trapped, aware of what he can see and hear but unable to play an active role in the world any longer. But one thing I do think it shows is how broader male suffering gets set against a perceived absence of suffering in women – because we’re silly, because we’re frivolous, because we’re too busy putting on makeup to think – and creates the sense that women are the privileged ones. And, perhaps, that women deserve to suffer, even violently.

I can’t help thinking books such as The Second Sexism, or at least the reporting of them, stir up these feelings of resentment. I can’t see whom it helps. By contrast, I don’t think it’s at all difficult to see whom it might hurt.

Well, I’m back, still posting about that sodding Observer article regarding men’s rights. But there was one thing I forgot to mention and I think it deserves a post all of its own (not just by way of recompense for having been forgotten; but issue, please forgive me).

Anyhow, it’s this bit:

Men are also increasingly the butt of jokes. In a recent article for Grazia magazine, one male writer took exception to comedian Jo Brand claiming that her favourite man was “a dead one” and an advertisement for oven cleaner with the tagline: “So easy, even a man can do it.”

Sigh. Do we really need to explain? One of these is Jo Brand parodying the stereotype of what a feminist is, and the other is a parody of a genuine advert for Oven Pride, except that originally it was “even a woman can do it” and it was meant seriously. Got that? Jesus, men, this has fuck all to do with what anyone thinks of you!

But so what if it did? If we do make jokes about men that we wouldn’t make about women, what does it actually mean about who holds the advantage? Ladies and gentlemen, I refer you to Marcelle D’Argy Smith, former editor of Cosmopolitan. I wouldn’t normally refer you to her, but she made a brilliant point about this on BBC Breakfast a few years ago. I can’t remember the exact wording but it was essentially that these jokes are like Tom and Jerry cartoons. Tom and Jerry are only funny (okay, not funny, but mildly diverting) because we know that in real life the cat would win. Just as we know that in real life it’s girls who are presumed better off dead and girls who get killed just for being girls, hence leaving some countries with a massive gender imbalance, of the sort we’ve not seen in the other direction since the end of World War Two. There’s nothing funny in stating the truth.

I refer you also to my partner, who made the same point in a different way, back when there was all the hoo-ha about David and Goliath’s rubbish “Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them” T-shirts. My partner merely muttered “nice to see everyone can get het up about these T-shirts, but not rape victims having real rocks thrown at them on the basis that they’re adulteresses and deserve to die”. So it’s probably just as well we don’t have T-shirts saying “Girls are stupid, throw rocks at them”. Chances are too many people would follow the suggestion.

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