Feminists! When setting your campaigning priorities, haven’t you ever thought it might be best to consult with a man first? After all, you might be too close to the issues, what with them affecting your life. It’s best to get an outside view, ideally from a nice white middle-class man who writes for one of the broadsheets.
Take Michael White, for instance. Amidst all the fuss over sexual harassment and what Lord Rennard may or may not have done, finally here’s a voice of reason to counter the “hysterical language and media furore”:
Homophobia remains a lethal fact of life in many parts of the world […] and – as MPs reminded David Cameron only last week – slavery, female genital mutilation and other horrors are still widely inflicted on women, even in Britain. A clammy hand on the knee is not quite the same.
Yeah, ladies. Get a sense of proportion! Sexual harassment just isn’t that big a deal! Next time you feel a hand where it shouldn’t be, just think of things that are far, far worse than that. That way you’ll know just how self-indulgent and silly it is to expect your own physical boundaries to be respected. After all, according to White that’s what just some female MPs who aren’t alive any more would have done (by contrast female MPs who are still alive have expressed views to the contrary but they just don’t know what they’re talking about, what with them having been born later than Michael White was).
Then there’s Dan Hodges, who put us right last year, back when we thought the most important thing in the entire world was putting Jane Austen on a tenner (okay, we didn’t think that. But one woman launching a successful campaign about female representation and then posing for a picture with two others and the Governor of the Bank of England is practically the same thing, no?). Anyhow, as Hodges so wisely told us,
Trust me, ladies, men are not threatened by photocalls. We are perfectly happy to hand out sweeties like new bank notes to you, so long as you leave us to do the serious stuff like running the banks and the rest of the country. […] Is this seriously the best modern feminism can do? Nipples, notes and internet trolls?
You’re so right, Dan. Clearly we have no idea what we are doing. It’s not that we’ve ever campaigned about anything else, although here’s a hint: when women do get interested in “running the country”, they’ll probably do stuff like run for a parliamentary position, push to create a working environment that accepts women (i.e. one that doesn’t condone sexual harassment), fight to change the way women are viewed (e.g. not just as a walking pair of tits), that sort of thing. If you are literally waiting for women to ask for your permission then you won’t ever notice change happening all around you.
In the meantime, though, we feminists are stuck with this endless list of reminders from those far cleverer than us. Just in case you’ve forgotten, you shouldn’t worry about banknotes because you should be worrying about Page Three. You shouldn’t worry about Page Three because you should be worrying about every other page of the Sun. You shouldn’t be worrying about the Sun because you should be worrying about the representation of women across the whole of the media. You shouldn’t be worrying about women in the media because you should be worrying about violence against women. You shouldn’t be worrying about violence against women because you should be worrying about FGM. You’re only allowed to worry about one thing at a time and if it is not FGM then you are a frivolous, self-indulgent time-waster. It matters not that you worry about FGM a great deal more than Dan Hodges and Michael White combined, nor that you may have personal experience of and engagement with other feminist campaigns. If your mind wanders to any other issue relating to discrimination then truly, you have failed.
The worst thing is seeing this attitude seep into the discourse of feminists themselves, although it’s hardly surprising. Having seen the work of earlier feminists trashed on the basis that these women were “too privileged,” none of us wants to appear privileged now (much as we’d all still like to be it). Hence we’ve a whole list of issues that mark you out as a crap feminist if you care about them too much. These include: body hair; eating disorders; high heels; make-up; the pay gap; political representation; childcare; sexual objectification; porn. Thankfully, you are allowed to care about sexual harassment providing no one suspects you of using it as an excuse not to be sex positive in the workplace. Also, you’re allowed to care about Sherlock and Dr Who (don’t ask, because I don’t know why). FGM is still okay, but it is less important than feminists talking in vaguely passive-aggressive circles about feminism (in much the way that I’m doing right now).
To be honest, I sometimes wonder whether we will reach a point where it all merges together and feminists come, en masse, to Michael White and Dan Hodges and say “yes! You were right! Reveal to us the true path to our liberation! (And if not, please can we have another picture on a banknote, maybe Jilly Cooper or Barbara Cartland, because let’s face it, random women writers was what that entire campaign was about?)” I mean, I hope this won’t be what happens, because I’d like to think I won’t be joining in. I’d like to think that whatever it is we’re doing wrong is for us to work out, and that the constant chipping away at any specialist focus on the basis that it’s not ambitious enough demoralises rather than inspires. I am, however, aware that this is far too much of a self-reflexive post to constitute a call for outward-looking, positive feminism. It’s more a rant, hence I will apologise and stop now.
And I will end by saying I really think you should read and sign this now. The point is surely not what you shouldn’t care about, but all the things you should.