If I had a pound for every woman who found me unattractive, by now they wouldn’t find me unattractive.
And although that is basically the same joke as Jane Austen’s “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” my inner feminist still makes the telling a little uncomfortable.
You see, feminism had made such an impact by the time I was growing up in the 70s I was not alone in suffering tangible gender guilt. Men, we were told, (the rotters!) had suppressed women throughout history and I, having been born with a willy, was guilty by association. Like any young idealist I was convinced that I would be a beacon, supporting women in their struggle against male oppression. I modelled myself a New Man, a fad with the longevity of a postcoital erection, which quickly shrivled with the publication of Loaded and the rise of the 80s ‘lad’ as depicted with bandwagon jumping, excruciating, awkwardness in the TV series Men Behaving Badly and still being rehashed by the elderly dissidents of Top Gear.
Of course those “lads” can act as complete twats and they suffer no status loss. But since Mary Wollstonecraft’s 1792 Vindication of the Rights of Women there seems to have developed a golden rule that women in books, theatre or films can never be idiots or fools. Men in comedies and tragedies can be downright morons and twits but woebetide you if a woman is depicted as anything less than smart. You laugh with, not at. Personally I can only think of one idiot female in modern comedy, Alice in The Vicar of Dibley, but then she was curate to Dawn French, by far the smartest, most sensible, person in a village full of dolts. It seems that decades of the perennial smart woman/dumb man dichotomy has not been without effect on male self-esteem.
When I went to university, feminism chimed in nicely with academic trends. Post-structuralist theory set out to prioritise culture’s fringes, taking the focus away from the centre, in order to discover the truth about history; not by re-examining what we’ve been told to look at, but by looking at the periphery where unvarnished reality might show itself. There was more to be learned from a Clapham omnibus ticket than the works of Winston Churchill. Feminists argued that women were the denizens of those unseen margins; they had succumbed to pushy testosterone-led, male chest thumping and had been relegated to be the quiet underdogs of history, doomed to getting on with the important jobs of humanity: child bearing, rearing, nurturing, fuel/food gathering and praising sisterhood whilst simultaneously sharpening nails for eye scratching. It was a potent argument and I’d take my hat off to the feminists… but they really don’t like that.
The dictionary (and yes I do realise the irony of referring to a book that trumpets the androcentricity of language by starting with the word “dick”) says feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.”
But, now, over fifty years since the flammability of Playtex was tested, the meaning of “Feminism” is being torn apart both from within and without the movement. Indeed, just in case we had forgotten, last year reminders were issued to celebs on T-shirts claiming “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” – mostly worn by blokes on Instagram as a sort of dare. But if Glamour Magazine had to name U2 frontman Bono “Woman of The Year 2017” maybe there really weren’t enough people who actually menstruate ready to stand up and be counted.
So now “Third Wave” feminists are looking to broaden the definition, arguing that feminism should intrinsically embrace the LGBT community, while old-timers fear that forgery devalues the currency. On the other side, a virulent anti-feminist agenda is emerging in the form of “Men’s Rights” groups. “Feminists claim they want equality,” whines the Red Pill Handbook, the user guide to one of the internet’s most popular Men’s Rights forums, “but what they really want is power without responsibility. They desire both male and female privilege consolidated into one … They want the privileges of being women (privilege such as being economically provided for, getting opportunities based on their beauty and protection from physical harm by others) as well as male privilege (authority, respect for having a career, to not be judged so harshly based on appearance etc.)”
And the trouble is, though I find the messengers abhorrent, I can see the attraction in their iconoclasm. I have always just accepted that the reason men appear to have dominated the shaping of our species and civilization has been, in part, through forcing women to succumb and take a back seat. But, men’s rights activists argue, it is women who are not only responsible for their place, it’s actually the best place to be. Women have created their own coy, eye-lash batting, ‘little me’ subservient role to exploit men to do all the hard, hunter-gathering, defending, protecting business whilst they get a free ride, make all the sexual selection choices, and play with the kids. The androcentric world is not the result of male suppression, it’s female strategy.
Furthermore forget equality. “Women are irrational and inconsistent,” claims the handbook, “they have a capacity for logic but it is not their modus operandi, that is to say that they must exert effort to be logical as it is not their factory setting. A logical woman is easily baited into becoming emotional; women are easy to compromise. Their decisions are based on their current emotional state rather than the abstraction of logic. It’s this proclivity to change so quickly which causes them to act inconsistently and in contradiction.” Whereas men, I presume, are Mr Spock and entirely rational all the time.
Don’t for a minute think that these arguments are only appealing to some sad-sacks on the internet. I guarantee you know a bloke who will nod at these ideas. This is sophisticated thought-candy, designed to press the buttons of disenfranchised, dispossessed and disappointed men. And there are a lot of those. Men who’ve found themselves working for women, or rejected in love, and wondering why this is happening when they were brought up to believe they were the dominant gender.
“Women are hypergamous,” says the handbook, “they feel entitled to a superior mate. You have to be richer than her or at least equally rich, more educated than her or at least equally educated. You need to be better looking than her or at least equal looking, you need to be more popular than she is or at least equally popular. You can offset one area (LMS – looks, money, status) with another, but if you’re lower in at least 2 areas just forget it… this is why 20% of guys are fucking 80% of the chicks, women date up, men date down.”
These little insecure male, back of the mind, suspicions are given air on these forums. The idea that women in general are manipulators and should be treated with equally manipulative contempt is attractive to those who feel disarmed in the battle of the sexes. And of course behind sites like Red Pill, Adam Smith’s invisible hand of the market is in play. They are justifying and promoting a slew of “dating coaching” courses and advice books all teaching how to act and respond to manipulate women during pick-ups and dates to increase your shag hit rate; teaching how to appear alpha to get laid.
So maybe it’s about time to congratulate Feminism. It’s not facing its greatest challenge in the ivory towers of academia but in everyday discourse and as a way for angry men to get laid. The closer any cause gets to its stated goal, the more fervently it will be tested. Judging by the number of people ready to tear Feminism apart, it must be approaching it’s own ground zero. It’s been a long hard slog but if you’ve got this many enemies, you’re winning.
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