Note: This post originally appeared as a guest post on Caitlin Moran’s website.
‘Don’t much like the look of this,’ says a woman at work, reading the back cover of How to be a Woman. ‘Really? Why not?’ I inquire innocently. ‘She sounds like one of those man-haters. Mind you, I never find women funny. All that lot on Loose Women? I’d shoot them.’ ‘Oh,’ I say. And that’s pretty much all I say, because truthfully? This woman scares me a little bit. She almost always wears pantsuits, used to be in the military (no-one dares ask doing what exactly) and would definitely look at you cock-eyed if you used the phrase ‘mumpreneur’ within a five mile radius of her.
The incident got me thinking about how much stock we, as a species, place in stereotypes and conventions. Although we’ve moved a long way towards unpicking the ideology of racism (except for the odd grandparent remarking that ‘there are a lot of coloured people on the telly’ at Christmas dinner), we don’t seem to be doing anywhere near as well when it comes to gender – the fact that I used to know someone at University whose two favourite tops were his ‘kick racism out of football’ jersey and a t-shirt that bore some humourless slogan about women needing to make him a sandwich attests to this. Trust me, he didn’t need anyone else making him sandwiches.
When I tell people about my interest in women’s issues the responses I get tend to vary from ‘lol, good one’ to ‘you a puff then?’ I’ve even had one person think it was all a Barney Stinson-esque scheme to get into women’s pants. As if I’m wily enough to uphold such a pretence. There are those who insist that the way to put an end to racism and sexism is to stop talking about it, but I simply can’t agree. I’ve been reading and talking a lot about street harassment recently, and discovered the sobering statistic that over 80% of women worldwide face it at some point. Having suffered street harassment from both men and women (clearly my good looks have appeal to those of every sexuality…*ahem*) in the past, I know that it’s not fun or flattering. Which leads me to the next problem…
On several of the occasions I’ve tried to speak about these instances, I’ve had people (both male and female) try to brush it off with remarks like ‘oh, you bloody loved it!’ Clearly they haven’t had anything similar happen to them. For me, the issue of treating the sexes as fundamentally different is the crux of the problem – we don’t need a women’s rights movement and a men’s rights movement pitching frantically to everyone in the middle. We need a unified, reasonable and strong equal rights movement that recognises that both Andy Gray and Richard Key’s sexist comments about female linesmen (err, lineswomen) AND Sharon Osbourne giggling on national TV about a woman drugging her husband, chopping off his penis and putting it in a garbage disposal are not only unacceptable, but utterly abhorrent.
Do I see that happening any time soon? Probably not. Because we’re back to stereotypes again – minorities in both the men’s rights (the ‘women are just going too far now’ crew) and women’s rights (the ‘man-haters’) movements give the majority a bad name, so a team-up in the near future is probably unlikely. I’ll be first to sign up if it happens, but until then I’ll just continue to sigh loudly when people think I’m gay, self hating or crazy just because I’m a ‘feminist’.