‘So you’re hanging out with a bunch of butch lesbians tonight then?’ – today’s words of wisdom from my brother. My rock, my Person To Turn To In A Crisis, a genuinely awesome and caring family man – and also my lasting reminder of why feminism is needed today more than ever.
I have joined a feminist book club. And it’s great. We gather in a cobwebbed, dimly lit corner of one of my local pubs and excitedly chatter all things feminist literature over various booze-brimming glasses and usually a bucket of chips. Last month we were even lucky enough to convince a male of the species to join us for the first time – after a full year of monthly meet-ups. It’s exhilarating to be back in the presence of intelligent, engaged and passionate women – but the skewed vagina-to-phallus ratio at the group is reminding me of one of the most common misconceptions about feminism. That it’s all about women.
Sexism has a hugely detrimental impact on mental health – for women and men. Feminism isn’t just about levelling the playing field for women (although this is of course a big part of it) – it’s about standing up to the demonisation of feminine qualities. This applies to men too. Why should men feel any trepidation around getting involved with feminism, or that they don’t have a part to play in the conversation? Society still looks down on sensitivity in men – gentleness, kindness and good old fashioned TLC are still thought of as female mainstays – you just have to look at the gender balance in professions like social work, counselling or childcare. Ever laughed at someone for ‘crying like a girl?’ I wouldn’t blame you, these sexist tropes are so ingrained within modern society they just roll off the tongue without a moment’s thought to the gendered structures they’re maintaining.
Female activism, suffrage and the renaissance of feminism in recent years has brought amazing progress. Whenever I get leered at by a white van man, overlooked in favour of a male colleague or reminded of the ever-present gender pay gap in my country, I remind myself that it could be worse. I could be Victorian and living in a time where my womb was blamed for every moment of mental strife I ever endured (see ‘hysteria’ – the genuine belief that the womb wandered around the body wreaking chaos and destruction on a lady’s nervous system). But as I look around my little circle of enthusiastic readers I yearn for some male counterparts to balance the books (SORRY).
It’s safe to say that present day ladybros have it pretty good compared to the dark ages of witch burning and house-wife drudgery. However ridiculous preconceptions about femininity still colour every aspect of modern living. It’s obvious why feminism still has a rightful place in society, undergoing a burgeoning renaissance in recent years – but if feminism’s really going to help women, we need it to help men too. And that can’t happen unless they’re part of the conversation, whether that’s in the boardroom, the House of Commons, Donald Trump’s yacht or the back room of my local pub. Until the dudes of Berkshire can feel completely comfortable about turning up to a feminist book club, as far as I’m concerned, there’s still much work to be done.