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On the move

As discussed at some length here, I’m moving Heteronormative Patriarchy for Men to Freethought Blogs

The  new home is http://freethoughtblogs.com/hetpat 

Do please follow me there. If you’ve been subscribing to this blog through WordPress, you’ll need to re-follow at the new address, sorry for any inconvenience. 

My plan is to re-post a few of the pieces from the archive on there over the next few weeks, then once I’m bedded in I shall transfer the entire archive over there. But I’ll also leave this site in place, as it would be a tragedy to lose all of your brilliant comments from posterity. I’ll leave commenting on for now, at least until the whole archive has been transferred and people can add comments over there. So if you’re still involved in arguing with someone on a post I wrote months ago (you know who you are!) you can continue until further notice. 

I sincerely hope every single one of you feels able to follow me over there, let me say once again how grateful I am to you for reading and sharing your thoughts on this blog.

See you on the other side, my friends.

Ally

 

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**03/05/13 UPDATE BELOW**

I started Heteronormative Patriarchy for Men less than a year ago, and among the many nice messages and comments I’ve received have been several offers to host this blog on bigger and well-known sites. I’ve considered every invitation, and politely declined every invitation. Every offer has been flattering, but didn’t feel quite right at the time, for one reason or another.

Then a few weeks ago I was tentatively sounded out by a member of the Freethought Blogs stable. Automatic pilot kicked in and I began typing “well that’s a really kind offer but…” then realised I didn’t have any significant buts to hand.

Why was this invitation different? Well, oddly perhaps, it was firstly because FTB is not really a gender site. If you don’t know it, the site originates in the all-but unfathomable depths of the North American skeptics movement. You see, a long time ago there were atheists, rationalists and secularists and then they all got into an elevator together and someone did something and someone said “don’t do that” and everyone got cross and then someone said everyone was cross for no reason and that made everyone else crosser and VAGINA! and BULLIES! and DAWKINS! and ATHEISM PLUS! and fuck it, I really, really don’t care. What I do know is that somehow, out of all that, Freethought Blogs sprang into life.

I don’t care about the history, but I do care about the quality of the site. I like it. It’s clean and simple design-wise, The standard of the writing is excellent, and there are some astoundingly clever and rightly-acclaimed authors and academics sharing the space. It would be a genuine honour to be in their company. There is a broad shared philosophy of scepticism, atheism, secularism and social justice, all of which I’m comfortable with, although I don’t often blog on the first three. I have some profound disagreements with many of the bloggers and commenters there which could prove, well, interesting to explore, but I also hope I have enough common ground with all of them to do so in a constructive way.

Before you ask, yes, the site carries advertising and I will get a few quid (or dollars or drachma or sodding Bitcoins or something, I haven’t asked). I don’t do this blog for money, and I’m pretty confident I won’t start blogging “Your Top Ten Movie Blowjobs” lists seven times a week for the hits. The blog will remain unchanged, except for a few comically inappropriate Google ads popping up here and there. Advertising does make me feel grubby, I’ll admit, but I’m a journalist and know that pretty much every penny I earn comes from advertising somewhere down the line. It would be hypocritical to be purist now.

There is no editorial oversight at FTB. Nobody will approve or spike anything I want to write. I will have sole control of moderation policy (and indeed moderation) just as I do here.  The same goes for all other blogs, which means I will share no responsibility if another blogger writes something grotesque, that is their business, not mine.

Above all, I decided to do this because I’m not sure where else this blog would really belong. It couldn’t live on a feminist site or a men’s rights site. I do not want to sign up to a shared mission statement or ideological aim. That would completely undermine what I try to do here, which is to consider gender issues without dogmatic or ideological constraint, to call the stories as I see them, and speak my mind because it is what I want to say, not because it is what someone wants to hear. What I’ve tried to create here is my own free thought blog. It may have found its home.

So, I think my mind is made up. But with the agreement of the people at FTB, I’m posting this before committing. If you, dear HetPat regulars of all flavours, can raise any convincing arguments why I shouldn’t move, well it is not too late. I’ll give it about 48 hours before the point of no return. And again, I really don’t want to hear about the thing so-and-so said to whasserface  on October 13th 2009 that was  OUTRAGEOUS MISOGYNISTIC SOCIOPATHIC MISANDRY REASONS. But if anyone has convincing evidence that FTB is a front organisation for the Masonic Illuminati or something like that, I’d love to see it. That shit is always funny.

Seriously, your thoughts? Would you mind? Would you still visit, read and comment? Do you, as I suspect, really not give a shit either way and you only found this blog because you Googled “Top Ten Movie Blowjobs”? Please let me know, below or by email privately and in confidence if you’d prefer. Thanks.

 

UPDATE 3/5/13

Thank you all for the comments and messages in response to this. Thank you for the messages of support and encouragement, thank you for the many queries and concerns you have raised, all of which I have considered. Thanks too for the many who said you’ll stick with this blog whether I stay or go. I’ve been genuinely touched by learning that so many of you actually care enough to have an opinion. I honestly didn’t expect so many carefully considered opinions.

As you’ve probably guessed, nobody has found the smoking gun linking FTB to Joseph Kony or the Russian Mafia, so I’ve now got back to FTB and confirmed I would like to accept their invitation, and will be moving shortly.

A few words to those who are less than happy about the move.

I’d like to reiterate that I will have total control of moderation, including bannings etc. Even if you have been banned from every other blog on FTB, you are free to comment on mine, on the exact same basis as before.

Spammers aside, in 11 months here, I have yet to ban a single commenter. Every single one of you who has commented here, whatever political, ideological or personal disagreements we may have had, has been welcomed here, and I am genuinely grateful for your contributions.  You will continue to be welcomed at the new address. You will be able to bookmark my blog directly and completely ignore the rest of FTB, if that is what you want to do.

To those who worry that this blog will get sucked into the politicking and feuds of the skeptic/ Atheism+ scene, well, I share your concerns. I have talked it over with several people, and I’m confident enough that we can stay out of that. If it transpires I am wrong, and I really feel it is not working, I’m not cemented in. If the worst comes to the worst I’ll move on or move back.

For whoever wanted threading… it turns out I can turn threading on or off. (To Comment is Free regulars, I feel your pain.) I’ve yet to decide!

I’ll make my first post over there something of a housewarming party. You’re all guests of honour.

And finally, it will take a lot of considered research to establish the Top 10 Movie Blowjobs, but I’m pretty confident that Number 1 is enjoyed by Sid Vicious in the animated section of The Great Rock’N’Roll swindle.

Thanks again, and see you on the other side!

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I usually put bit of considered thought and time into these blogposts (believe it or not) but today I need to say something quickly, and something so stupefyingly obvious and easy that it doesn’t require much preparation.  I want to say this quickly because thanks to the Metro and the BBC, I sense a swelling wave of comments and blogs across the internet saying “OMGZ, in Britain you can be convicted of rape even if you have consent!”   So let’s get this out there quickly just on the vague chance it might make someone think twice.

First, the facts. The High Court has ruled in a case where a woman consented to limited sexual contact. To be explicit, she agreed to sex on the specific condition that her partner didn’t ejaculate inside her. The court heard that shortly after penetration – and without giving the woman any chance to object – the man had said he would be “coming inside her” and added “I’ll do it if I want”. The CPS prosecutors had decided not to charge him as it would be “impossible to prove” that the man’s decision was not “spontaneous” and “made at the point of ejaculation”. The woman challenged this ruling and won. The ruling says:

“She believed that he intended and agreed to withdraw before ejaculation. (He) knew and understood that this was the only basis on which she was prepared to have sexual intercourse with him. In short, there is evidence that he deliberately ignored the basis of her consent to penetration as a manifestation of his control over her.”

(Please note, this is not a criminal trial, we have not heard the man’s defence as yet. These are allegations, not accepted facts.)

The headlines in the Metro: Sex with consent ‘can still be rape’  and BBC Sex consent could still lead to rape charge, judges say are dangerously misleading and potentially highly damaging to public understanding of consent and rape. So for the benefit of anyone who struggles with these concepts, let me offer a full and extensive list of reasonable working definitions of consent.

1. If you do something to someone’s intimate bits (or with your intimate bits) which you know s/he has not consented to or is unable to consent to at that moment, you are committing an act of sexual assault or rape.

There. That’s it. In practice this means that if s/he says “I’ll do this but I won’t do that” it means you have consent to do this but not do that. If s/he says “I’ll put this here but I’m not having it there” then you have consent to put it here but not put it there. If s/he says “I’ll do this but only if you wear that” then you have consent to do this, if and only if you are wearing that. (I’m mostly thinking of condoms here, but I guess the same principle applies to the pirate outfit. Whatever pushes your boat, you’re still the skipper.) If you ignore this very simple principle, and proceed with an act which your partner has not consented to, you are committing an act of sexual assault or rape.  Oh, and if you do ever find yourself uttering words along the lines of “I’ll do it if I want” then – BIG FUCKING CLUE – you’re a rapist.

That’s what I say. That’s what the law says and it’s what any reasonably functioning moral compass says too.

Please note, before the flood arrives, I quite appreciate that, in practice, attaining prosecutions for rape and sexual assault for incidents like this will often be all but impossible. I fully appreciate the fuzzy boundaries that often exist between seduction, persuasion and consent. I’m not saying the man in this particular case is guilty, his case has yet to be considered and he is innocent until proven otherwise.

I am saying that for all the tortuous debates around the legalities of rape and consent, the principles are really bloody simple. The High Court today has provided welcome confirmation that the principles are really bloody simple. The headlines today gave precisely the opposite impression, and that is hugely irresponsible and very worrying.

(Note to commenters. As usual, I’ll trust you to comment and discuss matters with civility and respect for those who may be personally affected by these issues. But I’ll warn you, I feel strongly about this shit and if you are planning on disagreeing to any great extent about the main points here, be prepared for the proverbial ton of bricks. Thanks)  

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It seems a long time ago now, but last summer there was another angry debate within feminism relating to the topic of trans women within the movement. A conference was booked for Conway Hall in London called Radfem2012, and the event was restricted to “women born women and living as women” and which was to include the notoriously anti-trans radical feminist Sheila Jeffreys. After a furious row, the venue agreed that the conditions breached their own Equality policies and cancelled the booking.

I was reminded of this when reading the most fascinating and profound comment on the Moore/Burchill saga I’ve seen yet, by Rupert Read on the Talking Philosophy blog. Read is the only writer I’ve seen this week (of course I may have missed some) to discuss the theoretical issues between some schools of feminism and trans women. I don’t agree with a lot of it, but that is by the by. What came out of his blog is that there are genuine (though arguable) reasons why some feminists might be reluctant to fully accept trans women, especially when it comes to women-only spaces and events.

I’m not going to get into that theoretical debate – it is not really my fight. But I am interested in one particular difference between the row over Radfem2012 and this week’s events. The former was about a practical, real world issue of access and participation – who was and was not permitted to attend a conference and why? This week has been different. While it brought up all sorts of related issues, such as violence against trans people and social persecution, at heart the debate has been intangible, almost esoteric. It ultimately comes down to one specific question – who chooses and controls the language with which we talk to and about trans people? The argument wasn’t about freedom to occupy women-only spaces. It wasn’t about whether trans women were being allowed to identify as women. It certainly wasn’t about whether they were allowed to identify as feminists. The only real argument was about the assumed right of Moore and Burchill to use words and language that was considered offensive by trans people and their allies.

Moore believed/believes she has the right to choose whichever terms and words she likes to refer to trans people, and to place them in a broader narrative as a stereotype or a punchline. She was told, initially politely and then less so, that her language was considered offensive and oppressive by trans people. Her response to that was to up the ante, to become more offensive and oppressive in her choice of words to make her point.

Burchill picked it up from there and went nuclear.

The impression I get is that Moore and Burchill, by virtue of being cisgendered women and feminists, considered that they have control over the narrative used to talk about trans people. This is where points about privilege become crucial to the debate. Who gets to control the language?

My own belief is that yes, women have the right to discuss, debate and decide who is a woman – is it down to biology, psychology, identity or some combination? Feminists must have the right to discuss and debate the place of trans women within their movement (and of course there is an obvious paradox there, whether the debate includes trans women to begin with.) But I also think trans people have the right to assert what language is acceptable or offensive to describe their experience and existence.

Just as women are perfectly entitled to say they don’t want to be called ladies, girls or bitches, trans people are perfectly entitled to say that they don’t want to be called transsexuals, trannies or dicks in chicks’ clothing. Someone who ignores that and expects to get away with it without challenge or criticism is, I think, abusing their privilege and power.

The upper classes do not get to decide whether the word “pleb” is offensive or not. The rest of us do. White people do not get to decide whether words like “nigger” or “Paki” are offensive or not in any given context.  The first step towards liberty and autonomy for any individual or group is defining and describing our own experience – it is the first and best way of owning our existence.

In just one of the many awful articles printed by establishment journalists this week attempting to defend Moore and Burchill with a false flag of free speech,  Tom Peck concluded by quoting Stephen Fry on the freedom to give offence. ‘I am offended by that’. Well so fucking what?  It is true that “I am offended by that” is not a trump card or a guillotine for a debate. We are all free to cause offence and to accept the consequences, which is that those we wilfully offend might hate us for it and offend us back. What we are not free to do is reply “well, you shouldn’t be offended by that.” That is never our call. The free speech that allows one person to call another tranny, yid or poof is the precise same free speech that allows the offended party to call you a fucking bigot. If you offend thousands of people at once, don’t complain if thousands of people call you a fucking bigot in return.

I wrote the other day about privilege and power. There can be no greater expression of privilege than believing one can act without consequence. It is the privilege of a misogynist in a patriarchy, the privilege of a racist in a racist society, the privilege of the homophobe in a homophobic society and the privilege of the transphobe in a transphobic society. What I have found most revealing, and most depressing about this week’s events, is how many influential journalists are still willing to defend the right to abuse, insult and offend trans people when they would never, ever say similar about overt racism or homophobia, and when it is often the precise same people who complain loudest about misogynistic language when it occurs.

What this tells us I think is that while we have gone a long way in recognizing racism, sexism and homophobia for what they are, and making some notable (though still early) steps towards their elimination, huge swathes of our liberal media establishment remain at best broadly indifferent and at worst actively hostile to the rights of trans people. That is a deeply depressing realisation.

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Everyone and their dog has had their say on Page 3 of late, and I’m happy to take a back seat on that one. That probably tells you everything you need to know about my position on the question. Nonetheless I couldn’t resist following the unfolding carnage debate with interest. One issue it has raised is the question of objectification, the very nature of which was challenged on the MoronWatch blog on the topic.

I’d already been mulling over the concept when the Guardian ran Decca Aitkenhead’s interview with feminist Kat Banyard today. Among many baffling and befuddled claims from interviewer and interviewee alike (already brutally eviscerated by my friend jemima101), Banyard discussed the pressing question of Dove soap adverts, and referred to “an entire culture of objectification.”

If you’ve ever attempted to discuss or debate objectification you’ve probably found it a frustrating task. It seems to mean slightly different things to different people, or different things to the same person. It sometimes seems to mean different things to the same person in the same bloody sentence. Objectification, it seems, can mean whatever you want it to mean.

A couple of years ago I started to read back at feminist theory to get a better grasp, and really struggled. Somewhere between Immanuel Kant, Melanie Klein and Andrea Dworkin the trail went cold. Then last year I whooped with delight when I found a couple of papers by feminist philosopher Lina Papadaki which provided the best overviews I’ve seen of the links between Kant’s theory of objectification and modern feminism. As you might expect, they’re hard to wrap your head around, but this one from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is the easier, and you can get a good grasp by skipping from the introduction to the conclusion if your brain’s already full.

In non-traditional fashion, I’ll give you the conclusion first:

“Undoubtedly, objectification is a concept difficult to define… since it turns out to be ‘slippery’ and ‘multiple’ (Nussbaum 1995, 251). How to best define objectification, and whether this notion should be restricted to describe the morally objectionable, or expanded to cover benign and/or positive aspects of the way we see and treat each other in our daily lives is an ongoing debate.”

Objectification can mean whatever you want it to mean. I think I just said that.

In her introduction, Papadaki lays out seven features that Martha Nussbaum claimed are involved in the idea of treating a person as an object:

  1. instrumentality: the treatment of a person as a tool for the objectifier’s purposes;
  2. denial of autonomy: the treatment of a person as lacking in autonomy and self-determination;
  3. inertness: the treatment of a person as lacking in agency, and perhaps also in activity;
  4. fungibility: the treatment of a person as interchangeable with other objects;
  5. violability: the treatment of a person as lacking in boundary-integrity;
  6. ownership: the treatment of a person as something that is owned by another (can be bought or sold);
  7. denial of subjectivity: the treatment of a person as something whose experiences and feelings (if any) need not be taken into account.

Rae Langton has added three more features to Nussbaum’s list:

  1. reduction to body: the treatment of a person as identified with their body, or body parts;
  2. reduction to appearance: the treatment of a person primarily in terms of how they look, or how they appear to the senses;
  3. silencing: the treatment of a person as if they are silent, lacking the capacity to speak.

I find this list incredibly useful. Most obviously, it displays the vast diversity of meaning which can be attached to the word. Langton’s three look to me closest to the usual feminist definitions of (specifically) sexual objectification, but Nussbaum’s original seven better capture the economic elements of commodification and reification which typically accompany feminist references to objectification. They also perhaps illustrate how and why feminists use the term objectification so much in respect of prostitution and other forms of sex work beyond visual pornography and nude modelling.

Looking at Nussbaum’s list, I don’t doubtthat there are some people in the sex industry, as either consumers, clients or profiteers, who view sex workers in those terms. But what I find striking is that they offer a much more accurate description of how anti-porn/anti-SW advocates (whether feminist, religious or social conservative) portray sex workers.

  1. The treatment of a person as a tool for the objectifier’s purposes? Check. This is self-identifying feminist Tanya Gold on a beauty pageant: “Miss University 2008 – an inter-British higher education slagfest where girls answered questions such as, “What Sex and the City character do you most relate to?” At that point I wanted to strip them of their degrees – and their over-moisturised heads – and use them as battering rams. Or tampons.”
  2. The treatment of a person as lacking in autonomy and self-determination? Check. Too many instances to list, but here’s Sheila Jeffreys: “Prostitution is not about or for women, but for men. It does not, therefore, matter whether women claim the right or choice to be prostituted or whether they see themselves as victims of men’s abuse.”
  3. The treatment of a person as lacking in agency, and perhaps also in activity? Check. Jeffreys again: “Anti-prostitution campaigners use the term prostituted women instead of prostitutes. This is a deliberate political decision and is meant to symbolize the lack of choice women have over being used in prostitution.”
  4. The treatment of a person as interchangeable with other objects? Check. Jane Anthony: “one class of women is granted status as wives or girlfriends at the expense of another class, whores, who are reduced to sperm receptacles for numerous men.”
  5. The treatment of a person as lacking in boundary-integrity. Check. Every time a sex worker has been involuntarily ‘saved’ from others or from him/herself, their integrity boundaries have been violated. See the real consequences of the Olympic sex trade clampdown, Operation Pentameter, or the brilliant open letter circulating about the arrest of sex workers in Ontario, Canada.
  6. The treatment of a person as something that is owned by another (can be bought or sold). These are too numerous to need listing, but every time someone uses the phrase “selling her (or his) body,” as opposed to selling sexual services, the sex worker is being reduced to a possession rather than an agent.
  7. The treatment of a person as something whose experiences and feelings (if any) need not be taken into account. Where to begin? Perhaps here, with Glasgow Sex Worker’s account of a meeting with members of the Scottish Parliament.

I don’t for a moment present this as some kind of killer argument against the various anti-prostitution and anti-porn campaigns. There are plenty of writers and campaigners who want to reform or further criminalise the sex industry, or to restrain the spread of pornography and sexual materials, who do not resort to the crude demonization, dehumanisation and, yes, objectification of sex workers above. I should also acknowledge that there are plenty of sex industry advocates (whether amateur or professional) who employ degrading, demeaning and misogynistic language themselves.

Barring some utopian revolution, the sex industry is not going away any time soon and that means debates about the sex industry are not going away either. It is necessary and important that the debate continues. Personally I think the debate would be more constructive if, in condemning the objectification and dehumanisation of sex workers, we could all refrain from doing the precise same thing ourselves.

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Part 1 here

This blog first appeared on Comment is Free

 

Of all the things that need to be said about Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men, the most significant is that it is not entirely true. Even before the book’s US release, informed critics were pointing out numerous flaws in the social statistics, the international perspective, the economic figures and even the accuracy of her case study interviews. I’ve thrown in a little credibility grenade of my own here. The apocalyptic case for The End of Men is far from made.

Rosin’s sensationalist hyperbole and slapdash attention to detail are frustrating, because as John Harris points out, the trends she examines are all too real. The underperformance of boys and young men in education and employment should be a major concern for us all. So too should be the impossible strains being felt by many women to fulfil simultaneous roles as dedicated breadwinner, successful careerist and devoted mother. As I read Rosin’s account of an exhausted cleaner sleeping in a stairwell after the triple shift of childcare, education and paid work, or of the Silicon Valley executives who rush home to put the kids to bed at eight before returning to the office until midnight, I was reminded of Sarah Palin’s great jibe at the newly elected President Obama, when she asked her Tea Party audience: “How’s that hopey-changey stuff workin’ out for ya?” On the evidence presented here, the brave new world of female triumph ain’t workin’ out for nobody.

To a large extent, the newly fashioned workplace is a victory not for feminism, but for capitalism. Since the 1980s economists have used the term “the feminisation of labour” to refer to the growing premium of communication and interpersonal skills, perceived emotional intelligence and other supposedly feminine attributes at work, and also to the development of an insecure, low-paid, low status, disposable workforce. Feminist theorist Nina Power has astutely noted that the feminisation of labour has been accompanied by the “labourisation of women” – unprecedented social and economic pressures to become another busy little worker bee in the globalised hive. The financial dynamics of employment rates, wages, rents, house prices and living costs have created a snare for us all. As Power says, the personal is not political; it is always entirely economic.

With that in mind, suggesting that men take it upon ourselves to reinvent our masculinity is little more than an instruction to pull our socks up, and doesn’t get to the question of why the socks might be down in the first place. Rosin argues that women have become better than men at playing the game of modern capitalism. Harris says the solution is for men to become better at playing by the rules. I’m more inclined to think that it is the game itself that needs changing.

How could that happen? We could start by correctly identifying the problems. Men are not becoming obsolete in the home and the workplace, but a significant proportion, especially of working class and poorer young men, are being left behind on pretty much any measure of success and wellbeing. Discussions of masculinity need to acknowledge that a significant minority of men do very well out of the current norms, and they are likely to be the ones who attain wealth, influence and power. As for the others, if they feel unsure as to what their role is meant to be, it may be because the wider culture doesn’t really know either. They are no longer needed as a mass workforce or as providers for families. They don’t need self-help books; they need decent training and meaningful jobs.

Many of the difficulties in achieving genuinely equal opportunities and social equality for men and women ultimately hinge upon the juggling act of children, household and career. Much of this can only be sorted between couples or within families, but employers need to ensure not only equal rights but equal acceptance of fathers and mothers working flexibly, taking time off for a child’s illness or appointments, and of course taking parental leave. Even among better employers, too often “family friendly policies” still mean “mother-friendly habits”.

There are institutional issues too. From paternity leave rights to the practices of the family courts, even sentencing in the criminal courts, our legal framework too readily assumes parent equals mother equals woman, and it is dispiriting when even modest proposals for reform meet resistance, not least from some feminists. Many men wish to be or become more active and responsible fathers only to find they have to fight the systems to do so.

Over the coming decades, our understanding of what it means to be a man will undoubtedly change. The change will not be so much in how men see ourselves, but in how all of us see each other – our peers, our friends, our partners and lovers and, above all, our children. Portray men as lazy failures, and lazy failures they shall become. Consider boys to be trouble, and troublesome boys they shall be. Concern about cultural misandry is usually considered the preserve of frothy bloggers and unhinged men’s rights activists, but the routine denigration and mockery of any man who deviates from heroic and patriarchal gender ideals – in movies, TV and advertising, in media coverage and political discourse – should concern anyone who desires a more fair and less gender-bound society. It’s rather tragic that in identifying some of these problems, The End of Men has added to them significantly.

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Hello dear friends, flakes and passers by. I’ve been rather neglecting this blog in recent weeks, what with this that and the next thing. I’ve got a few things brewing that may become a post or two in the near future, but for now, here are a few of the things I’ve been up to in recent weeks.

For the New Statesman, I’ve been talking about gendered marketing of products.

Capitalist producers and public consumers have a symbiotic relationship. Each plays their role in creating demands to be supplied, manufacturing needs to be met. At a crude level, marketeers and advertisers will only produce such guff because enough of us indulge their campaigns with our custom. Our purchases add up to our public personae, and of course our gender is a key component of our identity. As autonomous adults we can choose the extent to which we want to play along with such constructions. It is rather more troubling when companies like Argos start prescribing gender roles to infants with strictly demarcated Toys for Boys and Toys for Girls.

Meanwhile I had a bit of fun over on Comment is Free with the pressing question of whether or not men should sit down to have a pee.

At my primary school, we boys vied for pecking position via the traditional routes of fighting, football and fabricating extravagant fibs, but there was something else. Lined up afore the trough urinal in the toilets, we discovered a crucial test of manhood: the ability to pee skywards. The class weaklings could barely defeat gravity. I was proud to occasionally reach the words “Armitage Shanks” while a few warriors could clear the porcelain and decorate the tiles.

And then there was Phillip. Phillip was no ordinary Scots wean. He was a superhero, a god amongst miniature men. Phillip could squirt a volley which would rise a good six feet in the air before arcing with exquisite accuracy out of the open window. It was spectacular – I swear he must have mastered top spin. That is how the boys learned: there is direct route from bladder to masculine prestige, and the girls learned not to loiter by the big bins at playtime

Still at Cif, I picked up on David Cameron’s bizarre use of the word ‘butch’ in attempting to insult Ed Miliband at Prime Minister’s Questions.

The linking of political competence with masculinity is rather problematic. Feminists will be rightly annoyed by the implications – our political class is less healthy for its uniformity and throwaway jokes like this only reinforce the perception that parliamentary democracy is a club for boys. Men too should be perturbed that the prime minister thinks masculinity is a function of hierarchical status – real men don’t fetch coffee. Actually Dave, yes we do. Men who carry coffee, make coffee, work for a boss or unthinkingly volunteer to conduct routine chores for ourselves and our colleagues are no less manly for that. Elsewhere on Comment is free, Sali Hughes rightly castigates the media for using the phrase “real women” to validate some female physiques over others, but the “real men” trope is in many ways as harmful and, in fact, far more pervasive (definitive proof here). If “real” women are expected to conform to specific physical ideals, “real” men are expected to adhere to a constricting and damaging gendered model of behaviour and lifestyle – domineering, aggressive and, of course, strictly heterosexual.

Any thoughts?

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