Trying to get my head around, and being influenced by a whole series of things my feminist Twitterfriends have enlightened me with
It’s difficult to know where to start this post. I don’t want to get too caught up in the academic theory, but at the same time I’ll still need to more than nod in its direction.
I’m going to start with the first session of the Public Bill Committee of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. This was the session when they got various clerics in to make their points. They had the Archbishop of Southwark on representing the Catholic Church of England and Wales…who was Bishop of East Anglia when this was going on…which still happened even though the priest concerned already had form. The parish in Cambridge mentioned was the one I grew up in. There are no words to describe the sense of anger and betrayal I feel to this day, knowing the institution knowingly put so many of us at risk. So you can imagine when the clerics appeared before the select committee, I was waiting for the MPs to absolutely let rip on my behalf. Had the Chair not reined them in, Chris Bryant and Ben Bradshaw would have done.
While those two went for the detail, Siobhain McDonagh made the most powerful intervention – at 10:06:40 - so effective that the archbishop declined to respond. (See the transcript at Q98) In this other account, it took another woman to haul the Archbishop of Westminster over the issue of equal marriage too. I guess you can’t get much more patriarchal than institutionalised religion – especially when its blended in with what the state does – as it clearly does in the UK given the existence of faith schools.
A toxic embrace
With institutions it’s all too often about control – control of others. It’s only now that I’m beginning to understand how I was controlled. I was paralysed by the fear of death and of what would happen afterwards. As a child, you have a tendency to believe what adults tell you. When lots of adults around you are telling you the same thing while at the same time there is no one telling you any of the alternatives, what chance does a child have? In my case, a childhood in church completely crushed the creative spirit in me – along with the broader exams culture. I never had the courage or the bravery to rebel against it as others did during their childhoods. Just as many problems were caused by what was not taught or mentioned as what was. One of the things that fascinates me about the internet and social media is that institutions are struggling in a world where they can no longer control people the way they are used to doing.
What we’re now seeing is that institutions that discriminate on grounds completely outside of the control of the individual – gender, orientation, ethnicity etc – are beginning to be treated with the contempt they deserve. I’ve stated before that my principle is one of favouring secularising the entire education system. If an institution cannot treat all children with dignity and respect, it does not deserve to be in the receipt of public funds. I dread to think what it must be like for a teenager whose sexuality does not conform to the religious teachings of the school s/he is at. How can you trust you’ll be treated with dignity and respect knowing that the institution says you are (because of your sexuality) ‘objectively disordered’? The thing is, once an institution starts using such language, it legitimises discrimination and abuse from others further down the line.
Very mixed messages on sex education
This scene from Kevin and Perry Go Large speaks volumes about how badly generations were taught sex and relationship education. In particular up until the millennium, those in power were desperate to deal with the tabloid scare stories about single mums – not helped by speeches like this. Just the sheer loathing and hatred in Peter Lilley’s voice not long after taking office as Secretary of State for Social Security is astonishing to hear, even today. Accordingly, the message was along the lines of “If you have sex it’ll lead to STDs, teenage pregnancies, the pain of childbirth, the burden of bringing up children, sleepless nights, overpopulation, environmental degradation and general global environmental armageddon…even if you so much as do it ONCE!” And that was just school. At church the line that you only had sex to reproduce – and only in a stable monogamous marriage…and if you deviated from that you were guilty of depraved crimes…well, you can see where the Kevin & Perry myth came from.
Thus we were – and still are – in a situation where both religions and education authorities want to teach all things sex education as if they are living in a fantasy world where people only do things that they approve of. Not the world that the rest of us actually live in.
When I finally threw off the heaviest of the chains of childhood – around the time of my first mental health crisis over a decade ago, I booked an appointment with a nurse at one of the health centre’s in town, to talk about sexual health. It was straight after a blood test and she was about to bring out various materials when I stopped her and told her my otherwise ‘incomplete and biased’ experience of sex education. You had the hell and high water stuff on one side, and the academic stuff on the other, where to be fair we had a superb biology teacher who taught us to a standard where we were ready for doing the A-level in the subject. (He’s now a head teacher at an FE college in the region). My first question was:
“Given all of the bad stuff that seems to happen to women, why do women bother with sex? After all, you see all these articles in the media about how women prefer shopping or chocolate to sex. What is in it for them?”
That was the first time anyone mentioned the idea of women having a sex drive – one that was independent of, and different to that which men experience.
Which made me wonder why entire generations of people were being brought through school to be completely unaware or ignorant of what women want.
Why should this be an issue for men? Well, let’s look at advertising that’s aimed at men. The message time-and-again subliminally is ‘if you buy this product you might just get laid.’ It’s easy. Sex sells. When you have a society that isn’t educated to explore and deal with sex and sexuality, it allows myths to build up. Why did they want us to remain ignorant? Why do they still want us to remain ignorant now, ill-equipped to cope with the emotions that – in our teenage years in particular are raging like torrents?
This reminded me of Zoe Stavri’s blogpost on the No to Page 3 Petition. The point here for me is that we only get to see general nudity in public in a very sexualised or voyeuristic context. Seldom ‘as is.’ While Channel 4 in particular has broken a whole series of taboos around sex education and sexual health, the way it chooses to title and advertise such shows still leaves a lot of room for improvement. The point still remains though, that in mainstream society until very recently the media in particular continued and continues to perpetuate the naked human body in a sexualised context.
Advertising – in yer face
This is a regular theme that comes up time and again on Puffles’ Twitter feed, but recently I and a number of Puffles’ male followers spotted a men’s underwear advert that made us all feel really uncomfortable. It was on the tube in London and for the first time I got a feeling for how women must feel. A stereotypically attractive guy, well toned but not Mr Universe with a lunchbox that was just the right side of the line so as not to look so big as to be completely disproportionate to his body/airbrushed. But because advertisers and the industry is worth so much and is so desperate to get its messages over, in big cities it is very difficult to ‘switch off’ from them. It’s not like TV or the internet where you can switch your screens off. Your only other alternative is not to walk out of the front door.
So…what ‘should’ men be like then?
That question completely misses the point. You may as well ask whether women should be secretaries or nurses, or whether people from certain backgrounds should do subject A or B to the exclusion of all others.
It was this mindset of what men should be like that contributed to me going my separate way from everyone I was ever at school and college with. I simply wasn’t the nightclubbing type. That’s not to say I didn’t have some epic nights out in the mid-late 1990s, rather I didn’t like the heavy-drinking testosterone-fuelled atmosphere of market-town (or even London town) England. At the back of my mind whenever I was out and about was staying safe…always being 0n the lookout if one of us got ‘started on’. I was lucky in the middle of the last decade in finding an activity (dancing) and social group that was large enough and vibrant enough in those years (2003-07) to be more than a satisfying alternative. What is interesting looking back is that I can’t think of any of the men in our social group as being the ‘night clubbing very heavy drinking’ type. But the point remains. How is this whole environment good for men, let alone women? At least with ballroom you have etiquette.
No, really, what ‘should’ men be like?
Again, it misses the point. I’m more interested in what powers and structures are perpetuating the situation – in particular the economic and social injustices of our time, just as much as I am interested in those that wish to take it on – whether the likes of Stella Creasy, Tanni Grey-Thompson and Sarah Wollaston in Parliament, to the likes of @MagicZebra and Zoe at the activism end of things.
Some say men are going through a crisis. That may be the case, but if so, it’s not the fault of feminists or of feminism. A woman having rights that equalises the playing field does not automatically mean that I as a man lose out. The playing field should not have been skewed against women – or whichever group that may be concerned – in the first place. Why should it only be men who get to sit as bishops in the Lords? (Why are they still there in the 21st century?) Why should it only be men who get to sit as hereditary peers in the Lords? (Why are they still there in the 21st century?) Yes – both still making me fume with rage. It’s. Not. Right.
I’ll end with this: While we still have clerics and hereditary peers sitting in the second chamber of Parliament, we will never have equal rights.