2 Jul 2008

Who to blame and where to aim

I suppose if I was writing this in the 60s or 70s - scribbling long-hand in a notebook on the coach to a pro-choice rally perhaps, as laptops and blogs would've been a glint in a feminist's eye back then - my bile would likely have been directed at men, patriarchy and the invisible, lumbering Male Establishment. It's THEM. THEY'RE keeping us down. THEY expect this, that and the other of us, and in so doing oppress us. But when I look around now, I feel with creeping unease that the story is different, and the finger-pointing doesn't have to travel far to find its target. Increasingly I feel that women and girls have abandoned feminism, or were never aware of its existence in the first place, in pursuit of imagined aesthetic perfection and consumer comfort. Although male responsibility for women's struggles still remains to be properly claimed, so does female responsibility, and this is where I feel we are seriously letting ourselves down. After decades of attempting to educate the opposite sex, our own has begun to slide into a world of aspiring to be nothing other than tits, ass and a designer handbag, injecting our faces with poison and chopping up our bodies at a record rate in pursuit of the body beautiful, and craving traditionalist weddings and babies in a fashion that would make Germaine's Greer hair stand on end, if it didn't already. I look around and it's no longer men I feel so disappointed in - it's other women.

Jessica Valenti and Ariel Levy have done sterling jobs of taking the lid off America's own backlash against feminism, and how unfortunately large chunks of it seems to have been engineered by misguided, misinformed or simply self-hating women. However, no one seems to have done the same for this country, and I want to at least try. Britain seems to have a unique problem when it comes to addressing sex and gender relations. Look at the contradictions inherent in the culture of a country where we can see tits with our morning toast just by opening a paper, yet can't talk about sex with our children, resulting in the worst teen pregnancy and STD rates in Europe. Our attitude to sex and the female body seems forever stuck in a nudge-nudge, wink-wink Carry-On film mindset, and it's harming our young people, especially girls, greatly. Whilst in a seminar at university four years ago, I listend to a visiting student from Portugal express shock at how pornographic material such as Nuts, Zoo et all were paraded at eye level, sometimes at the eye level of fairly young children in every newsagent, rather than consigned to the top shelf. Whilst I would hardly appreciate the alternative that perhaps this student found at home - the magazines disappearing because of Catholicism's stronghold on culture - I couldn't help but agree with her, and think, what IS wrong with this country? Why DO we all seem to have it ass-backward? And why aren't more girls getting up and getting angry about it, rather than smiling pretty and simpering, and reaching for the next copy of a magazine that will neatly dictate how to feel completely substandard in everything you say, do and are? During my ill-advised foray into teaching, I asked the girls in one of my sixth form class if they called themselves Miss or Ms. They unanimously replied the former. When I asked why, there was an uneasy silence, before a brave 17 year old ventured 'I just don't think it matters, Miss'. This to me was one of the most frightening things I've heard fall from the lips of a young woman in a long time. The attitude that 'it's nothing to do with me' or 'it's not important any more' is exactly what will allow the insidious erosion of our rights, right under our noses.

1 comment:

londoner said...

"Britain seems to have a unique problem when it comes to addressing sex and gender relations."

The treatment of women in our media never ceases to amaze me. In a way it's an easy target, but have you ever dipped into the Femail section of the Daily Mail? It seems designed to make women hate other women, as well as themselves. Femail quote of the day, on the Wimbledon Junior Champion:
"For although Laura Robson may have triumphed in the girls' singles, the toughest challenge of the tournament remained - choosing a dress for the Champions' Ball."
I mean, WTF?!??!?!