Feminist Pete

Feminism and gender equality seem everywhere at the moment. From the depiction of women in film promotion (such as the way Black Widow is shown versus the other Avengers), to older women having to fight to keep their job in the newsroom, to the Panel Parity debates.

Everyone seems to have an opinion, and gradually I’ve started to notice my own inner feminist stir from its thirty four year slumber.

I’m a bit nervous approaching this post. There’s a voice in my head warning me not to go there! It feels a bit like poking a sleeping bear with a stick. And then I worry I’m going to offend by suggesting that women are like sleeping bears (angry irrational beasts) or something like that, when that really isn’t my intention. Arrgh! Minefield.

And then there’s the whole is it ok for a man to talk about feminism thing. I mean, am I going to be patronising or just miss the point on a fundamental level. Maybe so but that’s exactly what I do want to talk about, the feminist male or more precisely, the feminist Pete.

Let’s start with film. I’m starting to get annoyed with films in a way I never used to. Recently I watched Alien again. Great movie, way ahead of its time in so many ways and arguably Ripley is one of the best examples of a female heroine ever. And yet there are some things that niggle. For example when the Alien kills the crew of the Nostromo it tends to punch a hole through them using its disturbing extendable mouth and yet the last shot we see of it attacking the female member of the crew is its tail slowly creeping around and between her legs in a way that seems to me highly sexualised. Afterwards we hear her scream for some time where the other male characters deaths are near instant. This seems odd. Why would the alien care about human gender? It’s irrelevant to the way they reproduce. My inner feminist begins to growl.

I actually think, considering the genre, that Avengers did a pretty good job of presenting Black Widow, however some of the media around the film seemed less enlightened. For example I was reading a Cineworld magazine advertising the film which had a caption for each Avenger. Black Widow’s read:

Spy, assassin and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Natasha Romanoff is every bit as deadly as her male counterparts. (Cineworld Magazine, April 2012, p.6)

Why is that last sentence necessary unless we should assume she’d be inferior due to being female?

There’s something insidious about sexism in the modern age, it’s still here, just disguised by a thin veneer of spin.

What really worries me is how far sexist ideas and language are embedded in me. I’ve grown up exposed to sexist media images and doctrine all my life and despite notions of being an open minded and liberal guy, I think the truth is often a little less wonderful.

For example I was driving the other day and a female driver pulled out in front of me, forcing me to break suddenly. Without thinking I said: “Stupid woman!” But I’m pretty sure if a man had done the same thing I wouldn’t have said: “Stupid man!” I’d have called him an idiot (or something else less family friendly) but his gender would not have been a factor.

Some may say that I’m getting hung up on semantics here but I strongly believe that language is power. Just read Orwell’s 1984 or Pinter’s Mountain Language if you don’t believe me.

Our book club are about to read Children of Men by P.D. James. I’ve heard good things about this book and am looking forward to reading it but I was surprised to learn that the author is female. Why should this surprise me? I don’t know, but it does.

If anything gender targeted media seems to be making things even worse. Everything fired at my son via advertising is blue or red, never pink. I can’t help but notice that girl’s toys seem focused around babies or appearance and don’t even get me started on girl Lego!

Funnily enough I feel disempowered on this topic because of my gender. Who the hell am I to comment anyway!* But it seems to me that women who speak of unfairness are often disregarded or sneered at by the mainstream media as moaning or (even worse) nagging or trying to take advantage and unless there’s a fundamental shift in the way women are perceived in the mainstream, progress is going to be very slow.

So now my inner feminist has woken up and started really looking around, I find myself increasingly annoyed with what I see.

I’d welcome your own thoughts and opinions, but please be gentle with me!


*I should confess that I asked my wife to read this before I dared to post it**. I’m so very brave!

**I’m so glad I did!

8 responses to “Feminist Pete

  1. First off, this is a great, thoughtful post. The absolute only thing I'd criticise is I don't think you need all those qualifiers, but I don't blame you for thinking you do.

    I belong to a feminist discussion group that has some men who attend. They're in the minority, but they always have interesting contributions to make (and as I write this, I worry that they worry they have to).

    Have you read Ashley Judd's recent essay in The Daily Beast? One of my favourite parts is when she reminded us that the patriarchy is not just men — it's men and women buying into and supporting it. The problem isn't men — it's people buying into stale traditions (and language) that never worked that well in the first place (speaking as someone who is the eldest of three kids raised by a widow — I am very grateful I live in an era where my mum could get a decent job).

    • I think that's a really good point, that we're talking about systems of thought rather than men and women. I'll try to be bolder next time too but no promises!

  2. The good news is that comic books (and the associated culture) are pretty much the rock-bottom worst for sexism. It's as though they think if they abandon the porn star physiques and absurd poses they'll somehow lose all commercial viability. I was particularly disappointed when DC's recent(ish) "New 52" completely missed the opportunity to put a stop to all this.

    Incidentally, if you think you're on dangerous ground commenting about feminism I wouldn't worry. Ideas need discussion. The worst that can happen is that you learn something.

    (Personally I dislike the term "feminist" since I don't think it does anyone good to attach labels to what ought to be the default. If I need to distinguish between a feminist and a non-feminist I'd rather apply the word "idiot" to the latter.)

    • Thanks Dom. I tend to be in agreement here (although are you sure my learning something is the *worst* that could happen? I'm not!)

  3. Good post, and I have to admit I smiled all the way through it. I wonder if its just the way each of us perceives things, for example I too have watched all the Alien movies over and over again and yet I never noticed this as being sexualised "see of it attacking the female member of the crew is its tail slowly creeping around and between her legs in a way that seems to me highly sexualised." I just thought bloody hell it's got her! The driving thing I also think stupid woman when a woman cuts me up and when a bloke does it I think stupid git! LOL

    I think it's how we view life that colours how we see it, I don't think feminist, never had, I think people, equal to each other. But I also think that our gender does create at times they way we look at each other. ^_^

    • Thanks Helen. I think that's exactly it, that most of the time we are not conscious of the way we see the world. We just get on and see the world without questioning our filters.

  4. Oops my keyboard is playing up again has a mind of its own – " don't think feminist, never had," had should read have ^__^

  5. The Cineworld quote doesn't bother me, at least outside of context. It could come from a sexist evaluation, but it could just as easily be speaking to an audience that is uncertain how women will be portrayed in the movie. Women kicking ass in action movies is still something infrequent enough that you might want to mention it in a review or preview. That we're here as a culture is unsatisfying, but it's encouraging that blockbusters are progressing a little.

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