“There is a double demand of man which dooms women to duplicity: he wants the woman to be his and to remain foreign to him; he fancies her as a servant and enchantress. But in public he admits to only the first of these desires; the other is a sly demand that he hides in the secrecy of his heart and flesh.” – Simone De Beauvoir
The last few days have been some of the first in a long, long time that I found myself combatting cynicism. At the time of writing the first draft of this article, popular British “news” paper the su n had seemingly axed –(at least in the form we know and hopefully despise – their repugnant page 3. I was absolutely delighted, as I felt as though I was finally witnessing some semblance of progress. Usually the first to adopt contrarian tendencies and look into – and try and expose the drawbacks of – any seemingly positive change, I felt genuinely elated at the fact that this abhorrent family institution had responded to social pressure. I was under absolutely no illusions that this change was for profit and PR reasons only; I did not for one second think that each of the untermench responsible for operating, maintaining, and directing the sun had all individually undergone some kind of crisis of conscious and reassessed their frankly diabolical perception of patriarchy. I did however believe it was the start of a discursive change, which had been sorely needed for far too long. So you could imagine my mixture of shock, revulsion, and despair when it was today announced that page 3 was back with a bang, in fact, it had never died.
This twisted rise from the ashes was a publicity stunt, a further insult to feminism and its tireless efforts to combat the ideological twisting of image of the woman. And to add tearful irony into the mix, a pun involving “mammary glands” was printed above a story detailing the sexual assault of a woman. This highlights absolutely everything about the sun’s damaging and confused framing of women. To fuse sexual arousal with a story about rape is absolutely inexcusable, unfathomably harmful, and sickeningly perverse. I would have added stupidly ignorant to that list, but I think they know exactly what they’re doing. The sun PR man and former Boris Johnson spin doctor Dylan Sharpe was last night seen tweeting naked photos of women to prominent anti-page 3 protestors. Smearing this offensive salt covered shit into a gaping wound. Fortunately he or someone pulling his strings had the sense to close his account, the pathetic neo-Nazi swine.
They’re constructing a cohesive dialogue about what they want the image of “the woman” to be. Thus, the sun is a part of a wider discursive problem of the dismissal of women. How women are framed in society effects how we talk about them, and vice versa. This new “fuck you more tits forever” attitude displayed by the sun perpetuates the notion that women are there to be desired and not desire; their bodies are there to be put through the disenfranchising process of objectification, consumption, and eventual dismissal. This latest instance of ideological bullying signifies that this fight is by no means over and complacency cannot be tolerated. The encouraging outrage shown by the feminist community, from what I can see, has begun to seep into the attitudes of the masses. Does this show that the slow, rusty wheels of hegemony are turning and has a counter dialogue has been established? I subscribe to the Foucaultian view that ideological change is an incredibly slow process, and starts with small change, which eventually snowballs into a change of discourse: a change of discourse that we need to initiate.
The state of things is unacceptable. The slow pace of change is not ideal. The upheaval of a dominant discourse and the shattering of a patriarchal structure that has plagued societies worldwide will take more than this; entire generations will need to die out before the dominant modes of thinking are altered. But at least now there is some possibility that page 3 will be looked upon in a few generations time as an example of cultural barbarism; a pathetic artefact of our culture that I will forever be embarrassed and ashamed of simultaneously existing with. As a “twentysomething” white middle class hetero male, page 3 is FOR me. I am its demographic, and I’ll never be able to shake that. It’s irrational, but that’s the effect that repulsive, twisted, socially distorting social apparatus’ like the sun has on people. It aims to pacify, confuse, and “satisfy”. To speed up this ideological change, it is essential to make people realise that what is looked upon as harmless, is actually incredibly harmful.
As I’m sure you all know, with any divisive piece of news comes a dialogue, a back and forth between both sides. This page 3 issue has sparked a lot of that. This leads me onto the main bulk of my point. I’ve noticed that news like this draws the human slime from the cracks. The wilfully ignorant human slime that withholds a lot of confusion and anger, anger that is clearly misplaced. As I mentioned previously, with any piece of news of this nature, there is a dialogue. But I aim to argue here that, more often than not, the opposing side to the feminist agenda do not participate in a dialogue. Their reasons, and arguments (if you can go as far to call them that), are not a part of a dialogue. The Oxford Online Dictionary defines “dialogue” as “a discussion between two or more people or groups, especially one directed towards exploration of a particular subject or resolution of a problem”. No. Fuck that. This is not a discussion. There is no exploration for resolution to a problem. There are a series of packaged, dismissive, and insulting excuses, alluding to problems that do not even exist, the most prominent of which being the oppression of hetero males at the hands of a dominant feminist elite. How can you resolve a problem that doesn’t exist? You cant. And I’m sure you’re all aware of the phrases and excuses used to legitimize casual misogyny and find them irritating, damaging, and depressing to the point of desperate hilarity.
These packaged excuses that I’m talking about are a half-arsed attempt at grappling with feminist discourse. I’m sure you’ve all heard some dingus expertly conclude: “I don’t believe in feminism, I believe in equal rights”. A throwaway comment to most, a disturbingly harmful mantra to others. Here’s why I believe phrases like this and the people that use them need to be challenged at every opportunity. Firstly, the phrase “I believe” gives some sort of impression that this hypothetical person has given the subject of feminism at least a morsel of thought before surmising that equal rights would be a better term. If that was the case, he or she would have had to follow and examine some sort of historical narrative to get the idea that men are somehow a fringe group who need to be elevated to match anybody’s level. What kind of historical narrative would he or she have to examine? Perhaps, I don’t know, say, the history of civilization? Lets have a look at an incredibly small amount of it.
Currently we live in a society in which women are paid 25% less for doing the same job as a man does, in a world in which women perform most of the work. You’d only need to go back to the 90’s to see that it was legal at one point for a man to rape his wife. It was only the 20’s when women were entrusted with a say in who governed their entire lives (if you would even go as far to say the vote grants you that liberty). If you go back around 150 years to Victorian Britain, women were essentially the legal property of their husbands. Yes, these antiquated laws have largely been overturned, but the ideas still remain. Throughout history, women have, and still are, a disenfranchised group. Even if we lived in a world in which women weren’t forced to pay for sanitary towels and taxed on them as a luxury, even if we lived in a world where women were paid the same amount as men for the same job, women are still victimized, objectified, and ostracized by media discourse.
There are far too many examples to squeeze in here (the existence of page3 should really be enough to convince anyone), so I’m only going to pick one; this is the particular incident that sticks out in my mind. Culturally impotent molester of the arts David Cameron, baby-murdering PR fascist Barack Obama, and Prime Minister of Denmark Helle Thorning-Schmidt decided to engage in the horrible clamor-for-the-youth-vote based cultural practice of the selfie, in public, whilst at the funeral of Nelson Mandela. Whilst the three of them were all described as disrespectful, among other things, Helle, as a woman, was clearly singled out by most of the national newspapers. The Daily Mail initially described her as “Neil Kinnock’s son’s wife”, and saying that “up until now she had enjoyed a glamorous reputation”. A myriad of other papers described her as (to name but a few) “flirty”, like a “vixen”, and a “narcissistic airhead”. Okay. Helle Thorning-Schmidt is the prime minister of an entire fucking country. Now I’m not saying that title affords her unconditional respect, but to reduce a clearly powerful and successful woman to gendered adjectives and pigeonhole her in such a way is nothing short of disgraceful, smacks of desperation, and is unfortunately just one tiny example in a sea of many examples of the way in which the dominant discourse belittles women to the point that we no longer need laws to keep them down… they just lie down anyway. To say that men are not in control of the dominant discourse, to even begin to argue that women are unfairly separating themselves from – and elevating themselves above – humanity by calling themselves feminists, is an affront to the senses. Do me and everyone else a favor. If you ever hear anyone use “I don’t believe in feminism, I believe in equal rights” in conversation or debate, give them a little history lesson. Then tell them to stop trying to look like they’ve given this incredibly pressing issue some thought. Then tell them that BuzzFeed is NOT a legitimate source of intellectual criticism. Then tell them to fuck off.
The fact of the matter is, these phrases…“it should be called humanism not feminism”, the blood curdling “friendzone” (used almost exclusively, from what I can gather, by neck-beard grooming fedora wearing Guns ‘n Roses fans who are afraid of women), and perhaps the most damaging “not all men”, are all ideological buzzwords. They are sly variants of interruption, a paper-thin socio-political dodging tool. They compress a dangerous and damaging sentiment into a small, easy to grasp, and often (supposedly) light-hearted package. They are the discursive equivalent of gagging someone mid-sentence with balled up paper, written on it all the arguments they do not understand. They present, at best, an incredibly tenuous veil of rationality. At worst, they signpost the fact that the user does not have a solitary clue about the concepts they’re talking about, nor do they give a solitary fuck.
The phrase “not all men” is perhaps the most infuriating and damaging of all. This is due to the fact it works on different levels, but is also pathetically simple. Typically used to silence feminist criticism in conversation, it is often dispatched like this: “No no no! How can you make such crass generalisations! Not all men do this. It’s not all men though, is it? ”. Now. First of all, this phrase is nothing more than a decorated interruption. It fails to consider any of the implications and consequences of criticisms given. It palms the issue off and stops the debate in its tracks. It does this by turning the focus of the issue from feminist criticism and onto the user of the phrase, and the oppressed male majority, which as we know, does not exist. Perhaps the worst implication of this phrase is that it gives the impression that the user is “on your side”. Ah, the enemy from within. We’ve got you now though mate, hiding in the grass with your pants down. By saying not all men, he or she is implying they are with you every step of the way, even though they’ve shut you up, killed the debate, and tried to make themselves look like fucking Ghandi all in one little expression. It grapples with the issue as far as acknowledging that people are talking about men, and it legitimises structuralised misogyny ever so subtly. Whilst it may be the case that not all men objectify women, it is certainly the case that not all men understand just how fucked up and manipulating this phrase is. They are harmful because they appear harmless.
Phrases like this are often the first flag flown by those that identify themselves as a part of a special new group: “meninists”. The shit-scared keyboard warriors, battling bravely against the frigid matriarchs. This baffling phenomenon has even manifested itself in a political party standing in the general election (if we don’t count the flagrant structural misogyny already in place in almost every political party bar the Greens): Justice for Men and Boys, who say that, even though there may be a pay gap, “it is women who spend most of the money anyway, whoever earns it”. Despite the fact that this group -and anyone who identifies themselves as a meninist for that matter – are flawed from the ground up, one troubling aspect of their existence is that they fail to campaign for the rights of all men. They give this idea of a unified male body, even though not solitary men’s rights collective, campaigner, or casual day-to-day misogynist, campaigns for the rights of gay and trans-gender men/women. These groups ostracised by society, and are even further disenfranchised by their own gender. Even if they did campaign for these groups, they would still be necessarily flawed and wrong, but at least they’d be sticking to their one and only objective. But no, they can’t even be true to themselves can they?
Essentially, what may come across as a terrible excuse or harmless turn-of-phrase, plays a part in a wider set of discursive ways in which feminists are put down, shut up, and further disenfranchised. This patronising publicity stunt by the sun is just one more reason to press on and help change the way people talk about women and feminism. Don’t let cynics and misogynists tell you that the sun are right to continue doing what they’re doing, and don’t let anyone get away with saying these things on your watch.