Allow me to take your mind back to the glory days of 1997. Man! I Feel Like A Woman thrust a singer named Shania Twain into our collective conscious and told us that we were all letting our hair down, basically. It’s an absolute banger, but still holds a massively topical message. The late 90’s were all about Girl Power in its most rudimentary form. We’re still talking about it now, but in entirely different, much more serious terms. Man! I Feel Like A Woman tells the same story in much lighter terms, and so seems like a good place to start this conversation.
Because it is a conversation. No matter what many people seem to be saying at this moment in time, conversation is required – from all different perspectives, to enable understanding and to break down prejudices. Feminism seems to be a bit of a tainted concept at the moment. It’s also a real hot topic, and one that everyone has their feelings on, including me. I’ve seen lots of women and men attempt to navigate this topic online and ultimately descend into mud-slinging and arguments. I’ve seen people I know and respect get slated for daring to attempt to engage in the conversation at all, purely because they’re men.
I get that. The struggle of being a woman is in this world of ours is an emotive subject, and one that is hard for men to organically understand, for obvious reasons. That doesn’t mean we should shoot them down in flames for trying to. Conversation requires give and take. And yet, there’s a reason women are tired of taking it with little to no give in return. I’ve seen a lot of people with their backs up in the air because they don’t feel they’ve been given the opportunity to converse about women’s issues. Often, you’ll hear or read blokes tweets that ‘my argument is only invalid because I’m a man”.
To a certain extent, this can be true. There are things about our lives that men will never fully appreciate. That’s just a fact, just as much as it’s a fact I’ll never be able to appreciate what being a man is like. Because I’m not one. However, the differences between us should be the thing that brings us together, not continues to drive us apart as is happening now. One of the things that I’d like to try and get across with this post, is the reason so many women are frothing to shut everyone up.
It’s nothing personal. Women are frustrated. We are. We just want it all to fuck off, now.
I tried to explain this to a couple of male friends of mine previously, and hopefully I was able to clarify my point without anyone giving me the condescending crap of ‘ohh, you’re one of them feminazis‘. For the record, I’m not. I did my Master’s on the feminist critique of language, but I don’t believe that -isms are all that helpful to us all at this point in time. They’re driving wedges between human beings; making people feel as though we’ve got to choose a side. Feminism or masculism? I say fuck that shit. What about people-ism?
Anyway, coming back to my point. I genuinely think one of the reasons we have such fierce feelings about the topic of gender inequality right now is that women have reached tipping point. We have. We’re frustrated with the status quo that only we have experienced thus far. To understand this, you’ve got to really work hard to erase all perspective of life and imagine that you’re a girl. From day one, girls experience the world differently. We experience society differently. We’re clothed differently, we have different expectations put upon us. We experience gender bias in the world around us from childhood – it becomes part of our DNA. That’s not the fault of men. That’s not the fault of women. That’s the fault of our society. Of our social, historical, political and economic construct. That is what we all need to be fighting against, not each other.
Girls inherently feel pressure. Pressure to perform, pressure to survive. Boys do too, but for girls, the survival pressure has a darker element to it. Biologically speaking, we’re conditioned to believe we’re the ‘weaker’ sex. Physically, there’s often truth in this. The survival pressure we feel, right from being young girls, is the fear of being overpowered. It’s like knowing that you’re a prey animal, and every time a man who you don’t know looks at you for a few seconds too long, or when you feel someone walking behind you, the hairs on your neck stick up and you start wondering if the keys you’ve got in your coat pocket would be enough to stab him in the eye to get him off you. You start looking for the nearest crowd of people to try and walk into, and your mind enters a million and one scenarios of how to escape before he can catch up with you. As the steps behind you become more audible, you grip your keys in your pocket and the fight-or-flight response naturally kicks in. He’s suddenly behind you and your throat goes dry as your hear and feel nothing but your heart pounding and the rush of blood in your ears. And then he crosses the road, happily whistling away. You sigh and loosen your grip, but your walking pace still matches the racing of your heartbeat.
I honestly don’t think that men realise that this is how most women feel.
This is what fucks up a lot of men’s minds. Alerting them to this fact really fucks them up. Because at the heart of it, the vast majority of men are good, decent people. And yet, the conditioning we all experience as girls growing up causes something inside us to know that all men can be a threat to us. Not all men are. But they could be. Physiologically, they can be much more of a danger to us than we’d like to admit. We instinctively feel that we’re prey, and that even the most wonderful men in the world can still be our predators if they chose to.
Men don’t know this.
They don’t understand it, because they’re at the top of the food chain from day one. They don’t know this feeling at all, and they don’t know that we’ve all had it since we were girls. And this is why they can’t understand why women get so fired up about our rights, our safety, or our female experience.
Feminists don’t hate men. Women don’t hate men. We hate the pecking order. We hate the food chain. We hate the fucking system that defines us as a weaker option, to be denied, to be pressurised, to be attacked. To be overpowered, to be touched, to be dismissed.
As boys and girls, our experiences are entirely different. What we should be doing is tearing up the food chain, not tearing into each other for trying to have this conversation. I understand the rage. I understand the feeling of thinking ‘oh shut the fuck up, you’ve never been pinned against a wall against your will, you’ll never understand because you’re a man’. I do.
But how will they ever fully understand it if we don’t all talk about it to each other. Women are angry. We’re frustrated. We’ve all had a lifetime of this shit and it’s not our fault. But it’s not men’s fault either. The fault lies with the lack of conversation and the lack of togetherness. The lack of understanding of what it feels like for a girl. The fault lies with picking sides, with -isms, with constant, constant debate.
There is no need to debate. Things have been unfair and unequal for too long. All decent people, male or female, will agree to this, I hope. We need to try and talk to each other without giving in to the easier option of “oh just fuck off”. It’s tempting to go there, but if we do want things to get better, we need to start helping each other understand the differential in our experiences.
I liked Girl Power. But that was the 90s, and the landscape is much darker now. What we want, what we really, really want, is People Power. Human Power. Equal Power. And the way to achieve that? Fuck these -isms. Let’s work on our conversation.