Culture clash: Flo Perry encountered a wholly different subset of GWM at Durham University. Photo: A D Teasdale/Flickr
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Flo Perry: Could this be the age of the Great White Female?

When I was a fresher in 2010, feminist societies weren’t commonplace in universities. Now every campus in the country has one.

The Noughties were a bad time for rebellion. The third wave of feminism was old-fashioned – it wasn’t cool any more. People shrugged at lads’ mags and laughed along with date-rape jokes on national telly. But then something switched. Cosmo started asking all its interviewees whether they were feminists. Feminism became cool again and my generation picked up the baton. The fourth wave is rolling, but can we be the ones to overthrow my dad’s special subject: the Great White Male?

When I was a fresher in 2010, feminist societies weren’t commonplace in universities; if there was one, it was probably a bunch of postgrads discussing the minor works of Greer. Now every campus in the country has one. I didn’t know it, but when I started Durham University I needed that feminism society. I’d been brought up with the children of champagne socialists in comfy north London. I had a bowl cut and liked ugly T-shirts from the Eighties. Suddenly, I was mingling with boys who’d grow up to be the fourth generation of accountants for PwC. They’d never met a lesbian before and I’d never met a Tory: we couldn’t be more different and both be white, middle-class people from the south-east of England.Who’d have thought that being thrown from one middle-class breeding ground to another would be such a shock to the system? It was enough to shake the political apathy out of me.

In my second year I read Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, started browsing Jezebel and The Vagenda, and followed Laurie Penny on Twitter. Other girls were obviously feeling the change and Durham University had an active feminism society once more. Across the country, we weren’t the only people criticising rugby clubs’ drinking games and pooh-poohing outdated welfare policies. But are we making a difference?

The people with the power to stop the dictatorship of Great White Males are the Great White Males themselves. They are the ones who can choose to hire someone different. Once they have acknowledged they like to hire little clones of themselves and once they actively try to push out of their comfort zone, things will change. Hire someone from a state school you’ve never heard of and maybe that person will be the boss in 20 years.

We young fourth-wavers can point out the obvious; we can complain and campaign; we could tell the system to eff off, make feminist zines and live on organic vegan farms. But non-GWMs want to be corporate, too; we want the chance to rise in the ranks of PwC. Some of us want to be part of the system, not destroy it. It’s hard to tell someone they’re racist and sexist, that their company looks like the end of the Eton production line, and still ask them for a job.

Besides, feminism has grown up. We know anarchy isn’t the most effective agent for change. We want to work alongside the GWMs as equals – make shitloads of money, become bankers, even politicians. We just need the GWMs to let us in.

I currently work in one of the most modern and liberal environments there is, the offices of BuzzFeed. There are no ties; there’s a beanbag and gifs are an acceptable form of communication. Yet my supervisor, and boss, and his boss in America are all straight white males. In fact, pretty much everyone I know is employed by one.

Now I’m slipping into my semi-corporate world. It was quite easy for me, partly because everyone at work is all “Yeah, feminism!” and my boss is all up for diversifying. But it’s also because I’m not so different from the Great White Male. There’s only one characteristic I fall down on. So maybe the time of the Great White Female is soon. But I think the time of the Great Black Transgendered Lesbian who speaks with a working-class accent is quite far away. So even though I’m asking for a job, I’m still going to complain and campaign against the Great White Male. 

Flo Perry is a journalist at BuzzFeed

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Grayson Perry guest edit

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A new German law wants to force mothers to reveal their child’s biological father

The so-called “milkmen’s kids law” would seek protection for men who feel they have been duped into raising children they believe are not biologically theirs – at the expense of women’s rights.

The German press call them “Kuckuckskinder”, which translates literally as “cuckoo children” – parasite offspring being raised by an unsuspecting innocent, alien creatures growing fat at the expense of the host species’ own kind. The British press have opted for the more Benny Hill-esque “milkmen’s kids”, prompting images of bored Seventies housewives answering the door in negligées before inviting Robin Asquith lookalikes up to their suburban boudoirs. Nine months later their henpecked husbands are presented with bawling brats and the poor sods remain none the wiser.

Neither image is particularly flattering to the children involved, but then who cares about them? This is a story about men, women and the redressing of a legal – or is it biological? – injustice. The children are incidental.

This week German Justice Minister Heiko Maas introduced a proposal aimed at to providing greater legal protection for “Scheinväter” – men who are duped into raising children whom they falsely believe to be biologically theirs. This is in response to a 2015 case in which Germany’s highest court ruled that a woman who had told her ex-husband that her child may have been conceived with another man could not be compelled to name the latter. This would, the court decided, be an infringement of the woman’s right to privacy. Nonetheless, the decision was seen to highlight the need for further legislation to clarify and strengthen the position of the Scheinvater.

Maas’ proposal, announced on Monday, examines the problem carefully and sensitively before merrily throwing a woman’s right to privacy out of the window. It would compel a woman to name every man she had sexual intercourse with during the time when her child may have been conceived. She would only have the right to remain silent in cases should there be serious reasons for her not to name the biological father (it would be for the court to decide whether a woman’s reasons were serious enough). It is not yet clear what form of punishment a woman would face were she not to name names (I’m thinking a scarlet letter would be in keeping with the classy, retro “man who was present at the moment of conception” wording). In cases where it did transpire that another man was a child’s biological father, he would be obliged to pay compensation to the man “duped” into supporting the child for up to two years.

It is not clear what happens thereafter. Perhaps the two men shake hands, pat each other on the back, maybe even share a beer or two. It is, after all, a kind of gentlemen’s agreement, a transaction which takes place over the heads of both mother and child once the latter’s paternity has been established. The “true” father compensates the “false” one for having maintained his property in his absence. In some cases there may be bitterness and resentment but perhaps in others one will witness a kind of honourable partnership. You can’t trust women, but DNA tests, money and your fellow man won’t let you down.

Even if it achieves nothing else, this proposal brings us right back to the heart of what patriarchy is all about: paternity and ownership. In April this year a German court ruled that men cannot be forced to take paternity tests by children who suspect them of being their fathers. It has to be their decision. Women, meanwhile, can only access abortion on demand in the first trimester of pregnancy, and even then counselling is mandatory (thereafter the approval of two doctors is required, similar to in the UK). One class of people can be forced to gestate and give birth; another can’t even be forced to take a DNA test. One class of people can be compelled to name any man whose sperm may have ventured beyond their cervix; another is allowed to have a body whose business is entirely its own. And yes, one can argue that forcing men to pay money for the raising of children evens up the score. Men have always argued that, but they’re wrong.

Individual men (sometimes) pay for the raising of individual children because the system we call patriarchy has chosen to make fatherhood about individual ownership. Women have little choice but to go along with this as long as men exploit our labour, restrict our access to material resources and threaten us with violence. We live in a world in which it is almost universally assumed that women “owe” individual men the reassurance that it was their precious sperm that impregnated us, lest we put ourselves and our offspring at risk of poverty and isolation. Rarely do any of us dare to protest. We pretend it is a fair deal, even that reproductive differences barely affect our lives at all. But the sex binary – the fact that sperm is not egg and egg is not sperm – affects all of us.

The original 2015 ruling got it right. The male demand for reassurance regarding paternity is an infringement of a woman’s right to privacy. Moreover, it is important to see this in the context of all the other ways in which men have sought to limit women’s sexual activity, freedom of movement and financial independence in order to ensure that children are truly “theirs”.  Anxiety over paternity is fundamentally linked to anxiety over female sexuality and women’s access to public space. Yet unless all women are kept under lock and key at all times, men will never, ever have the reassurance they crave. Even then, the abstract knowledge that you are the only person to have had the opportunity to impregnate a particular woman cannot rival the physical knowledge of gestation.

We have had millennia of pandering to men’s existential anxieties and treating all matters related to human reproduction, from sex to childbirth, as exceptional cases meaning women cannot have full human rights. Isn’t it about time we tried something new? How about understanding fatherhood not as winning gold in an Olympic sperm race, but as a contract endlessly renewed?

What each of us receives when a child is born is not a biological entity to do with as we choose. It is a relationship, with all of its complexities and risks. It is something worth contributing to and fighting for. Truly, if a man cannot understand that, then any money wasted on a Kuckuckskind – a living, breathing child he could get to know – has got to be the least of his worries. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.