Is feminism sexist?

While British feminist campaigners explicitly try to address the gender iniquities faced by all, sho

Does feminism discriminate against men? Tom Martin thinks so. Today, the former MSc student at the gender studies institute of the London School of Economics sued the university for misleading advertising and breach of equality legislation, on the basis that the course promotes a "sexist agenda".

Martin, who has raised £4,300 to fund his case at the central London county court, argues that feminism makes women think of themselves as victims, and that it promotes a discourse which "excludes mention of men" and the inequalities they face, such as increased risk of homelessness and subjection to hypergamy (gold-digging), which his website claims is "prevalent among most of the world's women".

Martin would like to see the gender studies course incorporate male studies, a burgeoning field in America backed by the likes of Warren Farrell, the controversial author of such books as The Myth of Male Power. A substantial part of the evidence that he will be using for his case is the language of the core texts for the LSE course, which he believes establish an "all women good, all men bad" binary, while research that is "articulate and forthright on men's problems" is systematically blocked.

But is feminism sexist? Admittedly it often overlooks the M-word in policy papers focusing on inequalities that predominantly affect women. While British feminist writers and campaigners from the F-Word blog to UK Feminista explicitly try to engage men and address the gender iniquities faced by all, should men's rights ever be feminism's responsibility?

It seems obvious that liberating women from gender-based discrimination would help men, too - apart from appealing to a sense of justice, how else can house husbandry be sold, if not as an antidote to the male burden of being breadwinner?

Men may not be the enemy, yet with so few people prepared to identify as feminist in the first place, many "feminisms" are understandably wary of providing a critical male platform that might be used against women. Although Martin advocates joint custody rights, which the coalition are moving towards, he holds provocative views on "exaggerated" rape statistics and the role that women's shelters play in exacerbating sex segregation. He also dismisses the notion of patriarchy.

And he presumably hopes his lawsuit, if successful, will create a precedent for anti-feminist discrimination cases.

Nichi Hodgson is a 28-year-old freelance journalist specialising in sexual politics, law and culture.

Nichi Hodgson is a writer and broadcaster specialising in sexual politics, censorship, and  human rights. Her first book, Bound To You, published by Hodder & Stoughton, is out now. She tweets @NichiHodgson.

This article first appeared in the 12 March 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The weaker sex

Photo: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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