In this week's New Statesman: The weaker sex

Natasha Walter | Jonathan Rutherford | Jeanette Winterson | Jenni Murray | Naomi Wolf | Liz Jones |

the weaker sex

The meaning of the F-word

For this special New Statesman Sex issue, we ask 19 writers, activists and politicians: if feminists could campaign on only one issue over the next year, what should it be? The responses include:

Jenni Murray, presenter, BBC "Woman's Hour" Childcare

I find that the personal drives my political priority for campaigning. It was in 1972 that the women's liberation movement included 24-hour, free, quality childcare in its seven demands. Let's be pragmatic: maybe 24 hours is a little excessive. Most important, let's emphasise that this is a demand made not just by mothers, but by parents, because the care of children is not solely a woman's job.

Jeanette Winterson, author Getting into the boardroom

Get women on to boards. Men pretend that what they do is so hard . . . They should try walking in a pair of Louboutins while giving a presentation and running a family. (How about having a national Men's High-Heel Day, where we send them about their business as normal but in heels?) Just put women on the boards! We will soon find our way. No more excuses from the men. Change it now.

Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow Personal safety

From fears about cuts to services for victims of rape or domestic violence to the impact of turning off street lighting and raising car parking charges and discomfort at the way in which women are portrayed in modern culture, the responses astounded us all. Some of these problems pre-date the coalition but bringing them together highlights how women are now under pressure from many different directions. It must be our choice to challenge this.

Naomi Wolf, author and political consultant Uphold the bill of rights

Feminists should campaign to end the department of homeland security and repeal the National Defence Authorisation Act and the Patriot Act, because there won't be any feminism or dissent of any kind if there ain't no bill of rights. First things first.

Liz Jones, columnist, Daily Mail Be honest about airbrushing

Women are being assaulted as never before by images of perfection. We need laws on retouching, with the unadulterated original posted on the internet as a sort of Dorian Gray flashback. Lack of self-esteem ruined my life, so let's stop it ruining any more.

Louise Mensch, Conservative MP for Corby Trafficking

Let the police, the CPS, the courts and politicians recognise what sexual trafficking is and the difference between prostitution and gang rape. It is part of the overall culture of hand-washing on sexual violence against women. Traffickers are slavers and rapists and they should go to prison for their entire lives, in recognition of the lives of the girls and women they have stolen.

Rob Delaney, comedian Education

Women outnumber men on our planet. And women create life inside their bodies. Yet misogyny and sexism, whose twin engines are fear and ignorance, continue to exist. We must deprive them of their fuel and that begins by educating women and men. The good news is that women and men start out as girls and boys, who are more fun to be around.

How to be a man: Jonathan Rutherford versus Natasha Walter

In the NS Cover Story, "The weaker sex", the editor of Soundings journal, Jonathan Rutherford, and the writer and campaigner Natasha Walter debate whether feminism has left masculine identity in the 21st century in crisis.

Rutherford argues that, in just over a single generation, the tenets of traditional male identity have collapsed:

Millions of skilled working-class jobs that once gave men status and purpose have gone. The male solidarity that was the backbone of the labour movement has gone. So has the family wage, and increasingly men can no longer follow their fathers and grandfathers in the role of family breadwinner. Old-fashioned, maybe, but any parent of the bride wants to know the prospects of their future son-in-law.

All these social changes - especially for those at the top and bottom ends - have had the effect of "a prolonged form of masculine adolescence without obligations of paternity or responsibility for others".

Rutherford finds that in politics, too, masculine identity has been stifled:

Last year when the party's Blue Labour tendency argued for a politics of masculinity, accusations that the idea was anti-women abruptly ended public discussion. As one tough-minded male Labour member advised the party, "Men do not debate feminism with women."

Responding to Rutherford, Natasha Walter, author of Living Dolls: the Return of Sexism, questions how we are to know whether feminism has been successful:

Are we to assume that feminism has done its job because it has increased the numbers of Labour MPs - or because men are now doing as much childcare as women at weekends? It is dangerously easy to pick out a small example of progress and use it to gloss over the enormous evidence of continuing inequality.

With latest figures from the Fawcett Society showing that women's unemployment is at a 25-year high, Walter argues that austerity measures are hitting women hardest:

Women's supposed emotional affinity for new kinds of service-sector work, which may start with their greater readiness to smile at customers but may translate into a greater readiness to wipe bottoms or clean lavatories, may be born of necessity rather than some natural ability to empathise or serve.

She ends with a warning that the debate cannot be turned into a competition to decide who feels most pain:

This is not the time for nostalgia for the good old days when men were worn down by being non-stop breadwinners and women by being non-stop unpaid homemakers. This is a time to try to find a more equal sharing of the burdens and the rewards of paid and unpaid work.

Jemima Khan: The marriage business

Also for the Cover Story, Jemima Khan reports on the booming business of arranged marriages in the UK.

With Muslim men bringing 12,000 women to Britain as spouses from the Middle East, career women are increasingly electing to become "co-wives":

[Mizan Raja, who runs a Muslim matrimony service in east London,] reckons he gets between five and ten requests every week from women who are "comfortable with the notion of a part-time man" . . . There is someone for everyone, but if you're female and over 30 or divorced, you may have to share. The same rules do not apply to men.

Khan finds that the online marriage scene, too, is flourishing - more than two million members use shadi.com, one of the world's largest portals. Unlike ordinary dating sites, these "seem designed to repel any skulking commitment-phobes". Khan notes:

Those registering are asked upfront: "Would you like to get married soon or within 12 months?" Users are asked to rate their religiousness, family status, class, complexion ("fair, medium, dark or wheatish"), income and, brutally, their weight - in exact kilograms.

Also in the Sex issue

In the NS interview, Mary Roach, the American author of Stiff, Spook and Bonk, talks about the science of sex; the NS reports on attempts by politicians and religious leaders to control our sex lives; Nichi Hodgson asks whether feminism is sexist, and Helen Lewis explores OkCupid, the dating website whose data reveals some unexpected prejudices.

Elsewhere in the New Statesman

All this plus Tim Montgomerie, founder of ConservativeHome, on his frustrations with the Tory party in an interview with George Eaton; Mehdi Hasan on Ken Livingstone's tax avoidance; Nelson Jones argues Cardinal Keith O'Brien's apocalyptic rhetoric on same-sex marriage shows he knows the argument has already been lost; Laurie Penny reports from Washington, DC on Rush Limbaugh, and in Critics, the leading historian Richard J Evans eviscerates A N Wilson's Hitler: a Short Biography.

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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The Tinder dating app isn't just about sex – it's about friendship, too. And sex

The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, as I found out quickly while using the app.

The first time I met someone using Tinder, the free dating app that requires users to swipe left for “no” and right for “yes” before enabling new “matches” to chat, it was an unqualified success. I should probably qualify that. I was newly single after five years in a committed relationship and wasn’t looking for anything more than fun, friendship and, well, who knows. A few weeks earlier I had tried to give my number to a girl in a cinema café in Brixton. I wrote it on a postcard I’d been using as a bookmark. She said she had a boyfriend, but wanted to keep the postcard. I had no date and I lost my page.

My Tinder date was a master’s student from Valencia called Anna (her name wasn’t really Anna, of course, I’m not a sociopath). When I arrived at the appointed meeting place, she told me I was far more handsome IRL (“in real life”) than my pictures suggested. I was flattered and full of praise for the directness of continental Europeans but also thought sadly to myself: “If only the same could be said about you.”

Anna and I became friends, at least for a while. The date wasn’t a success in the traditional sense of leading us into a contract based on exclusivity, an accumulating cache of resentments and a mortgage, but it had put me back in the game (an appropriate metaphor – people speak regularly of “playing” with the app).

According to Sean Rad, the co-founder who launched Tinder in late 2012, the service was invented for people like me. “It was really a way to overcome my own problems,” he told the editor of Cosmopolitan at an event in London last month. “It was weird to me, to start a conversation [with a stranger]. Once I had an introduction I was fine, but it’s that first step. It’s difficult for a lot of people.” After just one outing, I’d learned two fundamental lessons about the world of online dating: pretty much everyone has at least one decent picture of themselves, and meeting women using a so-called hook-up app is seldom straightforwardly about sex.

Although sometimes it is. My second Tinder date took place in Vienna. I met Louisa (ditto, name) outside some notable church or other one evening while visiting on holiday (Tinder tourism being, in my view, a far more compelling way to get to know a place than a cumbersome Lonely Planet guide). We drank cocktails by the Danube and rambled across the city before making the romantic decision to stay awake all night, as she had to leave early the next day to go hiking with friends. It was just like the Richard Linklater movie Before Sunrise – something I said out loud more than a few times as the Aperol Spritzes took their toll.

When we met up in London a few months later, Louisa and I decided to skip the second part of Linklater’s beautiful triptych and fast-track our relationship straight to the third, Before Midnight, which takes place 18 years after the protagonists’ first meet in Vienna, and have begun to discover that they hate each others’ guts.

Which is one of the many hazards of the swiping life: unlike with older, web-based platforms such as Match.com or OkCupid, which require a substantial written profile, Tinder users know relatively little about their prospective mates. All that’s necessary is a Facebook account and a single photograph. University, occupation, a short bio and mutual Facebook “likes” are optional (my bio is made up entirely of emojis: the pizza slice, the dancing lady, the stack of books).

Worse still, you will see people you know on Tinder – that includes colleagues, neighbours and exes – and they will see you. Far more people swipe out of boredom or curiosity than are ever likely to want to meet up, in part because swiping is so brain-corrosively addictive.

While the company is cagey about its user data, we know that Tinder has been downloaded over 100 million times and has produced upwards of 11 billion matches – though the number of people who have made contact will be far lower. It may sound like a lot but the Tinder user-base remains stuck at around the 50 million mark: a self-selecting coterie of mainly urban, reasonably affluent, generally white men and women, mostly aged between 18 and 34.

A new generation of apps – such as Hey! Vina and Skout – is seeking to capitalise on Tinder’s reputation as a portal for sleaze, a charge Sean Rad was keen to deny at the London event. Tinder is working on a new iteration, Tinder Social, for groups of friends who want to hang out with other groups on a night out, rather than dating. This makes sense for a relatively fresh business determined to keep on growing: more people are in relationships than out of them, after all.

After two years of using Tinder, off and on, last weekend I deleted the app. I had been visiting a friend in Sweden, and took it pretty badly when a Tinder date invited me to a terrible nightclub, only to take a few looks at me and bolt without even bothering to fabricate an excuse. But on the plane back to London the next day, a strange thing happened. Before takeoff, the woman sitting beside me started crying. I assumed something bad had happened but she explained that she was terrified of flying. Almost as terrified, it turned out, as I am. We wound up holding hands through a horrific patch of mid-air turbulence, exchanged anecdotes to distract ourselves and even, when we were safely in sight of the ground, a kiss.

She’s in my phone, but as a contact on Facebook rather than an avatar on a dating app. I’ll probably never see her again but who knows. People connect in strange new ways all the time. The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, but you can be sure that if you look closely at the lines, you’ll almost certainly notice the pixels.

Philip Maughan is Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad