It is 2014 and boys are still turning into men who don’t like women. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Only feminism can stop my sons growing up to hate women

When we talk about raising boys to grow into confident men, we need feminism – not thinly-disguised hand-wringing about adjusting them to the new “equality” – to bring them up not to hate women.

In recent years specific guidance on raising boys has sprung up as an awkward counterpart to feminist activism. Positioned as a response to “masculinity in crisis” it seeks not to be anti-feminist, but to even up the balance sheet. Feminism for the girls, confidence-boosting for the boys. Who could argue with that?

As a feminist, I’ve never felt comfortable with this. It always feels like a thinly-veiled apology to the men of tomorrow for the fact that things won’t be as good as in the old days, back when women knew their place. However grateful women may feel that men are being helped to adjust to “equality”, what other social justice movement is expected to validate a counterpart “poor you” movement on behalf of the oppressor class? Isn’t it just typical? Can’t women and girls have anything for themselves?

It is 2014 and boys are still turning into men who don’t like women. And okay, it’s not all men, but even the ones who don’t actively hate us are perfectly capable of exploiting, objectifying and demeaning us. When misogyny is naked and extreme, in men such as Peter Sutcliffe, Marc Lépine, Anders Breivik or Elliot Rodger, we’re quick to position it as an aberration but we know that it is not.

One of the double-binds that misogyny creates for women is that calling it out – actually saying “this culture hates women” – will lead to accusations that one is irrational, hysterical and unable to see nuance. The woman who puts up and shuts up has the dubious honour of being more “like a man”, but only until her next transgression.

I am tired of this cycle, one which leads not just to misery for women but to thwarted expectations for men. As the mother of boys I know I’m expected to supress my resentment and get on board with the next pro-masculinity project, hoping that it will make my children into strong, confident men (or at least ones who don’t resent me for being too much of a harpy). I’m expected to wring my hands about their self-esteem and to panic about girls “stealing” all the A*s and university places.

I’m meant to worry about them disliking themselves, not about whether they will also learn to dislike women. I’m supposed to assume, glibly, that as long as they are content and fulfilled, they will not become misogynists, however filled with hate the air that they breathe. I simply don’t believe this. I watch the pro-boys movement, tracking feminist progress and launching one bad-faith countermove after another, and I know it will not spare my sons the misery of hating. Only feminism can do that.

Steve Biddulph’s Raising Boys has long been held up as a lifesaver for mothers trying to raise confident boys in the face of feminism’s monstrous regiments. Scratch beneath the surface and what it really offers is an entrenchment of male entitlement, albeit with touchy-feely justifications. It positions itself as distinct from men’s rights extremism but lies on the same continuum. It is snide and sneaky, suggesting to mothers that if their little boys are allowed to “feel good about themselves” then they can’t possibly grow up to hate women. As ever, women bear the greatest responsibility for men not despising them. Funny, that.

Biddulph tends not to use words such as “objectification” – those are strictly for the feminists, doing whatever separate stuff feminists do. Instead he talks about “creepification” (I know, poor boys, having to be creeped out by the sexy ladies!). He argues that parents must “teach their daughters not to misuse their physical appeal to exploit or tease boys”. He also claims that “boys in their mid-teens think girls are wonderful”:

They envy the easy way girls laugh and talk with their friends, their 'savvy' and their physical grace. But, above all, they are aware of girls’ tantalising sexual promise. [...] Girls seem to hold all the cards.

Biddulph warns that “if boys don’t get much chance to talk and share with real girls, the more likely they are to start to fantasise about control and domination”. He believes that the end point of “creepification” is “the young man who rapes a girl, or the adult who sexually assaults his own children, or the man who visits brothels obsessively”.

Most of us will have heard of creepification already. However, because we are not desperately trying to recast feminist analysis as the struggles of the great white male, we call it by its real name: misogyny. And in suggesting to parents of boys that the solution to misogyny lies in ensuring that women and girls are more accessible to boys, Biddulph merely perpetuates it. Boys do not need porn to “see what goes where, and how!” Women are not slot machines, mechanically doling out orgasms and ego boosts. If men and women are to be seen as equally human, we must dispense with the idea that half the human race can only find self-realisation in penetrating the other half. We are more than that, every single one of us.

Men do not need nice, kind, understanding women to help them realise their own humanity. Biddulph may claim that “the antidote to ‘creepiness’ is an infusion of warmth, humour and openness” but it has to be more than that. Men need to recognise that women are human simply because we are – not as an endorsement of their own humanity. It is feminism that offers a release from this dependency.

The journalist Ally Fogg has argued that “a unified men’s sector can not only peacefully co-exist with the women’s movement, but actually complement it”:

Feminists want an end to male violence and criminality? So do I. Feminists want equality in the home and the workplace? So do I. The old refrain ‘patriarchy hurts men too’ is undoubtedly true but it is not a solution. It implies that all we need to do is achieve full social justice for women and male-specific problems will simply wither away.

This is to imply that feminist thought is incomplete and inconsistent – a half-hearted, on-the-hoof attempt to address things that annoy women as opposed to a far-reaching vision of liberation for all. This is not fair. Moreover, genuine structural change in relations between men and women cannot be done on a quid pro quo, as-and-when basis. It has to be organic change if we are to see each other not as mirrors for reflecting our own egos, but as fellow human beings, capable of love but not demanding it.    

I know this will sound ideological and one-sided to some. I don’t actually care. I’m done with hand-wringing. I’ve had enough of trying to “share out” liberation. I’m sick of trying to win male approval by saying things are balanced when they’re not. I want feminism now. For the sake of my sons and their peers, whatever their sex, I don’t want us to wait any more. 

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

Getty
Show Hide image

Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.