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

Felipe Araujo
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Hull revisited: What happens when a Brexit stronghold becomes City of Culture?

We report from Hull, to find out if you can replace the kind of nostalgia that led to a Leave vote with cultural investment.

At 75 metres long, the offshore wind turbine blade erected across Queen Victoria Square, in the heart of Hull, is a sculpture intended to mark a new chapter in the city’s history. For the next 12 months, Hull, a city of more than a quarter of a million people in the northeast of England, will be the UK’s City of Culture.

The 28-tonne blade hails from the local Siemens plant. The German technology company employs around 1,000 people in the area, making it Hull’s biggest single employer.

Seen up close in this context – laid dormant in the middle of a town square instead of spinning up in the air generating energy – the structure is meant to remind passersby of a giant sea creature. It is also, I’m told, an allusion to Hull’s rich maritime history.


All photos: Felipe Araujo

Nostalgia is a big thing in this part of the country. At one point, Hull was the UK’s third largest port but technology and privatisation drastically changed that. The battle over cod fishing with Iceland in the waters of the North Sea 40 years ago has also dealt a major blow to a region with a long and proud trawling tradition.

People here still talk about a bygone era when the fishing industry provided jobs for everyone and there was enough money to go around.

Fast forward to 2017, and the country’s new capital of culture is the same city that voted 67 per cent in favour of leaving the EU last June. Its new-found prestige, it seems, is not enough to erase years of neglect by a political class “too busy for commoners like us”, as one resident puts it.

“More than a message to Brussels, it [the Brexit vote] was a message to Westminster,” Paul Leeson-Taylor, a filmmaker born and bred in Hull, tells me. “For the first time in a long time people in Hull felt like they had the chance to change something, and they took it.”

But while speaking to people on the high street and hanging out with locals at the Community Boxing Club in Orchard Park, one of the city’s most deprived areas, there is one word that consistently popped up in conversation – more than any specific policy from Westminster or the much-hated rules “dictated” by Brussels. Foreigners.

According to official figures, Hull’s population is 89.1 per cent white British. Still, immigration is big on people’s minds here.

During my two-day stay in the city, I find myself being the only black person in most places I visit – I’m certainly the only black guy at the boxing club. So when someone begins a sentence with “I’m not racist but…”, I know a tirade on immigrants is about to ensue.

“There are just too many of them,” Nick Beach, an estate agent whose Polish clientele is a big part of his business, tells me as he is about to teach a boxing class to local children. Beach was born in Shepherd’s Bush, in West London, but has been living in Hull for the last 20 years.

“When I go down there these days and go into Westfield shopping centre, it is very rare you get an English person serving you now,” he says. “I just find it disappointing that you go into your capital city and you are a minority there.”

These are the much-discussed “left behind”, a white working-class community that has gained particular prominence in a time of Brexit and Donald Trump. Under economic pressure and facing social change, they want to have their say in running a country they claim to no longer recognise.

For Professor Simon Lee, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Hull, immigration is only a superficial layer when it comes to explaining the resentment I witness here. For him, the loss of the empire 70 years ago is still something that as a country Britain hasn’t come to terms with.

“The reason for us to be together as a United Kingdom has gone, so what is the project?”

As destiny would have it, a foreign company will now play a major role on Hull’s economic future, at least in the short term. In the wake of the Brexit vote, there were widespread fears Siemens would pull out of the region and take its factory elsewhere. With the massive blade looming large in the background, Jason Speedy, director of the blade factory in Hull, assures me that isn’t the case.

“The Brexit decision has made no difference. We have made our investment decision, so Siemens, together with the Association of British Ports, has put in £310m. It’s all full steam ahead.”

As Hull becomes the country’s cultural hub for the next few months, the hope is that its residents stop looking back and start looking forward.

For Professor Lee, though, until there is a complete change in the power structures that run the country, the north-south divide will remain – with or without the EU. “The way you kill nostalgia is to have something new,” he said. “The reason why people here are nostalgic is because there is nothing to replace it with.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.