International women’s day, and among the social media stories of inspiring, strong women came the plaintive utterances of a few men: “why isn’t there any International Men’s Day?”
For a start, a simple Google search would have answered this question: there is. It’s on November 16th this year. But also, International Women’s Day is not about man-bashing. Just because man is the only other option to woman, it doesn’t a playground game of one-upmanship (or upwomanship) make.
The same can be said of feminism. Men often seem to feel threatened or displaced by feminism, confusing sticking up for women with the putting down of men. Feminists, even among other women, have an image of man-hating, pubic hirsute drinkers of their own menstrual blood. Geri Halliwell, ironically herself a victim of the pressures put on women by an unbalanced society to tragic proportions, once proclaimed that feminism had ‘done its job’.
But it hasn’t done its job. And though the rise of feminism has caused something of a crisis of masculinity as gender roles, even genders, have become blurred, it is triumph for men too, releasing them from restrictive expectations. Just as women can now choose careers, men can choose to stay at home with their children, marry other men, cry at the sad bit in Dumbo and wear skinny jeans.
I go back to my grandparents, who I blogged about here. My dear grandpa died on International Women’s day. The date isn’t without significance. My grandpa was the epitome of the 1950s head of the household: quiet, dignified, well-read, wise, respected. He fought in the war, and suffered huge injuries, including the loss of a leg. He was hero, a rock, a patriarch.
To mention what he wasn’t isn’t to disrespect his memory because he was what society expected from his generation (plus I adored him): not emotionally available, involved, or hands-on with childcare. My granny, as I have said, was a work horse. She was all of those things; and what that entailed in real life is a bigger picture than words can paint.
Now, just as I have had more choice than my granny, my husband has had more choice than my grandpa. He shares household chores, childcare, and an equal relationship with me. For one adverse to washing-up, this may not feel like progress, but when I watch him kick a ball about with our son, or plait our daughter’s hair, or listen to her torture her clarinet, I know that his relationship with his children is progress beyond words. He said that he’d be happy if any of our children were gay. A sentence that would’ve been unthinkable for my grandpa’s generation, and a true indication of how comfortable he feels about them.
As though better relationships with your children weren’t enough, men have also benefited from freer, better sex; reproductive control; equal relationships; protection from hate and sexual crimes; sexual freedom; more choice at work… the list goes on. True feminism is about gender parity, and that is good for all human kind.
Someone needs to tell the boys. I feel like I have a one-woman mission to make sure my two boys grow up as feminists. I have to confess that when I first looked into the eyes of my eldest, I felt raising a boy was the easier option. But I’ve changed my mind, and aside from teaching him how to bake (he does a mean lemon-drizzle cake), I’ve realised that I need to teach him how to understand that porn doesn’t represent true sex, that girls don’t aspire to look like Barbie, that it’s fine to cry if someone hurts your feelings.
It’s a hard message to teach. You just have to look around the playground to see that gender stereotypes are hard-wired. Still. After all this time and all this talking. The problem is that men talk to men, and a flaw in feminism is that too often us women focus on one another.
Geri Halliwell is wrong on so many levels. Her ginger spice body one minute stacked on Buffalo trainers with a crotch-skimming Union Jack dress, the next minute painfully thin on a beach, has been transformed because what? Because she feels the pressure to sell herself on her sexuality and looks rather than talent. Ok, you could argue that she lacks talent, but she certainly lacks insight and wisdom when she says that feminism has ‘done its job’.
Until there is true parity between the sexes, feminism has a long way to go. Until men stop being jealous of women and girls being in the limelight, and until women like Halliwell stop undermining feminism, there’s still a lot of talking to be done.
Us mothers can make a start by raising our boys in a way our grannies couldn’t raise our fathers and uncles. We can remember our grandfathers with love, and show our sons how much better equality has, and can continue to make the world better for all humanity. I like this blog on raising sons as feminists.
My last word goes to International Women’s Day. It’s about acknowledging, celebrating and respecting women while recognising how far society must come before gender parity truly exists. It’s not about saying women are better than men, it’s about equality.