In theory, I support feminism. That is to say that I believe that everyone should have equal rights and opportunities, as far as practically possible, though I accept that male breast-feeding is unlikely to arrive in my life-time so some asymmetrical allowances may have to be made.
I don’t think that any two humans are equal. Each of us is unique. The mechanism of evolution favours diversity, so there is wide variation in human capability across many axes of ‘capable’. I don’t find it in any way surprising that there may be biological as well as social differences between the sexes. You cannot say that all men are taller than all women but you can say this “on average”. That is not adequate reason to say that in a job which requires a large, strong person, women should be excluded. That is sexism. It may also be true that, on average, a woman is better at childcare than a man but that may be due to social conditioning or hormone levels. It is sexism to assume that one man cannot make an excellent nursery assistant.
I think there are 2 different types of human evolution occurring. One is political, intellectual, cultural and possibly moral. It moves fast. Ideas can be born, played with and die in days, hours or even a few minutes with the Internet to speed up our communication and super-charge our societal network. It has taken only a month for ‘national pride’ to be something every political party wishes to aspire to. The ideas don’t have to be the best, only to win over popular opinion.
The other evolution is provided by good old biology. It moves very slowly. That is why we’ve tried to give it up. Our fight and flight mechanism is rarely an appropriate response to commuting congestion but many more stress-related deaths will be needed before it is eliminated from the population; or perhaps society will decide that the aggression necessaary to win a knife-fight will take precedence. The two types of evolution are simultaneously interdependent: Politics will decide our biology, by defining the environment we evolve to fit and in conflict: what we think and what our bodies feel can be at odds.
So it was that I found myself, complaining on Faceboook about an act of sexism and minutes later, posting a public link to a Jake Thackray song that starts, “I love a good bum on a woman, it makes my day”. Is this, I mused, what they call “hypocrisy”?
We are all animals. Most of us experience sexual desire but “there’s a time and place for it”. There are also manners and rudeness and what some feminists call “rape culture”. Apparently, it’s a very unpopular opinion with nearly all men but I’m going to bravely come out and say that I am against rape. I think it’s wrong. Not only that, I don’t think I’d like doing it, at all. I guess I’m just weird.
I sometimes find newsreaders and musicians and other people who suddenly appear on the screen in my house to be quite attractive. I know that is Wrong because it encourages the horrible exploitation of women who look nice at the expense of those who don’t, in a way that would never happen with, say, boy bands or jobs that are considered to require a good brain rather than good looks.
The thing is, I can’t help it. I could pretend I don’t find beautiful women nice to look at, like men with jealous partners have to, but it wouldn’t be true. I could not mention it, in the way I hardly ever say “Wow, you’re ugly!” to a complete stranger I meet in the street but the fact is, I think we are designed at a fairly basic level to want to compliment people we quite like the look of, in the hope they’ll remember and if everything else goes pear-shaped later, maybe we might stand a chance there. Sometimes I think people even like it, if it’s done in a way that suits them, which is of course, completely impossible to predict.
Such casual flirting may be a coy look over the edge of a fan (this has NEVER worked for me) or a “Pwoar darling!” from a scaffolding tower(has that EVER worked for anyone? – sadly, I suspect the answer must be “yes” or surely they’d be too embarassed by now) but it appears we “just can’t help ourselves”, to differing degrees. Yes the object of our desire may be offended or simply physically repulsed by an unwelcome or inappropriate approach but society decides what is acceptable behaviour and there currently seems to be a huge mismatch between social manners and acceptable courtship behaviours that our generally permissive society has yet to resolve. Whether we practice our flirtation technique in preparation for our ‘one true love’ or whether wolf-whistling is actually an Alpha-male tribal bonding ritual, in which the apparent sex object is only symbolic and may as well be a cartoon character, may require further anthropological study.
Now, we come to the event which triggered me writing this post: a middle-aged, slightly overweight female comedian in a new frock she’d bought specially, went on TV to pick up an award and thousands of people tweeted to tell her what a mess she looked. How rude and insensitive! Subsequently, she wrote a reply in a TV magazine about how much they had hurt her and told them that how she looked had nothing to do with her job. Good for her. I wish more women would politely but firmly answer back, when it won’t put them in danger of further abuse.
I have made my peace with the sad fact that I will probably always find some people (including on TV) more sexually attractive than others and that is probably necessary for the healthy continuation of our species but that is not a fact TV executives should consider when employing people as newsreaders, or comedy clubs when booking an act, even if it will increase their audience, because those people will be there for the wrong kind of evolution.
In our turn, us men could all try not forcing any level of attention on anyone who clearly signals they aren’t interested, however confident we are that we “know they like it really” and we could all care a bit less about how other people look, certainly stopping well before the point of public abuse. We all decide what society’s standards are so let’s speak up whenever we think it could up it’s game.