Monthly Archives: September 2014

Why The #HeForShe Campaign Is Positive

 

 

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Background:

Initial reactions to Emma Watson’s #HeForShe launch speech at the UN Conference last week were fairly positive. Then a bunch of 4chan lowlives threatened to leak naked photos of her and made a countdown to her death (whether that was meant as a metaphorical death like the death of her reputation or as a real thing is unclear. Either way it was shamefully horrible, creepy and nasty) and support for Watson and the campaign soared.

 

Caveat:

For the record, I support the campaign and think it is a positive step in the right direction for achieving gender equality.

 

Main Point / Argument:

A friend of mine told me she was disappointed because she watched the speech after seeing it hyped up and shared a lot on Facebook but expected more from it. I agree with her assessment – the speech was good but not the most rousing, amazing thing I’ve ever seen. But here’s why I think that’s ok: it didn’t need to be. It wasn’t meant for me. It wasn’t meant for my friend either. It wasn’t a speech for the interested and engaged feminist. It wasn’t really a speech meant for women at all. It was relatively mild and it was measured and it didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. It wasn’t that inspiring to us female-women-lady-folk because it wasn’t aimed at us in the first place. It was a speech for men. It was an introduction to feminism for men, particularly men who are afraid or ignorant of it. It was a baby step for those who cannot yet confidently walk in feminism’s equality based corridors. And it was exactly right to be so.

A lot of people seem to think the campaign sends the wrong message, but we’re painfully naïve if we think everything will change in a day or with one campaign. The message the #HeForShe campaign sends is not that it’s a boys’ club at all, rather that it’s a boy’s way in to a girls’ club – very much a reversal of the stereotypes we’re used to (also check out my navigation of that complex, correct apostrophe usage. All hail good grammar! God I hope I got it right.) Historically, the boy version of a club comes first and the girls are allowed in later via a sometimes patronising, watered down version, e.g. scouts and brownies. This campaign is a magnificent idea. It’s providing an entry point (snigger) for men into feminism.

This is not about giving feminism legitimacy by asking the men to be in it. This is about demystifying feminism so they stop being afraid of it. It’s not a perfect version of the message nor a perfect message, but hey, guys? News just in: it’s not a perfect world. The same aforementioned intelligent, feminist, woman friend of mine who was disappointed by the speech said:

“It shouldn’t be about their mothers and daughters and wives and sisters. They should just understand that we’re equal humans and that should be enough to make them feminists.”

And she’s right.  It should be enough that we’re people, and to treat us with anything but equality is mistreatment. But it’s not like that. It has been demonstrated time and again throughout history across the world that it is not enough. And all the “but it should be” in the world doesn’t seem to change that.

So we have to take our strategy back a few steps and think practically.

Perceived gripes / problems / some true things:

*Yes. The campaign is a fair bit behind where a lot of thinking women are today.

*Yes. The campaign is being marketed for men – something that seems counterintuitive for a movement that is about equality for women.

*Yes. It absolutely sucks that we apparently cannot effect the change we want on our own, that for there to be progression we must have male support.

Or we could look at it this way:

*If you’re one of those thinking women then, yay and congratulations, not everyone is as smart as you. You’re a progressive thinker, ahead of the curve, you’re correct and the bloody UN says so! Hooray for you!! You believe we should all be equal because we’re human regardless of gender, race, religion or culture – and so with this knowledge and human understanding and international support, you have the power to educate and do good things. So be active, make a difference and use it wisely.

*The campaign is being marketed for men because they’re behind. They’re the ones who need to catch up. The male marketing isn’t a negative, it’s a positive. We’re making it accessible. It’s being marketed to the feminist minority. Isn’t that kind of amazing? Plus I remember reading about a psychological study years ago (apology for lack of reference – it was in a psychology magazine from maybe 2009, so literally years ago) that posited that if a woman tells her friend that she thinks a man is good looking, the friend won’t necessarily also think this man is attractive. But if a man tells his friend that a woman is good looking, his friend is likely to agree with him and they all go “yeah mate she’s well fit” together. The upshot of this was a conclusion about group mentality and how men are more likely to agree with each other about good ideas and attractive people. So if men are more likely to do that, doesn’t it make sense to get a big group of them into feminism so more of them see it as a good idea and follow suit?

*Political campaigns know full well they need the female vote as well as the male vote to win. This is like that. Feminism is the presidential candidate and so we have to get the male vote as well as the female vote, because men are also people and we need and want them on our side because we’re the good guys and why would we not welcome more good guys? We want to win. So let’s get more good guys on board.

Feminism is not about isolating ourselves or elevating ourselves to so far above men that they feel they cannot reach us. Feminism is about equality. For women. And, by definition of equality, also for men. It’s about equality between the genders / sexes. And we need both of those binary bastards to be on board if it’s going to work.

 

Conclusion:

This is a campaign to raise awareness. It’s not for you – the one who is already aware. It’s not for you because you’re already there. You’re already involved by the virtue of being female and thinking and feminist and we’re not just preaching to the choir now. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t be the minority asking for equality but then complain when we’re treated like the majority. We started this club. And now we’re opening the doors to new members. If you’re already a member there’s no need to reapply.

I’m terrible at maths and I’m slightly scared of it. I couldn’t attend a degree level maths class and I wouldn’t want to. Furthermore, if someone invited me into a beginners maths class and I saw on the sign up sheet that loads of experts were going to be there I’d be terrified and embarrassed by my lack of knowledge and would probably be put off signing up. We learn gradually. We don’t jump in at the deep end of knowledge. We can’t expect to effect change and teach people about feminism if we’re not willing to give them the time to learn. It’s not patronising, it’s understanding. And yes, we may be impatient for them to catch up but we have only just properly, publicly asked them to join. We’re trying to overturn an ingrained mentality that has been present for most of humanity’s existence. Old habits die hard and this – prejudice – is one of the oldest habits around. Give the newbies a chance. Because sadly, it’s not enough that we’re all human and deserve equality.

 

Final Thought

So here’s what I suggest to my fellow wonderful, intelligent, feminist women: be happy that we’re on an internationally, publicly supported road to achieving gender equality. Realign your expectations of this campaign. Stop thinking about it in terms of what belongs to you. Feminism / equality is for everyone. And in lieu of being able to sign up on the website for yourself, ask a man you know to sign up (link provided below) and educate him. Open the door, welcome a new member to the club, share the knowledge and help the world change to be better.

Gentlemen! Sign up here:

http://www.heforshe.org

 

How I lost My Virginity

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There was once a girl…let’s call her Abi.

Abi was 17 years old and thought she was pretty cool. You see she had this boyfriend and he was a bit older than her. Not *loads* older. Just a few years. She was 17 and he was 21. That’s not that much is it? OK, he was nearly 22. So the best part of 5 years between them. That’s still not that much is it?

Spoiler alert: It is.

But we’ll talk about that more later.

Abi was a little bit (a lot) infatuated with this guy. He was older and weird and a bit messed up and mysterious and wrote poetry and played the guitar (of course he played the guitar. At 17 if he doesn’t play the guitar, he’s basically not human).  She was also kind of afraid of him because he was older and weird and a bit messed up and mysterious. The poetry and the guitar weren’t scary.  The mix was heady and intoxicating. He was wild and she could tame him. Heathcliff and Cathy but in real life and without knowing each other as children or living together.  It’s like the vampire fantasy. The whole thing hinges on there being this creature, like human but not human, of immense power, physical and mental strength. The vampire is dangerous and could easily kill you. Why is that sexy? Because it chooses not to kill you. It’s sexy because however strong it is, the vampire is weak for you. And that’s just gorgeous isn’t it? We all want to be someone’s weakness. The exception to their rules.

So Abi’s there, aged 17 dating this guy who’s 21 and he’s obviously way more experienced than her because she’s a naïve girl from North London who has led a fairly sheltered life mostly consisting of school, summer camp and home. She’s going to go inter-railing through Europe that summer with her best friend and that’s going to make her grow up a bit but that hasn’t happened yet and it’s that pre-summer summer we get in England where it’s sticky and hot and the days smell sweet and it’s that hazy heat, the kind that lingers, heavy in the air and the light makes the green of the grass and the blue of the sky technicolor but conversely when you remember it, it’s like the sun is always just about to set and everything is surrounded by a golden hue.

They’ve been dating since February / March or so. It’s vague because it has been clandestine which has only made it more exciting. She knows her parents would not approve. It’s not been a long time, 3-4 months, but it has been very intense. He’s going away and they’re fooling around, as they do, and he wants her to tell him she loves him. It gets him off. She does, she says “I love you” and then says his name and a small voice in the back of her mind (one that is possibly projected with the benefit of hindsight? Memory is fallible of course) tells her that she feels a little used when he does this, that she’d like it to be more organic and less demanded and an even smaller voice is not 100% sure she means it.  For all the excitement and intensity, she’s not totally sure she trusts him.  She has not had sex with him yet. She has not had sex with anyone yet and she’s not sure she’s ready for it so she’s held off. He’s asked, repeatedly, and each time she has refused.

And so it is June. This is the last time she will see him before he goes away for three weeks but it’s actually not such a bad thing because she has exams and he’s the biggest distraction for her. So they’re fooling around, as they do, and they’ve done the things that lead up to sex, hands and mouths, eyes looking up and breath catching and it’s all been fine. So they’re naked and rubbing and it’s not quite sex but then she feels something that is not his finger just start to slip into her and she jumps back and says “NO.”

And everything is still for a moment as he watches her. He’s impassive and still hard and she’s wary. And he tells her that it’s done. He says

“You know, you basically just had sex.”

Basically?

“Erm…what?”

“We might as well do it now. Because technically you’re not a virgin any more.”

What is he talking about?

“But…you didn’t even…it didn’t hurt or anything, it was a second and I stopped you so…”

“It still counts.”

“How? It was barely…”

Can’t find the words. Still too young to articulate things properly.  He sighs. Exasperated?

“Sex is when a cock goes into a vagina and that’s what happened. I went inside you. So if it’s even for a second, it’s still sex, it counts.”

He’s so matter of fact.

“But how? It didn’t even feel like anything? How is that…that can’t be right?”

Is it right? Is that it? Did I lose my virginity without even noticing? Is that how that just happened? That cannot be right. I’ve had sex education, I know it must be more than that.

“No, it is right. Legally we just had sex.”

Legally? He does seem sure.  And he has had sex and I haven’t and…what if he’s right? He is older than me. He must know what he’s talking about.

“Are you sure?”

“Of course.”

“I’m not.”

“Look, you’ve already done it. What’s not to be sure about now? We might as well carry on and do it properly.”

He must be right. He’s very convincing. I don’t know how to say no to this. He’s made such a strong case, and if I’m already not…

“OK.”

He moves immediately to action, doesn’t ask me if I’m certain or if I’m ok. He positions me, telling me he knows what he’s doing and that it shouldn’t hurt this way as long as I do what he tells me. I don’t say much because there’s a lump in my throat and I’m afraid and I don’t know what I’m doing and it feels wrong but it’s happening now and I don’t know how to stop it. I’m sad because I lost my virginity without even realising it and I wanted it to be special and feel right and this doesn’t but it’s too late now because he’s put on a condom and he’s pushed into me and onto me and he’s right, it doesn’t hurt but I don’t like it either. It’s an alien sensation. Or at least I remember thinking it is. It must have been. I don’t really remember what it felt like, just that I was surprised it didn’t hurt and I thought it felt strange. I can see the picture of us so clearly, imagining the bird’s eye view. I’m on my back on his floor, legs spread wide and he’s on top of me pushing into me over and over.  He tells me to tell him that I love him. I say it. But I know this time that I don’t mean it.

And as he finishes I start to cry. It’s the only time I’ve ever cried after sex.

We didn’t sleep together again after that. I didn’t tell anyone it had happened. I didn’t talk about it. I think I was ashamed but I couldn’t identify it. He went away a couple of days later and we broke up the week after he returned. The next person I had sex with was 6 months later and despite my previous experience, neither of us really knew what we were doing. I was his first and as far as he knew, he was mine. I told myself that this was my real first time, because it hurt and that made it real.  It was a discovery together and a bit fumbly and awkward and it hurt and I didn’t cry after and that’s how it was supposed to be so that would be my first time.

But it wasn’t.

I didn’t talk about it for 6 years. Ironically when I did finally tell someone it was a boyfriend who treated me very badly and spent an entire year making me feel like shit. Weird isn’t it? I wonder if my subconscious was trying to draw a link between the terrible romantic decisions I was making. Even he was shocked. It made me shocked. I hadn’t thought about it. I hadn’t thought about the implications of it. He used the word rape. I’ve not told many people about it since I told him.

I don’t think I was raped. I don’t think of myself as a victim. This isn’t a sob story. I don’t have issues with sex now. I was heavily pressured into doing something I didn’t want to do, something I very much wasn’t ready for. You may have gathered by now that “Abi” is me. I mean, I didn’t do a lot to hide it, I GAVE THE GIRL IN THE STORY MY NAME FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE, HOW MANY MORE CLUES DO YOU NEED? Also the title of this post is How I Lost My Virginity so really, what did you expect? Come on. Keep up guys.

So why, 9 years on have I decided to write about it? Let’s talk about that age gap.

4-5 years between two people is loads when one of you is under 20. At 17 you’re still at school. I met a 17 year old this year who I became quite fond of in a “let’s adopt a little sister” kind of way. She was up at the Edinburgh fringe for a while and I felt somewhat responsible for her well-being. This wasn’t something she asked of me or expected of me, but something I felt nonetheless. Being the oldest of 3 siblings by quite a few years, it is sometimes difficult to escape that nagging feeling that I am responsible for those around me, especially if they’re younger than I am.

This lovely 17 year old girl told me about an experience she had with a much older man the year before. I was shocked by it. Because she’s 17 now which meant she was 16 then and that is really young. When you’re 17 you don’t think it is, but there is such a huge difference between someone who is 22 and someone who is 17.  And I was looking at her and I was shocked and sad and suddenly I was 17 again and I understood. I understood it all as I had not understood it then and it made me so very sad for me and for her and for all the young girls who are taken advantage of by significantly older men who should not even be talking to them, let alone trying to sleep with them.

I don’t think the girl knew at the time that it was actually a bit strange for a man in his late twenties to be paying attention to her in this way. Maybe she did and it didn’t bother her, but the inference was that now she realises it was a bit weird and then she didn’t. Because it’s slightly overwhelming in a star-struck kind of way, being young and impressionable and having someone who wants to make an impression. Being the recipient of that attention feels good. And you forget about what the intentions behind it might be.

So I suppose the reason I’m writing about this now is that I would never let anything like that happen to me now. I’m outspoken and strong and confident and I know my own mind these days. I was about to have sex with someone recently (oh calm down, I’m 26 years old) and he asked if we needed to use a condom. I told him that although I do use a form of contraceptive (contraception? What’s the difference between the two? Anyone?) that yes, we do need to use a condom for all the STD’s I don’t want to get. And yet, he tried without a condom. But I’m not 17 anymore and I know how to respond in situations like this.

“GET OUT OF MY VAGINA!” I yelled in his face. I shoved his chest, hard. “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING? I SAID WE ARE USING A CONDOM!”

And that was that. But at 17 I had no idea how to say no to the older, suave man on top of me. I had no idea how to articulate what I wanted to say. I didn’t know that it was fine to be that blunt as long as I got the message across. I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say. I’m not even sure I was self-aware enough to entirely know what I even wanted to say. But I do know it wasn’t “yes”.

So if you’re in your 20s or older and you’re male and you’re reading this – please don’t hit on girls whose ages end in “teen”. They’re too young. And you might not like who you become if you end up sleeping with them. Don’t kid yourself. However mature they seem, they’re still a teenager and you’re taking advantage of that.

And if you’re a girl of an age that ends in “teen” and you’re reading this, then please don’t be afraid to say no to a man because he’s older and seems wiser. Listen to what your head is telling you. If you don’t feel entirely comfortable doing something, don’t do it. Don’t let someone convince you into something you’re not ready for. Your thoughts and feelings are just as valid as his and you know yourself better than he does. It’s okay to not be ready, and it’s okay to say so.