Feminism has been on my list of topics to write about for at least a month, in fact since I went to a talk on Feminism at the Changing Britain lecture series at the Southbank Centre. I have been a bit nervous about writing this post. I am not entirely sure why.
It could be because Google Analytics tells me that 56% of my readers are male (which I can’t quite believe!) and I am worried that my readers will be switched off by a post about Feminism. There is a perception, after all, that Feminism is about hating men.
It could be because, to me, the Feminist brand carries an air of superiority and appears eager to smack down dissenters.
It could be because I am a bit confused about what Feminism actually is today and I am worried that anything I write will be shot down in flames by Feminist academics for being inaccurate, inarticulate, too militant, not militant enough, or addressing the wrong issues. Please go easy on me!
According to the National Organisation for Women Feminism fights for:
- Reproductive rights and justice
- Economic justice
- Ending violence against women
- Racial Justice
- Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transexual rights
- Constitutional equality
These causes are very noble and I don’t mean that in a condescending way. No one could argue against them, but to me, some of these issues are so entrenched in societies around the world, and these societies are at such different stages in the Feminist struggle that I am not sure how we measure progress or success.
I feel that we as parents in democratic societies need to focus on the issues that will affect our children. They are the future. The issues below are undeniably ‘first world’ problems. In far too many countries around the world, women still lack basic rights; patriarchy is unshakable. I accept that. I recognise that the situation of women is much worse in Syria or Afghanistan under Islamic State or the Taliban. It is horrific. But this is no excuse for ignoring the issues that impact our children in our country today.
These are the issues that Pen / The Single Swan thinks that we, as parents, should be fighting for. This is why parents should teach Feminism :
1. Sexual consent should be included in the National Curriculum.
When I was at school I received lessons on the mechanics of reproduction and how babies happen. I was actually quite lucky to receive a class on different contraception methods from a female teacher who I have to say was stern, but certainly not a prude. She divided us up into mixed groups and made us put a condom on a banana. I remember the diaphragm (the cap) in her hand pinging across the classroom as she tried to put spermicide cream around the perimeter and explain how it was inserted.
But that was in the 1980s. These days the internet and social media are ubiquitous. All children have access to, and can therefore receive pressure including sexual pressure from, the internet and social media. This is why I think that sexual consent should be included on the national curriculum. Children need to be able to identify sexual pressure, coercion and sexual bullying. Children need to know that consent means a ‘yes’ and that yes has to be an explicit ‘yes’. It cannot be drunkenly offering little resistance or lying back uncomfortably because they are too scared to say no. Our children should be able to identify and resist online grooming and coercion.
This isn’t just about teaching girls to say ‘no’. I retweeted an excellent article by Louise Ridley published in the Huffington Post about SurvivorsUK and a new online support service for male rape victims. Reports of men being raped have risen 120% in the last two years in London alone. Male rape victims rarely speak out fearing they are ‘less of a man’. Our sons are potential victims of rape in the future as well as potential perpetrators.
There is more to sex education than just sex. I firmly believe that sex education should include education about healthy relationships, the effects of pornography and the nuances of consent.
There are two excellent websites about the campaign for sexual consent to be included on the national curriculum. These are:
Unfortunately, the Conservative party was the only party not to mention Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) or Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) in its manifesto. I fear this could be a difficult struggle.
2. Tackling sexism on the internet and social media
OK, so this is a massive issue and I don’t really know where we should start. The anonymity of the internet has given rise to misogynist and sexist cultural practises and these practises go unchecked.
Feminists enjoyed a great success recently with their ‘No More Page 3’ campaign, when, using social media and internet campaign tools, they managed to force The Sun to stop printing photos of topless women on page 3. After 44 years this is a fantastic achievement, but this achievement is limited to print media.
Like I said, I don’t really know where we should start. As parents I feel there is a difficult balance for us to strike between:
a) restricting access to all kinds of sexism, sexually explicit or pornographic material on the internet and
b) allowing supervised access but with a conversation / a lesson about why and how the material is sexist and why it is wrong. When my son is not even a year old it is easy for me to be idealistic, but I would like him to be able to identify sexist or pornographic material and understand the impact that it has on him, his peers and on society.
3. Investing in education
A while ago, I read an excellent blog post by Modern Dad from Modern Dad Pages on the importance of teaching your boys about Feminism. Now obviously, I applaud Modern Dad for teaching his boys about Feminism, but I also sympathise with him when he says that, as a stay at home Dad, he knows what it is like to feel alienated because he is not the norm.
Feminism, sexism and gender stereotypes impact men as much as they do women. Gender is a binary: man/woman, masculine/feminism, ying/yang, black/white, sun/moon. Men are bound and constrained by gender stereotypes as much as women are.
These gender stereotypes and this sexism permeate our parenting styles, education and the workplace.
In the workplace, academic research has shown that we overestimate the competence of men relative to women and consequently can hold women back from achieving their potential.
An article in the Economist entitled The Weaker Sex suggests that boys are underachieving at school because it is not cool for them to be clever and to perform. Boys are conforming to gender stereotypes and a version of masculinity that rejects academic achievements. Gender stereotypes and inequality hurt men too!
UN Women launched the HeForShe campaign in September 2014. You may have heard Harry Potter star Emma Watson’s speech to launch the campaign. She called for men and boys to take action against gender inequality and sought to encourage engagement from men and young people as advocates and agents for change. This is really important.
Through education both in school and at home, we can encourage our children to challenge the status quo, to think about what they say and what it means. We can encourage them to challenge what they accept as social norms: some Daddies stay at home, whilst Mummy goes to work, just as some Mummies stay at home whilst Daddy goes to work. Often both parents go to work.
We can discuss the reason for the absence of women in certain fields and in certain areas of public life (the dearth of women in politics for example, or we can question why their head teacher is male).