Opinion: Part of the solution is that we need more male feminists

Some rights reserved by Leo ReynoldsI’ve had enough.

I’ve had enough of women being seen by far too many people in society as second class citizens. I’ve had enough of working in the private sector and seeing women patronised for their ideas with a “oh that’s a good idea, love” attitude. I’ve had enough of women having to fight for the right to be heard and then being granted a voice, because it’s time to ‘let the woman talk’. I’ve had enough of a pervasive society, which for centuries has degraded women to being the pretty ones who are meant to serve men. I’ve had enough of women being pressurised through their peers, media and attitudes towards them growing up as children that the point of their existence is to ensure that they look as nice as possible in all circumstances.

As a gay man, I see that LGBT men and women often experience the same prejudices as women in general, in terms of their social standing. The difference is that LGBT rights have moved on a fair bit since the 1970s, thankfully. However many people (men and women) still see women as objects requiring their height to be raised in heels, make-up applied and at worse, plastic surgery to look younger/more beautiful. Men don’t require this, and nor should women. People are beautiful as they are and we must start respecting all people for their acts, behaviours and attitudes, not their appearance.

No. No more.

No making women feel second class, by attitudes from men and women. No more media clambering to get the best shots of women and airbrushing them to zombie-appearance (the same occurs in mainstream LGBT media). No more treating women in a certain manner ‘because it’s a woman’. No more jokes suggesting a wolf-whistle from a building site is some kind of compliment. No more expectations that women have to do as they are told in the workplace regardless of what the request is.

I’ve had enough. And it’s time we as a society had enough. We are a party that states it believes in fairness and that no-one shall be enslaved by ignorance. Ignoring the problem of sexism (in all directions) has gone on far too long and it has to be stopped. Now.

This of course applies to all groups of people. Thankfully we have many talented people looking at issues for LGBT, “disabled” (I really do hate that word now) and people who are non-white or non-British. I’m already involved with LGBT+ Liberal Democrats – a group of bright, passionate and caring people who fight to improve civil rights. I now join the Women Liberal Democrats, who rightly state they wish to remove sexism from our society.

This week has been a hard time to be a Liberal Democrat for an obvious reason. I’m impressed how some in our party are wanting to clear up the mess of our support mechanisms, and pleased that things are already improving. Like many improvements in society, we can’t take gestures and slight improvements as acceptable, it’s fair for everyone or the fight goes on. We’ve won in Eastleigh, which we really really needed to do, however let’s not lose site of the core values we have as a party.

Let us work together, to fix this. Fix it, move on, and carry on fighting for justice and liberal values. What other purpose do we exist for?

* Lee has long campaigned on mental health in and out of the Lib Dems, he is the PPC for Birmingham Ladywood and speaks for the Party on Health, in the West Midlands.

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  • Harry Hayfield 4th Mar '13 - 10:28am

    Do you mean men who are respectful of women? If so then that it me to a tee. I have never once (either before I joined the Lib Dems or during my Lib Dem membership) either demeaned, oogled or treated a lady in a disrepectful manner in any shape or form (or indeed would I ever want to either). Does this mean that I could be considered for any new organisation created under the Liberal Democrat banner?

  • Not a description of the workplace that I recognise. And by far and away all the best bosses I’ve had have been female.

  • I love your passion. I’m afraid as a woman I struggle to be a feminist because I’m not comfortable with the stereotyping of men which often accompanies it. Ideally we need to be gender-blind, in the same way that we need to be colour/race/physical ability-blind etc. See the person, not the label surely has to go both ways?

  • Stuart Mitchell 4th Mar '13 - 6:36pm

    This isn’t really a description of women that I recognise either. Are you seriously suggesting that high heels are a tool used to oppress women??

    You won’t help women by conflating serious issues (attitudes to women in the workplace) with half-baked ideas on body image that are more anti-woman than feminist. I say “anti-woman” because it’s a fact that many women get enormous pleasure from buying shoes, killer heels being particularly coveted. Good luck to them. There is nothing whatever wrong with this – not unless you think women shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy themselves, that is – and it’s incredibly patronising for you to suggest that they are contributing to their own repression in some way. Women (and increasingly these days, men) get enjoyment from looking good, which by and large they do simply to enhance their own happiness rather than to impress others.

    As usual with the body image lobby, you are doing the very thing that you claim to be opposed to – judging women by the way they choose to look. Women have enough to worry about without people like you trying to make them feel guilty for enjoying putting on a bit of make-up.

    By the way, if we need more male feminists, then surely that’s a problem not a solution.

  • daft h'a'porth 5th Mar '13 - 12:08am

    @Stuart Mitchell
    “You won’t help women by conflating serious issues (attitudes to women in the workplace) with half-baked ideas on body image that are more anti-woman than feminist. I say “anti-woman” because it’s a fact that many women get enormous pleasure from buying shoes, killer heels being particularly coveted. ”

    My understanding is that a number of men feel the same way about killer heels – but that really has very little to do with Lee’s point, which is about expectations of others. Consider the way in which you conflate ‘killer heels’ with your judgement that killer heels equals ‘looking good’ and your expectation that ‘looking good’ in this very specific manner somehow automatically is felt as ‘happiness’. Isn’t it okay to feel happy in trainers, too, or jeans, hippie dress, no socks? Sometimes killer heels will be worn because they are good fun to wear in the right context when it suits one’s mood. But if you’re going to lose out on respect, maybe promotion, for ‘not taking care of your appearance’ and so on – common, even in non customer-facing roles – then you’re pretty much faced with two choices: 1) get a better job, or 2) play daily dress-up as per expectation. At that point it isn’t a choice any more. With a lot of uniforms it isn’t a choice at all.

    I’m not judging anybody by the way they choose to look, but I will judge people by their readings of the way other people look, whether it is the colleague who nixed a potential hire because she didn’t like his old-fashioned coat and tie (‘too eccentric; not really trying’) or people who try to push employees to the skirt suit and make-up school of presentation preparation. Provided what staff are wearing is clean and reasonably hole/accidental-stain-free, my personal opinion is that individuals in the workplace should in judging others concentrate less on clothing and more on substantive issues. So yeah, why not: let’s say both women and men can opt to wear killer heels, brogues, or flip-flops to the office if they get joy out of it – and nobody has a right to judge them by it, much less to curtail their employment opportunities as a result. After all, who are we to judge people by the way they choose to look? Women- and men – have enough to worry about without people trying to make them feel guilty for putting on – or not putting on – a bit of make-up. I’m not being inflammatory, incidentally: I would actually like to live in such a society.

    As an aside, a small recent poster ( The Embodied Effects of High Heels on Perceptions of Power, by Crone, Zahratka, and Bogaards (2012)), found an inverse correlation between high heels and high self-esteem. Of course it would be ridiculous to assume that women wearing high heels are or are not feeling low self-esteem, but it is equally ridiculous to assume that any given individual is or is not deriving happiness from his/her footwear.

  • Two things on which I disagree with Lee – though I support his sentiments.

    1. There’s a difference between sexism and sexualisation/sexual objectification. Women don’t generally choose to subject themselves to sexism, but they do often make a willing choice to exploit their own sexuality.

    2. The “makeup for work” thing is really not that big a deal as a sexism issue. As it happens, I don’t mind wearing makeup as part of the uniform if that’s the norm in the particular workplace – I’ve worked at places where it wasn’t the norm and I don’t care either way. It’s no different from senior male colleagues “normally” wearing a tie, or not. Pretty low on the list of supposed oppressions.

  • Stuart Mitchell 5th Mar '13 - 6:58pm

    @Daft h’a’porth
    I share your dream of an ideal world in which everybody can wear what they like (within the limits of common decency) and not be judged for it. Which is precisely why I objected to the OP’s suggestion that women who choose to wear things like high heels and make-up are somehow participating in their own oppression. It’s nonsense – many women enjoy wearing those things and choose to wear them completely willingly. Other women hate wearing high heels, which is fine too. The point is that I do not recognise the world described by yourself and the OP in which women have to wear high heels in order to get on. I work in a large organisation and know dozens of women in senior positions, and actually the majority of them do not wear high heels at all.

    In fact, isn’t it the case that men (in most white collar workplaces) are far more restricted in what they can wear than women? Women can wear dresses, blouses, jackets, skirts, trousers, you name it, and no need for an uncomfortable tie at all. On their feet they can wear high heels, low heels, no heels, boots, or even smart sandals in summer. Men have zero choice.

    I’m not “assuming” that women get pleasure from buying & wearing shoes. I’m sure many don’t, but I’m telling you for a fact that many do, and you can quickly find proof of this by reading any fashion blog at random. Or, for that matter, talking to some women.

    The real problem I have with the OP’s comment is that he’s basically taking something that many women enjoy (nice shoes & make-up) and telling them that they should look upon these things negatively because they are symbols of their lowly position in society. I don’t think many women would thank him for that. It just seems to me to be part of the whole sexist culture that the OP claims to be against, i.e. telling women what they should think, what they should wear, how much they should weigh, what magazines they should read, etc etc. Women are subjected to a much higher level of scrutiny in these areas than are men, and it’s not on. Witness the demonization of the women’s magazine market in recent years, with editors hauled before Mickey Mouse committees to take the rap for problems which are far more to do with bullying and mental health. The magazines get blamed because (a) they are soft targets, and (b) society seems to like blaming women for all their own problems. The leading men’s magazines, meanwhile, overtly promote things like the objectification of women and driving fast cars, both of which cause vastly more damage to society than any airbrushed Loreal advert, but we just leave them to it because they are men.

    So actually, I fully share your aims, and the aims of the OP. I’d like to see women treated every bit as fairly as men. I just don’t think that lecturing them on what shoes to wear is the right way to go about it.

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