Sunday, 29 April 2012

Why men need feminism

This thought is brought to you courtesy of a loathesome advert for Philadelphia, in which our intrepid mum has a challenge and a half on her hands. She's a busy mum (as opposed, of course, to a lazy, feckless, negligent mum) and she doesn't have time to mess about. She needs to make a macaroni cheese, and she needs a recipe that will pass the ultimate taste-test of 'three fussy boys'.
Cut to Philadelphia Mum sitting clutching a large glass of red and looking as if the fate of the universe is at stake, as her husband tentatively tries her Philly-laced macaroni cheese.
Success. He likes it. Mum is validated, all is well with the world.
And if we didn’t get the message already, she then turns to the camera with a knowing look and tells us confidentially: ‘Like I said, it has to work for THREE fussy boys’.
That’s the joke, people. We thought at the beginning she had three sons but she doesn’t, she only has two. Her husband is her third fussy boy.
If I had any Philadelphia to hand it would be oozing out of your computer screen by now, that’s how mad this whole hideous scenario has made me.
And for once, the focus of my ire is not at the disgustingly sexist inference that a woman's role is simply to prepare meals that pander to the whims of 'fussy boys'. 
Has anyone ever stopped to consider what this portrayal of grown, functioning men as incompetent, dependent infants actually does to them, and to the women who give birth to them, bring them up, marry them and bear their children? (Obviously I’m not talking about the same woman here. That would be an entirely different and deeply more disturbing blogpost.)
Why does our society persist in infantilising grown adult men, and portraying them as helpless incompetent children? If we, like Philadelphia Mum, treat our husbands as children do we not then logically conclude that they will continue to behave like children?
 If we raise our sons as ‘fussy boys’ and treat their fathers as ‘fussy boys’ in front of those sons, is it any wonder these sons go on to treat their wives and girlfriends like the doormats their mother has inadvertently taught them to believe them women should be?
And what are we doing to the evolution of the male gender, its collective psyche and self-esteem if we constantly tell our men and boys that their gender precludes them from being competent enough to cook, clean and perform other basic household tasks?
We are simply breeding another generation of men that doesn’t wash up because they ‘won’t do it properly’, don't contribute to the household food shopping because they 'won't get the right things' or who sit at tables looking expectant only to turn their noses up at lovingly-crafted macaroni cheeses that, apparently, don’t contain Philadelphia.
Imagine being told that you are simply too incompetent to perform a basic task that requires absolutely no special skills, experience and qualifications, purely because of your gender.
How patronising, incorrect, demoralising and in some cases, illegal.
Yet we do this to men every day. We do it every time we laughingly, lovingly infantalise our husbands, boyfriends, sons, male friends. Every time we write off our male counterparts as ‘fussy boys’ or sigh that we’d love a break from the childcare but just can’t trust our children’s OWN FATHERS with their care, or that we wish he’d help with the housework but he doesn’t do it ‘properly’, we write off roughly 50% of the population as fundamentally useless and willingly force ourselves back into the kitchen.

Now don’t for a minute assume this is one of those posts that claims that men are actually the most discriminated-against group in society and that we should all feel terribly sorry for them.
This is a post about feminism. But who said feminism can only benefit women?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing this.

    Feminism is not *just* a women's issue. Any man with a female partner, or a sister, or a mother, etc etc ought to be fully on board.

    I have two sons. I spent most of the last 12 months being the stay at home parent. It was a fabulous experience for the whole family.

    My wife was able to focus on her career. I was able to focus on my family. My boys got to see that there's more to family life than the TV ad stereotype. One hopes that might shape their outlook and expectations as they grow into men.

    I think men as a whole (recognising my sweeping generalisation) would benefit from a "men's movement" which works toward a more equal society, where domestic shite is everyone's responsibility, where adults are encouraged to act like adults rather than over-sized children, where children get to experience both parents sharing all responsibilities.

    And where it's ok for men to stick two fingers up to the idea they have to accept sexist mores to be accepted by society.

    The polarisation of "us & them" gender politics has got us so far. But, once again, it feels like men have sat on their arses letting women put in all the effort to change things.

    I think we (by which I mean men) have to fully engage with this issue instead of doing the socio-political equivalent of sitting on the sofa, occasionally lifting our feet up while a woman Hoovers around us.