I know that querying certain dimensions of feminism is the blogging equivalent of being on stage with young children and/or animals. But there are questions that I find quite confusing.
Last week we had some fellow-members of the North London Chattering Class over for dinner. One of our guests, (note that I not said whether male or female, but if you presumed the latter it could be a case of “you might say that, but I couldn’t possible comment”), remarked how “nice” it was to see a report in the papers on a rugby match under the headline “England reach Rugby World Cup Final”. I asked him/her: “How come?” and my friend replied: “Because they did not put the word “women’s” in the headline!” When I pushed them further they remarked: “Well they wouldn’t have put the word ‘men’s’ in the headline if it had been the men’s rugby team!” Ok, I can see the thrust of the argument and putting aside issues – such as whether a reader would find it helpful to know the gender of the team involved – I accept the merit of all this, given the zeitgeist.
Roll forward a few days and I am chatting with a fellow member of a keep-fit group I have recently joined. They proceed to tell me how helpful it had been to their regime to partake in a local women’s cycling group. Now hold on a wee moment! Explain me this: why is it ok to genderfy a non-contact participatory sport, while not a full-contact competitive one. And why am I excluded from joining a cycling club – where I assure you, based on ability, I would be severely average – but if I proposed a men’s equivalent I’d face the wrath of Greer-dom.
The truth of the matter is that I do not have any problems with a women’s cycling group. I fully accept that there could be times in life when one could prefer the exclusive company of one’s own sex. Like the two book clubs that my wife and I attend: the one she goes to actually reads books, while the other drinks beer. It would seem that if sexual apartheid is practised, it is ok as long as it isn’t nominal. Like the ‘men-only snooker room’ at my tennis club in the 1980’s that became a ‘snooker room’, which only men just happened to use. It would seem that these days it’s alright to walk-the walk, but not talk-the-talk?
Another area, that I find somewhat confusing, is when it is ok to make note of the female form and when not. Most women accept compliments about their personal physical appearance and one’s partner may even ask regularly for precise critiques on particular dimensions. Where the relationships are clear, the appropriateness of the comment is usually unquestioned – though, in the latter case, coming up with the ‘right’ answers can be tricky. But the sexes are physically different – an obvious truth but one fundamental to the future of the species. Which leads me on to that modern word ‘objectivisation‘. If men did not objectivise women, to some extent, ‘things’ would never happen. When is it valid and appropriate, when is it not – and by whom? I am minded of sunny summer’s days when I worked in the City of London; those rare London days when, during their lunch-hours, workers shed off their outer garments and adopted horizontal positions on every available blade of grass of the concrete jungle. Invariably one of my female colleagues would return from their sun-worshiping with complaints that they had been ogled at by some unacceptable personage – ‘ugly’, ‘tramp’, ‘bum’, ‘fat’ etc. Never did I hear complaints about young fit-types looking them over. Perhaps young fit-types didn’t check them out; but I doubt it.
My point in all this, is that at the centre of the argument there are no issues – at least not from my end. Women deserve and must receive equal treatment in all areas: work, membership, social behaviour etc. For me the problems arise ‘at the edges’. When is it ok to seek the company of just one’s own sex – not just by passive default but by defined named activities? When is it acceptable to acknowledge and speak of our differences? When is a compliment welcome and when does it become an inappropriate comment? I think that we do know the answers to such questions but that in the effort to correct the big issues we are in danger of creating a one-size-fits-all double-speak. These situations tend to self-correct – my young-adult offspring seem quite comfortable dealing with such matters. This notwithstanding, these can be confusing times for older grizzlies like myself.