|Still from Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" music video|
I am a man. I think that goes without saying. But I have no problem in self-identifying as a feminist. In fact, I'm quite proud of it. On a purely logical level, women account for half the population so it's madness that their opinions wouldn't be represented to the same level. And on an instinctive level, it's my considered opinion that women are civilization. If women didn't exist, society would be a populace of PlayStation jockeys foregoing trousers. And if we had more women in cabinets, boards and top offices, maybe the world wouldn't be quite as financially, politically and culturally bare-arsed as we are.
Feminism isn't or shouldn't be a fringe movement any more. In a world where women are under-represented, underpaid and under-appreciated, feminism is a global imperative.
As exemplified by the Twitter page @EverydaySexism, we're a million miles away from not just a non-sexist society but a non-misogynist society too. As summed up by Ireland's pre-eminent drag artist Shirley Temple Bar recently, "Sexism is when you think you'd have done it better cuz you're a man. Misogyny is when you think she messed it up because she's a woman."
Gender roles need to be continuously challenged. Even in 2013, it still feels vaguely novel to have women and girls wanting to be scientists and engineers, and small wonder when you rarely see Meccano or chemistry sets anywhere next to fairy wands and dolls houses in toy shops. A few months ago, I saw myself in a shopping center a set of gender specific festival ponchos. The boys' were black and said "Rock star" on them. The girls' were pink and said "Groupie". That tells you all you need to know.
But over the summer I've noticed I'm sitting at the back of the broad feminist church. A great deal of attention has been focused on Robin Thicke's video for his song Blurred Lines. Well, the song and the video. Personally, I think it's a great song. While the lyrics certainly contain a degree of over-assured swagger, I think that's the point. He's trying to actively win a girl over by, it seems to me, a mix of comic over-confidence and the assertion that her previous man did not understand her or her primal nature they way he does. Date rape, as some have maintained, doesn't really come into it from where I sit.
The video I'm colder on, and find harder to defend. Not because it's sexist as such, but because it's a bit mental. Besides, models in videos are hardly new, Robert Palmer basically came up with the video for Blurred Lines in 1986, he just didn't have them move around, any of his mates there, or sheep. But, and this is a crucial point for me, one of the models in the video didn't seem to mind much, so I don't think I should either.
While Blurred Lines left me neutral as a calling cry for feminism, the recent campaign to get lads mags off the shelves or in "modesty bags" has left me an out-and-out conscientious objector. The lobby group UK Feminista, as part of their Lose The Lads Mags campaign, have claimed that magazines with semi naked ladies on them are "deeply harmful and fuel sexist behaviour which underpins violence against women". I completely disagree.
I may be a feminist, but I'm also a complete moral degenerate. I've long held that society is much too prudish and much too bashful when it comes to sex and portrayals of sex. It's not a problem we have with violence, as a hail of bullets in a film is par for the course, whereas a stray nipple causes all sorts of moral panics. I'm deeply suspicious of people who draw shaky lines around what causes people to do things. I don't think a picture of Kate Upton, a woman who models of her own volition, wearing a bra fuels sexist behaviour across the board anymore than watching Reservoir Dogs encourages ear cutting, or The White Album encourages murder just because Charlie Manson cited the album as an influence. Or those 11:30 Diet Coke ads encourage women to objectify men. Modesty bags sounds much too churchy and buttoned-down for the kind of feminism I subscribe too. It's also reductive, and insulting to individual men.
Don't get me wrong, I'm no apologist for lad culture. I think lad culture is for masculinity what sticking your head between park rails is for exploration. But what would be much better than a headline grabbing crusade would be a deeper look at the factors at play here.
For the most part, sex education comes from television shows after 11pm, with schools floundering in their responsibility. With lack of education comes ignorance, and with ignorance unchallenged comes the problem. We still have a culture where when a woman is attacked or abused, it's still a not uncommon to hear "she must have led him on or provoked him somehow", or something to that pathetic effect. The problem isn't the lack of clothes covering up flesh on display, it's the lack of respect society still has for women, whatever they're wearing. We can put lads mags in modesty bags all we want, but unless we get to the real core reasons of sexism and misogyny, then we're only hiding the problem.