The F word

Before I start into, what I feel quite scared about writing, I want to state my position clearly.  I do not hate men.  I do not think men are bad.  I like men.  I have a lot of male friends who I trust and like.  My children are boys.  I have male partner.

And I want to write about Feminism – the F word.

I’m returning to my old English Lit work where we read Sexual Politics by Kate Millet, The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer, The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir and I’ve fallen in love with Caitlin Moran who I’ve only recently started reading and who makes me laugh.

So what?

Well, you see, I’m a mother of boys, one of whom has started to spend a lot of time in front of the mirror and the other of whom can be found singing ‘I’m sexy and I know it’ age 6 and 3/4.

How do I bring up boys to be good men?  Kind men?

  • Do you have boys?
  • How did you raise them?
  • What advice would you share?

Two posts on my FaceBook tonight: ‘A child asked his father’ What is a man?’ the father replied, ‘A person who takes responsibility for his family and his house and takes care of them’. Then the child said; ‘I hope I’ll be a man like mum one day’.’

How many of you know single mums or are single mums who raise the kids, go to work, earn the money and do the house stuff without a penny from the father?

I spoke to a friend over half term. She used to work for the Child Support Agency and admitted it was toothless; it worked if men were willing to pay and didn’t work if they weren’t.

So that’s alright then.

Then the other post by a 20 year old declaring ‘I can’t even speak, I want to scream!‘ at the  headline from the Huffington Post which said ‘Indian Politician, Babulal Gaur, Reveals his thoughts on Rape: ‘Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong’.’

Perfect …I’ll let my boys know.

Then how about the ‘Counting Dead Women’ project?  Started by Karen Ingala Smith in 2012, it is a project which literally counts women killed.  In the April 2014 page she writes: ‘The fourteen women above were all killed in the UK in April 2014. The primary suspects alleged to have killed them are all male.  Fatal male violence against women in the UK is so normalised that only the killing of one of these women made a significant impact on the media’.

I have noted the word ‘suspect’ ie Innocent until proven guilty.

But her point about the lack of media coverage seems supported by the 2014 page which so far has a total of  ’63 women in the UK have been killed through suspected male violence from January to May 2014.  63 women in 151 days is one woman every 2.4 days.’

If 63 men had been killed by women, do you think we might have heard more about it?

The Women’s Aid report on domestic abuse is not cheerful reading

  • Have you ever felt scared of a man?
  • Did you tell anyone?
  • Did you think it was somehow your fault?

I reiterate; I do not hate men, I have male friends, a male partner and sons.

So how do I help my sons navigate the world that awaits them?  A world where any kind of sex is available on-line, where songs and images on MTV show sexualised images of women? How do I teach them to respect women and like them as well as to desire them and support them?

When we were at secondary school I remember one of the boys at school bringing in Penthouse and passing it round.  There were pictures of women holding their boobs, sticking their bums in the air and spreading their legs.   These women had pubic hair.  There were no men in the photos except for a maybe a few grainy photos of normal looking couples in the reader’s wives section with black squares masking their faces.

What will my boys see when they first come across porn online?  How do I tell them that these images are no more true to life than Harry Potter’s adventures.

Except they know that Harry Potter isn’t real. They know it is made up. They know that Harry Potter was really played by Daniel Radcliffe and that he was just pretending.

Will they be able to apply the same thinking to the images that will at some stage cross their path or will they be fooled into thinking that real women are indeed hairless and just love having 2 or 3 strangers impale them without so much as a how do you do?

  • How will you guide your boys through this? How did you?

Of course I’m the last person they’ll talk to about it after all I’m too old and just their mum.

I’m not being a prude here either. Each to their own..do what you like in bed or anywhere else, as long as it is what you like, not what you feel you ought to like and that ‘no’ means ‘no’.

How do I bring up boys to be proud of their masculinity, their sexuality, their physical prowess, their emotions, their intelligence, themselves, whilst also teaching them to respect the women in their lives?

How will I deal with my sons when they home having been bullied?  Do I teach them to tell the teacher, to walk away? Or do I tell them to get the first punch in?

I have no idea, I am one of two sisters raised mainly by our mother.

We were doing some training the other day and the leader was trying to explain ‘cognitive dissonance’ (Kurt Lewin).  We had to step forward if we wanted cleaner air and then step back if we drove a car.  We all wanted clean air and drove cars knowing they don’t lead to clean air: Cognitive dissonance…thinking two things that clash. Another example was ‘step forward if you think gambling is stupid, step back if you buy a lottery ticket.  Oops.

  • Can you think of any examples of where you don’t live up to your own beliefs?

Then finally, step forward if you don’t believe in hitting, step back if you’ve ever hit a dog. Ouch.

Why do you smack a dog when you would never smack a child?

Because you can.

Because you believe they are somehow lesser. I stand accused and find myself guilty.

So when we asked how is it possible for men to rape women, the answer was the same ‘because they can, because they believe somehow women are lesser’.

And then the mirror was turned onto the women in the training – how have we internalised those beliefs?  Beliefs about what nice girls are and aren’t? How do we perpetuate the myths?

I believed that you ‘don’t wash dirty sheets in public’, that you ‘make the best of it’, that I needed to ‘make an effort’, that it really was my job to get up with the kids every morning.

I remember my mum rolling her eyes when I was going through my Greer stage of feminism…’wait till you have children’ she said.  She was right.

I don’t know where my ranting feminist went but she ended up doing most of the house work, child rearing and wage earning.

I went to a mixed grammar school don’t you know.  Our school was pretty ‘right on’ in that pre-national curriculum we all had to do physics or chemistry, we all had to do metal work, woodwork and cooking.  We girls were expected to go to university just as much as the boys.

And we did.  In fact my old friends and I did well. So well in fact that  many of us ended up doing it all, whether married, single, with kids or without.  Out of the 4 of us who kept in touch longest, we were all the wage earners as well as the houseworkers.

So my next question is about me.  If I step back onto this feminist thing, it has to be in a new way. I want to think about the sort of women I want to be so that I can be me, really me and not some expected form of woman hood which I’m not even aware that I’m complying with.

I don’t know where to start..I just know I am starting.

  • What beliefs do you have about being a woman?
  • Where do they come from?
  • Are they true?
  • Are they helpful?
  • Do you want to keep them?

How can I be a woman who raises boys who like women and respect women even when some of the computer games they might encounter will encourage the shooting of random prostitutes for bonus points.

I can’t protect them from what doesn’t even exist yet, I can only do my best now in the hope it enough of a footing to keep them steady.

I don’t have the answers but I’ve started to read again, to get back in touch with Millet and Wolfe and to get acquainted with Moran.  I’ve ordered ‘Mysogenies’ by Joan Smith and wish I’d read it before.

  • Who are your female role models?
  • What do you want to read about?

I’ve started to have conversations again with women, I’m daring to use the ‘feminist’ word again although it feels risky. Feminism has become a dirty word.

Writing this feels scary because I fear it could alienate people. I feel like I’m being a naughty girl because one of my beliefs about womanhood is has been not to be too opinionated…which is exactly why I have to write this, because I do have an opinion and I want it to be heard.

But how do we do this stuff with men and women.  Clearly with the statistics and headlines above, something’s not right.

So I want to start a conversation, I want you to start the conversation again. With your daughters who think they have to dress a certain way and look a certain way. With your sons, with your friends and partners.

Because I know this isn’t a man v woman conversation…it has to be a man and woman conversation, a woman and woman conversation and a man to man conversation.

Some of my solutions lie in the lovely men I know; the role models they give my boys, the way they talk to and about women.

Men are part of the solution because they have to be; they are in it, whereas I’m looking at masculinity from the outside and feeling clueless.

I would love to know how you deal with some of this stuff..let me hear your opinion. (Hit reply to let me know or email me  at julieleoni.com@gmail.com.)  I’ll share your answers so we can all learn from each other.

Off to bed with Moran now.

Night

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julieleoni.com@gmail.com