At a dinner party the other night I found myself chatting with a guy I have known for well over a decade. Not a good friend precisely but certainly an amiable acquaintance, someone I would have described as a 'nice' guy. He has a PhD in some science-oriented subject, is a vegetarian, practices yoga, swears by homoeopathic remedies and generally talks to me about how meditation will do more for my mental health than running ever will. I was expecting to hear more of the same on this occasion but instead, after the initial pleasantries he asked in an entirely conversational tone "Why do women need feminism?" Naturally, I thought he was joking, so I laughed and said: "Why indeed". He frowned and replied "No seriously, why do women need feminism? Is there really a need to prove that you are the same as men? Isn't it a beautiful thing that you aren't?" He then gave me a wise old owl look and calmly took a bite of his quinoa salad.
What the actual hell?! Surely he was kidding? Was I on one of those candid camera programmes? Had I eaten a bad mushroom or poisonous prawn? Wait, was the whole house, in fact, a Tardis? How far back in time had we travelled?
I didn't know where to begin really. Did I really need to explain to a man in his mid-40s that feminism wasn't the need to 'prove' that we were the same? That is was instead a need for a situation in which such proof would never be asked for. A desire for equality because that is what we are – equal.
Clearly, I did because his response was "Ah, so this is that tired argument about how women deserve equal PAY" No! Yes! What?! First of all, that's not a tired argument, that's a non-argument because hell yes we deserve equal pay. On the other hand, feminism is by FAR not just about money.
I told him that for me, the greatest inequality between the sexes lay in safety. How unsafe women were, anywhere, and everywhere due to the mere fact of gender; vulnerable to violence of many kinds simply because we are born female.
He agreed that women were more vulnerable but told me that I must, in turn, agree that far more men died in gang-related violence. I replied that
I failed to see the connection. He then said "You know, I believe women are equal to men. I share the household duties, my wife cooks and I wash up, and I can even iron my own shirts, she does a better job of it so often she does the ironing anyway, but I can do it if I have to. I am sure most men feel the same"
And there it was, a man washes dishes in his own home and thinks therefore that he is treating the woman in his life as an equal. He lets her do chores because she is better at them – how magnanimous. But worst of all - he feels that he does not oppress the women in his life, so surely all men are the same?
I told him this latter belief was dangerous and naïve, he only needed to look around to see that 'most men' didn't see women as equal at all. He replied that perhaps it was more the case that women in general 'are hell bent on demonizing men'.
Right. But gosh it's an uphill task to demonize men when companies make robot sex dolls with a 'frigid' mode because they are sure that there will be a market for it among men who wish to experience what it is like to rape a woman; when some men blind their wives and cut off their hands because they dared to pursue PhDs or study for their Masters; when yet another man comes home and beats his wife, and yet another girl is harassed on the bus on her way home from school, and when in both cases neither woman feels that they have any recourse to justice and both have been taught to blame themselves for what happens to them.
Of course, I know that not ALL men do these things. But some do. Many do.
My amiable acquaintance tells me that even if I can't believe it of my own generation, I must trust that the younger generation of men will believe in equality. I ask him how I can possibly do this when all around us the modern fairy tale goes something like:
Once upon a time, a guy said 'Send a nude photo or you don't love me.' So the girl did. Then he said 'Send more nudes or I will show everyone the nudes you already sent me.' So the girl did. When she finally broke up with him he said "Oh yeah? Welcome to revenge porn. Let me just upload all your pictures to the nearest porn site." And he lived obliviously ever after while she lived with/suffered terribly due to/committed suicide because of the shame. The end.
My dinner companion frowns "I never realized you were so hardcore in your views" he says.
I find myself suffering from a massive rage and disappointment related headache and begin peering desperately around the room for my knight in shining armour (so much for my hardcore feminist agenda eh? tut tut) when he magically appears at my elbow with a quiet "Time to go home?" I nod vigorously and ask "How did you know?" "Babe," he says "When you get angry, the hair on the back of my neck stands on end, I've been feeling like a spooked Irish Wolfhound for the last 45 minutes".
I repeat the entire infuriating conversation to The Man on the drive home. When we arrive, I give him a hug and say "Thank you for being someone who doesn't need to ask why women need feminism".
"Of course my love," he says "Now give me five minutes to iron my shirt for tomorrow? Unless...YOU want to do it for me?" The cushion I throw hits him squarely on the head "Am pretty sure that counts as gang-related violence!" he says gleefully as he exits the room.
It is disappointing, frustrating and downright alarming to find that people you thought were perfectly rational, educated, sensitive human beings are in fact short-sighted, naïve and generally quite stupid. I wish I hadn't wasted as much energy as I did on my irritating dinner companion, because the answer was really rather simple.
Why do women need feminism?