No, not that lady – that’s writer Caitlin Moran (although she is one too). I mean ME, 30 year-old, male, gay, author-of-one James Dawson – yes, I am a strident feminist! I suspect I always was, but having read Moran’s How To Be a Woman, I am certain. I cannot recommend this book enough – I doubt there will be a funnier read this year. If you are reading this and thinking, ‘he is a traitor to our gender’ or ‘he cannot possibly be a feminist because he is an oppressive man’, then you need this book in your life even more.
Moran’s book perhaps should have been retitled FEMINISM:TNG, as she attempts to redefine the concept for 2011. Women have been allowed the vote and are holding positions of power, but these biggies have overshadowed hundreds of smaller (but clearly ridiculous and infuriating) inequalities that I had never even considered (maybe because I’m biologically male, or maybe because I hadn’t given the matter enough thought). For both Moran and myself, modern feminism should be the quest to eliminate these differences. I’m all for that.
The book presents a refreshingly simple view of the human race. We are simply ‘The Guys’ – and regardless of gender, race, sexuality or geography, we should treat people as we would ‘The Guys’. Why would we want there to be massive inequalities among ourselves? We all ‘The Guys’, after all. First and foremost is POLITENESS, a concept often forgetten by academics and politicians alike. Are all The Guys being polite to one another? Much sexism, racism and homophobia would fail to exist in a polite environment – you wouldn’t say ‘oi are you queer?’, people wouldn’t drop phrases like ‘paki-shop’ into casual conversation. BECAUSE IT’S NOT POLITE. (Moran advocates the use of capitals).
Second of all, and my new rule of thumb, is to ask ‘Is this something men worry about?‘ in the context of sexism. Moran investigates fashion ridiculousness – men do not need a signature fragrance, they are not forced to compete in handbag wars or elongate their legs with killer heels, and body image -men are not judged for the merest suggestion of body hair, they do not have to mangle their faces to work on the BBC News past 40. This is just the tip of the ice berg. For instance, when I say ‘I never want to have kids’, people say ‘Oh, OK’, when my best friend says SHE doesn’t want to have kids, she is met with reactions ranging from disbelief (‘Oh wait til you meet the right guy’) or horror (‘REALLY? But WHY?’) Life is full of this sexism. Yes, sexism.
On some points I disagree with Moran. This is fine. At a recent book signing in Brighton, Moran incited the whole audience to come up with their own versions of How To Be a Woman. What’s important is that people are talking about a subject that had become somewhat stuffy, academic and definitely not cool. First of all, Moran assumes a straightforward binary gender system exists in which men identify as men and women identify as women. Live in Brighton for ten years, and you learn that is an insanely simplistic way to view gender, but I agree that as most people fit those categories, Moran was on safe ground in doing so too. That is a book for someone else to tackle.
Whinge one: I feel that men too are increasingly receptive of the insane pressures to look a certain way. Any night out on the town will, for a huge number of men (gay and straight), feature fake tan and waxing, that’s before teeth whitening and a trip to sodding All Saints has to be done. A generation of teenage boys are growing up to believe chest, leg and back hair doesn’t exist. Thanks Becks/porn. Botox is certainly no longer a woman only thing. I know at least four guys who have their faces regularly frozen by a doctor. One of those four is a heterosexual before you even say a word! Less extreme is gym membership. The internet informs me that more men than women use gyms…I hope women don’t think we automatically enjoy those places. Anyone who says they do is so far into body-dysmorphia that they have lost sight of the truth: Men go to the gym to look better in the buff, and anyone who says otherwise is a fibber.
Moreover, men can experience sexism too. Perhaps I’m an extreme example – a gay YA author whose primary market is teen girls (Moran suggests women and gay men should unite right at the outset as we both get the shitty end of the stick), but I’ve had some very odd conversations since signing to my publisher. The most common is why do you want to write books for teenage girls? Why not? Should I be writing about mechanics or Andy McNab style war books? Or is it that women do genre fiction and men do the tedious literary stuff? The next one is how can YOU write about teenage girls? This one really pisses me off. How does JK Rowling write about Dementors? She has an imagination! People do not ask Helen Fielding how she managed to write Daniel Cleaver! I write about teenage girls because when I was a real teenager, all the most inspirational people in my life were my hardcore teenage girlfriends. Without my girlfriends, school would have been miserable. THEY inspired me to write a book about strong teenage girls. Even the fact that people would refer to Hollow Pike as a ‘girl’s book’ is a bit off – I hope everyone’s gonna like it!
Rant over, I cannot rate How To Be a Woman highly enough. It’s really, really funny – and along the way I feel like I learned something too. Read it, stand on a chair in public and say after me…’I AM A STRIDENT FEMINIST’, because I’m sure we, The Guys, all want to live in a more equal world.