28 January, 2011

Loose Women Is Not A Valid Argument

It occured to me that it's actually a crying shame that Giles Coren's recent piece of obvious flamebaitery (and if it isn't flamebait, well...I don't know what to say except that I know a really nice anger management chap) didn't really have anything constructive to say about misandry. And it's even more of a shame that what he did say about misandry wasn't in the form of a clear, concise argument, but rather a slightly pitiful attempt to deflect attention from the wanton stupidity uttered by Messrs Gray and Keys re: silly wimmins not knowing football.

The argument, in a nutshell: but women are mean about men too. In fact, they have an entire TV show dedicated to talking about how stupid men are, and they don't get taken off the air, so therefore what Gray and Keys said doesn't seem quite so bad.

Okay. I may be taking creative liberties with my paraphrasing but certainly, that was the gist of it. And it really is a shame, because I'd love to see Loose Women taken to task. Loose Women represents a stereotype of modern feminism that really ought to be dumped in a skip and left there - the derisive giggling at silly men, the better-than-thou attitude, not so much "I am woman, hear me roar!" as "I am woman, hear me knock off yet another mildly amusing anecdote about the time my husband was unable to perform [insert mundane domestic duty here]"

That, my friends, is not liberation. How can it be? Is liberation sticking a bunch of women around a table and inviting them to be insulting? Are we supposed to be proud of this? I'm not; I don't want to be represented, as a feminist or a woman, by this kind of playground-level nonsense.

But I digress; the point at hand here is simply this: the fact that Loose Women exists, and is bobbins, does not diminish the fact that Gray and Keys were caught saying sexist, stupid things.

Okay? It's quite simple. Misandry exists, absolutely - although it is not as overtly ingrained into societal consciousness as misogyny, and certainly lacks its centuries long pedigree - and as feminists we ought to discuss it. The much lamented Ovenpride adverts are a pertinent example. A product of the same culture which tells us women belong in the kitchen, with a none-too-subtle nod to the logical extension of this unpleasant gender stereotype - that men, having spent less time in the kitchen than their dutiful wives, are inept in the ways of domestic drudgery. Why shouldn't we be interested in wiping out this stupid, insulting stereotype? It comes from the same place as those we rage about - the domestic goddess, barefoot and pregnant, with hands that do dishes & are as soft as her face, and on the flipside, her useless husband, who creates mess for her to clean.

Where sexism against men exists, it is often as a result of the same antiquated gender rules which keep ‘teh wimmins’ in their place. Divorce courts, for example, which often rule that the mother should get custody, seem to be operating under the attitude that it is the mother’s job to care for the kids, not the father’s, which in 21st century Britain ought to be considered a highly suspect attitude.
Even odder is the backlash that occurs whenever measures are put in place to ensure father’s rights – the recent move for paternity leave was met with outrage in many circles, and I still hear snorts of derision when it’s suggested that men should be encouraged to spend more time caring for their kids - why shouldn't they? The father's role is diminished in exactly the same way that the mother's role is elevated, to an extent which traps women - we must stay at home with our children, lest we ruin their childhood forever, career be damned, and the father is simply not a viable alternative, because children need their mummy. (Just read the Daily Mail's 'Femail' section for reams of this kind of steaming bullshit)

Unpleasant male stereotypes come from the same place as those that affect women. The drooling potential rapist is extrapolated from the idea, as supported by Nuts and Zoo and their ilk, that men are mad for sex and think about it all the time. The beer-swilling buffoon comes from a similar place: ‘lad’ culture, as perpetuated by the abovementioned mags, and The Sun et al, in which going out, getting smashed and getting into a fight is a good, blokey way of passing the time. I suppose there are men that are like this, but the gleeful acceptance and elevation to 'blokey role model' status makes it almost impossible for men to be otherwise. Boys don't cry; they drink until they puke, and gawp at tits, because that's what makes them men!

It is in the interest of all genders that we smash these assertions, these rigid gender roles, confining us to a small selection of life choices, and haranguing us - men, women, trans - if we do not conform.

This is a legitimate argument. Unfortunately, it's an argument diminished by Coren. His piece smacks of whataboutery, and fails to actually make any kind of pertinent point, besides complaining about how mean women can be. If Keys and Gray were wrong, then they were wrong regardless of what Loose Women or the Ovenpride ads say about men. Why must it be an either/or situation? Can't the sexism of Loose Women and the sexism of Gray and Keys both be considered offensive without being pitted against each other in a neverending war of more-offensive-than-thou?

"Whataboutthemenz?" is a phenomenon in which a debate about sexism against women is opposed with "but it happens to men too". It's equivalent to a debate about racism being derailed by a white person saying "but what about white people? People are racist to us too." I mean, sure, that may well be so, but what does it have to do with the actual point at hand? And is it not massively patronising to suggest that thousands of years of oppression and hardship are equivalent to someone calling you 'cracker'? The same is true of gender whataboutery. Yes, men suffer sexism too, but can it honestly be comparable to the sheer level of institutionalised, state-approved (thanks, religion) sexism that has kept women (and indeed, trans people) firmly in the 'second class citizens' category? It doesn't mean that misandry shouldn't be combatted. Indeed, I think us feminists should consciously avoid lowering ourselves to insults and stereotypes - the very things we are fighting against. Nonetheless, how can there be an intelligent discourse about misandry when most of the people complaining about it are doing so in response to arguments against misogyny?

Loose Women may be cack, but it's not the same as being told you cannot be good at your job because you have a vagina. If Coren hates it so much, may I politely suggest he petition to get it off the air. Christ knows I'll even sign it.


  1. I absolutely agree with you that many of the male gender stereotypes that are bandied about not only limit men in their own identities but also, in the end, perpetuate misogyny. Mrs Richard Keys' remark today is a perfect example of the "Loose Women" style 'men are so useless, poor loves.' In saying that 'as a man, a bit of you never grows up' she's suggesting her husband can't help being sexist; she's granting him permission to behave as he wishes towards women and in the end this is the effect of many male stereotypes.

    Oh and don't get me started on Coren. You're right, it's flamebait. Much of what he writes is designed to get as much attention as possible. He increasingly comes across as a narcissistic, self-publicist and it's infuriating because really, he 's actually too clever for that.

  2. I agree with you. Every time I am unfortunate enough to catch a few minutes of Loose Women I cringe: they are the sort of women that I would never want to spend any time with. Instead of elevating the discourse about the opposite gender, therefore leading the way and expecting men to do the same when talking about women, they bring their talk down to the same level as the men they abhor - it's a sort of tit-for-tat: if you can do it, so can we. That's not feminism is action. That's dumbing down. And it is an insult to my intelligence.
    Perhaps we women should complain about Loose Women, and try to get it taken off air -it does neither gender any favours, and as women we should be ashamed of it.

  3. Haven't seen LW, but I did read Coren's article and interesting reading the comments after... There was one complaining about the Boots 'man flu' advert, so I went to look at it on YouTube
    Totally agree with what you are saying in this article: stereotyping men usually goes hand in hand with stereotyping women. In this case, myth of women-should-do-everything-at-home is propagated. Sad thing is that at first glance it can seem flattering to women - of course it's not. The fact that it is often true makes it sadder. Just because women-often-do-everything-at-home doesn't mean that women-should-do everything-at-home, and any advert like this that generalises the issues gives out the wrong message, reinforcing tedious prejudices.

  4. I agree and I can't stand this tit-for-tat and whiny 'but they do it' culture which seems to crop up in this circumstance and many others! I cringe at loose women and don't agree with the notion- as many i know do- that it's 'about time' women got their own back' because 1. it's stupid and 2. well you've explained how it roots round again against women (I may have to pass on this article to them).

    And 'but they do it' is never a good excuse nor reason, it just perpetuates the problem as this man has done.

    The problem also is, sadly, that a good number of women do have the mentality of 'about time, time for men to suffer and start being opressed' rather then 'about time we all get treated equally. Point in case, the divorce courts: my ex-friend crowed happily that she was awarded custody of her child purely for being the mother although, frankly, she was an unpleasant person. The father eventually got the child when neglect was seen, but first call was to her rather then the primary caregiver-him- just because she was the mum. On the other hand, my married friends are so pleased about the paternity news- although people are treating them like thier ways are crazy- because they always planned for him to be primary caregiver and her to continue her career.

    I think another problem is that everyone has their own view on what it is to be a feminist, i know many feminists which would be pleased women get first call in the courts and hate the idea of men get paternity leave because they see it as encroaching on women's territory and equally there are those that feel the opposite and see how these things trap women and have negative consequences.

  5. Female chauvinism is unpleasant, but I suppose it's a sort of progress when feminism isn't the only way women can be assertive through gender.

    Unfortunately, I've done such a good job of bringing up my daughters as a single father that they seem to believe housework is strictly a male preserve. (Yes, the courts do sometimes side with the father in divorce cases.)

    True, I am fed up of women who assume that no man can operate a washing machine, oven or vacuum cleaner, but at least nobody assumes that my (no better than average) abilities in that sphere prevent me from also running my own department at work. Also, I get a lot more credit as a single dad than most single mothers do, so on the whole I still get a better deal.

    Sneering at men's supposed domestic failures puts feminism back where it started and denigrates the very real progress made by the early feminists.


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