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Some men are feminists too

Thursday, November 27, 2014
London Calling

I’m a feminist. Feminists are rare in Trinidad, I’m told, although I tend to disagree. 

There are plenty of strong, independent, gender-aware women—the Prime Minister, for example, or the editor-in-chief of this newspaper and its main rival—but the feminist movement never really got going in the Caribbean, not like in Britain. 

There was a dip in the popularity of the movement in Britain around the turn of the millennium, when it appeared the long battle against inequality had been won. Its recent re-emergence is a response to a perception that younger men have picked up the sexist baton carried by their 1970s counterparts and are running towards a society where the degradation of women is commonplace. 

Young feminists—usually middle class and well educated—have emerged. They fight the major battles like equal pay and rape conviction rates but also what writer Lara Bates calls “everyday sexism”—often meaning catcalling by men in the streets or other unwelcome sexual advances. 

Recently I’ve been wondering where I should be on the feminist spectrum. There have been times lately when I’ve felt that articles by the new feminists have alienated good men who care about women’s rights and equality. 

Perhaps I’ve been over-sensitive, but I believe that feminists who don’t recognise good men or characterise all men as the same undermine the process of progress. 

I support all kinds of feminism but I don’t accept sexism from women toward men. 

Last week, an incident occurred with my sister-in-law which had echoes of a similar situation my mother experienced 30 years ago. She took her seven-week-old baby, my latest nephew, to a small mother and baby group meet-up. She’s just moved to a rural area outside London and doesn’t know anybody there. She arrived optimistic about finding a group of mothers she could bond with and share tips, advice and friendship. 

While she was waiting for more people to arrive, one of the mothers approached her and, seeing that her baby was a boy, told her that the group was just for girl babies. 

She was shocked and, though her first impulse would normally be to cuss the woman, she didn’t know how to react and left, upset, instead of making a scene. 

The same thing happened to my mum when my brother and I were toddlers. At our nursery, run by feminists, lesbians and gays who we accompanied on Ban The Bomb marches, a small group of women told my mother (who worked at the nursery and was also a feminist) that boys weren’t welcome at women’s events they had organised and that they didn’t want us around their daughters. We were probably two-or three-years-old at the time. 

I’d be interested to hear how an anecdote like that would be received in Trinidad. 

I mentioned before the spectrum of feminism. There’s the militant end I’ve just referred to, a tiny fraction of feminists who believe all men are potential threats and prefer segregation. Then there’s the majority of conscious educated women (and men) who see both genders as equal and speak out against inequalities or discrimination. Then there are feminists who don’t know they are feminists, like those matriarchal Trini women who absolutely reject subjugation by men but haven’t labelled themselves.

In Trinidad, however, some things pass as normal that wouldn’t be tolerated in Britain. Miss World pageants, for example. Ok, this year’s final may be held in London but nobody in Britain knows that and it definitely won’t be televised on UK channels, it’s sexist. Not so in T&T, it’s seen as fun, sexy and something to be proud of, a woman’s good looks. 

Catcalling is another thing. The number of times I’ve seen a man in downtown Port-of-Spain shout something to a woman walking past and seen the woman’s reaction, smiling to herself or her friend as though it’s a compliment. 

Catcalling is something I’ve thought a lot about. I’ve never done it as I find it dotish and embarrassing. I don’t know if I find it oppressive though. I tell myself that if I was a woman I would deal with each incident accordingly and, dependent on my mood, either chide or crush the hapless catcaller. But I’m not a woman and I don’t know how I’d feel if I had to deal with it every single day. 

To confuse me further I read an interview this week with the (feminist) singer Amelia Meath from the band Sylvan Esso. She’s written a song called Hey Mami about catcalling and had this to say about it: “(It’s) a really interesting impulse. Sometimes I think it’s super cowardly because in order to acknowledge your potential attraction to someone, you’re really intimidating them without any consequences. But sometimes it’s really nice and that struggle for me is really hard. Sometimes I want to catcall people! It’s super fun to yell out of a car window at a group of young boys, like ‘woo hoo, sexy boys!’ But just telling people that they look nice is a really nice thing to do. We call it boosting.” 

Perhaps subverting everyday sexism is the answer. Oh if only I could be a woman for a day: I’d catcall the hell out of every man in town and, god help me, they’d like it.


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