Book projects – Whiplash: 7: Some are more equal than others

One of the central themes of the feminist revolution has been the demand for ‘equal rights’ for women. And no-one – or perhaps almost no-one – has ever disagreed with this: the problem, though, has been that few, if any, have ever been clear what they mean by ‘equal rights’…

There’s real confusion about the distinctions between ‘equal’ and ‘identical’, or ‘rights’ and the results of those rights: few theorists seem to recognise that even the most equitable assignment of opportunities is still unlikely to produce identical results, because of the choices of individuals about how they use those opportunities. And in puellist circles, as usual, there’s been a careful separation of ‘equal rights’ from ‘equal responsibilities’ – and, inevitably, blaming men alone for the difference. [1] The end-result has been some very muddled thinking about what ‘equality’ between the genders is supposed to look like. Here, for example, is a current issue in this state’s gender-politics, the proposed closure of Fairlea Women’s Prison, moving the women into another prison, Jika:

Why moving women and children from Fairlea to Jika must be stopped:

Jika: A maximum security, sensory deprivation prison of tunnels and cages; 24 hour air conditioning; Award For Excellence In Concrete; exercise is in a cage with 12ft concrete walls; 8 men have died there; it is inside Pentridge; it is a prison within a prison; 15 hours in 2-bunk cells.

Fairlea: The first women’s-only prison in Australia; accommodation is cottage style, trees and gardens; in these cottages, women can cook for themselves and have private time with their kids for 6hrs on the weekend; education and health centres at Fairlea cater to the special needs of women.

The Women And Children: 75% of women for non-violent offences; 18% for shoplifting and car theft, 86% unemployed; of women inside for drugs, 80% are abuse survivors; 74% have kids; of women gaoled for prostitution, 25% are under 24.

Why Jika Is Unacceptable: Women have been in men’s prisons before; of 6 women who have suicided, 5 have done so in men’s gaols; women have always suffered discrimination in men’s gaols, they have no freedom of movement as they are in a prison in a prison; many women and child care agencies won’t allow children to visit at Jika because it’s too frightening.

What We Are Doing: 7000 people have signed a petition; there’s a 24-hour vigil outside Fairlea – all welcome; we’re lobbying; women inside are going to Equal Opportunity.

Together we can stop this tragedy happening. [2]

Ignore, for a moment, the arguments about the jail-closure itself, and the likelihood that the driving force behind it is a bunch of politicians wanting to pocket the money from the resultant land-sale; ignore, for a moment, the tangled realms of jurisprudence and penal reform; and instead, reflect on this one point: “women inside are going to Equal Opportunity” in a bid to not be placed in the same conditions as male prisoners. Someone evidently has a most unusual concept of ‘equal’…

It’s worth studying the text of this poster in some detail, because of the blithe manner in which it promotes a very unequal notion of gender equality. First, we notice “75% of women for non-violent offences”: this means that 25% are in prison for violent offences – a figure which may in fact be too low, because Naomi Wolf, for example, quotes a figure of up to 41% for women prisoners in the United States. [3] But this bald admission of the reality of women’s violence is interesting: some of the promoters of the ‘Save Fairlea’ campaign would seem to have a slight problem with hypocrisy, because they’re also active in the poster-campaign mentioned earlier which claims that only men are violent… We note too that there’s no mention of equivalent statistics for male prisoners: but there seems to be an implicit assumption that all male prisoners are in jail for violent offences – which is far from true.

It is true that Jika is, at present, a maximum-security wing of an existing jail: it’s not a pleasant place. But the campaigners imply that it will not be altered before women are moved there: which does, of course, make the appeal of the campaign more emotive. And it also skates over the fact that these are conditions under which men are already being held. The women at Fairlea are held in ‘cottage-style accommodation’ with trees and gardens, are provided with “education and health centres [that] cater to the special needs of women”, and have regular, lengthy, personal time with their children; while men – some of them jailed for exactly the same offences as the women, or even for no offence at all [4] – are sealed up in 2-bunk cells for 15 hours a day, with no visits permitted from their children, and are deemed to have no ‘special needs’ of their own, as men.

And yet this extraordinarily unequal treatment is considered normal… somehow ‘equality’ means that, for the same offence, men are to be subjected to extreme violence, abuse and emotional, physical and psychological deprivation, whilst women are to be treated with every care and attention. It’s probably true that, of the women jailed for drug offences at Fairlea, “80% are abuse survivors”; but the same could no doubt be said of the men in Jika – and by the time they’ve stayed there any length of time, all the men in Jika could be considered ‘abuse survivors’…

We saw exactly the same with war: men are regarded as ‘disposable persons’, whilst women are ‘protected persons’ – and this poster-campaign simply reiterates that assumption. Why? What’s the difference? After all, one of the main feminist arguments is that men and women are equal, that the only difference between the genders is one of conditioning…

The key is to remember that, despite those puellist myths, our culture is not a ‘patriarchy’: it’s a paediarchy, ‘rule by the childish’ – so the highest priority is children and childishness. Notice that the poster doesn’t say “Why moving women … to Jika must be stopped”, it says “Why moving women and children … to Jika must be stopped”: and yet no children are held in the prison at Fairlea. They never have been; never will. But every poster about the Fairlea campaign shows women and children, implying that children are to be held in Jika, which is, of course, not true; and no mention is ever made of the children’s fathers. The assumption being promoted here – one which we’ll meet up with often in any discussion on gender-equality – is that only women are parents, and that fathers neither care about children, nor children about fathers. Worse, the campaign is, in effect, condoning the use of children as hostages, to gain special treatment for women prisoners, whilst ignoring the intense abuse male prisoners suffer. The threatened closure of Fairlea jail is indeed an obscenity, a tragedy for prison reform – but perhaps not quite so obscene as this mockery of the concept of ‘equal rights’.

One of the inherent problems of feminism’s ‘women-as-victim’ concept has been the tendency to glorify as ‘martyrs’ women whose behaviour has in fact been far from innocent or blameless. [5] Fair enough, most ‘offenders’ – male or female – have been on the receiving end of much of our culture’s violence: but in many cases the most appropriate view would be that of an American woman law professor, who, referring to some women writers who’d applauded an incident in which a woman cut off her husband’s penis and accused him of rape, commented that “neither the people nor the facts of the case are ones that anyone should want to embrace”. [6] This is one facet of women’s issues in which puellism and feminism can be most easily distinguished: where puellists use every possible tactic to deny their own responsibility, true feminists recognise the indivisibility of rights and responsibilities – as evidenced by an otherwise extraordinary demand by women at the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, that they be adjudged personally accountable for any crime they might commit. [7]

An abysmal grasp of history, of the realities of human experience through time, is one of the more serious flaws in modern feminism: what little history there is in ‘women’s studies’ courses tends to re-interpret every action by every woman in history in terms of a Marxist-style ‘heroic struggle against the patriarchy’, with little or no acknowledgement of the context of those women’s lives. Puellists in particular have often made out that feminism began with themselves in the 1960s – an appalling insult to the long and honourable line of earlier feminists, from Simone de Beauvoir in the 1950s to the Pankhursts and the Suffragette movement at the turn of the 19th century, Sojourner Truth and others of the Seneca Falls ‘Women’s Rights Convention’ fifty years before, Mary Woolstonecraft and her colleagues of the 1790s, the adventurer Aphra Behn – one of the first professional writers – a century earlier, Hildegard of Bingen and other practical mystics of the Middle Ages, and onward beyond written record. That’s history: not ‘his-story’ but ‘istoria, the story of humanness, throughout which true feminism weaves its vibrant thread. By comparison, modern puellism is a vain and arrogant upstart, one which should indeed be dismissed with richly-deserved contempt…

It’s only with an understanding of the interweavings of the patterns of life – every thread, not just a selected subset that confirms some predefined ideology – throughout history that we can understand the context of our own lives: especially the context of ‘equality’. We do indeed have equality: but an equality of confusion, of disorientation, of purposelessness, that stems, paradoxically, from our own success. (That’s the real problem: all the rest is window-dressing, a myriad of methods to offload ‘the problem that has no name’ [8] onto someone else – anyone else.) And despite the feminist myth that ‘equal means identical’, that gender differences are solely a matter of conditioning, a casual yet careful glance at the realities of human experience would illustrate that even at best this is, and always was, no more than wishful thinking. By the sheer facts of physiology, for example, we do not have identical rights or responsibilities: of which the most obvious is that women can bear children, feeding them from their own bodies, whilst men cannot. Maternity is a biological fact, whilst paternity, for the most part, is not much more than a social fiction [9]: few feminists have stopped to consider what that implies for men, in the latter’s search for a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives.

In the distant past, or even in the recent past for many peoples, near-rigid gender rôles were no luxury, no patriarchal ‘imposition from above’, but more a matter of survival. With infant mortality rates sometimes as high as 80%, and post-infant life-expectancies often as low as 35 years or less [10], most cultures had no option other than to urge women to spend the whole of their fertile lives in childbearing and child-rearing – until recently, for example, widowed desert-Aborigine women in Australia would immediately choose another man as husband, in order to bear as many children as possible. As a result, nomadic peoples such as the desert-Aborigines are necessarily gender-separated: a slow-moving group of women and smaller children, gathering the bulk of the food; and wide-ranging, fast-moving clusters of adult male hunters.

Human physiology reflects this difference: men’s bodies are more adapted to high-energy, low-endurance ‘burst’ tasks, whilst women’s are more adapted to lower-energy tasks of longer duration. (An average woman can carry about four-fifths of the load that an average man can carry, but can do so for perhaps one and a half times the distance: in that sense men are arguably the ‘weaker sex’ overall, especially as the ‘burst task’ adaptation means that men often need longer recovery times between their higher-energy tasks than women, on average, need between theirs. [11]) And even our perceptual psychology is gendered: even in city-based cultures, women tend to be better than men at tasks which need the broad ‘intuitive’ grasp of a myriad of detail required by a gatherer, whilst men tend to perform better at tasks which need the complex spatial awareness and ‘one-pointedness’ of a hunter. (Each mode has its disadvantages, of course: for example, men’s tendency to one-pointedness can lead to an unawareness of anything but the target: a common complaint by women, and a valid one!) So the responsibilities, the skills, and the resultant mythologies of each gender are very different: yet, in their own way, are entirely equal.

In almost all ‘primitive’ peoples, past and present, life remains permanently on a knife-edge between starvation and plenty. Often it has been technology that’s made the difference: humans are not only tool-users – in common with some animals and a few birds [12] – but are, almost uniquely, tool-makers. It seems obvious that the development of technology is a human skill rather than a gendered one: and although male-oriented histories of technology have tended to miss out women’s contribution, and puellist authors such as Monica Sjöö have claimed – without any factual basis – that women invented all technology [13], what really matters is that someone created it, rather than who did so. Within its context, even so-called ‘primitive’ technology is often startlingly sophisticated, as anyone who has tried to create a flint arrowhead will testify: the technology may have changed during our history, but human inventiveness has remained much the same – indeed, it’s arguable that in our current supposed ‘age of technology’ it has, if anything, declined. [14]

Each technological change brought with it cultural change: which, despite the wishful thinking of Darwinists and the wistful dreams of ‘herstorians’, was not necessarily always ‘progress’. The new technologies of agriculture created stability for restless nomads; but it also brought new problems such as a far more restricted diet – requiring new techniques to ‘husband’ the land – and new risks of disease from inadequate sanitation. And it led to subtler issues with far-from-subtle results: the new concept of land-ownership cut across the old nomadic freedoms of movement, so when this led to clashes, those who were now literally ‘house-bond-men’ found in the arts of war a substitute for their former rôle of hunter…

In change after change, new technologies made possible ever-larger human populations, though in often-precarious conditions: the Black Death (bubonic plague) wiped out a third of the population of Europe in one single decade of the Middle Ages, and war – the ubiquitous ‘solution’ to the delusions of dispower – was always endemic. But peasant life, monotonous though it may have been, had its own richness; and – in those few places that were relatively free from the predations of self-appointed ‘lords and ladies’ – each household, by dint of much hard work and hope, managed its own economy.

Men were, at times, literal ‘breadwinners’, selling produce for flour and grain: but everything else – food, clothing, furniture, tools – was made at home. ‘Economy’ literally means ‘the management of the household’: and in that sense it was, without question, ‘women’s work’ – or, more accurately, ‘women’s domain’ in which men had no rights to intrude. The house may have been assigned in title to the man, but there was no question as to whom it actually belonged: whether the household was that of a peasant in the Middle Ages or an outback family in 19th-century Australia, the women’s world in the farming economy was that of heart and hearth, from which men were all but excluded. [15] Girls ‘in service’ would bed down in the attic; but the male farm labourers stayed outside, sleeping in the barn or the bothy. And whilst the girls had their own special day, Mothering Sunday – which, contrary to the modern concept, was the day when they went home to be mothered – young men had nothing: just the companionship of their ‘bothy billies’, and perhaps a tiny ‘fee’ or wage at the end of a good year. [16]

All this changed, partly as the result of three decades of good harvests at the end of the eighteenth century which, by providing a brief respite from the usual struggle for subsistence, allowed energies to be diverted to the new technologies of the Industrial Revolution. [17] In human terms, it was probably the worst mistake ever: for a variety of reasons, the peasant economies were brought to collapse, and most people were forced into the cities as little more than slave-labour for the ‘money-economy’ – and the term ‘economy’ became equated with finance, gaining its notorious modern meaning as ‘mismanagement of the household’. Men, women and children alike all worked in often appalling conditions, in the mines and ‘dark satanic mills’ of the newly-wealthy ‘owners’ – who described themselves, in all seriousness, as the figureheads of ‘the Age of Enlightenment’.

Enlightenment of a sort came from feminists such as Mary Woolstonecraft and others who campaigned for an end to child labour, and for women to be ‘freed’ from ‘demeaning’ labour. And these campaigns succeeded: between 1860 and 1930, the proportion of women in paid employment dropped from 75 percent to 10 percent – which was viewed by everyone, including the women themselves, as true empowerment, a feminist victory. [18] Yet in the Brave New World of 19th-century ‘reform’, women became the new consumer class, spending the money of their menfolk, who were still trapped in the filth of the factories but now assigned the new rôle of ‘sole providers’ – and all of them supporting the vast hierarchy of ‘entrepreneurs’ or, literally, ‘between-takers’, of the new ‘middle class’ to which the reformers themselves belonged.

In reality, the so-called ‘traditional’ household, of mother and children at home, and father away all day at work, is a Victorian invention, the product of a feminist fantasy little different in style from present-day puellism: much the same sentimental idealisation of ‘womanhood’, leading to similarly dire results – but for which men alone, both then and now, were blamed. It’s certainly not true to say, as even serious feminists sometimes do, that men alone were responsible for ‘forcing women back into the home’ after the First and Second World Wars: because, as self-styled ‘traditionalist’ women’s groups such as Endeavour Forum (“Women Who Want To Be Women”) make clear, there are firm advantages for women in that rôle – not least the ability to bully and blame the man about ‘inadequacies as a provider’ without themselves having to face the pressures of the outer world…

Two huge technological changes in the middle of the 20th century destroyed the viability of the ‘traditional nuclear family’. The first was the creation of a plethora of so-called ‘labour-saving devices’, which probably, if paradoxically, destroyed what little meaning there was in the ‘housewife’ rôle: housework, for all its mind-numbing boredom at times, still represented ‘ability to do work’ – hence a real and, for many women, meaningful power – which disappeared as fast as the ‘labour savings’ increased. [19] And reliable contraception, which brought to an end the near-inevitability of repeated pregnancy for married women, freed those women for other tasks in the money-economy – which social theorists and, especially, feminists, assumed would free women from financial dependence on men, and improve the lot of everyone.

It didn’t, of course. The money-economy is driven by the childish greed of a paediarchy: so all that happened was that prices rose to match increased household incomes, with the result that single people – especially women – were actually worse off than before. The ‘freedom’ was, as always, an illusion: it merely dragged women into the same financial dependency and entanglement in ‘the system’ as men already suffered – which could hardly be called an improvement. [20] Running away from this, in what Neil Lyndon describes as ‘blind panic’, many young women fled into the universities, and settled down to create an ideology of blame – puellism – to hide from the reality that contraception represented not just ‘freedom’ but a gendered loss of purpose as devastating to women as the loss of the ‘hunter’ rôle was to men thousands of years before. [21] In many ways this evasion was hardly surprising, because, as Lyndon comments:

To those women, it fell as an acute task and responsibility to negotiate a set of demands for personal and social change such as no women in the entire history of human beings had ever had to face. No wonder a lot of them funked it… [22]

But the end-result has been some very confused notions of what ‘equal rights’ and ‘equal opportunities’ in the so-called ‘workplace’ (‘so-called’ because women have always worked, wherever they’ve been) are supposed to be. For example, one woman Member of Parliament recently commented:

My own experience, in whatever job I’ve done, has been that the system is designed to suit men’s needs. The mobility necessary to follow a career; the working hours; the kind of person wanted; the commitment to the job above everything else; the desirability of “team spirit” – all these mitigate against women. [23]

What she fails to grasp is that if ‘the system’ could be said to have been ‘designed’ at all, it has been designed for just one thing: to maximise exploitation. It was certainly never “designed to suit men’s needs” – as is illustrated by the desperate isolation of Arthur Miller’s character Willy Lomax in “Death of a Salesman”. ‘The system’ is highly adaptable, and the arrival of women in ‘the workforce’ was an absolute gift: skilled, compliant, unorganized (in union terms) and conditioned to under-rate themselves, women were perfect for exploitation – it’s no wonder that so-called ‘men’s work’ all but disappeared. Almost the only advantage men have over women as employees is a greater physical strength – and that advantage disappeared with increasing mechanisation. In particular, the need for unskilled physical labour – perhaps the ‘traditional’ male task – vanished: it was not that women ‘replaced’ men [24], but that the need for that kind of work all but ceased to exist. So once again, vast numbers of men were simply discarded, yet no-one seemed to care – certainly not puellists, who cared only about themselves and their new ‘political correctness’:

The people most affected by unemployment were not politically correct. The bulk of long-term unemployed are single men and people don’t write sympathetic stories about unemployed 40-year-old men. [25]

Even when they were employed, men had always been regarded as ‘disposable’. It’s noticeable, for example, that the push for health and safety at work only really got going once women arrived in the workplace – prior to that, no-one considered it even to be necessary:

The women found some of the tools heavy and unwieldy, and an investigation is now being made of the possibility of altering tools requiring an unnecessary degree of muscular strength, for the benefit of men and women alike of different builds and heights. Previous representations on this point by the men had been disregarded. [26]

In that sense, as in many others, the increasing employment of women brought definite advantages to men too. But many women, brought up on puellist myths about men having vast freedoms women did not, discovered that ‘men’s work’ was not all they’d thought it to be – and complained, loudly. “Many blue-collar workers, particularly non-English speaking women, get literally sick and tired from their work conditions”, reported a women’s-health researcher – as though this was startling news, rather than something men had been saying for centuries [27]; and another researcher reported that “[women] are often forced to seek employment out of economic necessity and [even if skilled] have no alternative other than factory work”, ignoring the fact that exactly the same could be said of most men in factories… [28]

The only real difference was that women found themselves being paid less than men for the same work: which is, and always was, wrong – but hardly surprising, since the first principle of ‘the system’ is exploitation. And it’s a problem that will not easily go away, mainly because, as Naomi Wolf discovered in her researches, women themselves often encourage their own exploitation by under-valuing themselves: one senior recruiting consultant commented wryly that if anyone actually wanted to exclude women from a high-level job, all they had to do was re-advertise it at a higher rate of pay… Another consultant commented, in exasperation, “we advertised internally for a new senior position. Not one woman applied. And I know of at least three women who were twice as well qualified as the men who applied.” [29] As Wolf herself remarked, women cannot be appointed or promoted if they don’t apply for the job…

There’s much that we can – and should – do to minimise deliberate exploitation, yet – as feminists such as Wolf do understand, and puellists do not – it’s ultimately the responsibility of women to look after themselves: not for men to attempt to do it for them. The purported ‘glass ceiling’ which seems to prevent women’s rise to positions of power in industry arises in the main from the same source: there are indeed a few misogynist men around who would block the way of any woman (or more accurately anyone, woman or man), but the real issue – as Wolf acknowledges – is women’s own fear of power, and especially of the responsibilities that go with it. [30] Yet there are plenty of puellists who’ve used statistics of women’s ‘low representation’ to claim special privileges and so-called ‘affirmative action’ on their own behalf – much as we saw with the issue of Fairlea prison – and then proceeded to block the advancement of any other women, in an echo of the old parody of the ‘Internationale’: “the working class / can lick my as / I’ve got the foreman’s job at last”. Far from creating a world of freedom for all, some of the ‘sisters’ have sought to entrap others in a new underclass: “if you want a good career, get good servants” is the kind of comment heard in many self-styled ‘feminist’ circles now. [31] Myths of ‘sisterhood’ and ‘equality for all women’ vanish quickly in the vapid selfishness of the commercial world: greed, like violence, is a human problem, not a gendered one…

Anyone who has watched the new breed of MBA-wielding women at work will know that “the mobility necessary to follow a career; the working hours; the kind of person wanted; the commitment to the job above everything else; the desirability of ‘team spirit'” and so on do not mitigate against women at all – far from it. These things do, however, definitely mitigate against parents – women and men. No-one can do this and still remain an active parent – which is why, as usual, men alone used to be landed with the task, whether they wanted it or not. Fathers rarely had a chance to see their children, let alone be involved in their upbringing. Puellist writers routinely make nasty comments about the absence of fathers at work, as part of a continuing campaign to exclude men from any involvement in child-rearing:

In those days [of the 1950s ‘traditional’ family] fathers spent an average 11 minutes a day ‘quality time’ with their children… Those 11 minutes ought to be the end of the argument about fatherless families. [32]

Yet fathers are important to families; and families are often extremely important to fathers. Paternity may seem to be a ‘social fiction’, but fatherhood most certainly is not: for most fathers, the emotional bond with their children is every bit as intense as that of motherhood. [33] But even well-meaning feminists, over-focussed on women’s interests, make blithe assumptions about the unimportance of fathers – for example, the only mention of the word ‘father’ in an hour-long television program on parenting was as follows:

We take it for granted that [children] are not damaged by having fathers who go out to work. [34]

Quite apart from the impact that exclusion from the upbringing of his children has on the father, there is no doubt whatsoever that the absence of the father has an enormous impact on children, often leading directly to the violence of which the same puellists complain. [35] Yet the puellist demand is that fathers should have no rights whatsoever, but should still be assigned absolute responsibility to support mothers and children: a demand routinely backed with the force of supposedly ‘patriarchal’ law in the event of divorce, in which ‘custody’ (an interesting term…) is usually assigned to the mother, and the bills – but rarely any real access – to the father. All manner of supposed ‘facts’ and statistics are used to justify this, with constant repetitions of exaggerated claims about men’s violence and sexual abuse of children – claims which generally turn out to be dubious at best, and in many cases are downright dishonest. [36]

The real motivation for these ferocious attacks on men would seem to have more to do with protecting women’s traditional realm of power than anything else, similar to the way in which men protected ‘their’ workplace three decades ago. Certainly I’ve come across many incidents in which fathers were considered to be ‘intruding’ in places such as crêches, and were actively excluded. Which is a problem, because the one thing feminists, family-psychologists and so many others have been most pleading for is any means to empower men to move into the home, to encourage them to share in the work of childrearing and take at least some of the load from women… puellist smear-tactics simply do not help in this… Especially, comments on the lines that men are ‘incapable of nurturing’ should be recognised for what they are: sexism of a particularly unpleasant kind.

True, men nurture in a different way to women: but it is, in its own way, extremely important. And one of the most important forms of nurturing that fathers can do is, paradoxically, to place their children at risk – but to do so responsibly, safely! Perhaps the best illustration of this would be a comment by Mary Sheridan, one of the great pioneers of child-development studies in Britain, whom I had the privilege of working for as an illustrator whilst I was still at university. Showing me a photograph of a father holding his 11-month-old daughter steady as she stood in an open window, exploring the feeling of space, of uncertainty, of risk, Dr Sheridan said, baldly, “no mother could do that” – a remark echoed by almost every mother to whom I’ve since told this story. [37] But the safe experience of risk is essential to children’s well-being: as one doctor I know used to comment, about the constant stream of over-protected children brought into her surgery by worried mothers, “all that they need is a bit more of the other vitamins-‘D’: a little dirt, danger, discomfort and disorder…”.

Right now we have increasing equality of women and men in the workplace – and an almost complete abandonment of the home and the children in it. Far from resolving the problems created by the absence of the father at work, we’ve compounded the problems by forcing the mother out to work too: which is hardly an improvement… And those men who do try to take an active rôle in childrearing are actively denigrated at every turn by puellists such as Rosalind Miles and Beatrix Campbell. Life is made more difficult by the fact that, just as most industrial equipment was designed for average-sized men, most domestic equipment is designed for average-sized women – and is just as much ill-suited to anyone of a different build. [38] And it’s only now that the inherent sexism of public facilities is beginning to be redressed: until recently, the only baby-changing tables were to be found in women’s toilets – which no father would be permitted to use. But this is changing, albeit slowly: in this state at least, baby-changing tables are increasingly to be found in men’s toilets as well as in women’s – or, better still, in a separate room on its own.

Fathers are parents too: that’s a fact that needs to be acknowledged and encouraged if we’re to reach anything resembling a true equality between the genders. Puellists may fight until the bitter end to prevent it; but most feminists, and most mothers, have a bit more sense, as well as a bit more respect…

There’s one more important side-issue that needs to be faced here: to achieve a true equality, women must surrender their traditional privilege as ‘protected persons’. When a speaker at a men’s conference argued that “as a first principle of respecting equality, we must stop protecting women”, the statement provoked furious argument, but it is, ultimately, a valid one: to assign special privileges and protection to women solely because they are women leads, inevitably, to women being treated as if they are children. Equality means equality, not ‘some are more equal than others’: so although, as the columnist Angela Lambert commented, “hell knows no fury like a woman beaten to the last seat [on the train] by a man” [39], the woman has no right as such to that seat; and the fabled complaints about the toilet seat being left up by ‘thoughtless’ men have no intrinsic validity. [40] Unpalatable though it may sound, women have no more inherent right to special protection or special treatment than men: so we need to challenge standard puellist slogans such as “Make the world safe for women” (which I saw recently, scrawled on a wall near my house) – especially as the implication of the slogan is that it’s perfectly acceptable for the world to not be safe for men.

The privilege of ‘protected person’ rightly belongs, not to women as a gender, but to parents – or more accurately to the children whom they themselves protect; hence it belongs just as much to men, when they take on the parent rôle, as it does to women. In the ‘traditional’ gender-assigned rôles – which arose from the sheer facts of survival – men took the risks, whilst women took the children and the protection that went with the task. But in times when the risks are mostly self-created, and our survival-problem is that we have, if anything, too many children rather than too few – and increasingly ill-protected and ill-nurtured at that – parental rôles need no longer be assigned according to gender: we now have both the time and the need to share the tasks. And that also means that we need to share the rights and the responsibilities, the advantages and the disadvantages: which means, among other things, that (to quote a somewhat disgruntled male colleague) “if women really want their share of ‘men’s work’, they can damn well accept their fair share of the crap that goes with it” – and mothers would say much the same about the sharing the rather more literal ‘crap’ that went with ‘women’s work’. Equal rights, yes, without question; likewise truly equal opportunities; but equal responsibilities, also yes…

And that means, in the long term, an end to ‘affirmative action’, and to all those many special privileges that women are currently assigned in ‘the workplace’ simply because they’re women. The ‘glass ceiling’ is real – or at least is experienced as real – and takes real work to break through: but that’s true for everyone, not just for women. And whilst most women do have a fear of power – or of the responsibility that goes with power – and a difficulty with acknowledging their own value, as Naomi Wolf illustrates [41], the same is also true for most men – as I know only too well from my own experience. It’s a human problem, not a gendered one: one that can only be resolved by taking personal responsibility for the result of our choices – including those that arise from our avoidance of choices.

Yet here, once again, we come up against another of the classic feminist slogans: “the personal is the political”. The personal realm is not the same as the political; we won’t solve our political problems by taking everything personally. And whilst it’s true that what happens in the political arena usually does affect our personal lives, that’s still no excuse for the way in which so many puellists have abused their political power as a means to offload their personal issues into everyone else’s lives. [42] The political and the personal interweave with each other; we have equal rights to both, and equal responsibilities for both. So before we can move on, we need to look more closely at the relationship between the personal and the political – and at the crucial distinctions between them.

[1] One common form, as we’ve seen, is the use of blame as a means to deny women’s responsibility for their part in creating the chaos of our world: for example, “The responsibility for this [annihilation of the psyche] must be laid at the feet of men who have constructed this state (not a life) for women” – Heather Formaini, “Men: The darker continent”, p.152.

[2] From a poster issued by the ‘Save Fairlea’ campaign, March 1993.

[3] See Naomi Wolf, “Fire With Fire”, p.235.

[4] Prisoners on remand – in other words held before trial, such as those unable to pay bail – are held wherever there is space: which can include maximum-security conditions if that is the only space available.

[5] Naomi Wolf is one feminist who does question this tendency: see her “Fire With Fire”, especially the sections ‘Aggressors as Victims: Jean Harris’ and ‘Azalea Cooley and Susan Soen: Prestige Through Victimization’, pp.211-217.

[6] Professor Susan Faim, of the American University’s law faculty in Washington, quoted in “The Age” [Melbourne], 10 November 1993.

[7] For further comments, see Naomi Wolf, “Fire With Fire”, p.215.

[8] Betty Friedan’s term: she describes it as a problem affecting only women – see “The Feminine Mystique’, pp.13-29 – whereas others have described it as a problem only affecting men; hence it’s clear that, as with so many other issues, it’s not a gender-issue as such, but a human one with gendered overtones.

[9] A much-quoted comment by the anthropologist Margaret Mead.

[10] These were the estimates given for the Neolithic-period community at Skara Brae in Orkney, north-west of Scotland: one archaeologist described it as ‘essentially a community of teenagers and young adults’.

[11] This is one reason why the ever-popular game of complaining that women work longer hours than men is not quite fair – it’s not a true comparison of like with like.

[12] Use of ‘found’ tools – sticks, stones and the like – is not all that rare in nature: primates and certain carnivores such as cats and foxes have often been seen to use sticks as simple levers, whilst blackbirds, for example, will use a large flat stone as an anvil to break open snail-shells.

[13] Other than for war, of course: in one of her characteristic self-contradictions, Sjöö claims that women alone invented the ability to smelt metals, but that men alone should take the blame for ‘war and metal technologies’ – see her “New Age and Armageddon”, pp.127 and 157.

[14] In an experiment for a BBC television series, in which a small group of people lived for a year under reconstructed Iron Age conditions, the ‘primitive’ researchers were able to handle severe winter conditions far more easily than their ‘civilised’ neighbours! – see “Living In The Past”, p??.

[15] {ref to e.g. Elizabeth Paston diaries}

[16] Interestingly, the work-songs and ballads of the ‘bothy-billies’ form an important part of the historical record: see, for example, the historical notes in Robin Williamson, “English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish Fiddle Tunes”.

[17] For more detail, see James Burke’s description of this transition in his book and television series “The Day The Universe Changed”.

[18] See, for example, the research of Dr Joanna Bourke of Birkbeck College, London, quoted in David Thomas, “Not Guilty”, p.89.

[19] See, for example, Dorothy Broom, ‘Out Of The Frying Pan: technological change and domestic work’, in UNAA, “Women and Technological Change”.

[20] This is a point which is glaringly obvious to most masculist writers – see, for example, Neil Lyndon, “No More Sex War”, especially chapter 7, ‘No More Sex War’, or David Thomas, “Not Guilty”, especially chapter 2, ‘This Working Life’, or Sam Keen, “Fire In The Belly”, especially chapter 14, ‘Becoming Together’ – but which is very rarely grasped by feminists, who tend to avoid the whole issue by ranting about the supposed ‘glass ceiling’ instead…

[21] See Lyndon, “No More Sex War”, pp.83-7 and, especially, chapter 4, ‘Blind Panic’.

[22] Lyndon, (ibid.), p.87.

[23] Labour MP Marjorie Mowlam, “A woman’s place is in the House”, in “The Independent” [London], 12 October 1993.

[24] This is a point often misunderstood by ‘men’s rights’ campaigners: it may seem that “since 1980, one million jobs [in Australia] that would traditionally have gone to men and young school leavers, have gone to women” (Endeavour Forum, Men’s Division, 1993), but in fact the type of work being done is significantly different. Skilled and semi-skilled ‘trades’ still remain predominantly male; the new jobs are primarily in new technologies, geared to women’s ‘traditional’ dexterity, or in extensions of women’s equally-‘traditional’ service-industries; so blaming women or, especially, feminism for what are essentially political and technological changes is neither valid nor fair.

[25] Politician Kim Beazley, quoted in “The Age” [Melbourne], 18 Sept 93.

[26] Eileen Byrne, ‘Alternative careers for women – opening up mining industries and bluecollar work’, in UNAA, “Women and Technological Change”, p.87 (italics in the original).

[27] Ms Anna Maria Martell, quoted in “Worksafe News” (Australian government publication), October 1993, p.12.

[28] Ms Rita Prasad, (ibid.), p.14.

[29] See Naomi Wolf, “Fire With Fire”, p.257 and p.260.

[30] See chapter 15, ‘Are we ready to embrace equality?’, in Naomi Wolf, “Fire With Fire” – especially pp.257-266.

[31] A comment attributed to the gynaecologist Wendy Savage, apparently as ‘feminist’ advice to all women professionals: see Neil Lyndon, “No More Sex War”, p.119.

[32] Beatrix Campbell, ‘Life without father: it’s easy’, in “The Independent” [London], 17 Nov 93.

[33] For examples of the reality of this bond, look at the photographs on so many office desks – fathers (and now, increasingly, mothers) are forced apart from their families by a bizarre ‘economic’ system, but the bond is undeniably real! (Or, to look at the effects of the enforced absence of this bond, see chapter 8, ‘Battered husbands’ and chapter 9, ‘Absent fathers, violent sons’, in David Thomas, “Not Guilty”.)

[34] An unnamed American academic, quoted in Neil Lyndon, “No More Sex War”, p.220.

[35] Compare, for example, the tangled double-think of Heather Formaini’s “Men: the darker continent” to the careful research of Carol Lee – who actually bothers to ask young men and youth-workers about their experiences of childhood – in “Talking Tough”; see also chapter 9, ‘Absent fathers, violent sons’, in Thomas, “Not Guilty”.

[36] It’s now understood that young children are, if anything, more at risk from injury by the mother rather than the father, especially a natural father rather than stepfather – for example, mothers were the primary perpetrators in two-thirds of all cases in a recent spate of infant murders in New South Wales; see also statistics compiled by the American Association for Protecting Children, quoted in Thomas, “Not Guilty”, pp.140-5.

[37] See Mary Sheridan, “Spontaneous Play In Early Childhood”, p.26.

[38] Including women, of course: I remember one friend’s anguish at the – to her – agonisingly inadequate height of most kitchen work-surfaces – she was 6ft tall…

[39] Angela Lambert, ‘Eloquent notes from the Underground’, in “The Independent” [London], 8 November 93.

[40] I note with wry amusement that in some parts of this state women often insist that the toilet seat should be left up: not out of respect for men, but for fear of the notorious Redback spider – a close relative of the poisonous Black Widow!

[41] See respectively chapter 16, ‘The feminine fear of power’, and chapter 15, ‘Are we ready to embrace equality’, in Naomi Wolf, “Fire With Fire”.

[42] For examples of puellist writers who attempt to cast their personal problems – and their often violent opinions – as political issues and ‘facts’ affecting all women, see Andrea Dworkin on rape or pornography, Mary Daly on ‘patriarchal’ language, or Monica Sjöö on supposed ‘patriarchal’ suppression of women’s spirituality – or Germaine Greer on almost anything

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