Tag Archives: gender politics

You sexist thing

Sexism is in itself a bit of a sexist construct. Dictionary definitions are generally akin to this one, from the Oxford English Dictonary:

“Prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.”

The word means discrimination on the basis of sex. It might well be more typical for men to discriminate this way against women. Okay, let’s face it – it is. But that’s surely not a matter for the dictionary. It’s an addendum to the definition, not part of it.

The problem with equating the term sexism specifically with prejudice against women is that it has a marked difference on the solution to the problem. The opposite of discrimination is non-discrimination. The opposite of discrimination against women is discrimination against men.

When George Clooney recently married Amal Alamuddin, many headlines were cited reporting how the famous actor had married – while failing to report that Ms Alamuddin was pretty famous in her own field as a high profile civil rights lawyer. Of course civil rights law is hardly part of popular culture, so it’s not sexist or any other kind of -ist to mention the globally-recognised Clooney in a headline while leaving Alamuddin’s credentials to the body of the article. Where, importantly, she always did get her due. No article ever suggested that the famous actor had simply married a female.

But such headlines were deemed sexist. So presumably with a nod to this, New York Magazine recently published the following headline:

“Robotics CEO Marries Trophy Boyfriend Joseph Gordon-Levitt.”

Comments below the article lauded the humour of the headline – but very few complained that it was sexist. And in fact, sexist in a far worse way than any Clooney headlines. No one ever suggested that Amal Alamuddin was a “trophy wife”.

Just like the Clooney headlines, this one named Gordon-Levitt but not his bride. Because Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a well-known actor whose name would be recognised by the majority of readers, whereas robotics CEOs are not so commonly known outside of their field. That is simply a comment on the parties’ respective breadth of fame, and nothing else.

But apparently, because this headline was perceived to trivialise a man rather than a woman, it wasn’t sexist – it was hilarious.

Sexism is about discrimination on the basis of sex. That sex can be male just as it can be female. Discrimination against men is not the way to abolish sexism against women – just as the answer to anti-Semitism isn’t to pick on black people. What should have been reported in both of these cases was that actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt married robotics CEO Tasha McCauley, and actor George Clooney married civil rights lawyers Amal Alamuddin. In other words, the facts.

As long as the response to discrimination against women is “hilarious” discrimination against men, sexism remains rife. The answer to sexism is simple. Don’t be sexist.

AS 03-01-15


Breast practice

There are lots of good things about breastfeeding. It’s scientifically proven to be better for the baby, and to help prevent certain infections in infants. Unicef UK recently claimed that if 45 per cent of new mothers breastfed exclusively for just four months – as opposed to the 7 per cent who do currently – it could save the NHS £11 million a year. It’s also the most convenient method of feeding; mothers may be caught short without a bottle from time to time, but they’re never going to leave their own breasts at home. And, let’s not forget, breastfeeding affords teenage boys a welcome glimpse of boob.

We all grow up with an exclusively sexual outlook on breasts. If we could actually remember being breastfed, we might feel differently about them – but we can’t. Well maybe some of those kids who are breastfed until they’re five can – but that’s just weird. For most of us, breasts are sexual appendages, and in our western society we feel their exhibition should remain private – unless you’re a stripper or a hooker and you’re being paid to put your wares about. If the average woman walking down the street lifted up her top and flashed her breast, responses would range from titillation to disgust. No one would think it a normal and natural thing to do. It would be the same if a man adjusted his jeans and got his cock out to do it. He’s not doing anything sexual with his penis, it’s not an exclusively sexual organ anyway and half of the world’s population has got one – but it’s not pleasant behaviour.

So why does having a baby on your hip alter the acceptability of exposing your sexual organs in public? It doesn’t.

And most young mothers I know don’t want to flash strangers. Breastfeeding is a task they willingly perform, but the more discreet they can be about it the better; they’re trying to feed their child, not give a restaurant a thrill. They too appreciate that their breasts are a sexual organ in the minds of every single person on the planet except for the small baby about to suck on them – and getting them out might be necessary, but no one else is going to enjoy seeing it happen.

A young mother in Claridges recently started to breastfeed at her table. The management didn’t ask her to stop. They didn’t relocate her to a corner, as UKIP leader Nigel Farage suggested would be seemly practice in this sort of case. They simply asked her to up the modesty level and cover up a bit; they even provided her with a napkin. The woman took her outraged story to the press; shortly afterwards an angry mob of new mothers congregated outside the restaurant on a freezing cold winter’s day, got their tits out in protest and began to breastfed their babies. Breast milk might be full of all sorts of lovely nutrients, but it’s not Kryptonite – regardless of how much breast milk your baby is getting, you probably shouldn’t be standing around in Arctic temperatures with it just to make a point. A poor point. Poorly.

Was Claridges right? Hell yes. Ladies – the only person who wants to see your swollen milk-ridden tits is your baby. If there’s anyone else in the vicinity who’s in the mood to see a pair of lady breasts, they’re going to want to see much nicer ones than yours – and in a frankly sexier scenario. Covering up is not being prudish –  it’s common decency. We as a society have agreed that certain parts of our bodies – namely the sexy parts – don’t get exposed to the general public. We don’t urinate or defecate in public. We don’t shower or bathe in public. We don’t get dressed in public. We don’t wander the streets naked for the fun of it. It’s hardly going back to Victorian times to uphold standards of decency which say don’t flash your bits.

No one is suggesting that women shouldn’t breastfeed, or that they shouldn’t breastfeed in public places. Simply that they should be aware of their surroundings – like normal people.

And if they’re caught short with no way of covering up, and someone offers them a napkin – the correct response is “Thank you.”

AS 07-12-14