I am a heterosexual man. In the 1970s and 80s I would have been described as red-blooded. I am glad we do not live in that era any longer. The upshot of this happenstance is that I find the sight of many aspects of the female form rather alluring. The problem is that as time goes by, I am getting to be aware that this is more than just a case of incidental prurience, it is a societal problem.
The world we live in needs to change. We have seen a beautiful wave of sexual aggressors being unmasked, and a collective view taking shape that all people should be able to live free of sexual violence. The best bit of 2017 was the sensation that this was one area of human existence where we really were making good progress, and that all sides could find some commonly held ground.
I have always taken the view that for the gender political landscape of our culture to evolve, it can not just be women doing the heavy lifting; men have to join in too. Whether that comes from the knowledge that women have plenty to contribute at work, that men have plenty to contribute in the home or that all contributions are valid, we all have a part to play in making the world work better.
That said. That is all well and good unless we stop making breasts such an issue. Here is a nice example of a vicious circle, with which I’m sure you’ll be familiar. Breast feeding is the most natural way to feed a baby. If a woman is able to breast feed, she needs to be able to. The problem is that men stare. This then gets dressed up as an issue with corrupting young boys, which is utter shite.
If men could put to one side our teenage fascination with boobs the world would be a considerably better place: women could breast feed anywhere they need, at any time their child needs, without the sensation that some man is leering at them, or that some woman is judging them for some man leering at them. Our babies are always going to need to eat; we need to stop being so bloody judgemental about it all.
The moronic double standard of men being able to be topless in public, while women are shamed and legislated against for the same thing needs to go, too. I understand that this fascination with breasts is part of my biological imperative, but it creates an atmosphere where some women feel restricted in comparison to their male counterparts, whether they want to be topless or not.
The male half of society find it impossible not to sexualise women’s bodies in absolutely every situation. A woman can’t even go for a run without a man being hypnotised by her swinging breasts. And heckled. And whistled at. Simple exercise is out of bounds for one half of society, due to the fact that the other half are eternal teenagers. Is that not indicative of a world which isn’t functioning correctly?
The male half of society find it impossible not to commoditise sex, leading to a culture where it has to be explained to teenage boys that consent is necessary for sex. We live in a world where men will see a drunk woman as an easy opportunity for sex, and he will likely evade prosecution for raping her. This takes place because a man will say and do anything to have sex. With absolutely any one or any thing at any time.
The male half of society find it impossible not to utterly ignore or negate the female viewpoint. And the truly galling thing is that we’re not even doing it deliberately. It is purely an oversight that we sit with our legs spread, that we talk over women in meetings, that we are biased to choosing the views of other men. If we stop to think, it is easy for us to stop, but we have to notice first, and that’s hard.
History has not been kind on women, and it will take us a long time to undo all of the mistakes we have collectively made. We come from an era where we have sexualised women to such an extent that we cannot even take the fact that they have opinions seriously. There are men and women who will not accept that women are capable of leadership, of problem solving, or of physical strength.
The power structures we have built disproportionately benefit heterosexual men, so they need to be torn down. However, iconoclasm is not the solution; it is only the starting point. What we do with the ruins is where the hard work starts. Part of the solution is the rebalancing of parenting: we need to accept that fathers are important too, and so men need to use the paternity rights of women.
I have witnessed first-hand the career limiting effects of motherhood, and we need to share that out – at the very least, men need more time with their children without penalty or sneer. Changing cultural norms takes time and consensus, and that means we need to stop judging one another; we need to stop projecting our prejudices of what people cannot do. It causes impossible barriers to progress.
Generalisations are always wrong. Not everything I have written here applies to every man or every woman. There are plenty of men who do listen to women in meetings, men who do not stare at the breasts of every woman they happen to encounter, and who do not feel the need to sexualise even the thought of a woman going to the toilet. These men are where the next step of society starts.
Generalisations are always wrong. There are plenty of women who do not feel belittled by men in meetings, or throughout their careers in general, who do not have any desire to go topless in public, who do not give even the merest of hoots about who looks where when they are feeding their children. These women may well be leading the way to the future we need to start building now.
Generalisations are always wrong. The idea that parenthood is motherhood needs to stop; the idea that fathers are at best baby-sitters of their own children needs to stop. The idea that the female body is inherently sexual needs to stop; the idea that heterosexual male view of the world still has primacy needs to stop. The idea that men and women are too different to be equal needs to stop.