The louder a man brays about his feminist credentials the more convinced I become that a nasty story involving gaslighting, abuse, assault or worse is looming. This seems particularly true when the man involved is touched, tainted, by the fickle finger of fame in some way.
Creepy men using feminism as just another means of luring women into a relationship.
Not a relationship.
That suggests equals…hints at love and respect.
Let’s try that again.
Creepy men using feminism as just another means of luring women into bed.
That’s not right either because consensual sex is the business of two equals.
Let’s go one more time.
Creepy men using feminism as just another means of using and abusing women.
The thing is that I am now wary of calling myself a feminist.
It seems to have become a fractured and fractious term…
Let’s just say I think everyone should enjoy the same rights.
That’s fairly safe territory I think?
As a teenager I read “The Female Eunuch” (don’t worry this isn’t going to be a “I can’t be sexist some of my best friends are women” thing) but only because Morrissey said something about Germaine Greer.
Then I read it again when Echobelly referenced it with “Father-Ruler-King-Computer”.
And I read “Lady Love Your Cunt” because it was printed on the back of a lyric sheet in a S*M*A*S*H album…and they had a single with the same name.
That was the extent of my feminist credentials.
Because I was raised in a religious home I never participated in the “locker room” talk of my peers…sex was a sacred thing that was to be enjoyed only within the confines of marriage…women were to be respected with both words and deeds…also, it just hasn’t ever really sat particularly well with me, that sort of boorishness, lad culture always seemed a bit, well, crass and demeaning. For boys and girls. The fact that I didn’t drink also helped me avoid becoming one of those boys I think. Beer turns lots of men into…blokes.
Spending your adolescence at Church or in your bedroom reading Edith Sitwell and Shelagh Delaney doesn’t really equip you for joining in with the “lads” as they leer and catcall “birds”.
When a boy in my class at school performed an unspeakable act of naughtiness with a girl on the floor of her parents kitchen while they were away for the weekend I was at home watching “The Leather Boys” on VHS and wondering what Morrissey was up to.
I was incapable of joining in with the “banter”.
Then at 18 I was off on a mission for my Church…not exactly fertile ground for getting boozed up and grabbing a proper “sort”.
That makes my decision to go all in on “Loaded” during the Britpop years all the more…startling, astonishing, depressing?
It didn’t last long really.
But for a few months I bought it, read it and then pinned the posters of various celebrity women in various stages of undress onto the walls of my digs.
I can remember a friend coming over to visit after this had been going on for a few months and looking at the wall, then looking at me, then back at the wall and then just shaking his head. He was older…smarter…he saw this for what it was; cheap thrills, soft porn, exploitation (of the women and me) and a bit, lets be honest, tawdry.
I get it.
I hear your arguments.
“He’s only saying this stuff to make himself look virtuous…”
That is, at least in part, true.
I do want to paint a picture of myself that is virtuous.
It’s not accurate.
I have behaved as abysmally as the next person in my life.
I am no Saint.
I’ve cheated, lied, betrayed, hurt and been just plain unpleasant on far more occasions than I have not been those things.
I am, like most people, flawed…a little bit broken.
So, don’t misrepresent this.
I am not placing myself on the moral high ground.
I am trying to examine why it is that I would have allowed myself to be dragged into a fairly unpleasant alleyway off the main street of Britpop.
I have often railed against portraits of Britpop from the righteous brethren and sisters of The Guardian as being xenophobic (at best) and sexist.
That wasn’t my lived experience.
My experience of Britpop was one of boys and girls etc.
My experience of Britpop was of seeing people from places in society that I had no previous knowledge of suddenly taking a place in my heart and on my walls as heroes, icons and inspirations.
Yet despite that I fell for the “Loaded” moment.
I don’t think I was smart enough to defend myself by wielding the mighty sword of irony. I think I wanted to belong. I had spent a long time on the outside and now Britpop had dragged people like me inside…from despair to where?
I should have stuck to the sage advice from The Kinks…I’m not like everybody else.
But we all want to be like everybody else.
We all want to belong.
We all want to be…someone. Even if that someone is actually someone…else.
Looking back now I feel a bit icky when I think about what I was putting on my walls.
It all looked innocent enough with issue 1, bad boy actor Gary Oldman mimicking an old shot of Michael Caine (a Loaded favourite) along with articles on Paul Weller and Eric Cantona. Plus there was the promise of something a bit naughty with an article on hotel sex. Given that I wasn’t having any sex I was prepared to go with it.
All innocent enough.
The strap-line hints at what is to come though doesn’t it?
“For men who should know better”.
Just three months later and this was the front cover of “Loaded”.
Two “naughty sorts” in football shirts giving come hither looks to the camera.
It isn’t all that far away from page three.
But here a chap come a cropper…
What is wrong with two independent young women making a choice to model like this? Get back in the fifties granddad. Mary Whitehouse called.
I get it.
I just wonder how much choice is actually being exercised and how much manipulation and coercion is taking place?
There are people far better placed to comment on that than me of course.
I probably had this poster of Kathy Lloyd on my wall.
I don’t know who I was.
Laura Mulvey couldn’t have imagined such a thing when she wrote about the “male gaze”.
“In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to the female form which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness.”
(Visual and Other Pleasures, Laura Mulvey)
Kathy Lloyd isn’t being presented to us as she would wish.
She is being presented to us as we wish.
By we I mean…he.
That’s good isn’t it.
What happens to the people who are not the “hottest” or who do not have “looked-at-ness”?
Nothing good…not without a lot of help.
Big articles on Supergrass, REM and one of the most gifted footballers of his generation, Dennis Bergkamp.
Pop a picture of them on the front cover?
They don’t have “looked-at-ness”.
So we will pop a photoshopped image of Kylie onto the front and let it work its magic on the target audience of beer soaked numbskulls, lonely boys and blokes, like me, who didn’t really understand what was going on but who wanted to be accepted.
A few years down the line and a quick glance suggests things have moved on…a man on the front cover riding a badger!
An interview with Mariella Frostrup!
And a photograph of a woman’s bottom under the clever title; “ARSES: AN APPRECIATION”.
In recent days a scandal has developed around Ryan Adams, indie troubadour, alt-country legend and Taylor Swift obsessive.
It doesn’t make for pleasant reading.
Paul Draper of Mansun has become embroiled in an “issue” too and has taken to Twitter and Facebook to defend himself in less than erudite ways.
I’ve watched the R. Kelly documentary and felt physically ill.
Maybe that Gillette advert was right?
I don’t think so.
I think some men are awful.
I think they are awful for a variety of reasons.
Some are awful because of booze.
Some are awful because they are, simply, awful.
Some are awful…maybe even evil…because of fame.
Fame, fame, fatal fame.
It really does play hideous tricks on the brain.
When you constantly say “yes” to people…which is exactly what happens to famous people of both genders…it begins to change them; and not in a way that is good. Lots of famous people manage it of course, they have good friends, close family, life experiences that all help them to stay, if not normal, then as normal as can be expected. But some people find fame and begin to believe the people who tell them they are a genius…they begin to believe that they really are different, or worse…better than “ordinary” people. At that point it is game over for them having relationships with anyone that are healthy.
But lots more men, and many who are famous, do not behave in the way that Ryan Adams is alleged to have behaved…or Louis C.K…or R. Kelly…or…insert your own favourite celebrity sex pest here. Lots of men are aware that their words and actions can have a negative impact on women…so they try to be respectful, try to understand the way in which they can cause hurt, fear or upset.
I wouldn’t buy a copy of “Loaded” now.
I don’t have any interest in shoring up that sort of attitude, that anti-culture, that nastiness.
I try, even though I don’t always succeed, to be respectful…of everyone.
I think that is a good place to be at.
Most of the people I engage with in the real world and online do the same thing.
But I have also seen some of the messages the women I know receive from men they haven’t ever met or engaged with in any way…lurid doesn’t get us close. I’ve listened to the tales of groping at gigs. I know about abusive, in all sorts of ways, relationships that people close to me have endured.
Ask the women in your own life.
You won’t like what they tell you.
That does not mean that all men, or even most men, are guilty of behaving in that way, but what it does mean is that those of us who are at least trying to conduct ourselves in a respectful fashion have a responsibility to call out the language and the actions that harm women…and, selfishly, that harm men as we find ourselves lumped into some amorphous mass of “toxic masculinity”.
I said at the start of this that I was wary of calling myself a feminist…and I still feel that way.
I guarantee that almost all of the men embroiled in these abusive scandals have declared themselves to be feminists at some point.
Maybe even wore a t-shirt.
A declaration of being a feminist is largely meaningless because of that.
I’ll avoid any label.
Instead I will try to live my life in a way that shows my support for equality of all people, that is respectful and that is sensitive.