Breaking down the backlash: And finally… men get it bad too y’know.

I would like to point out to everyone that I am a woman. Biologically, mentally, emotionally and socially my gender is female. You could probably deconstruct that sentence for a whole blog post but for the sake of, let’s just assume we can agree I’m a laydee. Having been this way my whole life I can confidently say I do have direct experience of  what life is like as a white, western, heterosexual, cis woman and some of the issues that affect our lives for good and bad. As I pointed out in the About Us section of the blog, I only have one piece of the jigsaw and part of the reason for starting this little project was to invite some other women out there to offer their pieces and begin to reveal the complex and colourful picture of women’s shared experience. Funnily enough, since doing that, what I’ve experienced most of is men telling me I shouldn’t be talking about these things. I’m perfectly open to hearing the thoughts of men on gender issues and would love them to share the way these things affect their lives. My partner and I have worked really hard to understand each other’s gendered experiences and have learned so much from each other. There is no doubt in my mind that if gender equality is to be a possibility then men and women talking, listening, respecting each other and trying to understand is going to be a central part of it.

But, here’s the thing, telling me not to write this blog/complain about degrading sexism/try to highlight real struggles and barriers that women face, because you think it’s too one sided is counter-productive. As I noted in my first paragraph, it’s really the only side of the story I am qualified to tell, being female and all. While there are a range of reasons why feminist critique or argument gets people’s backs up, I find this one pretty frustrating, particularly in Northern Ireland where we have an infuriating legacy of “Whataboutery” with regard to The Troubles. I’m fairly convinced it is possible to enlighten someone about your own experience without devaluing theirs and I hope that I don’t fall short of that ideal too often. And when I see one of those “competing rights” type arguments coming I try to back away slowly cause it’s just not what it’s about.


There’s also this: when it comes to our gendered experiences of the world we are living with a legacy of injustice which, over every generation that came before us, has disadvantaged women. While sometimes it’s hard for the “whatabouters” to hear even that statement, it is historical fact. I wish it wasn’t, but we can’t deny the fact that real gender equality has never existed in our culture in any generation ever. This historical context is reflected in policy and legislation to tackle gender inequality, standards in advertising and broadcasting that are designed to redress negative values and stereotypes in the public consciousness, and affirmative action like gender quotas that recognise equal representation across all levels of society is a necessity for long term change. So when Ulster Trader make the claim that their future ads in the “Nice Headlamps” series are set to include objectifying images of men it doesn’t make me throw in the towel with a “well that’s alright then”. First of all because degrading both genders is not progress, but also because it’s not laden with the same cultural meaning.


It’s important for me to note that I write this particular post, painfully conscious of the fact that a young man was raped in Belfast city centre in the early hours of Monday morning. I write a lot about rape and I write from a female perspective but I know that men are raped too, probably with a great deal of under-reporting. I have the deepest respect for every survivor of rape and sexual abuse. I am also aware that many of the other issues I talk about like safety, body image, barriers to fulfilling employment, all affect men too. So why do I not talk about them in a gender neutral way? At the heart of it is the ongoing inequality I talked about, the prevalence of sexual violence against women, the reality of the gender pay gap, the overwhelming bias in the beauty industry towards putting pressure on females to hate themselves enough to spend money in order to feel better. To be honest, I feel it is time men started speaking up about the structural and cultural barriers that are affecting them, talking about violence among young men, critiquing bias in our education system that disenfranchises boys from a young age, highlighting the urgency of the problem of suicide as the biggest killer of young men in our country, deconstructing myths of masculinity that do nothing for male self esteem. As for me, I cannot escape the fact that, all things considered, from the Upper Malone to the Lower Shankill, from a refugee camp in Southern Sudan to a brothel in South Belfast, you are less likely to be able to live your life and pursue your goals in peace, safety and with full autonomy if you are female. Until that changes I will not be shutting up.


3 Responses to “Breaking down the backlash: And finally… men get it bad too y’know.”

  1. 1 rhodian November 12, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    thank you. men’s issues are tremendously important in this conversation, and are very close to my own heart. part of what happens every time there is discrimination against women, also affects men (albeit less directly). the imbalance of power between men and women is mirrored between men and men. the message is always “work harder, don’t take your full paternity entitlement, don’t spend time with your kids – take work home, be ambitious in these terms, family life is for girls. you have to cope on your own, don’t cry, don’t ask for help, don’t get too educated and don’t ask questions” northern ireland, particularly rural NI, abounds in damaging, narrow myths of masculinity which are hurting all kinds of men all over the country. we will only get equality when everyone is equal.

    • 2 soisaystoher November 13, 2009 at 7:03 pm

      Thanks for commenting Rhodian. I really appreciate your insight. I find it frustrating that there are both men and women who benefit from the current gender structures and therefore try to suppress any dissenting voices on either side. Meanwhile the rest of us have to suffer the straight jacket of the stereotypes they work to preserve. Also, I was at a talk today by Bob Collins, chief commissioner of the Equality Commission, and he spoke of the misunderstanding of the concept of equality that exists in NI. He noted that people here view equality as a limited resource – so if you get more equality then there’s less for me. We have a lot of work to do.

  2. 3 est November 13, 2009 at 12:25 am

    and then there’s angela merkel
    among the most powerful women on the planet
    and yet she has even more to offer..

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