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A newborn brings hope


Is there a change in sight for women's plight in the world? Anurag Agnihotri under a Creative Commons Licence

Apologies, dear readers for the six week silence.

The birth of our first grandchild left me inexplicably reluctant to write another doomsday blog.  A newborn baby brings hope, even into the most dismal scenario. I couldn’t bring myself to tackle the usual suspects – violence, rape, abuse, poverty, climate change – all the horrid, nasty bits of life that surround us whether we like it or not.

Friend of 20 years, ex-NI editor Nikki van der Gaag, sent me her latest book, Feminism & Men. It’s not something I’ve ever thought much about, so I read it with some curiosity. At the end of the book, I was astonished. It seems just common sense to conclude that for society to change, men should be part of the battle for gender equality. It can’t happen unless there’s a cessation of hostility and a dissipation of suspicion and distrust.

Yet few of us ever think that way. The book concludes on a note of hope, offering possibilities and a way forward, to climb out of the rut which excludes so many people. It’s illuminating and educative. An important book. Thank you, Nikki.

Nikki raises questions that I have thought about in passing. I was taken aback when some enthusiastic young women friends decided to raise money for a charitable cause, ours, by staging a ‘bunny party’. Visions of Playboy centrespreads and female cocktail waiters scantily dressed as young rabbits loomed before me, leaving me frozen with embarrassment. The young women couldn’t see why I was horrified.

Nikki has interviews, stories and statistics which illuminate the huge chasm between older feminists and the 20- and 30-something year olds. They view ‘feminists’ as rabid, boring, strident, stereotypical, aggressive, and not-fun women. Naturally they want none of the above.   

The book contains interviews from all over the world. We hear about ‘macho’ Latin American and African men who have participated in experiments which radically changed their patterns of behaviour. Discussions which got them involved in parenting, working with their wives or partners, contributing to household chores, in short doing ‘womens’ work’.

At the opposite end of the spectrum there are analyses by ‘super successful’ women CEOs  of work, women and glass ceilings in the competitive, cut-throat, corporate jungle. We learn about combating violence against women in exceedingly violent countries where patriarchy prevails and machismo seems set in stone.

Yet, it also describes the change that can and has happened in male-dominated societies. There’s even a story from Saudi Arabia, where a battered burqa-clad woman’s bruised, black eye is shown with a caption reading ‘Some things can’t be hidden’, as part of an anti-domestic violence campaign in Saudi Arabia.

The book has a section on the violence and rape of young men and boys, especially in conflict zones – not something we regularly get to read about. And on the misery of little boys with so-called ‘sissy’ characteristics who are bullied and beaten most for not conforming to the macho boy ‘norm’. It talks about an interesting campaign called Let Toys be Toys that targets retailers such as Toys R Us to end gender stereotyping.

Another campaign, ‘Pink Stinks’, is self explanatory. Hopefully such activism will help change mindsets and stereotypes, starting in the nursery.

As I wonder what kind of world my little granddaughter will grow up in, I am comforted by a recent article on the British Guardian website. Emma Watson has just launched the HeForShe campaign at the United Nations, calling on men to speak out in support of women. The backlash against her is vile and disgusting. But for what its worth, there are tiny pockets all over the world where change is happening. There is room for hope. And for this I give thanks.

Feminism & Men by Nikki van der Gaag is published by Zed Books. Nikki will be in discussion with Dean Peacock of Sonke Gender Justice at an event at Bookmarks bookshop, London, at 7pm on Thursday 2 October.

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