Everyone begins life in a mother’s womb – and leaves it in Mother Earth
Why write about women? I’m not a woman. Therefore I can only give an objective account of my thoughts on what it might mean to be a woman. But I’m not a footballer either and yet I’ve spent my whole working life writing about football – quite well (at times) I think. So my feeling is – if I consume the right material, do my due diligence, be respectful, honest and let my Genuinity flow through my words, then hopefully I can do a reasonable job of exploring what it means to be woman – and why women deserve respect, equality and Niceness on a level that perhaps they aren’t getting enough of right now (or ever have).
Part of my reason for writing this blog was to give my son Sammy a better idea of the type of man I am – or rather person I am. And to give an account of the type of world I’d like him to be living in. But I also thought it might be nice to give him a rough idea of the type of man (person) I’d like him to be. Now that’s not to say I have any real expectations of how he should be as a person. That’s up to him to figure out. But I insist upon trying to influence him in certain ways – teach him to value life, be respectful of others, be nice and compassionate, care for his family and friends and stand up for what he believes in. I would like him to be loving, kind and generous – and I would like him to appreciate what it means to be a white man in the society in which he lives.
I would like Sammy to understand that he has a responsibility to promote equality, fairness and justice for all. And that means being sensitive to the lives of others who don’t have the freedoms and opportunities he is likely to enjoy in abundance. Among those people, I would certainly place women (as well as, say, ethnic minorities in the UK). And so I’d like to share with him my views on the continuing emancipation of women, and how I believe his generation can further the improvement of the landscape of fairness for all – even if things can never reach the utopias I often speak of. I’d also like to think about the the type of world I’d want my daughter to grow up in – if I had one (ever have one). But the sentiment remains the same. I just hope I can do a decent job of writing about something I can’t ever truly understand. I hope that my words express the desire for equality that comes from my Genuinity.
The myth of femininity
“One is not born, but rather becomes, woman,” says Simon De Beauvoir in The Second Sex. Without wishing to get De Beauvoir wrong, I’ll try to sum up some of the main ideas in the book regarding life as the ‘second sex’. Women are inferior to men – they are object, men are subject. Man sees – the woman is seen. Man is culture – woman is nature. Woman is tied to her position as the dominated sex as much as anything by her physiology – by having a womb (her maternal destiny). Woman is seen as Other – the second sex. She is kept in a position of subjugation through anti-naturalistic discourses and practices which have embedded themselves deeper and deeper into the behaviours and expectations of human beings over the course of history.
De Beauvoir saw femininity as a myth – the eternal feminine was just a construct, born in the (all too human) opposition (or altering) between man and woman. The notion that there is a feminine nature or ‘essence’ was a misconception for De Beauvoir. This feminine condition – these expectations, ‘truths’ or characteristics of womanhood – only served to keep them in their place (subjugated). “They do not know what the woman of tomorrow will bring them,” she says of terrified man, who fears losing his position of dominance, so he best keep her in her place. After a while, it all just appears to be something beyond question: “It is difficult for men to measure the enormous extent of social discrimination that seems insignificant from the outside and whose moral and intellectual repercussions are so deep in woman that they appear to spring from an original nature.”
I have to admit – I have ambivalent feelings over the notion of femininity. I’m troubled – and that’s mainly because I know De Beauvoir is right. I find it very difficult to argue with such a bold, brave and inspirational genius. However, the idea of a feminine spirit is something which plays a major part in my own ideas on Genuinity. Championing femininity and a childish nature is a key element to Taoism that makes up a significant part of my philosophy and I find it hard to reconcile my thoughts with De Beauvoir’s clearly well-reasoned and observed (lived) ones on the myth of femininity. I’ll go on to this in more detail in just a moment, but for now I’ll just state that I do agree with the arguments put forward by De Beauvoir. However, I also believe we can have a notion of femininity which serves to illuminate a positive entity without the inherent flaws which render inequality between the sexes.
Taoism and Genuinity
So are De Beauvoir’s views on femininity contrary to Taoism? Is it contrary to Genuinity and the importance that I place on ‘feminine energy’ – this positive energy that I link inextricably to the Tao? Arguably yes – however, Genuinity speaks of essence anyway. And of course, for Sartre and De Beauvoir, existence precedes essence. Well, for me, Genuinity precedes existence. There is clearly a need to be careful when speaking of the feminine energy which is intertwined with Genuinity – because the last thing I want to do is perpetuate the myths that keep women in their wrongful place as the second sex. Rather, the best thing to make clear is that there is a feminine energy in ALL of us. It is something to be celebrated and championed. And it needs to be heard, celebrated and championed on equal terms. Even the idea of a power struggle or the very notion of ‘power’ has a masculine tone – we wouldn’t even have to discuss power relations in an ideal world. As the author of the Tao Te Ching, Lao-Tzu, the founder of Taoism, reputedly wrote: “Know the masculine/Keep to the feminine.”
Equality and fairness should just be. So while I must admit that aligning Genuinity with feminine energy is potentially fraught, I try to resolve the concept with an insistence on its existence in every being, and that we need to rethink just what femininity actually means – because there can be a place for it in a discourse of kindness; of Niceness. I believe there is a place for notions of masculinity and femininity – we just need to ensure they work in the right ways. There will be many women who hate the feminine tag but also many who who embrace it (or at least aspects of it). What we need to do going forward is celebrate the positive aspects of such an idea and ditch the negative ones which only serve to place women in a position of subjugation. The same of course goes for masculinity – something I have previously been critical of. There needs to be a place for it – and, similarly, an appreciation of the good and useful things that come from it. I stand by my assertion that masculinity tends to be associated with more negative traits and emotions which often seem to be unhelpful and not conducive to the proliferation of happiness.
What of the biological difference then? No matter what your opinion is on the perhaps outdated and undoubtedly questionable notion of femininity, one cannot deny that man and woman exist as biological counterpoints. Of course the notion of what it means to be man and woman is endlessly complex and fluid these days – in a good way. But, on a basic level, it’s impossible to convincingly argue against the idea that men and women exist, and together have the capacity to create new human life. However, beyond the basic physiological properties, there are myriad factors which constitute what it means to be a person, an existent, and it is crucial that we avoid ascribing labels or expectations to a particular gender – we are all just people.
Embracing a femininity
What about women who want to embrace a/their femininity? Women who wear it as a badge of honour. Women who are proud of being women, or like being a woman as opposed to a man, and who love aspects of femininity. Women who like to look pretty (whatever that means). Women who like cute babies, or cats, or dogs, or handbags. Women who obsess about make-up. Or women who really love pink stuff. What about ‘girly girls’? Is it wrong to be overly girly? Is it wrong to embrace the role of being a maternal figure – of being a mother? Truth is, I don’t know. In fact, I don’t even know if you can really class any of the things I’ve listed as essentially feminine (seeing as the very nature of the term itself is in doubt). Also, apologies for that stream of superficial examples of what femininity might mean – I do believe there’s actually a significant amount more depth to it than that, as I’ll hopefully go on to illuminate.
We all have a right to be whoever we want to be – just as long as we maintain the principles of Genuinity; such as kindness, compassion and respect. Girly girls being girly girls might not be particularly helpful in the fight against patriarchal hegemony, but it shouldn’t necessarily be their responsibility to change the world. Or rather just theirs. It’s everyone’s. And that once again comes down to respect. As men, we need to respect that women are our equals – if they want to embrace a femininity, they are free to make that choice. It shouldn’t affect the way we see them or treat them. Women deserve the same treatment as men – the same opportunities, the same respect, the same kindness, the same value.
As mentioned, I obviously can’t know how it truly feels to be a woman, but it seems to me that much of what it means to be feminine or masculine is (inevitably) inextricably tied up with the body. It led to me to wonder: would a woman who gets cancer and has, for example, a double mastectomy feel like she’d lost an aspect of her femininity in the same way as I might feel emasculated if I lost a testicle and couldn’t have children any more? It seems to be quite a common thing when you read interviews by men who have suffered testicular cancer. So would you question the actions of a woman who opted to have implants (or wear fake breasts of some kind) if she lost hers to cancer, because she felt like it restored a part of her femininity that she’d lost? I know I wouldn’t. You could certainly question the use of the word feminine, but surely not the sentiment behind the act – if it was indeed influence by femininity.
So whatever femininity is or isn’t, I would always be wary of trying to remove it from our thoughts completely – because I think all of the things I mentioned are nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. I see femininity as kindness, compassion, maternal instincts, gentleness, empathy and sensitivity. I don’t see it as traits of an underclass; rather I see it as traits of the best and most worthy. Traits that should be celebrated and lauded. There should be no Other – instead we are All. We are equal. Or as De Beauvoir put it: “What is demanded is that no boundaries of sex or caste be drawn.”
But is niceness flawed?
This is is something of a running theme throughout my blog posts – and certainly worth exploring in relation to women and their quest for a level playing field. Does anyone ever actually manage to right any wrongs by just being nice? Can the “woman of tomorrow” change the world and still be nice? De Beauvoir certainly felt that the second sex needed to be active in their tussle for equality – and quite understandably. She called on her fellow women to mobilise – to challenge the passivity that had wrongly been imprinted on them throughout history. But that would come at a price initially: “Refusing to be the Other, refusing complicity with man, would mean renouncing all the advantages an alliance with the superior caste confers on them,” she writes. And later on in The Second Sex: “The beauty of flowers and women’s charms can be appreciated for what they are worth; if these treasures are paid for with blood or misery, one must be willing to sacrifice them.”
But can women have their cake and eat it, too? Can they be nice AND rebellious? Can they remain sensitive, kind and compassionate women but also be aggravators/instigators of change? Can they retain a sense of femininity while also demonstrating the needle necessary to smash through the boundaries imposed by patriarchy? I think they can. In fact, I believe they are. Things aren’t perfect. But I suspect they’re a great deal better than they were when De Beauvoir actually penned The Second Sex. However, we still have much to do. The important thing for me is that Niceness shouldn’t be lost in this tussle for equality. For me, Genuinity has to remain central to our relations going forward.
Men and women need to believe that they can be kind, caring and compassionate beings and yet still live in a fair and equal world. There’s nothing wrong with a man or woman who is passionate about a cause they believe in. There’s nothing wrong with fighting injustice. The point is, there shouldn’t have to be injustice to fight against. If we tapped into our Genuinity more and embraced the inner child, feminine spirit of Niceness, men would refuse to be complicit any longer in subjugating their female counterparts and women would deservedly earn the fraternity and equality that’s been wrongfully denied them since the dawn of civilisation.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I accept that Niceness can lead to vulnerability and exploitation. But that won’t stop me from championing it. What’s needed is better education to help men (and women) realise the kind of things that need to change to make the world a fairer place. We’re already seeing it with examples such as companies enforcing equal pay for men and women. It is a ludicrous notion that there should be a disparity in pay between two people of equal ability just because of their gender. Also, more and more women are finding high level positions more attainable in work roles. We currently have a female prime minister of course. But, again, the stats are still pretty shameful – women just don’t have the same social mobility and opportunities as men and that needs to change.
Ultimately though, at this point in the blog, I just want to reiterate that women shouldn’t need to feel that they must be spiky, have a fire in their belly, be aggressive or demonstrate more masculine tendencies to get what they deserve. As men, we need to recognise that we’d actually be better off by doing things to make life more equal for women; we need to listen to our Genuinity and show kindness, respect and compassion for these brilliant human beings. As De Beauvoir says: “He would be liberated with their liberation. But that is exactly what he fears. And he persists in the justifications meant to maintain women in her chains.” So let’s break those chains, allay those fears and work towards equality – because it’s what our Genuinity tells us is the right thing to do; it’s what a Nice world would resemble.
Smash the system
It’s worth noting at this point that I appreciate just how impossible our situation is at times – the systems that are in place have solidified over time in a manner that sometimes appears to be irreversible. Language and communication play possibly the most significant roles in preventing the level of meaningful change we need. I write of a similar thing in my piece on Nietzschean Niceness – that we have come so far down the path of using language in particular ways that we have lost touch with our animalistic roots; that we have sown the seeds for spurious ‘truths’ – that we have allowed our words to bind and restrict us in ways we seemingly cannot erode.
As Michel Foucault suggested with his work on discourses and discursive practices, language is used by dominant forces to maintain their hierarchical positions. And as Derrida illuminated in his work on Deconstruction, the binary oppositions so key to language do the same thing – position one half of a whole over another. Even the word ‘man’ itself is used to denote the entire species – how ridiculous is that? And people all over the country (both informed and less informed) use it flagrantly without ever stopping to think about how limiting that enforced superiority is. How can anything different possibly be expected of the children of tomorrow? They grow up unknowingly bound by a misguided conception of men as the rightful heirs to a dominant position over women because terms like ‘man’ (meaning all of humankind) exist without question.
One only needs to explore the kind of terms used to describe promiscuous men and women to exemplify this notion – women who sleep around are sluts, whores and slags; men who sleep around are stags, cads and Lotharios. What can possibly be done to change the attitudes of young men and women growing up in societies where such terms, with their wildly contrasting associations, are so embedded in language, communication and culture. The answer is probably not a lot – but I for one refuse to accept that; I believe in Pure Niceness and Genuinity and I believe I have a duty and responsibility to change these attitudes; to rail against the lexicon of inequality. We’re either both sluts or neither of us are sluts – sex must be a shared exchange and a place of safe reciprocity; a connection. And an equal one.
Keeping up appearances
So why shouldn’t a woman dress in a sexually ‘provocative’ manner (whatever that means) and still get the same respect as any other? Is it only ever possible to garner a certain level of respect if one adheres to particular expectations in terms of their appearance? I think it’s safe to say that as a society the significance of the way we look is still loaded with meaning in unhelpful ways – Legally Blonde is a fun film but it’s unlikely you’ll ever see many female barristers in the U.K. sporting hair extensions, boob jobs and Botox-filled lips. But why not? Of course we know why not – because there are expectations of men and women in such roles; to look smart, clean, tidy and serious; to look intelligent or ‘professional’. But seriously, it’s 2018 – surely the only thing that matters is how capable that person is at doing the job required?
De Beauvoir recognised the double standards of misogynists – those men who feel that an intellectual or high-achieving woman who didn’t also look good might be ‘letting themselves go’, while those who opted to wear make-up were evidently not that bothered about equality after all. This sort of attitude is sad and pathetic – men and women should be free to dress how they like (within practical reason of course and also not in ways that actually harm others). Aesthetically pleasing stuff is all good with me (and it is, after all, a matter of taste anyway), but what really counts is how someone behaves; the things they do – and if their Genuinity is strong, what they look like never really matters anyway.
So if we somehow manage to edge closer to a shared landscape of gender equality, is there a place for chivalry? Is it respectful or disrespectful? Or neither? Should I, as a man, cease pulling out chairs for women (don’t think I’ve ever done this), or holding open doors for them (I do this for both men and women anyway)? The/a definition of chivalry is as follows: ‘very polite, honest and kind behaviour, especially by men towards women.’ And… ‘The system of behaviour followed by knights in the medieval period of history, that put a high value on honour, kindness, and courage.’
The fact this definition mentions knights and medieval times should probably ring immediate alarm bells, but let’s forget that minor (not minor) detail for now and explore this anyway. Friedrich Nietzsche, one of my favourite philosophers who was a hit with revolutionary ideas on morality but less so with the ladies, was a fan of chivalry – he aligned its virtues with those of noble ethics; kindness, consideration and respect are part of the code, just as are honour and courage. On a similar level, another great Prussian philosophical heavyweight, Immanuel Kant, also extolled the positive impact of ‘duty’ and respect in his Categorical Imperative – a supreme principle of morality. The idea of fulfilling one’s chivalrous duties sits well with Kant’s Categorical Imperative, where one acts out of a good will and a moral obligation. Thus, a man feeling morally obliged to pull out a chair for a woman has strong ethically satisfying vibes for Kant.
My feeling is that if you return to the definition, the notion that one should value and cherish politeness, honesty, kindness, courage, respect and honour is a no-brainer for me – those values are perfectly aligned with Genuinity and acts of Pure and Complex Niceness. The main problem I have with the definition I proffered is the part that says “especially by men towards women” – because I don’t believe we require a term to do this job any more; to describe these things in relation to an exchange from man-to-woman. Chivalrous acts aren’t antiquated per se – they should actually be more prevalent than ever. But the idea that such a code of conduct should be revered when it starts with man and ends with woman is obsolete. We should all be chivalrous.
If you’re a man and you want to pull out a chair for your female companion, you go ahead – just don’t be anything other than thankful and gracious if she also decides to do the same for you.
Let’s get physical
Men and women are different physiologically. There are of course many variations of both and one must veer away from dangerous or unhelpful generalisations, but the fact is – men tend to be stronger and faster than women. If you picked ten British men and ten British women at random and subjected them to a test of strength, more often than not, the men would win. This might seem like a ludicrously oversimplified question, but I feel compelled to ask it – does the fact that men generally have the capacity and conditioning to overpower women physically have the most significant part to play in their dominance over them? It seems oversimplified to me because we all know that the pen is mightier than the sword – that physical might does not necessarily equate to dominance. Blue whales don’t rule the oceans – and the mightiest of beings can be wiped out by the tiniest bacteria (perhaps they’re actually the mightiest?)
Slightly tongue-in-cheek examples aside, I think it’s safe to suggest that having more physical strength can only go so far in achieving and maintaining the dominance of one party over another. There is simply more to it than that. But, equally, I don’t think it’s ridiculous to suggest that it does have a significant role to play in how men have been able to establish and maintain their dominant position over women. If someone can physically master you/beat you in a fight/kill you easier than you can them, then they have the advantage. Again, it’s basic Darwinian principles, but it’s difficult to argue against – intelligence, strategy and cunning can win most wars, but in most localised face-to-face interactions, physical power triumphs.
Whether or not you agree with what I’ve just written, I stand by what you’re about to read – men shouldn’t hit women. But then, men shouldn’t hit men either. Men shouldn’t use their bodies, the advantages of their superior physical prowess, to subjugate women any more than they should use history, discourses, language, politics or anything else to do so. Allow your Genuinity to flow through your body and use it as a site of love and kindness; of sexual exploration, of sporting endeavour. But don’t use it to dominate, enslave or harm. Bodies are great – but make sure you respect every one of them.
Leader of the opposition
This is as good a time as any to bring up the key role oppositions play in gender inequality. As De Beauvoir noted: “Altering is the fundamental category of human thought.” She recognised that systems of oppositions were a fundamental part of humankind. We are born into a world of dualities, of dialectics. Just as Derrida explores with his work in Deconstruction, life is characterised by a series of binary oppositions. It’s perhaps not difficult to imagine that any species tends towards altering when a competitive streak is at the very heart of its nature; that is as beings looking to survive and thrive. But have we not now the tools at our disposal, in terms of our mental faculties and understanding, to transcend this basic thirst for competition. Isn’t it better for us to work together and coexist in a harmonious manner?
De Beauvoir certainly thought so – she insisted that a battle of the sexes wouldn’t be prevalent if human reality was based on solidarity and friendship. And I agree completely with her hypothesis. It is a point I raise continually throughout these blog posts – we wouldn’t need to fight if Genuinity was the most prominent factor among human beings. All human beings deserve equality – oppositions make this impossible. Hostility breeds opposition. It makes fighting an inevitability. De Beauvoir’s anger and will for change are immensely admirable, but she shouldn’t need to feel this way – because she should feel equal. That’s a failure on the part of humanity and civilisation. Women shouldn’t feel they need to “contest male sovereignty” – they shouldn’t have to fight for equality; it should be theirs just as it should be everyone’s.
Women and South Park
Like De Beauvoir, I believe that understanding the plight of women is much like understanding the plight of non-white people in society. There’s a superb South Park episode in season 11 – With Apologies to Jesse Jackson – which encapsulates my stance on the matter perfectly. To briefly sum up the story, Stan (a white kid) struggles to understand why Token (a black kid) is so angry about the use of the N-word. To Stan it’s just a word – he isn’t racist and doesn’t understand why that word in particular has so much power, or causes so much offence. Stan is something of a moral arbiter on the show, always tends to do the right thing and often learns valuable life lessons which help him improve as a person. Stan spends the whole episode trying to reconcile with Token after Stan’s father Randy haphazardly uses the N-word on the TV show Wheel of Fortune. Stan grows more and more frustrated as his attempts to understand Token’s umbrage continue to miss the mark.
Eventually, after a series of typically hilarious and ridiculous events, Stan finally realises why he ‘doesn’t get it’. It’s because ‘he doesn’t get it’. And as soon as he realises this, Token is finally at peace and can reconcile with Stan. If that’s confusing, allow me to clarify – Stan doesn’t get why Token is annoyed, but he doesn’t get what it feels like to be black. He doesn’t understand how it feels to grow up in a world of latent racism, oppression, favouritism, constant struggle and inequality. And that same thing goes for women.
I’m a white, British, middle class man – I don’t wish to say I have it easy, because life can be hard. We all have our problems and there are lots of expectations, difficulties and troublesome issues that go with that just like with any other person. You only need to look at the figures on male suicide to appreciate this. However, being a white, British, middle class man in England (and almost anywhere in the world) is A LOT easier than being a woman, or black, or both. So I get it – in that I don’t get it. I will never know how it feels to suffer the unfairness, the misogyny, the lack of respect, the sexual objectification, the subjugation, the inappropriate conduct, the unwanted attention, the inequality, that women and non-whites experience every day, even in the best parts of the most well-run countries.
This is the way it is – but it’s not the way it has to be. We all have a responsibility to do everything we can to make society equal for all, to bridge the gaps of unfairness, to promote social mobility, to make people feel safe and respected, to be kind, compassionate and caring towards everyone – no matter what their race, gender, age or sexual orientation is. The notion of a second sex needs to be abolished. We can still have masculine and feminine. We can still be man and woman. But we must be them on equal terms. Then we can finally achieve the authenticity De Beauvoir and her life partner Jean-Paul Sartre wrote so wonderfully about – we can banish that particular bad faith. Or as De Beauvoir herself put it: “It is when the slavery of half of humanity is abolished and with it the whole hypocritical system it implies that the ‘division’ of humanity will reveal its authentic meaning and the human couple will discover its true form.”