August 05, 2019
I used to work with a man who hated women. Well, #notallwomen. He liked his girlfriend, and the girls he slept with on lads’ holidays to Bangkok, but this chap would churlishly shout “oh here we go, another feminist lecture!” if ever his loud, rampant sexism was called out. It was the ‘know-your-place’ kind of sexism. Strip club sexism.
We Urgently Need Feel-Good Feminist Literature For Men
Once, I dared to mention the new female cast of Ghostbusters in a team meeting and he openly clenched both fists. With this guy, you can’t win: either you get angry (hysterical) keep talking (ear-chewer), try and reason with him (bitch) or talk to HR, who ignore it. After experiencing a few bad eggs it’s self-preservationist to assume that every man is the same.
But when you have low expectations, people surprise you, and men as allies is a trend I can get on board with. A proof-point is the slow dismantling of ‘all male panels’ – lines of middle aged white men on stage at conferences giving expert opinions on all-male subjects like advertising, robotics and inclusivity.
Some men now refuse to take part in these events and loudly say so. (Who cares if it’s virtue-signalling, if it helps?) Hollywood stars like Lin Manuel-Miranda, Michael Sheen, Chris Rock and Benedict Cumberbatch are fighting for equal pay. “Ask what Women are being paid and say: if she’s not paid the same as the men, I’m not doing it,” demands Cumberbatch. AHIGE is a high-profile Spanish male activist group that argues men need to give up certain privileges and reassess their behaviours. Even Love Island’s Ovie reprimanding a verbally abusive Michael: “Can you honestly say the way you’re speaking to me now is the exact same way you spoke to (Amber) yesterday?” is an example of men backing women, and it’s good.
When my book The Little Girl Who Gave Zero Fucks came out I was asked who the target audience was. “Dunno,” I said. “It’s about society being nicer to women, so… women?” (I’ve worked in advertising for 15 years and learned that rigid target audiences are of limited value.) What’s intrigued me is how the book has struck a chord with men, with many messaging me to tell me about buying it for their daughters, partners and female family or friends.
I’m not patting men on the back for having a conscience, but it’s opened my eyes to more allies in everyday life than I knew existed. 
I started a conversation on Twitter to ask my male followers if they ever read feminist literature, and if not, why not. The response was a resounding: ‘yeah, not so much’. Some had dabbled with Caitlin Moran and Sara Pascoe, some purchased Bedtime Stories for Rebel Girls for kids, and a good few men asked for recommendations (Invisible Women was my first). Others said they don’t have time for books, and most told me they don’t want to read something that makes them feel like a terrible bastard. Some men read the books I recommended. They thanked me. I thanked them, it was all nice.
Maybe more men want to be feminists; they just don’t know how? Perhaps there’s a misunderstanding about the amount of admin involved. Maybe Theresa May wearing a t-shirt saying ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ caused mass, irreparable confusion.
The divisiveness of the term ‘feminism’ is not new news. The word itself has a tense history of ironic inaccessibility from both a race and class perspective, leaving a glaring gap for a more modern, inclusive language. According to a 2018 YouGov poll, only 34% of women describe themselves as feminist (up from 27% in 2013) with a skew towards higher social grades. However, 80% believe that women and men should be treated in the same way. Google as I might, I couldn’t find any stats related to how many men consider themselves feminist. My best indication was via the worldwide Emma Watson-fronted movement HeForShe which currently has 2,105,078 gender equality commitments from men on its site, and 69,021 of those are from the UK. HeForShe is driving real change: working to end child marriage in Malawi, for example, and running workshops on ‘redefining masculinity’ in Jordan. But it’ll be a while before this trickles down.
So, what do we do? Do we write more books that don’t make men feel like terrible bastards, or promote feminist literature differently, promising only tiny amounts of guilt? Do we regularly reassure men that we don’t hate them all, and ask them often to come on this journey with us?
Feminist literature doesn’t need to be more feel-good, but there’s differences between what women as experiencers need to read versus men as perpetrators, bystanders, or potential advocates.
More men digesting feminist thought means more women will benefit. It means more sexists (like our country’s leaders) will be challenged. I’d like men to read more feminist literature. Not for men to like me, or invite me into their gang, but so that things can get better for all women, not just the ones who weren’t too badly in the first place. What I’m saying is: let’s invent a new genre. A new section on sites like the HuffPost that gets the men reading and talking about equality. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to. But then in a perfect world we wouldn’t need feminism. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t speak to HR departments about my colleagues’ sexism as much as I do, but it is what it is. 
The Little Girl Who Gave Zero Fucks, by Amy Kean
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