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The Bottom Rung of the Ladder

2010 October 12

We not only have to survive, we have to deserve to survive.
– Joss Whedon

Whedon was talking about how characters make hard decisions in Battlestar Galactica, but the same sentiment is reflected in lines from his “Equality Now” speech:

Equality is not a concept. It’s not something we should be striving for. It’s a necessity. Equality is like gravity, we need it to stand on this earth as men and women – and the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance, and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who’s confronted with it.

These two quotes sum up why I’m a feminist. Equality is not optional. I’m intelligent enough, and live in a society educated enough, that there is no excuse for me not to aim for it. Without equality, we fail as human beings.

From Planet of the Apes, 1968. (Stop complaining about spoilers, you've had 40 years.)

This type of “equality” is not some iron-clad regulation of behaviour, but an equal chance to live as you choose to: not to be disadvantaged because assumptions are made about one of two categories (which don’t match the multiple physical or mental possibilities anyway). Not pressured to act a certain way, or locked out from having power over your life. And it’s not some unimportant dream of abstract perfection but the most fundamental part of the lives of millions.

Reaching this fabled Equality won’t solve many problems. Those people lucky enough to escape poverty will still need to work every day, death is still inevitable, resources are still finite. If we had a much-reduced need for feminism, we’d only be starting on the struggle for a better society – but we wouldn’t be dooming over half our population to lesser chances and consideration because they don’t have man-parts.

Of course, aiming for true equality and overcoming the prejudices which are deeply ingrained in our (somewhat twisted) upbringings is difficult even for feminists. I wonder whether giving up my seat on the train for a woman is deeply offensive and sexist, because it’s based on the idea that women are weak creatures to be treasured and looked after by big strong men. I start to examine every single decision I make that is based on the line “because she’s a woman”. In a society where equality was real, that reason would virtually never apply.

For most roles, if gender is the only difference between two people then they should be interchangeable. A decision should immediately be about the positives and negatives of the individual instead. By having true equality, you would be free to see the person for who they are – at the very least, THEY would be free to choose who they are without having it dictated because of what society thinks “women” are/deserve this year.

But instead girls still get pink dolls and boys get blue trucks.

It’s not unrealistic to have true equality as the eventual aim. In fact, it makes identifying the current inequality all the easier: endless shelves of women’s magazines full of airbrushed anorexics, and also full shelves of men’s mags featuring topless women all with identical body shapes… if we were surrounded by constant images of perfectly-toned half naked men with impossible airbrushed bodies on every second billboard and magazine cover instead, you have to wonder how long this shit would last.

Mark Thomas (the political comedian) released a “People’s Manifesto” earlier this year. It was made by his audiences volunteering their ideas for new British laws. My favourite reads:“Models to be selected at random from the electoral register”.

Male, female, young, old. Large, small. All races, all shoes sizes, glasses-wearing NORMAL PEOPLE modelling clothes for normal people.

Of course, his show is supposed to be a comedy.

Going this far into the idea of a culture where we truly don’t dictate gender roles is not Joss Whedon’s point at all, and not really my main one either. We’re not there. We’re not even 10% of the way there. We’re in a world where we still have to campaign to stop female genital mutilation in England. Where large parts of the planet treat over 50% of human beings as property, or as unclean, dangerous sexual objects.

This is not me. It is Bill Bailey. I am younger, but not as awesome.

A feminist, yesterday. (Photo of Bill Bailey from

The term ‘Feminism’ has a bad rep with a lot of men. When I linked to this site from my blog, one of the commenters said they found the idea of male feminists “somewhat absurd”. That’s light compared to the reception they receive in some places online.

Bad Rep believes that we’re not going to make much change by refusing to engage with 49% of the population on principle, so this last bit is aimed at male readers:

Men! Do not be afraid! Not only are you welcome here, but you probably already agree with everything feminism stands for:

A feminist is a person who answers “yes” to the question, “Are women human?” Feminism is not about whether women are better than, worse than or identical with men. … It’s about women having intrinsic value as persons rather than contingent value as a means to an end for others: fetuses, children, the “family,” men.
– Katha Pollitt

Or more succinctly:

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.
– Cheris Kramarae, Paula A. Treichler, Ann Russo: A Feminist Dictionary.

Equality is not optional. It is the only way we can get to the very first step of the ladder that creates a society to be proud of, and leave a record of the human race which doesn’t mark us as worse than the apes we came from. It’s not ‘absurd’ to have everyone involved – men need female equality to be in place before we can truthfully call ourselves men.

6 Responses leave one →
  1. Gabrielle permalink
    October 12, 2010

    This is a new site and I don’t know about their values, but if you’re a group who care about intersectionalism and other privileges besides male privilege I’d like to make a couple call outs. First of all referring to things only being acceptable/valuable if they are “intelligent”/”not absurd” etc is ableist (, Secondly referring to women as those who “don’t have man-parts” is cis-supremist – it’s defining people and their gender by their genitals; if you honestly meant man parts as including trans men’s vaginas, it really didn’t sound like it. Thanks.

    • Stephen B permalink
      October 12, 2010

      Hi Gabrielle,

      Regarding the “man-parts” term, I was referring to that precise problem: that it’s this criteria which is used by the majority, that it’s overly simplistic and that the people sweeping others into a category based on it aren’t looking beyond the most basic ideas for defining vast numbers of others.

      As for intelligent and educated, I just meant that it has led me to be aware of the problems facing women – and that I therefore have no excuse. If I was in a society or personal situation where I was less aware, I might have some more leeway. But I don’t.

      This site is most definitely aware of both cis- issues and ableism, and we don’t aim to do either. Sorry if you got that vibe from my post, it certainly wasn’t intended.

      • Gabrielle permalink
        October 12, 2010

        I’m looking forward to sticking around to read, hopefully we won’t have any more problems :o)

  2. Jenni permalink
    October 13, 2010

    Bookmarking this for when I need to show it to men I know!

  3. October 14, 2010

    I love you so hard right now. I’m sick and tired of people being scared to call themselves a feminist because they think it means rejecting femininity as well as men, not shaving and not wearing make up. While I understand the root of those things among some feminists, not all feminists are like that – a bit like not all lesbians are dungaree-wearing bull dykes. The next person who tells me that they are not a ‘feminist’ I’m bitch-slapping, I swear. So, you don’t think women are equal? Great, thanks, nice to have met you, lets never do this again.

    Feminist means equality, not superiority and not rejection. Dammit, it’s not a clique or cult. Feminism should be so mainstream people don’t even bat an eyelid about it.

  4. October 14, 2010

    Love this article. I don’t really care whether I’m described as a feminist or a feminist sympathiser, cos labels seem unimportant, but the whole concept of equality just seems self evident to me.

    One thing that has made me really angry in the not so distant past is some statements from people about how pushes for equal pay will have to wait until the recession has passed. This mindset seems to view equality as a privilege, something that can only be granted when times are good. *Angry face* It shouldn’t even be a question, it should be so fundamental that no one even blinks. Sigh.

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