We go through different stages in life. At some point, we decide that drinking out of a toilet bowl and urinating into an empty Ribena carton isn’t acceptable. We begin to adapt to social norms, but the interplay between two genders is still an interesting one; when we’re ten-years-old, we live in fear of the opposite sex; we dread being accused of fancying someone, we avoid them like the plague and, in America, ‘cooties’ is always around the corner.
But what about the change that happens with adolescence? Or, rather, the perception that occurs? For when puberty strikes and we become stumbling vessels of hyper hormones, all of a sudden members of the opposite sex no longer become someone of the opposite gender, they become targets.
And that’s not me talking from personal experience. That’s me talking from experiencing typically ‘male’ viewpoints. All of a sudden, the notion of becoming friends with girls is ridiculous, a frivolous pastime where the end result is like tipping a bus conductor; it’ll get you nowhere, fast. Unless you plan to sleep with them, then you’re making an idiot out of yourself. Forget making meaningful conversation, sharing common interests and enjoying one another’s platonic presence; if you’re not secretly working on some sexual subterfuge, then you might as well move to Brighton and scour Will Young’s LinkedIn page.
I spent eighteen months working within a cramped, typically male office environment, wherein it contained its own pool table and work finished at 12pm on a Friday for four hours of beer and pork. Not a problem as such, but women were viewed with disdain and carnality; on Christmas, they were given ironing boards as a present while the guys were given aftershave, every Monday morning was a conversation on who’d they slept with and the best sex they’d had period (and they’d later be referred to as “slags”), and their complaints about the pool table itself were laughed off, with the men proposing they could install “foxy boxing.” To add to that, strippers were regularly hired for birthdays and interviewees were judged on their looks.
One time, a co-worker eavesdropped in awe at my Facebook thread, in which I’d engaged in several conversations with different women. Disappointingly, the first thought that crossed his mind was that I was a serial ‘player’, rather than just someone who had female friends. They began surreptitiously hunting for tips. “How many are you shagging?” they asked. “None,” I replied. “And I don’t intend to.” “There’s something wrong with you,” came the crestfallen riposte. And, being naïve, I believed him. When you’re young and you enter a workplace like that for the first time, you start to unwillingly mould yourself to their alpha males.
Surrounded by guys who kept their craniums in their crotches, I began to think maybe the typical male representative should be ripped, randy and risqué, with a disposable attitude to women. I began to study their methods, and all of a sudden, my conversations with women changed – I was no longer genuinely conversing, I was no longer discussing similar interests and just passing the time innocently; I was instead urgent and full-on, with every response being sexually suggestive badinage that geared the conversation to only one place.
Of course, the guys in question admired me for it. But soon enough I finally realised that this wasn’t what I wanted. I’d begun adapting to what I thought society wanted in a man – someone that is cocksure, confident and concupiscent. But if that’s what a guy is meant to be, then I didn’t want it. I’d lost so many interesting conversations with girls, all because I was after something I didn’t even want. I was like a 12-year-old boy buying his first Rizla, only to discover he’d rather have spent it on some Haribo.
It opened my eyes to how some men think – social media can be a sexual fortress, where you can begin a conversation with a random girl and try your hardest to get their numbers. You can dare to send a dick pic in the hope it will “speed things up.” But is this what we want the female generation to think? That every time a guy pops up and says “hi”, that it’s merely a matter of time before they unleash a barrage of clunky catcalls and the dreaded wink emoticon. Nowadays, I do sometimes speak to girls on Facebook or Twitter, and even though my goal is just to talk and nothing more, I have a pang of guilt that I know half of these people will think I just want sex.
Some people view feminism with a degree of mistrust – if you’re not a girl, it doesn’t apply. But feminism isn’t about what’s in your pants, it’s about what’s in your head. It’s about acceptance – I’ve spoken to girls who are genuinely inspiring and innovative, and conjure up ambitions in me that a lot of men wouldn’t. I’ve met girls that are driven and energetic, with opinions and interests that coagulate with my own. To simply tut at them, ask them for sex and then buy them an iron is ridiculous. One day, we will be able to completely whitewash the phallic-shaped elephant in the room, where a male and female can walk across the room, shake hands and talk, without either party thinking about sex. Unless they want to. In that case, go ahead.
One day, a guy will be able to list Emma Watson in their heroes without people saying it’s because she’s “fit.” Do we ask the same if a girl lists Barack Obama in it? Perhaps we do flippantly, but we never mean it. To judge feminism, and girls too, by their gender assignment is insane. It’s an open book, a fascinating world where we can do away with sexual oppression and start anew.
One day, we will be able to ask this question – “what if a guy can talk to a girl, be friends with them and the thought of sex never cross their mind?”. And one day it won’t be greeted by chauvinistic snickering.