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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Is it a Girl Thing?

katy perry roar video
A girl's day out?/Katy Perry "Roar" © Capitol Records, 2013

I'm always willing to have my mind changed.

I had an interesting discussion with a female colleague in the office that I thought I would share here. It was on the issue of gender. She's been harmlessly teasing me for a while about my genteel manners. Her nickname for me is "the gent". Recently, though, she has been telling me that I need to "man up" when it comes to the way I treat I women.

She tells me the outmoded notion of a "gentleman" that I have - being polite and keeping my mouth shut out of deference for the opposite sex - is no longer an option in our modern age. And she is right of course.

It's just I was brought up a certain way, and it is difficult for us to escape our upbringing. I believe that certain ideals are timeless - a product for every time. Non-violence and respect are two such ideals I would hope will be important in the future as they are today. And as long as our actions are based on these two precepts, then I can agree with my colleague's advice.

What she means is that we are all equal, women should not be given special preference, or seen as the softer sex. For my part, in my eyes, we are all equal; I treat you in accordance with your actions, not your physical attributes - but as I say, you can't escape your upbringing and I just recoil at getting into an argument with a woman.

But women are human first, gender second, and as such, are equal in measure to all the faults of man.

I remember watching BBC's Question Time earlier in the summer with comedian Russell Brand and Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips. Going the stereotypical route, before watching it you might likely think - if you know anything of Katy Perry's ex-husband Brand - he was going to be rude, ignorant and sexually explicit, while female columnist Phillips (if you didn't know her background or that the paper she writes for is conservative) to be either one of those "girlie" type correspondents or a lefties-liberal feminist, writing as she does for a paper with a huge female readership.

If you find the time and can access it, watch that programme. Search for it on YouTube if you can't view it on BBC's iPlayer.

Brand was coherent, witty, sharp and his dialogue with the audience was as unpretentious as you're likely to get. He was open about his addictions, and he turned out to be a surprisingly good guest for the political panel.

Phillips, on the other hand, was the opposite. I have read her work as a British journalist, author and publisher, and I knew her views on Islam were decisive to say the least, and that although she started out as a left-wing writer, she was becoming increasingly authoritarian in her views on the subject. To be honest, I agree with a lot of what Phillips says, it's her tone that bothers me.

To keep it short, I, and the audience in the studio, were left open-mouthed in abject silence when all of a sudden this apparently intelligent, witty woman, who had been so lucid and persuasive up to the issue of Iran, began to - for want of a better term - spit her poison. She started a venomous rant about how we needed to go and "neutralise" Iran, because the country was a threat to the entire world.

There were people from that part of the world in the audience who were offended by her remarks - she had just literally said the British government needed to get some balls and go decimate their entire race - but even before that she began to get heckled by the people in the public gallery. When they didn't agree with her, she began pointing and shouting at the audience, and her rant worsened.

I was shocked. A minute before this woman had seemed genuinely sane and normal, but once her deep-seated bias had been triggered, there she was on national TV sounding like a Nazi Fuhrer. It was creepy.

It wigged me out because it so opposed the cultural, stereotypical image of women we have, but rationally I know that no woman is better than a man when it comes to a person's character. When it comes to being biased, spiteful and full of unfounded hatred, gender is not an issue.

Emotions are not gender specific, and emotional intelligence and health are not somehow more likely to take hold in a woman's mind. Maternal instincts do not somehow act as a safeguard against what we usually perceive to be negative male traits, either.

When we talk of a male-dominated society, the term "patriarchal" conjures up a harsh, war-like society, the god Mars-type imagery, while when we speak of a matriarchal society we imagine it's a Venus-type thing, and with such an imbalance over women's rights, it's not so difficult to see how this has evolved.

But if women are the weaker sex, then they need to be protected, right? Wrong, women are very able to take control of their own lives - and be responsible and held accountable for their actions.

Women can murder, and discriminate, and when they get into power, they don't become better politicians, they just become politicians. Likewise, as being war-like isn't inherent in males (or anyone for that matter), being "girlie" is a cultural thing, not a generic thing. When (the very, very lovely) Katy Perry gets lost in the jungle although she may paint her elephant homie's nails with pink polish, while it's cute, it isn't necessary some inherent feminine trait. In previous centuries, high heeled shoes were strictly menswear, while colour-wise pink was for the boy and blue for the girl.

On this score, I think we all need to grow up a bit. My female colleague has persuaded me that I certainly need to update my views on this matter. I constantly talk about embracing change, and you gotta walk the walk, too.

Society needs to be more flat, less hierarchical. The point is we need to treat everybody with respect, not show preference to one gender or another - that is actually more respectful. Objectifying women as the weaker sex, and seeing them as sexual objects demeans them, not only because it can quickly turn non-consensual, but because it becomes about power over another human being.

The way women are perceived is a universal issue, but women are human beings on equal par with men, no better or worse. I will keep that in mind from now on, and put my gentleman politeness to one side when the need arises - as long as it remains within the boundaries of peace and respect.

I shall endeavour to treat every one with just cause instead, and leave out the old fashioned gentlemanly bias I have towards women. That has been relegated to an era when it was deemed necessary, and when women were culturally appreciative of it, or even expected it. Times have changed. Politeness is not often acquainted with kindness.

Besides, remember when I spoke about kindness? It's no good being kind to someone who is so far gone that they don't even recognise kindness. The right kind of kindness is one fostered in the correct environment, that's why sometimes you indeed have to be cruel to be kind, I guess, to yourself. If you're not kind to yourself, you can't be kind to others.

I often prescribe myself a healthy dose of self-criticism, but not to the point of cruelty. Being self-critical gives you armour when others try to beat up on you when they have no just cause to do so.

Now my friends are telling me that I need to extend that analogy.

Before you protect anyone else's "honour", you gotta first protect your own.

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