Ah, the F-word. What does it mean to you? Does it make you angry, give you hope, make you want to roll your eyes? Do you imagine suffragettes, heroes or just 'pushy' women? Do you feel it's important, find it irritating or see it's seemingly never-ending need. When the word 'feminism' is uttered, it conjures a strong reaction. I unashamedly consider myself a feminist. There are not many people that know me that would question that or not know. I am a feminist because I believe in equality, not in any gender powering over the other and until those scales of power and place and value are balanced, I will continue to call myself a feminist and be interested in and challenge why that balance is taking so long to come. (Phew, that could have gotten preachy...)
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I'm raising a son to understand issues of equality early on, to challenge norms and think differently about limiting gender roles. I'm also married to a man who is very tuned in to equality, to making sure that we are balanced in our roles at home and in family life but I'm not sure how many men really and truly would go as far as to calling themselves 'feminists' (except this guy. And this guy. Ok and this guy). Maybe the label has been tarnished by an aggressive militant wing (aren't all labels tarnished by aggressive militant wings?), or maybe the term itself is on it's way out; maybe the language we have used around equality and gender doesn't fit anymore.
I'm not sure, but I thought it would be really interesting to hear from some men who do identify as 'feminists', so I have interviewed several great men, asking them 5 questions about their take on it all, why they chose to identify with the term and what it all means to them.
First up is my friend Lee. Lee and I have lots of mutual friends and have 'known' each other for a long time even though we've only met a handful. Lee and his amazing wife Emmah live in Liverpool and Lee (originally from here in NI) has his own business as a tour manager for musicians and various artists. I also think Lee looks like a young Kevin Spacey.
Lee, tell everyone a bit about yourself - what you do, where you’re from etc.
My name is Lee Mitchell, I am from Bangor in Northern Ireland and I play guitar…(that was the translation of part of my GCSE German Oral exam). I work in the music industry as a Tour Manager for various people. This means I have bursts of travelling then bursts of being at home which brings it’s own unique challenges and rewards!
Why do you consider yourself a feminist? How did this come about? Why are you not afraid of the term like most men (and a lot of women) seem to be?
I am a great believer in equality, in any shape or form. I believe in equal human rights and that all humans have the potential to be anything they want and achieve anything they want. Mostly our job as other humans is to not purposefully get in the way and if we can, help others fulfill their potential.
I’m not sure when I ‘branded’ myself a feminist I suppose… My wife is a ferocious believer in women’s rights, an off-shoot of her natural character to stand up for justice so I think with our conversations and as we have built our lives together its been more at the forefront of my mind. More things have been pointed out to me that maybe before I wouldn’t have consciously thought about.
I don’t see anything to fear when using the term 'feminist'. For me it’s simply anyone who believes women should have the same human rights as men. A no-brainer. The issue we have is that over the years there has been a perception that feminism means ‘man bashing’ which puts people off. It’s an unfortunate stance that is to the detriment of feminism and in my opinion, against the core values of it.
That's a huge point and really important to make clear. So, what do you think are some of the biggest issues connected to gender inequality in the world today?
I think you could probably find issues in every aspect of life. The pay gap (around 10% less for women compared to their peers) and discrimination in the work place is a big one. The fact that in the top FTSE 100 companies, only 17% of board members are women is crazy. The thought and attitude that women either don’t deserve equal pay to their peers or don’t have the ability to reach the top of the ladder is obscene. You just can’t use the ‘time off work to have kids’ line as an excuse anymore.
Luckily I work in an industry that is full of women who are at the top of their game. Whether it’s in artist management, touring crew, artists themselves, promoters etc there are lots of amazing women in the music industry who are incredible.
In my opinion one of the most damaging things to women’s rights and values is the mainstream medias obsession with how women look and what they wear. ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ and they have nailed making women compare themselves to one another. Until we as society start looking at women as more than what they wear, and more as who they are then we will constantly be fighting the battle for equality. It is up to us as men to ignore the media telling us how to view women as nothing more than an accessory in our lives. To start encouraging our wives, girlfriends, friends and daughters to fulfil their potential as human beings without the bullshit of worrying about fitting into a dress so they look good in a selfie. There is enough in life to worry about for both men and women without us adding to it.
Looking to the future, I also know that due to the nature of my job I will spend periods of time at home looking after our children. I don’t want that to be seen by society as ‘babysitting’. “Oh did daddy dress you today?” type questions make me very cross. If I want to dress my daughter in a sparkly silver blouse with a cowboy hat then I will. It doesn’t make me less of a parent.
I also think there’s a big danger in trying to fit children into gender boxes. If a boy wants to wear a dress during play then great, if a girl wants to play soldier then equally great. Who decided that blue was for boys and pink was for girls anyway?
Music to my ears! Who are some of the women in your life or in society/history that you find fascinating or inspiring, and why?
My wife is a source of constant inspiration and encouragement. She is fierce when it comes to women being treated unfairly for no other reason than their gender. God help the man who tries to fit her in a box or tell her she can’t do anything because she’s a woman. It’s in her very blood and I’m grateful to her for never letting me think of people as less than they are. Thankfully, as a Primary School teacher she has chosen a profession that allows her to reach as high as she wants if the government don’t ruin education before she gets there. But that’s another rant for another time.
How do you think men can connect more to the feminist movement or in promoting equality?
I’m fairly sure the answer to this falls under the simple ‘don’t be an idiot’ category. It doesn’t mean as a business owner you start hiring only women in for the sake of it - that's not the point. It’s just about treating female job applicants the same as male applicants; go for the most qualified or suited for the job. It does, however, mean having a look at how you interact with and think about the females in your life. Do you value their opinions as equal or do you perceive them as less than you?
What are some of the ways that you find yourself living out feminist values in your every day? How does this look in your life?
I spend a lot of time off tour doing things that may be percieved traditionally as a woman's role. I do the dishes, I clean the house, cook dinner etc and I have no problem telling people that. Other than what I've explained above, the biggest thing is having a mindset that is tuned in to equality and treating women fairly.
Ah Lee, it's so refreshing to hear such honest and empowering thoughts. Thank you for standing with us and for us.
So tell me (male and female amongst us), what are your experiences or thoughts on feminism? Do you find it intimidating, would you consider yourself one? I'd love to hear!