Welcome to my imaginary world in which the genders swap. Women swap places with men; they behave the same way, they are viewed the same way, and they are treated the same way as men are today. Vice versa for the males. Note, I don’t mean are treated equally, I will come to that in a minute – I’m sure many of you are aware that same treatment does not equality make. But now, listen here. This is how Britain might look like if it were the case:
You walk into a newsagent. You see a family; a man and his wife paying at the counter with a young boy of 11 and a girl of 13. As they leave and pass the magazine section, you see the father trying to shield his son’s view of the explicit soft porn magazines that pile up on the middle shelf – and the covers which star naked hairless men with bulging crotches. The mother and daughter catch one another‘s eye and wink, sniggering slightly behind the men as they walk onto the street. Outside, the local boy’s school is finishing for the day and you can spy some middle-aged women sitting in cafes on the street, or standing on the pavement chatting. They look up and stare vacantly at every schoolboy who passes, and are moved to jeer, whistle or even shout at the most ‘attractive’ ones. Things like, ‘give us a smile love!’ ‘Or, get your cock out then love!’ Little gaggles of schoolboys look down and walk past them hurriedly.
Children all over Britain come home after school and try and find something to do. On the kitchen table the most popular newspaper in the country is open on page 3 where a smiling naked teenager tells us what he thinks about David Cameron. On the TV the music channels and adverts are filled with scantily clad men licking their lips, shaking their hips, and looking seductively at the camera, often clamouring around indifferent-looking females. Little boys watch and imitate the moves and poses in their bedroom mirrors, dreaming about being a glamour model or a backing dancer in a music video when they grow up.
On the internet the national media coverage uses up thousands of column inches to discuss the important attributes of the British Political Party Leaders’ husbands; their dress sense, their shoes, their hair, the lines on their face and the shape of their toenails. The ‘First Gentlemen’ are paraded next to their wives during the election campaign to offer a ‘male point of view’ on the election. Interestingly, in an election where female-dominated parties have tried to woo the dadsnet voter, the status quo in the House of Commons remains; 80% of the MPs are women, and only 1 out of 12 members of the Prime Minister’s cabinet is male. At dinner, often after the husbands of British households have in no particular order; walked the dog, made the breakfast, washed and dressed the kids, taken them to school (or organised for another husband to do so), bought the shopping, and done the washing and ironing, the women of the family wait at the table whilst the sons and dads tidy away the dishes and load the dishwasher. That evening, from the age of roughly 12, almost every schoolgirl in the country masturbates in her bedroom to graphic porn.
Meanwhile in their bedrooms young boys pose and squeeze their tummy in the mirror – 1 in 5 have an eating disorder and 4 in 5 worry about the way they look. They diet to try and lose weight and wear skimpy clothes and padded boxer shorts to enhance their penises so that they appear more desirable to the opposite sex. At school, the girls pass around ladette magazines and embarrass the boys by stuffing porn in their lockers, or tease them about having flabby stomachs and chunky thighs. The boys spend a large amount of lunch break in the locker room talking about what their classmates are wearing and which girls like them whilst the girls run around outside in the playground.
One 16 year old boy is a victim of a sexual attack by an older girl who took him out to dinner. Like the hundreds of thousands of young men who are raped or sexually assaulted by someone they know that year, he calls up a barely funded rape crisis centre (of the few that are still left) while his family, friends, community and government ashamedly turn a blind eye. His friends tell him he doesn’t have much chance but he decides to try prosecuting through the law courts anyway. In 15 minutes the jury acquits his attacker and puts the attack down the fact that he was obviously flirting, was too drunk, and was clearly asking for it.
Women go out to work in a country where 90% of companies are directed by them. They casually belittle men in the courtroom and sexually harass them in the corridor – in the cafeteria they joke and rank their colleagues’ bodies in comparison to a calendar of Hotpant Hunks hung on the wall. High-flying men worry daily about not being good enough dads at home or impressing their female counterparts at work, and they have right to be; 30,000 of them will lose their jobs this year for daring to have children and the vast majority earn 23% less than their female counterparts for the same work.
At the weekends, many of the British public go the cinema, read books, or watch their favourite TV shows to relax. Most often plots star a female lead character and a group of female characters, often with a two-dimensional male side-kick chipping in with the weaker lines. Any relationship plot line normally follows a young, inexperienced and guileless male who is tricked or manipulated by competing females, who may hurt him deeply, but in the end are always forgiven. Action movies are dominated by strong women saving weak and defenceless men. The new 007 film is coming out, and the newspapers gush over the Bond Boys – apparently hotter and wearing less than ever before!
At the weekend mothers take their little girls off to football matches and Sunday morning rugby clubs, while their sons help buy the weekend shopping with their dad, visit their nans or maybe flick through the weekend magazines. They never really read the sports pages as they are dominated by women – the players, the coverage, the readers and the journalists are all women and all the pictures and match reports are only of female sports. Besides, they don’t really like sports; they’re not as good at it as girls are and as they often don’t understand the jargon, why bother? That afternoon the husband thinks about making a comment in front of the football but as his wife normally just shuts him up anyway, he decides to go to the kitchen and make the tea.
Ok, so, quite obviously, this is provocative. That’s the idea. I heavily stereotype the gender roles and I make sweeping and quite offensive generalisations about the set up of a ‘normal’ family life. This I sincerely apologise for. However, I’ve also inverted real statistics that apply to women – they are all from very recent research, be it the Fawcett society, or the NSPCC. The stats in Parliament are also up to date– and I reckon my representation of the media isn’t too far from the truth either.
The purpose of this dystopia is not to suggest a world that is in any way ‘better’ because the genders have swapped places. It is clear that this does not resemble equality in any real sense. My aim was to investigate how and why many people in Britain validate our different treatment of the sexes as it stands as ‘fair’. Using this parallel universe, I also wanted to make it clear that ‘equality’ for women could not and should not be attempted by imitating negative aspects of male behaviour; it does not mean making ourselves more ‘masculine’ to be equally valued as men, whether at school, at home, at work, or on the street. I think a struggle inherent in Feminism (or perhaps any kind of equality ideology) is that we are fighting both for the recognition that we are ‘different’ to men as showing that we are their ‘equals’. I hope that this thought experiment illustrates some of the negative beliefs with which this society understands our ‘differences’ – thus justifying the constant undervaluing of women.