The Surrey Feminista Society [Special Feature]
Although it may seem unusual, indie music venues often host a wide range of alternative, non-musical events. Some are entertainment-focussed (comedy, spoken word and poetry evenings); some promote a variety of artistic pursuits (painting, sculpture, tattooing, etc); and others explore intellectually simulating topics via conversations and debates. Sometimes the above are combined with an educational component, enabling newcomers to a given field to get to grips with something intriguing yet alien to them.
Most of those options seem safe on paper, but intellectual conversations and debates can be a pretty intimidating proposition at the best of times. One would expect participation to require perfect preparation – hours of prior study, revision, research, probably a PhD in whatever the chosen topic is. Unless you’re a professor with a few textbooks and years of lecturing experience under your belt, you could hardly be blamed for feeling underqualified and choosing your sofa and a DVD over leaving the house after a long day to go – by choice, no less – to a real-life, no-safety-net debate.
Since we’ve gotten this far, let’s up the potential-intimidation factor. If you’re not a guy, pretend you are one. If you are a guy, carry on as you are, but brace yourselves either way – because you’re going to imagine leaving the house and heading to an event where the conversation is all about…
Now that is an intimidating situation for men. A fair few guys reading this will already be visualising the worst – sitting surrounded and trapped by man-hating devil women, frozen helplessly to the spot as one’s masculinity and will to live are slowly, agonisingly stripped away until whatever’s left implodes out of guilt and shame. Others may be picturing themselves walking in on orderly ranks of “feminazis” goose-stepping in circles around the smouldering remains of a bra-fuelled bonfire.
The reality (thank God) is completely different – or at least it was when I gave the Surrey Feminista Society a chance. A fairly recent project undertaken by the Boileroom, the SFS is nothing more terrifying than a group of cool and interesting people talking through gender-related issues. I didn’t get heckled until my sanity split in two; I didn’t get hung from the rafters by my private parts; and I didn’t get chased out of the building by feminazi stormtroopers wielding pitchforks and screaming misandrist slogans.
I won’t lie – it can feel awkward attempting to see the world from the perspective of another gender entirely. We all know members of the opposite sex as friends, family, partners and acquaintances and co-workers – but while casual conversation and shared everyday experiences can go some way toward achieving a mutual understanding, an extended and dedicated chat in safe and neutral surroundings can get much deeper. I’m not a complete stranger to feminism, but I did experience genuine culture shock after a couple of hours talking about it. It felt almost like the first day in a foreign country.
That country – the parallel world that women experience on a daily basis – is pretty fucking brutal. Assault, abuse, and harassment are so commonplace that they’re all considered normal, just everyday events that perpetrators and observers and even victims/survivors are quick to dismiss, justify, or ignore entirely. Women are commonly treated more like property than people – prizes and possessions to be owned, taken, kept, grabbed while nobody’s looking.
A large portion of the population (male and female) still aren’t looking. So the problem continues.
I’m still getting to grips with the scale of that problem. A bunch of one-on-one conversations with various people over many years haven’t had the same impact as witnessing a room full of people offering a borderline-overwhelming number of unique perspectives on a set of related and incredibly sensitive topics. That same sensitivity and potential for flare-ups makes the warmth and compassionate attitudes of the SFS’s members all the more impressive and respectable.
Heading to a music venue for an event that on first impression seems akin to taking deep-sea diving lessons when you can’t even swim is certainly not a standard-issue way to spend an evening. But it is worth investigating anyway. I’ll close off by first explaining why feminism is worth thinking about if you’re a guy, and then I’ll offer some suggestions for those of you situated outside the Boileroom’s catchment area (or those of you who are interested but want to take it slow and do some prep work first).
Although feminism (as I understand it so far) most frequently focusses on issues affecting women, it also considers broader gender-related issues, including those affecting men. I don’t know many people who aren’t straight and/or who don’t fall within the male-female binary gender limits – but I do know and have met a lot of straight guys, and it’s safe to say that most of us go to great pains to put up a tough-guy macho act regardless of how we’re actually thinking or feeling at a given point. If you’re stressed, it’s better to “man up” (read: bottle it up) and head down the pub to get wasted, or sit inside with the curtains drawn and rinse an Xbox or Playstation session until the console overheats, than it is to actually deal with whatever’s going on and maybe talk about it.
The result of all that manning-up? Social isolation, depression, anxiety, additional stress and all the various medical issues (mental and physical) that that can bring about, antisocial behaviour (often directed toward women), and a suicide rate that is way, way higher for males than it is for females. Throw in a media-promoted model of the “perfect man” (flawless looks, massive muscles, James Bond’s attitude, Christian Grey’s bank balance, etc) which is a) not possible (or even desirable) for the majority of men on the planet to live up to in the first place and b) impossible to live up to when your life revolves around nothing except Jägerbombs and Football Manager marathons…and you have the perfect recipe for the downward spiral observable through statistics and everyday male experiences.
As thorny and complex a subject as feminism is, it’s still important for people to get to grips with it. Our current normalised attitudes to gender aren’t doing anyone any good (and are literally killing people), and ignoring them altogether will just serve to keep things the way they are. Women will keep getting raped, beaten, and grabbed in clubs, and men will keep killing themselves because they’re afraid to talk about their inner lives for fear of being considered “pussies”. If you’re still hesitant about it all (which is fair enough – this is a pretty heavy subject), try reading this book, or talking to people in your life about this stuff. Say you read something about it on the internet and you’re wondering what other people think about it. See how people react, and think about how that fits into the bigger picture. If you don’t like what you find, then see if there’s a way for you to get involved – and consider ways that you could change your own behaviour and help others out.
Something is better than nothing at all.
Updates about the Surrey Feminista Society can be found via the Boileroom’s website.
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