Enough with the pendulum!

There are two phrases guaranteed to make me cringe. One of them is anything involving the pendulum; you know the one that's always "swung too far the other way"?

, 16 October 2001

There are two phrases which are guaranteed to make me

instinctively shudder with sheer repulsion. The first is

“Political Correctness Gone Mad” (a phrase so common these days

I’m surprised they don’t abbreviate it to PCGM to save time). The

other is any phrase that mentions the PENDULUM. What pendulum? You

know, the one that’s always “swung too far the other way”?

It makes me cringe. But recently this kind of talk from men has

been getting more and more common. Over the past few months I’ve seen

headlines such as Give Males Equality and

Men Fight Back…all too often.

It seemed to be Doris Lessing that made it

‘okay’ for men to complain. Now that a woman – a feminist, of all

things – has said that feminism is to blame for men’s situation,

suddenly it’s made it alright for men to complain. Here’s a

small selection of comments and clippings I’ve taken from the

newspapers over the past few months:

Bravo Doris Lessing. It was about time

someone told the sisterhood to lay off men.

Letter to The Guardian

It seems women only want to be equal with

men in regards to pay and career opportunities. For

everything else, they happily embrace society’s view of

them as the weaker, vulnerable sex and take all the

benefits that come with it.

Letter to the Metro

I am fed up with having to wear a shirt and tie in the

office… It is about time male workers had equality with females,

who can wear what they like. If it was the other way round, they would

be bleating about discrimination.

Letter to the Metro

Why is only the ‘Ditch the Bitch’ divorce ad

being criticised? The ‘All Men Are Bastards’ one is at

least as offensive… Ads nowadays, especially on TV,

portray blokes as stupid and disorganised, while women

always know what’s what. Isn’t that sexist?

Letter to the


After years of protesting about the matter

myself, I was hugely gratified to discover that all the

irritation that men have with man-bashing marketing

techniques have finally reached critical mass… The long

term solution [is]… we have had a feminist movement but

not a masculinist one.

Letter to The Independent

Men seem to be more vocal recently about how they are being exploited,

discriminated against, badly represented. They are the ones now who

are now at a disadvantage against the evil feminazis who control the

world these days. Men are in crisis. Men are now the underdogs. Men

are indignant. The pendulum, as Nigel Planer laughably put it

recently, has “swung castratingly far in the other direction.” (I

guess he didn’t want to leave any cliche un-used).

The complaints are now being supported by reports such as the

one from a marketing consultant which claimed that the advertising

industry is putting off men by portraying them as imbeciles. Men, it

says, are fed up of being the butt of the joke.

The idea that men are now

crushed under the heel of power-weilding, all-controlling women is

complete rubbish.[pulloutbox]

Of course, feminists would argue that the idea that men are now

crushed under the heel of power-weilding, all-controlling women is

complete rubbish. And they’d be right. Of course the

representation of a bloke in a TV ad doesn’t count for anything when

compared to thousands of years of patriarchy. Of course women

are still opressed in the majority of the world. Of course

women still earn less then men, still get the crap jobs, still don’t

get into the higher echelons of society in the same numbers, still get

honked at in the street, still get raped and beaten, still cope with

teenage pregancies, still suffer poverty in old age. It’s plain fact,

despite what the extremist men’s movements say.

So you can understand why, when feminists hear there should be a

masculinist movement or a men’s movement or a male movement or

whatever, they might feel like a British Asian

listening to BNP rhetoric on how white people are now the underdogs,

thinking, oh please, give me a break, get real. It’s so

tempting just to hear these complaints about men in advertising and

think, well, now they know what we have to put up with, don’t they?

[pulloutbox]Behind the calls for ‘equality’ and ‘fairness’ from men we

have found so often that it hides an anti-feminist agenda.


And we’ve seen this kind of reaction from men time and time again.

When women gain a bit of equality, suddenly it’s gone too far! And

behind the calls for ‘equality’ and ‘fairness’ from men we have found

so often that it hides an anti-feminist agenda. Deborah Orr, writing

in the Independent in March, wrote: “all too often still, one

scratches a man’s claim to his rights, only to find that the

motivating force behind it is simple misogyny.” When Louis Theroux

made a documentary on British men who go to Thailand to get wives,

there was a sequence in which two men agreed that in the UK, “the

pendulum had gone too far.” There was a lot of tutting and

sorrowful shaking of heads. Shortly this was followed by the

pronouncement that unlike Western women, these women

never get headaches, if you know what I mean.

Despite this I do believe that many men sincerely want true

equality, and that their complaints are not just a smokescreen for

trashing feminism. But sometimes they are anti-feminist. When

men start indignantly saying “why didn’t women’s groups protest at the

‘All Men Are Bastards’ poster?” I want to ask them – why didn’t

you protest? (and incidentally, I did think that

poster was out of line, and said so). When they say “I didn’t see any

women protesting at the male version of Miss World / male strip clubs

/ naked men in posters” [delete as appropriate], well, hey, if you

think it’s so important, why weren’t you protesting?

[pulloutbox]You are a hypocrite and I have won the


Although I believe that feminism can free both men and women

and should begin to include both, I tire of these arguments which

imply that to fight for the rights of one section in society (e.g.

women) is a sexist act in itself. If feminism provides support for

women in certain areas where they are being discriminiated against,

some men will argue: why aren’t you fighting for men’s

problems too – isn’t that sexist? Why aren’t you proving refuge

shelters for men – isn’t that sexist? Why aren’t you

protesting about images of men in the media – isn’t that sexist? See!

See! You are sexist – the very thing you are arguing against!

Therefore you are a hypocrite and I have won the argument! QED!

Well blokes – by all means, protest at discriminiation against men.

By all means, set up a refuge shelter. But if this is just an

academic argument for you to put down feminism, then don’t waste

my time. If you’re arguing that women should not campaign for

women because it is sexist, but you’re not doing anything for men

yourself, why should I take you seriously? Or are you trying to

argue that just because you don’t care about your own gender

being exploited by the advertising industry I’m wrong to care

about my own? Give me a break.

[pulloutbox]Men who blame feminism for the way

the media treats men are using the very tools of feminist argument

to back up their case. [pulloutbox]

So what are men complaining about? There seem to be two main

areas that are being focussed on. Media images of men, and fathers

rights. The ironic thing is, men who blame feminism for the way

the media treats men are using the very tools of feminist argument

to back up their case. It was feminism that popularised the idea that

media images are important and that they can affect real life. It was

feminism that brought terms like ‘equality’ and ‘sexism’ into everyday

language: the very terms that men are now using to argue for

themselves – whilst still blaming feminism for their predicament!

It’s similar with the fatherhood thing. Men are fighting to have

more involvement with family life, for paternity leave. They’re

fighting against the fact that they’re viewed with suspicion and

ridicule when they turn up at the school gates to collect their

children, against the idea that men who want to care for kids must be

paedophiles. In short, they’re fighting for the domain of the family

not to be just the domain of women. And they’re blaming

feminism for this? What the hell do they think feminists have

been fighting for the past countless years?

[pulloutbox]Blaming feminism for this is like biting the hand that

feeds you.[pulloutbox]

It’s true that society is still structured to ensure men have

less involvement than women with caring for children. But this has

always been the case: it’s not feminism that caused this

situation. Are we supposed to believe that in the 1940s-50s men were

really involved with family life, changing nappies, getting up when

the baby cried, spending quality time with their kids? Society has

ensured that fathers are distant from kids for a long time (I’m not

going back to the time when women were incidental to the family and

once they’d given birth they had little rights with regards to their

own children). Blaming feminism for this is like biting the hand that

feeds you.

We so often want the same thing. It’s madness to fight as


And yet… and yet… there are occasions in society where

men are brought down, and people are beginning to notice it. In one

episode of The Simpsons, the family are flicking through the

tv channels and come upon an Oprah style chat show. The chat-show host

says one word: “Men.” The female audience immediately boo, hiss, and

shake their fists. This is what some men are beginning to think

is really happening. Scarily, men are beginning to think that society

hates them. It’s scary because so often they seem to think feminism

their enemy.

But it is true that society stereotypes men

as well as women. And feminism is not blameless here either.

First of all, I have to say that feminists in general do not hate

men. I can’t stress that enough. In the latest issue of the Fawcett Society

newletter, Sue Tibballs tells how she was contacted by a Radio 4

researcher who was making a programme about why women hate men

(presumably the very same one that got Nigel Planer frothing at the

mouth in the Radio Times). He asked Sue if she knew any? “No,” She


…certainly not in the women’s movement. Homophobes hate

men. So do racists. But not feminists. He groaned in exasperation. ‘Oh

God – all the women I have talked to have been so decent. I cannot

find anyone willing to say they hate men.’

Well, surprise, surprise!

But in the interests of truth, we should admit to the small

extremes who affiliate themselves with the feminist movement. Just as

there are extremists in any movement for justice and truth, or any

religion. Although it’s tempting to outright

deny it, we should admit that they exist. I think that by

acknowledgeing that there are some women who hate men – just as there

are people who hate other people in any movement – we will have

learned to grow up and be adult about it. We have to accept that a

handful of feminists will freely admit that they hate men, or at least

that they dislike them and are not really bothered by being seen as

man-hating. The following was taken from the FAQ of a group called

Young Radical Women:

Q: You are a group of man-haters aren’t you?

A: Well I’m sure some of us do hate men, with damn good

reasons too. But all in all we are a group of women who love women. If

that makes us man-haters in some peoples opinion then so be


But really, this is just brutal honesty, rather than hostility. It

seems the worst stuff happened in the past. For example, I was

recently reading a book of collected writings from the British women’s

movement in the 1980s (called Sweeping Statements) and was

shocked at some of the rhetoric in there. A women writing about the

issue of creches at feminist conferences wrote:

I don’t want my daughter staying overnight

with men – (lots of them) ugh! whether they be anti-sexist or not.

(All that means is that those men fuck feminists or that they

drain lots of energy and emotional support from us/women/feminists).

And an article about feminists bringing up boy children was

even more disturbing, and tragically depressing in it’s belief that

men are inevitably doomed to be oppressors:

What do you do when you don’t believe there

are any positive male images? …Sooner or later, all

feminist mothers of sons are faced with the hopeful

question: ‘But not all men are sexist, are they

mum?’ or ‘But dad’s not like that, is he?’ to which we

tend to have no answer… Should we talk to boys about

sexism? We have already noted that, by and large, we find

it pointless to talk to men about the oppression of

women. Yet with our children we have often felt compelled

to do so… However… it inevitably leads us into a situation where

we have to lie about our expectations that our sons will grow up as

part of the opressor class, and thus as our enemies…

The article goes on to discuss the problems of using positive

discrimination with 6 year olds. Later, the desire that girls should

attend girls schools conflicted with the view that boys shouldn’t

attend “brutalising” boys schools, and led to the question: “how can

we justify inflicting our sons on girls at a mixed school?”

[my emphasis].

We have to admit that along with all the good things, our feminist

heritage includes slogans like “dead men don’t rape.” At the time,

perhaps, from an oppressed group, these were inevitable, if not

strictly neccessary. But now I don’t think these things do us justice.

Jokes at the expense of men, says Naomi Wolf in Fire with


…might have been cute and subversive once, but no longer… If the women’s movement is becoming increasingly aware that prejudices against gay people, people of colour and people with disabilities are all interconnected, how can we exempt, even encourage, any prejudices that make generalisations about men? Coming from powerless people, such comments are good jokes. Coming from those who are beginning to win power, they are sexism. And it is the job of a feminist, male or female, to fight sexism, female or male.

It hurts to admit these things, not to mention embarrassing. It

makes you feel like a traitor to feminism to admit its past failings. But I

think we’re better for doing so. Even so, it’s been difficult for

me to write this for many reasons: I don’t want to make the stereotype

seem true and I don’t want radical feminists to think I’m stereotyping

them all as man-haters. So often feminists are divided into ‘good’

feminists or ‘bad’ feminists and I wouldn’t want to perpetuate

that simplistic knee-jerk reaction.

But anyway, all these things I’ve outlined were very much of their

time. Apart from a negligable minority, I believe we have left those

days far behind. No, I think society in general contains more

for men to get upset with than the extremes of feminism. Feminists are

more likely to question gender stereotypes, whereas ‘society’ is more

likely to reinforce them. There are so many assumptions about men,

and we should open our ears and notice these things. For example, I

was listening to Radio Five Live a few months ago and heard this

conversation between the DJ Nicky Campbell and his female guest, who

was discussing men in general and implying how women were somehow

better than men:

Woman: &nbsp …women are more emotional than men –

Campbell: [interrupting] &nbsp Are


[there was a pause during which I

could almost *hear* her think “what a stupid


Woman: [annoyed] &nbsp YES.

It was a little thing, but it really got to me. Good for Nicky

Campbell for questioning such assumptions (apparently deeply held too

– the woman reacted as if someone had asked her if the earth was

round instead of flat). And how embarassing that a woman should make

such sexist generalisations about men (and by implication, women).

Here’s another one, from October’s Cosmopolitan. Erin

Kelly had been sent to report on a tv channel selling sex toys and to

take part in an actual broadcast. She writes:

The final part of the show is the only part I don’t feel comfortable with: it’s the adult toys for men and this is pretty new territory for me… the idea of men using sex toys makes me feel uncomfortable. I think of female sex aids as something liberated, modern girls use to spice up their love lives, relieve stress when single or just pass time during the adverts. But I picture men who buy sex toys as slightly creepy guys whose only meaningful relationship is with their female internet porn star. The logical part of my brain is well aware that if women can enjoy sex toys then so can men. But that horribly sexist and repressed part is just a bit, well, grossed out.

How many more assumptions and stereotypes do we hold about men?

There must be hundreds. Generalisations are made about men, I

believe, almost as frequently as they are about women, and we must

question them all. We must be aware of how of our expectations are

moulded by society’s idea of what men should be – just as we would

expect the same courtesy from them. If we think men who cry are

pathetic and unattractive, if we demand that men pay for dates and

refuse to return the favour, if we think boys who play with dolls or

play dress up are weird embarrassing freaks, we are betraying the very

ideas that are beginning to give ourselves freedom.

So do we need a men’s movement? Well guys, I can

exclusively reveal here and now that there is a movement for

you. It already exists, though it’s little known and kind of

underground. Here’s some various quotes from deep inside this

secretive movement:

It is time, then, to move away from the

hostile years, when women’s anger erupted and men felt

alienated from the equality movement. Now, feminism

belongs to men as well as to women. Indeed, if the

impetus of feminism over the past century has been to

give women the keys of the masculine kingdom, allowing

them to work and play as men, to seek out sexual pleasure

as only men once did, to vote, to drive lorries, to sit

on the Speaker’s chair in the House of Commons, so the

impetus of feminism in the next century will be to give

men the keys of the feminine kingdom.

We must do a better job of separating hating

male violence and sexism from hating men… Fathers,

brothers, sons, lovers, husbands, friends: all the men

who care about the women in their lives are, whether they

know it or not, male feminists. And they deserve better

than caricature and dismissal. They deserve their place

alongside women in the discussion of how to heal the

gender divide and make public life fairer for their

daughters, and home life more compelling for their sons.

Feminists who campaign for a change in the

way the world works are not just focusing on women’s

working patterns. They are calling for a change in the

way men work, and a fairer distribution of unpaid work

between the sexes. The call for an end to the long-hours

culture that allows men to take time off when their

children are sick, has been largely led by women. There

has yet to be the sea change in men’s behaviour

equivalent to the change in most women’s lives.

If my travels taught me anything about the two sexes, it is

that each of our struggles depends on the success of the

other’s. Men and women are at a historically opportune moment where

they hold the keys to each other’s liberation.

Yep, you guessed it. All the quotes are from feminists. The

first one is Natasha Walter in The New Feminism, the

second from Naomi Wolf in Fire with Fire, the third from

Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director of the Fawcett Society, the fourth

from Susan Faludi in Stiffed (a book by a feminist

writer which focusses purely on men). Feminism can benefit men’s

lives and it has already begun investigating this issue.

[pulloutbox]Feminism can help men break free.

My main fear when I hear men complain about things like this is

that the fight for men’s freedom will become the domain of extremist

anti-feminists like the UK Men’s Movement. I’m scared that if we

don’t get them on our side they’ll become our enemies. And that could

only be a huge step back to the pointless never-ending “battle of the

sexes”. The fact is, feminism can help men break free. As

feminists, we have already been over much of this ground already.

We’ve laid the theory, we’ve demonstrated how young children are

moulded into certain gender roles. Men do not have to rebuild the


Men who are beginning to question society’s expectations of them

should not be forced to choose between doing nothing and

joining up with anti-feminist misogynist extremists. Rather, we should

work together.

Real equality seen as a

tentative, fragile, unstable balance, which is broken if the pendulum

moves one atom either way.[pulloutbox]

The problem with the pendulum theory is that the fight for

equality is perceived as just that: a fight, a tug-of-war, a

battle in which if one side wins a little, the other side inevitably

loses out. If the pendulum idea is correct, then real equality is a

tentative, fragile, unstable balance, which is broken if the pendulum

moves one atom either way. The moment at which the pendulm rests at

true equality is so infintely small it’s virtually impossible to

reach, and so fragile and unstable that a gentle breeze could

knock it out again. In the pendulum theory, someone is always the


I believe that the fight for equality and freedom is more like a

partnership, a team effort. If one of us wins, we all benefit. For

example, if men get more paternity leave, they benefit because they’re

able to spend more time with the kids, and women benefit because

they’re not left to deal with the kids by themselves. They also

benefit because employers will realise that women are not the only

ones likely to take months off to care for their family. If you

make a generalisation about men, you are invariably making one about

women, and vice-versa. We are interconnected. Susan

Faludi puts it so well: we hold the keys to each others


[pulloutbox]Offer men the same courtesy we would want ourselves.

So what can we do? Take men’s arguments, their fears, their

concerns, as genuine unless there is reason not to do so. Don’t just

outright deny them. Listen to their arguments and respond to them on

their own merit. If they are wrong, and blatantly anti-feminist, they

will fail. Lets offer men the same courtesy we would want ourselves.

Don’t dismiss their concerns as whining or bleating as they have done

to us. Lets insist that ‘all men are bastards’ is not a feminist thing

to say or to think. Lets be aware of our own prejudices (if a woman

like Naomi Wolf criticises feminism, I tend to give her credit and

listen – but if a man does the same, I’m instantly suspicious).

Lets stick up for men where it’s appropriate to do so, and make it

clear that this is feminism talking.

After all, as Germaine Greer herself once said:

The opposite of

patriarchy is not matriarchy, but fraternity.

Apart from

fraternity suggesting a purely male brotherhood (if only there was a

genderless word for it) – I know what she means, and I wholeheartedly


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