Is it Better to be a Woman or a Man?

// 7 April 2008

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This was the theme of the debate that Kate Smurthwaite, Vince Graff and I took part in on last Tuesday’s Phil Williams show on BBC Radio 5 Live. (Scroll through to the second hour of the programme.)

I was pretty resolute in my instinctive answer to this question when it was initially put to me but, as Kate demonstrated, there are actually a variety of ways of answering this question as a feminist.

Overall, however, I would still argue that it’s a man’s world because:

1. Men don’t tend to be discriminated against at work because of their biological ability to become parents but women of childbearing age often are. Also, if a man-born-man feels the need to become a biological parent (which obviously isn’t the be-all and end-all but that’s another debate) he can generally look to a woman to do the scary pregnancy and birth bit. How lucky is that?

Obviously, not all women have wombs but I’ve yet to find a cis man lamenting his lack of one. Indeed, it seems that the ability to give birth is often a disadvantage in practice, despite actually being a theoretical advantage in the first place.

2. It still seems that the majority of men can walk around topless on the beach without attracting comment. The majority of women can’t.

3. Convention encourages men to take it for granted that they will get to keep their names if they get married. That doesn’t mean every man will but the question of name-change still doesn’t come up as much for men as it does for women and this implies that female identity is still framed as more mutable than male identity.

3. Men are generally less likely to to find their Facebook celebrations of their drunken high jinx in a damning Daily Mail feature. They can even get their willy out for a wee in public and, though it might attract a few tuts, it is seen as something to be expected and I’ve certainly never overheard anyone saying “he’s going to get himself raped.”

4. A ropey female DJ will always attract attention. A ropey male one might just get away with it (depending on where he’s playing). As a sometimes-ropey female DJ on occasion, I’m speaking from experience here.

A good female DJ generally attracts amazement and surprise. The same applies to a woman who is geeky and knowledgeable about records. Again, I’m speaking from experience here… Yes, I realise this could be considered to be something of an advantage. It just wears a little thin when the guy you are trying to chat to about that rare Lime 12″ just keeps looking at your boyfriend and saying “amazing!” and “you’ve done well there mate.”

5. The old cliche about men being able to put it about without attracting anywhere near the same level of vilification that “easy” women do still seems to hold true. Only recently, I read a Scarlet mag piece that asked a whole load of guys in the street about women who sleep with men on the first date. Unfortunately, a number of their answers were disheartening.

Overall, I would say we women often get it good for all the wrong reasons (i.e chivalrous ones), while men often find themselves having a hard time for displaying behaviour that is seen to be “like a girl.” Men are unfortunately viewed as more dispensable but receive more respect while we women are cherished and preserved but punished for our mollycoddled existence by being regularly cast as mere shadows of our male counterparts.

There’s also the controversial question of getting checked out at the doctor. Women are encouraged to do this all the bloody time. Men are encouraged not to do it enough. I’m not sure what’s worse but I know I don’t appreciate being made to feel guilty if I haven’t jumped at every available chance to be a good girl and spread my legs for the doctor. (Roll on HPV testing I say!)

Comments From You

Nenena // Posted 8 April 2008 at 2:20 am

Hmmmm, interesting. I teach English in Japan, and last year my middle school students had a debate as part of their school festival: Would you rather be born a woman, or a man? The idea was for the students to persuade the parents and teachers in the audience for one side or another. In the end, almost everybody had lined up on the “man” side, including most of the female students. It was heartbreaking to watch. BUT it did give me hope to see so many of my students, male and female, insightfully pointing out the sexism that saturates their lives. They talked openly and frankly about the usual topics – discrimination in the workplace, girls being ignored in math and science class, girls being targeted by perverts on trains, girls sports teams not getting newspaper/TV coverage, etc. These kids aren’t blind to the patriarchy, and most of them seemed to recognize that it was a [i]bad[/i] thing that they ended up all lined up on one side.

Samara Ginsberg // Posted 8 April 2008 at 10:13 am

Re the Scarlet article, I saw an identical one in Cosmopolitan a while back (at least, I think it was Cosmopolitan…) in which the vast majority of the guys said things like, “Well put it this way, I wouldn’t be seeing her again, hehehehe…” but they were all completely and totally shamed by the one man who said, “In my country, we respect the women we sleep with” (he was from France).

It’s just weird, this idea that if you sleep with someone on the first date he won’t respect you in the morning, but if you wait until the third or fourth date he will turn into a lovely, respectful, adoring creature who will worship you forever. This doesn’t make sense. If he wouldn’t have respected you for “putting out” earlier, do you really want him now?

It’s actually much more beneficial from the woman’s point of view to sleep with a man on the first date if she wants to, because that way 1 – she gets laid and 2 – if he doesn’t respect her in the morning, at least she’s saved herself a lot of trouble by find out that he’s a complete plonker at such an early stage.

If anybody is generally despairing of men at this point I have to say that I have a lot of male friends who sleep with women on the first date and lose no respect for them whatsoever.

sian // Posted 9 April 2008 at 5:10 pm

damn straight samara! my friend told her boyfriend she was a virgin so that he would respect her, and i had endless arguments saying surely it would be better to go out with someone who respected you no matter how many people you slept with. bit off point, but similar!

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