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Why working in a hyper-masculine environment made me a feminist

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When we're around ten years old, we live in fear of the opposite sex - we dread being accused of fancying someone, we avoid them like the Plague and, in America, 'cooties' are always around the corner.

But what about the change that happens with adolescence? Or, rather, the change in perception that occurs?

Around the time we become stumbling vessels of hyper-hormones, members of the opposite sex suddenly stop being simply people of the opposite gender. They become targets.

That's not strewn from personal experience - that's me talking from a typically 'male' viewpoint. All of a sudden, the notion of becoming friends with girls is ridiculous, a frivolous pastime where the end result is like tipping a bus conductor; it'll get you nowhere, fast. Unless you plan to sleep with them, then you're making an idiot out of yourself.

Forget making meaningful conversation, sharing common interests and enjoying one another's platonic presence; if you're not secretly working on some sexual subterfuge, then you might as well remove your reproductive zone and give it to medical research.

I spent 18 months working within a cramped, typically male office environment, which contained its own pool table and work finished at 12pm on a Friday for four hours of beer and pork.

Not a problem as such, but women were viewed with disdain and carnality. At Christmas, they were given ironing boards as 'presents' while the guys were given aftershave and cans of 'Pussy'. Every Monday morning was a frantic conversation about who the office men spent the weekend having sex with, and the best sex they'd ever had (the women would later be referred to as "slags"). Strippers were regularly hired for birthday parties and interviewees were rated more for their looks than their brains.

Once, a co-worker eavesdropped in awe at my Facebook thread, in which I'd engaged in several conversations with different women. Disappointingly, the first thought that crossed his mind was that I was a serial 'player', rather than just someone with female friends. They began surreptitiously hunting for tips. "How many are you shagging?" they asked. "None," I replied. "There's something wrong with you," came the crestfallen riposte.

And, being naive, I believed him. When you're young and you enter a workplace like that for the first time, you start to unwittingly mould yourself to the alpha males.

Surrounded by guys who kept their craniums in their crotches, I began to think maybe the typical male representative should be ripped, randy and risqué, with a disposable attitude to women. I began to study their methods, and all of a sudden my conversations with women began to change - I was no longer genuinely conversing; instead I was urgent and full-on, with every response sexually suggestive and gearing the conversation to only one place.

Of course, my male colleagues admired me for it. I'd begun adapting to what I thought society wanted in a man - someone that is cocksure, confident and concupiscent.

But if that's what a guy is meant to be, then I didn't want it. I'd lost so many interesting conversations with girls, all because I was after something I didn't even want. I was like a 12-year-old boy buying his first Rizla, only to discover he'd rather have spent it on some Haribo.

Is this what we want the female generation to think? That every time a guy says "hi", that it's merely a matter of time before they unleash a barrage of clunky catcalls and the dreaded 'wink' emoticon? Nowadays, I have a pang of guilt that I know half of the women I speak to may think I just want sex.

Some people view feminism with a degree of mistrust - if you're not a girl, it doesn't apply. But feminism isn't about what's in your pants, it's about what's in your head. It's about acceptance - I've spoken to girls who are inspiring and innovative, and conjure up ambitions in me, and are driven and energetic, with opinions and interests that coagulate with my own.

One day, we will be able to completely whitewash the phallic-shaped elephant in the room. A male and a female will be able to shake hands and talk, without either party thinking about sex. Unless they want to. In that case, go ahead.

One day, a guy will be able to list Emma Watson in their heroes without people saying it's because she's "fit."

Do we ask the same if a girl lists Barack Obama? Perhaps we do flippantly, but we never mean it.

One day, we will be able to ask this question - "what if a guy can talk to a girl, be friends with them and the thought of sex never crosses their mind?" And, one day, it won't be greeted by chauvinistic snickering. Freedom comes slowly at first.

 




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