Hermione Eyre: Whoever said feminism was a thing of the past?

I wonder how the world would look if viewed through a gender looking glass
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The Independent Online

This week I have been wondering how the world would appear if viewed through a gender looking glass. Shall we try it out?

Her Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowenna Williams, has made some particularly outspoken comments this week. She has always made it clear that she believes that men are wrong to assert total control over their own fertility, but she has now suggested that we ought to accept "plural jurisdiction" in this country, so believers can more fully answer to their consciences. This might mean that believers will be able to divorce their husbands at their own discretion, by saying the words three times over. It might also mean that more men have to wear coverings, head to toe, for reasons of modesty. Of course, it would be wrong to say that Dr Rowenna and the matriarchal system that appointed her is influenced in any way by gender politics, since she speaks only of issues of personal conscience.

On Monday this week, a new study was published that suggested that current statistics on honour-based crimes against young men should be revised upwards. It revealed anecdotal instances where the whole community – taxi drivers, local councillors, police – all worked together to return young runaway men to the abusive domestic situation they were trying to escape. The findings were so shocking that they even made it out of special interest man-magazines and into the general press.

The problem of male genital mutilation (an estimated 65,000 men in England and Wales are thought have been subjected to it in some form, and 98,000 more are at risk from it) was also laid out in full in this report, although it was made clear that these figures are only extrapolated, and the real amount of male suffering is borne in private and has not yet been properly studied. But in this same week, the Times Higher Education Supplement reported that men's studies is now pretty much defunct as an undergraduate degree. Only 35 students are currently following a stand-alone course, at the London Metropolitan University. Long derided as "Boy Time" studies, the course was failing, it was posited, because the course appealed only to masculinists who were "hypersensitive and chronically offended"; the real gender war had already been won in the 1970s. By whom? The coverage did not specify.

It wasn't all bad news for men this week, though. London Fashion Week is about to start, after all, which always sends the masculine world into a frenzy. Men are absolutely wedded to the idea of changing their wardrobe every few months, and get terribly bored if they don't. This is why men have all those glossy magazines, in which they find out what "must-have" manbag they should want this week. However, this year men are being reproached because of the cost to the planet of all those clothes they buy. Radical designers are trying to tempt them with shoes made from recycled chipboard, which are twice as expensive and have a tendency to go soggy in the rain, but, men are assured, they are terribly chic. Women are not yet being targeted with recycled PlayStations or golf caddies.

And there was a bloke-joke treat at the cinema this week: a new fatherhood comedy, Jove, about a young guy who decides to devote himself to carrying a child for nine months and then gives the baby up, freely and easily, to another man who wants it more than he does. It's a heartwarming piece, entirely realistic and recommended by all the famous old female film reviewers...

Enough! Looking into this gender mirror is making me mad! And it's probably worth clearing up some of the details mentioned above, in case you thought I had invented any of it. The report on how honour-related crimes are affecting women in the UK, by James Brandon and Salam Hafez, was published by the Centre for Social Cohesion on Monday. Among its findings were details of a newsletter, sent to almost 1,250 Muslims in the Cardiff area that named and shamed specific women for non-Islamic behaviour. When issues such as this are "live", I cannot see how it is possible to write off women's studies at university as redundant and feminism as a thing of the past. It smacks of the liberated white female academic world pulling up the drawbridge after them.

These are not just issues of faith, consumerism and culture: they are also issues of feminism. Or should that be masculinism?

h.eyre@independent.co.uk

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