People should listen to John Waters

12th September 2001

LOOKING back it often seems that the course of history follows a straight line – that we came to where we are today by an inevitable series of events.

The reality is that history is the story of social and economic progress. The development of the economy is closely associated with the liberation of people and vice versa.

It can be strongly argued that the consumer society came about as a result of the activity of trade unions. After all, consumers can’t buy anything if their wages are at barely enough to feed them.

A major expansion of the economy in recent times has been due to the increased participation of women in the economy.

Women work. Women buy. So women have more power.

But before women could participate in this way it took many people to struggle for acceptance of the view that women are equal to men. It wasn’t easy. Many women faced ridicule and repression before they prevailed.

Similar struggles took place to secure the rights of minorities across the board. Most of these struggles are only half way along. Many of the old stereotypes and prejudices prevail.

Which brings me to John Waters. Almost alone in the media, John Waters promotes the view that men suffer discrimination. In particular, he has advocated for men as parents.

You could say that his politics are ‘masculism’ the political equivalent of feminism. Some feminists have objected to his often-abrasive attacks on feminist politics.

As a long time supporter of feminism I find it very disappointing that many feminists seem incapable of embracing the idea of universal rights.

My own view is that a person’s gender is of peripheral value to their humanity. Discrimination against women isn’t wrong because they are women. It is wrong because no individual should be discriminated against.

When John Waters makes the point that men are discriminated against as parents he is pointing out the truth. If traditional role models fenced women in as being solely responsible for parenting, then it stands to reason that traditionally men were fenced out.

In the courts women are routinely given custody of children. John Waters is saying that this situation is fundamentally, obviously wrong. What fair-minded person could disagree?

So too in the case of domestic violence. Do women strike men as often as men strike women? I don’t know and neither does anyone else. Yet the suggestion that women are equally capable of violence is greeted with the same incredulity as the prejudices of old.

Maybe women’s aptitude for violence was suppressed by their traditionally passive roles. In a hundred years the situation might be very different. What annoys me is that so many people, particularly those who struggled for equality, refuse to keep an open mind on the subject preferring to stick to the party line.

There are still many voices for women’s rights and long may they continue. There are few voices for men’s rights so those few need to be heard as well.