Reese Witherspoon, Zoe Kravitz, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep attend the Big Little Lies Season 2 Premiere. Picture: AFP
Reese Witherspoon, Zoe Kravitz, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep attend the Big Little Lies Season 2 Premiere. Picture: AFP

My fellow feminists, we have to stop womansplaining

It was an exchange that could have me served with a lifelong ban as a card-carrying feminist.

On board a flight to Melbourne on Friday, I found myself unsuccessfully grappling with a can of mineral water. After countless futile attempts to open the damn thing, I turned to the young man sitting next to me.

"Sorry to bother you, but can you please help me with this?" I asked, waving my decorative but hopelessly impractical long manicured nails by way of explanation.

With a patient smile he good-naturedly complied, before returning to whatever he was watching on his phone for the remainder of the flight, leaving me to return to continue quietly dismantling the patriarchy. Or something.

According to the more shrill voices who unfortunately tend to dominate discussions around gender equality in this country, this is the sort of exchange that violates the very premise of feminism.

Manicures and feminism can go hand-in-hand, contrary to what some may believe. Picture: Getty
Manicures and feminism can go hand-in-hand, contrary to what some may believe. Picture: Getty

I asked a man for help. I was grateful for his assistance and thanked him. Then there is the matter of the aforementioned manicured nails. To some self-proclaimed voices of a generation, the transgressions herein are too many to list.

It is, of course, all nonsense.

Despite the unhelpful carry-on from those who spend their days screeching on social media and firing off essays trying to reduce feminism to an outdated battle between men and women (the 1970s called and they'd like their culture wars back), the truth is not nearly so combative.

Here are a few things you won't hear on the likes of Twitter: Equality really isn't that complicated. Not all women are good. And not all men are bad.

Sounds obvious, doesn't it? And yet judging by what passes for commentary regarding these issues, such statements are seemingly revolutionary.

Last week Meryl Streep had the mob baying for her blood when she dared to express some concerns about the increasing use of the term "toxic masculinity".

"Sometimes, I think we're hurt," she said during a panel discussion with the cast of Big Little Lies. "We hurt our boys by calling something toxic masculinity. And I don't find [that] putting those two words together… because women can be pretty f***ng toxic."

Naturally, everyone went berserk. Millions took to their keyboards to ridicule and condemn Streep - a long-time feminist and outspoken advocate for women - for her apparent misunderstanding of modern gender relations.

Acres of newsprint and online missives were promptly devoted to lecturing the Oscar winner. You might even call it womansplaining.

Toxic masculinity, for those not up to date with the terminology, refers to the socialisation of boys and men to suppress their emotions and conform to traditional masculine traits - behaviour which is unfairly restrictive on the male half of the population and in turn damaging (sometimes downright dangerous) to the women on the receiving end of the aggression such suppression can lead to.

It is an important and worthwhile conversation, particularly for those who care about liberating both men and women from the constraints of narrow gender stereotypes.

But overlooked in the hysterical reaction to Streep's comments was that she did not criticise this goal in any way - her objection was simply to the coupling of the words "toxic" and "masculinity" and the message the mainstream usage of such a phrase risks sending to young boys.

She has a point. What's to be gained by demonising men, inadvertently or otherwise? Are the supposed adults among us really so defensive that we can't afford to put our egos aside so as to engage both sexes in a more constructive way?

If bandying the phrase "toxic masculinity" about is serving only to alienate young men from the conversation, then it's beyond foolish and counter-productive not to take that on board and adapt accordingly.

Australian performer Rob Mills explained to Stellar where his reluctance to call himself a feminist came from. Picture: Lachie Millard
Australian performer Rob Mills explained to Stellar where his reluctance to call himself a feminist came from. Picture: Lachie Millard

Streep is not the problem here. The problem lies with those so caught up in their Us V Them warfare that they are more interested in hurling abuse and belittling anyone who deviates from their pre-approved jargon than they are in working together towards true equality.

Speaking of ideas that in reality are quite unremarkable, but are still somehow seen as problematic, is this very notion of both men and women having a role to play in attaining fair and equitable representation and participation in our society.

Over the weekend, actor and singer Rob Mills admitted that despite being a staunch supporter of women's rights, he's reluctant to call himself a feminist.

"Em Rusciano, my friend, told me I am not allowed to say I am a feminist," Mills told Stellar. "She said I can say I am a supporter of feminism."

To which I simply say: no, no and no. Please don't listen to your friend's advice on this.

OF COURSE a man can be a feminist. Feminism is not an elusive secret cult - the only requirement for entry is that you consider men and women to be equal.

And if you do, then welcome to the club - please pull up a chair and help yourself to coffee and cake.

Contrary to popular claims insisting otherwise, identifying as a feminist is not determined by gender. There are millions of women who refuse to be labelled as feminists, which is only more reason to embrace the brave men who do.

There are still enough genuine obstacles in place when it comes to achieving gender equality without unnecessarily fabricating new ones or unhelpfully seeking to exclude men from being part of the solution.

Impractically long fingernails can be a hindrance in this life. Good male allies are not.

Sarrah Le Marquand is the editor-in-chief of Stellar magazine and the founding editor of RendezView.



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