Is it sexist to laud the success of women when they come at the expense of men?

In short, no.

There are two articles in today’s Observer that talk about how woman’s rise in salaries and choice have led to a significant change in the dynamics of the workplace and their relationships with men. Naturally, both of these articles are in praise of this change, referring to the “old” times of gender inequality, both in terms of career and family (and other things too), as a dark shadowy past that we are only now starting to escape. I use the word “we” there because, even though I am a man, I recognise these changes as an inherently good thing and therefore identify myself with those who would laud these things as good (even if it could be shown that it would personally disadvantage me, as I am a man).

The two articles in question are also available online:


To jump ahead, ignoring the content for a moment, it’s genuinely very startling to see comments saying things like:

So, inequality is “unfair” when it is skewed in favour of men, but “fair” it is skewed against men.

Not sure I see the fairness in that myself.



Men paid more than women, “stonkingly, grievously unfair”.
Women paid more than men, “shaft of sunlight in the gloom”.

Someone explain this to me.



What’s with all these articles about women? I repeat why does everything have to be constructed within the realms of gender?


Now, I haven’t formally studied gender-ethics, gender-politics, or any other field specifically through the lens of gender; I had the opportunity to do so while studying my undergraduate degree, but the closest I came was, when studying welfare, spending some time studying the state provision of child care resources in various countries. As you might expect, most of the participants were women and – interestingly for me – as the class was in the evening (I had to attend then as I had a scheduling conflict) most of these women either worked, had kids, or both.

To be honest, while I learned about welfare provision and I also learned about these women and it was an eye-opening experience for me. They all loved their children and many of them their jobs, and they wish they could find a better way to balance them, especially with the added pressures of getting a degree. Their partners ‘helped’ them with this but, in the end, that was what it was: ‘help’. When citizens are in need of help, it is the responsibility of  government to step in and help. It seems that in the UK, as with so many other countries, the government was incapable of recognising the hardships that could only ever affect one half of its population: women.

What the commentators have said at the end of these articles is that they cannot understand why “everything these days” is skewed in terms of gender. I can understand the frustration, I suppose, when you see female journalists talking about equality but ostensibly doing so in dichotomous terms of “men vs. women”. But what these commentators don’t understand is that this is the only way to talk about these issues. How else can we talk about female-specific issues and problems without specifically talking about women? That is a truism if I ever did see one.

To put it another way, if we were going to talk about the issues surrounding people who are black – for example, how there is a variation in sentencing which suggests that non-white offenders are more likely to go to prison than white offenders for the same crimes – then you can only ever talk about in terms of a comparison between white people and non-white people; to do otherwise would completely skirt around the issue. For issues surrounding women, there are many that are still very real today. When talking about how the tides are turning for women, you can only ever talk about in terms of how it affects men too.


So – returning to the articles – Hinsliff’s article starts with the sentence “It is not often, in these dark times, that one stumbles across a snippet of good economic news.” This sentence then leads on to an exposition of how it is good news that they pay gap between men and women has shrunken to a record low. In fact, she says, women in their 20s are now earning more than their male counterparts. Why – as a male in his 20s – do I think this is a good thing? Because it’s a change. Precisely because the system was so out of balance for the past … erm, forever, that to see women finally gaining parity (even the upperhand) in this single aspect of life is a step towards equality. If one believes that equality is a good thing then one must see this as a good thing.

Now, there are criticisms that say things like, ” but women are starting to overtake men, almost alarmingly, in terms of education and wealth, and this will simply lead to new inequality: that of men”. I disagree, I think it is alarmist to say that this is the thin end of the wedge, and that as soon as women are in a position to “grab power”, that they will use it to subjugate men. It’s an easy – and boring – target to say that feminists wish to destroy all men and hold them back; and seeing as there are still so many strata which women are still truly unable to penetrate, such as parliament – particularly the front bench – and boardrooms, for example, it seems unlikely that there is any evidence for this at all.

Bolick has done a great deal of work while researching her article and she lists many interesting points like these, which I won’t repeat – the best thing to do is to read it for yourself. It is long – some 5,000+ words – but it encapsulates seemingly all major gender-specific aspects of a woman’s life: careers, family, relationships, etc. As a male who is not personally privy to these potential tribulations, it’s an interesting mix of sociology, statistics, and personal viewpoint.


Instead, for me, I want to keep things light – personally, I like the idea of intellectual, financial, and political (i.e., “power”) parity with women. I do enjoy female company, whether it is for simple conversation, intimacy, romance, or sex. The great thing about equality is that there should be no surprise if a woman says the same things about men (or other women). It still surprises me that people are surprised when a woman takes a strong interest in, say, her career, or her children, or both, politics, or even just sex (especially when these exclamations of surprise come from women).

I remember when I first started dating women, I found it incredibly frustrating that there were these strict gender stereotypes that were meant to be adhered to. As a male, despite not having a job, I was expected to pay for everything. As a female, she was not allowed to ask me out – instead she had to “drop hints” that she was interested and hope I pick up on them. The “dating game” is littered with these outmoded, useless, prohibitive bullshit rules that try to contrive how a relationship “should be”. I am sure that there are many men and women out there who still hold these stereotypes up as law. If modern “romantic comedies” are anything to go by, there are. As a friend once said to me, romantic comedies peaked at When Harry Met Sally and have been in decline ever since.

So what if the women you’re dating is earning more than you? So what if the age gap is atypical and she is older than you? So what if her title is more impressive than yours? Crush your ego, man, and look at the positives. I like the idea of the woman wanting to pick up the cheque after a meal. I like the idea of discussing ideas and thoughts that an immature woman would not be interested in. I like the idea of a woman who is successful at her job. Why are these things considered bad? Perhaps I am more alone than I thought in thinking that strong, thoughtful, independent women are interesting and attractive.


I find it very surprising that when confronted with these issues, some men’s first response is simply to lambaste women for their success. It is certainly a bad thing if men were to fall behind in terms of education and wealth, and a new chasm opens just as one closes up. But we should not criticise the successes of women who, through facing adversity and sheer bloody-mindedness, they have managed to promote themselves as equal people in our society. If anything, it is a wake up call – it should be taken as a way to shake up our lives and dispel old-fashioned ways of thinking about gender relationships. It should raise us out of our complacency and enjoy a new level of competition.

The doomsday scenarios that some knee-jerk commentators anticipate are too far in the horizon to be considered a possibility at this point. I think if you were to ask men and women about this, it would be mostly men who see these sorts of issues as divisive rather unifying; a bad thing rather than a good thing. The men could respond that women are just biassed because it benefits “them” more than “us”, which  would (ironically?) not only reinforce suggestions of dichotomy and divisiveness, but totally ignore the benefits that it would bring. Equality is a good thing and if it means that women outperform men in some aspects of life then so be it – but this is still a good thing and merely adds to the wonderfulness of this change.

Glee’s GQ photo shoot “betrays the spirit of the show”

The title card for the musical comedy series G...

Image via Wikipedia

Apparently 24-year olds posing as sultry school girls is an abomination.  Really?

Smells Like Teen Spirit

There has been a furore recently over a recent photoshoot where actors who play teenagers on TV show Glee have posed provocatively for GQ magazine.  Let’s see how the situation has been described.

The images, by photographer Terry Richardson, are overtly, cheesily sexy. Website Jezebel summed it up with the headline: Terry Richardson Makes Glee All Porny and they have a point. The pictures are also amazingly sexist. Monteith, who plays Finn, is wearing approximately 10 times more clothing than both of the women, who are draped over him like fancy accessories.

Source:, “Glee’s GQ photo shoot betrays the spirit of the show“, 22nd October 2010,


Among PTC’s complaints, it says the photo shoot “borders on pedophilia.”

“Many children who flocked to ‘High School Musical’ have grown into ‘Glee’ fans,” PTC President Tim Winter bemoaned in his organization’s missive. “They are now being treated to seductive, in-your-face poses of the underwear-clad female characters posing in front of school lockers, one of them opting for a full-frontal crotch shot. By authorizing this kind of near-pornographic display, the creators of the program have established their intentions on the show’s direction. And it isn’t good for families.”

Source: Washington Post, “After ‘Glee’ GQ photos cause controversy, cast member responds“, 21st October 2010,

I think we’ve captured succinctly what people’s problems are here:

1. The photos are overtly sexual.

2. The photos are sexist.

3. The photos “border on” paedophilia.

4. Children are going to be influenced by these photos.

5. The creators of the show have used this photoshoot to indicate the show’s direction.

Let’s examine these in turn, though I suspect there to be some overlap.

1. The Photos Are Overtly Sexual

Yes they are.  However, this is not surprising.  GQ is a “lad’s mag” – a publication targeted at men.  In fact, “GQ” stands for “Gentleman’s Quarterly” so it’s not surprising that it features things that men want to see. 

2. The Photos Are Sexist

I’m tempted to write “see above.”  Mathilda Gregory, in the Guardian piece cited above, argues this and again it’s true.  She complains that Finn is wearing “10 times more clothing” than his female counterparts.  Remembering what we learnt in the previous section, about this being a lad’s mag, it’s conceivable that the majority of GQ’s readership are heterosexual men.  Heterosexual men typically don’t want to see scantily dressed men, which is why adverts that typically feature them, for, for instance, men’s fragrances and underwear, are actually aimed at women as they are the ones who would buy these products.

So what’s the problem?  Well it seems that she is surprised that there are scantily dressed women in a lad’s mag.  To everyone else, this is not surprising. 

3. The Photos Border On Paedophilia

This one surprises me the most.  But then again, maybe it doesn’t.  We’ve already had Amanda Bynes, famous for her days on Nickleodeon, stripping down for MaximMiley Cyrus has gotten herself into trouble for making racy videosDon’t forget Britney Spears’s photoshoot in Rolling Stone, all those years ago which you could hold up as the archetype for all these controversies.  Indeed you can find numerous articles where adult women have chosen to do ‘sexy’ poses for magazines.  How are they paedophilic?

Paedophilia is a condition where someone is attracted to children.  In this sense, the argument is that the photos that these women are posing are either are: a) paedophilic in themselves (i.e. depicting children in a sexual way) or b) encourage paedophilia (i.e. encourage people to find children attractive).  Is this true of the photos?

Definition (a) is obviously false.  The women posing in the Glee photoshoot are both over 18 years of age.  In fact, both Dianna Agron and Lea Michelle are 24.  24 year olds are not children, ergo this cannot be true.

Definition (b) is closer to being right than (a).  However, does it encourage paedophilia?  I highly doubt this.  However, it hasn’t stopped some rather odd reactions.  For instance, there was a story recently which stated that the Australian censor no longer allows young, small-breasted women to show their breasts in adult movies.  In fact, if you look hard enough on Google there are people who believe that almost anything can encourage paedophilia.  Here are some:

Shaving your pubic hair might encourage paedophilia.

Making padded bras in small sizes might encourage paedophilia.

Second Life might encourage paedophilia.

Paedophilia is a genuine concern, I don’t doubt that.  But the fight against it is not helped by some groups of people constantly trying to construe anything associated with youth and sexiness as ‘paedophilic’.  It’s like the hysteria The Daily Mail promotes with its endless articles on the things that cause cancer.

Enough is enough.  Unless it is blatant paedophilia or you have a study that links something to paedophilia you should just stay quiet.  Besides, have you watched Glee?  It’s not exactly something young children should be watching anyway.  The season 2 opener featured Britney Spears songs and videos, and not the cutesy-wutesy ones.

4. Children Are Going To Be Influenced By These Photos

You let your kids read GQ magazine?  What’s wrong with you?

I don’t remember the last time I heard about a GQ photoshoot other than this one and yet I have now, simply because some people have made public their disagreement with it.  Now it is all over the news everybody will be hearing about it, including your kids.  There’s a Radiohead song where there is a lyric, “you do it to yourself / just you and no-one else”.  Apt, it seems.

The problem that some people may have is not simply that this photoshoot happened but rather that there are 20-somethings playing the role of teenagers.  This kind of “age deflation”, as it were, is rife across TV and film.  Is it a bad thing?  Again, I don’t know I can’t see any studies that say either way.  But what it enables producers to do is guarantee that their actors know about the role they are playing, that they have the maturity to reflect on it and play it convincingly.  If people have a problem with the photoshoot then they should probably direct their anger at this industry standard.

5. The Creators Of The Show Have Used The Photoshoot To Indicate The Show’s Direction

Glee never has been clean-cut and free from sex.  Never.  As I mentioned earlier, the Britney Spears episode was anything other than sex-free.  Previous artists that have been used include Madonna and Lady Gaga, neither of which are vestal virgins.  Furthermore, I am unsure how these photoshoots are arranged but I’m pretty sure that the magazine usually retains creative control.  I find the idea that Glee’s producers called up GQ and said “we want you to take sultry photos of our cast” unlikely.

Ultimately, however, responsibility lies with the actors themselves for this photoshoot.  They decided to do it and they were the ones who were (probably) paid for it.  To say that it indicates a New Direction (ha ha ha) for the show is absurd.  It was already an overtly sexual show.


People are free to make their own choices, especially adults.  The uproar that this photoshoot has garnered borders on the bizarre.  The shots are not paedophilic are in-line with all the other sexual shots found in lad’s mags and adult movies.  If parents do not want their children to see these images then they can stop their children from buying the magazine or by introducing parental controls on their computers.  By kicking up a stink they have ensured that these images get a wide circulation across news outlets everywhere.  By doing so they only made things worse for themselves.  Silly parents.