Is it Better to be a Woman or a Man?

This was the theme of the debate that Kate Smurthwaite, Vince Graff and I took part in on last Tuesday’s Phil Williams show on BBC Radio 5 Live. (Scroll through to the second hour of the programme.)

I was pretty resolute in my instinctive answer to this question when it was initially put to me but, as Kate demonstrated, there are actually a variety of ways of answering this question as a feminist.

Overall, however, I would still argue that it’s a man’s world because:

1. Men don’t tend to be discriminated against at work because of their biological ability to become parents but women of childbearing age often are. Also, if a cis feels the need to become a biological parent (which obviously isn’t the be-all and end-all but that’s another debate) he can generally look to a cis woman to do the scary pregnancy and birth bit. How lucky is that?

Obviously, not all women have wombs but I’ve yet to find a cis man lamenting his lack of one. Indeed, it seems that the ability to give birth is often a disadvantage in practice, despite actually being a theoretical advantage in the first place.

2. It still seems that the majority of men can walk around topless on the beach without attracting comment. The majority of women can’t.

3. Convention encourages men to take it for granted that they will get to keep their names if they get married. That doesn’t mean every man will but the question of name-change still doesn’t come up as much for men as it does for women and this implies that female identity is still framed as more mutable than male identity.

3. Men are generally less likely to to find their Facebook celebrations of their drunken high jinx in a damning Daily Mail feature. They can even get their willy out for a wee in public and, though it might attract a few tuts, it is seen as something to be expected and I’ve certainly never overheard anyone saying “he’s going to get himself raped.”

4. A ropey woman DJ will always attract attention. A ropey man DJ might just get away with it (depending on where he’s playing). As a woman DJ who is ropey on occasion, I’m speaking from experience here.

A good woman DJ generally attracts amazement and surprise. The same applies to a woman who is geeky and knowledgeable about records. Again, I’m speaking from experience here… Yes, I realise this could be considered to be something of an advantage. It just wears a little thin when the guy you are trying to chat to about that rare Lime 12″ just keeps looking at your boyfriend and saying “amazing!” and “you’ve done well there mate.”

5. The old cliche about men being able to put it about without attracting anywhere near the same level of vilification that “easy” women do still seems to hold true. Only recently, I read a Scarlet mag piece that asked a whole load of guys in the street about women who sleep with men on the first date. Unfortunately, a number of their answers were disheartening.

Overall, I would say we women often get it good for all the wrong reasons (i.e chivalrous ones), while men often find themselves having a hard time for displaying behaviour that is seen to be “like a girl.” Men are unfortunately viewed as more dispensable but receive more respect while we women are cherished and preserved but punished for our mollycoddled existence by being regularly cast as mere shadows of our male ‘counterparts’.

There’s also the controversial question of getting checked out at the doctor. Women are encouraged to do this all the bloody time. Men are encouraged not to do it enough. I’m not sure what’s worse but I know I don’t appreciate being made to feel guilty if I haven’t jumped at every available chance to be a good girl and spread my legs for the doctor.

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