My Tattoo

Only a few people know this, but I have a tattoo. I got it on a stag-do. It was a stag-do of the kind I’d be uncomfortable with now: it was all aggression, misogyny, macho posturing and degrading chat up-lines. But, I had a great time. So great in fact, that I got a tattoo, emblazoned across the top of my left arm, not just as a reminder, but as a signal to others: I went on a stag-do.

I should point out that this stag-do lasted 32 years and the commemorative tattoo has been 32 years in the inking. I should also point out, of course, that this whole stag-do thing is little more than a clunky metaphor. The ‘stag-do’ is gender socialisation-the way I’ve been primed by my peers, teachers, and the media-to exhibit undesirable masculine traits that some people refer to using the umbrella term ‘toxic masculinity’. The ‘tattoo’ is the way this toxic masculinity reveals itself to me and others through my behaviours, attitudes and beliefs. Like a stag-do tattoo, my toxic masculinity is something largely embarrassing to me now-something there that I try to hide. Conversely, it’s also something that still has the ability to bring a wry smile to my face. Something that makes me feels strong, and powerful. I also have the tantalising knowledge that in certain contexts, if I bear it proudly, it would give me access to things I wouldn’t get were I to keep it hidden. Because all men have this tattoo and men can get you places. They are the inked gatekeepers of this world.

This is the first year I’ve really started to consider myself a feminist, but in becoming so, the tattoo of toxic masculinity doesn’t instantly disappear. There’s no laser in the world that could do that. It’s still there. Let me give you a few examples: I still love listening to rap music that often contains highly misogynist content. Tattoo on show. I still find myself puffing my chest up and staring aggressively at men I consider to be threats to people I care about. Tattoo on show. Only yesterday a colleague told me about a local primary school that had banned ‘The Last Showman’ from being shown in school on account of the fact that the bearded lady’s cleavage was considered sexually inappropriate. Clearly, this is ridiculous, but I explained that in my mind, because of years of watching Baywatch and reading Lad’s Magazines, for me, a woman’s cleavage had sexual connotations. Tattoo on show.

But.

I am doing things a little differently. When I’m not in my car, rapping along to Notorious BIG boasting about his sexual exploits, I cover that tattoo up. A kid asks me if I like rap music, I’ll lie and tell them I don’t like it because of the sexist content. I also recognise that the banning of ‘The Last Showman’ on account of the bearded lady’s cleavage is yet another patriarchal attempt to police women’s bodies. And so, although I admitted that cleavage had sexual connotations for me, I recognise that it needn’t for the current generation and therefore banning this film is contributing to the problem of sexist policing of women’s bodies, rather than solving it. I now recognise that.

I am trying to get rid of this tattoo. I don’t want it anymore. This year I have spoken openly about my distaste for the programme Love Island on account of the way it perpetuates sexist stereotypes. Despite the fact that I love the show, I haven’t watched a single episode this year. This year, I have started crossing the road whenever I find myself walking on the same pavement, behind a woman walking on her own at night-time. I’ve bought copies of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book ‘A Feminist Manifesto in 15 Suggestions’ and handed them to friends and family members. I’ve spoken and written openly about feminist issues. These things are tiny, and I want to do more, I want to have more of an impact, but I am finally trying. Really, really trying.

And trying doesn’t come without complications.

People have suffered far more than I have for the feminist cause, of course they have. I know that. But stuff like this hurts: I’ve fallen out with family members about my beliefs that there is nothing inherently different in boys and girls. Really, really fallen out. I’ve had to become something I hate: a ‘virtue-signaller’- you think I don’t recognise that being all preachy about Love Island, and yet still listening to Eminem is contradictory and hypocritical? Of course I do. Nowadays, I’m permanently questioning myself. I’m nearly always cross with myself. And sometimes I’m ashamed with myself. Like the time last week when I met a guy I knew from the the gym at the pub for the first time. We needed an extra chair so he went and asked for one from a nearby table:

“Hey sweetheart, do you mind if I borrow a chair?”

“Of course you can.”

“Ah thanks darling. Enjoy your day.”

And I just sat there, not wanting to embarrass the guy, and I didn’t pull him up on it. Shame on me, because I think referring to a woman you don’t know as sweetheart is wrong.

And then, when I don’t say something, the next time something like that happens, I feel more compelled to say something in order to atone for past failures. Last week, after the football, I was out with the lads. And by lads I mean friends I’ve known for years. Friends whom I love, friends whom I feel are falling more and more out of love with me, the less I see them, the more I get involved in all this stuff. Friends I want to love me like they used to. When one of the guys said to the waitress collecting our glasses, ‘Well helllooo there,’ I had to say something. And that doesn’t go down too well. I’m becoming the party-pooper. I used to be fun.

It’s not easy being a male feminist, but it’s a lot harder being a female feminist. I know that and I will never forget it.

However, I just need people to remember that sometimes, its uncomfortable wearing long sleeves to cover up a tattoo in hot weather.

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Why People* Shouldn’t Watch Love Island: An Opinion Piece

I love, ‘Love Island.’

Last year, along with the rest of the nation, I watched every spat, sob, and snog with unbridled glee. And I wasn’t even watching it ironically: I genuinely enjoy watching people fall in love. Love’s brilliant, however contrived the conditions under which it develops. Whether those initial seeds of passionate devotion are sown under the dim lights of a candlelit restaurant, across the blue lights of two smartphones, or under the bright lights of prime time television cameras, its all the same to me; as long as people are falling in love, I’m happy. Watching the stars of last year’s ‘Love Island’ argue, bitch and cry their way to romantic bliss was a genuine, heartfelt, heart-wrenching, heart-warming pleasure.

But this year, although I love the show, I’m not watching it. And I’m disappointed with those that that do.

This year, I’m taking a moral stance in not watching it. Here’s why:

‘Love Island’ perpetuates negative ideas about how the human body should look. I’m a 32 year old male and struggle greatly with the fact that I do not possess the marble six pack exhibited by almost all of the male stars of the show. When I imagine what this show must be doing to young peoples’ perceptions of their own bodies I shudder. People who watch this show are adding to the viewing figures of a show that makes some young people feel crap about their bodies.

My second grievance is that the show isn’t diverse enough. I see lots of brown skin, but it is the brown skin belonging to tanned Caucasian bodies. This simply isn’t good enough and it’s not reflective of multi-cultural Britain. People who watch this show are adding to the viewing figures of a show that makes some young people feel that to be desirable, you have to be white.

Casual sex under the influence of alcohol, rife misogyny, and casual use of ‘sex shaming’ (when a person-always a woman- is made to feel shame for the number of sexual partners she’s had) are all major parts of ‘Love Island’. People who watch this show are adding to the viewing figures of a show that make some young people feel that it’s okay to make a woman feel crap about herself simply because she’s slept with what might be considered ‘lots’ of men.

People (usually people who watch the show with the same unbridled glee as I watched last year’s series) will tell me that simply not watching it won’t make a difference. That kids are watching it and therefore as a teacher it’s my moral obligation to watch it so I can support the kids. Well, the only reason kids are watching it, is because it’s there to be watched. The fact is, I can’t reliably call myself a feminist or a person committed to equality and give this show viewing figures. The simple fact is that if nobody watches this show, the show gets cut. I want this show cut.

Many teachers, aggrieved by my so-called ‘virtue signalling’ have explained that the show provides many opportunities to discuss the issues I’ve mentioned above, with students. Opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t have arisen. For me, that’s like bringing someone off the street into assembly, beating them to a bloody pulp with a baseball bat, and saying, ‘Right kids. Let’s discuss violence.’ We do not need to subject kids to racism, sexism, and psychological bullying in order to discuss with them, racism, sexism, and psychological bullying.

I’m also aware that I’m full of contradictions. But this is my feminism. I accept that it may be different to yours.

Perhaps I am virtue-signalling. Perhaps I’m simply jealous that this year, I no longer get to gawp over a load of good-looking people arguing and kissing. Or, perhaps, I’m just a little bit right.

*The original title of this blog post had ‘teachers’ rather than ‘people’. I quickly realised that this was little more than clickbait wankery and so have changed it. Teachers are people. This isn’t a teacher problem; it’s a people problem.