You’d almost be forgiven for thinking the gender gap has closed. But thanks to the 2013 Global Gender Gap Index, and some deeply embedded cultural and religious traditions, you don’t have to look far to see modern societies still wreaking havoc on 51 percent of their citizens.
The survey ranks 136 countries on the relative gaps between women and men based on health, education, economics and politics. All five Nordic countries are in the top eight. Iceland takes number one and Denmark brings up the rear at eight. Sitting not-too-pretty is the UK at 18, the US at 23 and France limping in at 45.
For both men and women, discussing women’s rights can be intimidating. There’s a fear of appearing condescending, patronising, antagonistic, insensitive or just plain ignorant. Feminist literature and theory is challenging, and feminism itself is often dismissed as unnecessarily strident. But like most social understanding, it’s about developing informed and well-researched opinions, and then knowing when to keep them to yourself.
But there has always been a question I couldn’t answer for myself: can men be feminists? With no general consensus among feminists, you might be surprised where I found my answer.
On a Saturday afternoon in DGI-Byen, ten girls roller-skated around a multi-purpose sports stadium across a wooden floor that looked like a map of the London Underground. It’s called roller derby and if you’re not familiar with it, imagine figure skating, bull-fighting and the ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ and you’re probably still as confused as I was. The atmosphere was amazing (and totally unforgiving if you’re hungover, which I happened to be). It was my first ‘bout’ and I had no idea what was happening, who was winning or where I’d left my jacket the night before, but for the first time in recent memory, I was actually enjoying a live sporting event.
As I tried to make sense of the angry swirling lady soup in front of me, I started to see my understanding of sport, entertainment, empowerment, gender, sexuality, and athleticism circling the room and clashing violently. It was reshaping my view of the world like a human hadron collider, but with more hot pants and fishnets.
After spending my own youth devoted almost entirely to the obsessive perfection of kicking a round ball, whatever competitive sportsman remained inside me was overcome with a sense of nostalgia and envy. I realised that I wanted to lace up some skates of my own and soak in some of that sweet mass adulation. But an innate part of me knew that what I was witnessing wouldn’t be the same for me and nor should it be. I couldn’t do it justice.
For men, sport is a vehicle to establish a victor through a definitive system of scoring based on strict adherence to a previously agreed upon set of rules and regulations. It’s a display of dominance. Men would wrench the life from roller derby in the name of competition (YouTube it if you don’t believe me). No, the best, and maybe only, way for men to experience roller derby in all its gory glory is from the sidelines and in the stands as passionate supporters.
And out of nowhere, I had my answer. It’s unnecessary to call myself a feminist. It’s necessary that I support the women fighting their way through the opposition, forging ahead and breaking through again and again. After all, that’s how you score points apparently.
And thus concludes my erratic and overextended metaphor and the extent of my roller derby knowledge. I would never hear Albert Slamus (my newly adopted derby name) announced to thunderous applause and I could never truly appreciate feminism, no matter how much Germaine Greer I read. Although, in a final moment of sentimentality, I do know one thing. Should I ever be lucky enough to see a daughter of my own face in the big bad world someday, I hope she’ll be wearing skates and a helmet. And maybe have an awesome derby girl name like Princess Slayer or Dora the Destroyer.