“Male Feminism” And Its Malcontents

After a troubling incident on Tuesday at Cindies, outgoing co-editor JAMES MITCHELL wants us to reflect on our attitudes towards male eating disorders and sexuality.

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I resolved to write an article on male eating disorders and male sexuality at the beginning of the year. Alas, editorial duties and a concerned DOS prevented me from penning much this Term. In fact, I was close to abandoning the article altogether.

I am proud of the work The Tab has done in highlighting important issues – such as disability provision and self harm this term – but I recognise that there is a limit to how many causes the Tab can cover without the readers feeling that they are being lectured to. Furthermore, dealing with something that affects me might appear self-indulgent.

As it happens, an incident last Tuesday changed my mind – but I should provide a little context first.

I was in Cindies about three weeks ago with some friends from college. Having just eaten, I sneaked off to the toilet in order to “purge”. I have been bulimic for almost a year and a half now and – without going into too much detail – this has become routine for me. As I imagine most bulimics would attest, keeping an eating disorder a secret is crucial. I was mortified, then, to have been pulled out of the toilet by one of the bouncers and told to leave the club. Faced with the proposition of going home alone and leaving my friends, I did something rather foolish. I decided to tell the truth.

I asked to speak to the head bouncer and explained that I wasn’t drunk but that I would make myself vomit after eating. I concede that the club had legitimate grounds to exclude me. I might have been using bulimia as an excuse and whether or not I was sober and in full control, no one wants guests to throw up in their facilities.

To the head bouncer’s credit and to my immense gratitude, he told me to go for a walk and agreed to readmit me after ten minutes.

This Tuesday, however, I was back in Cindies celebrating with my Tab colleagues after what, I feel, has been a successful term. After hanging out in the smoker’s area for about half an hour and successfully managing to avoid the dance floor, I decided to pop to the toilet for entirely legitimate reasons. I needed a pee.

I am a nervous pisser and, despite my best efforts, have never been able to perform standing at the urinal. So, I made my way into a vacant cubical. Having sat on the loo for a few minutes (It’s much more comfortable – give it a go), attempting to block out Miley Cyrus, someone started to bang on the door from outside. Unable to concentrate, I soon gave up and exited the cubicle to find a bouncer waiting for me.  He immediately grabbed me by the arm and marched me outside, and told me that I was not allowed to return inside.

Obviously I knew I was in trouble immediately. When I asked why I was being ejected, one of the bouncers responded by shoving me away from the club door. Then, his companion shouted, “you’re that bulimic twat from two weeks ago”. I had not seen this particular individual before – and had assumed that my conversation with the head bouncer three weeks prior had been in confidence. Shocked, I tried to explain that I had not been trying to throw up – I had merely been in the loo for a quick (sit-down) wee

I was soon surrounded by a total of five bouncers, each of whom took in turns to shove me. Finally, one of the group pushed me down the concrete steps to the ground and shouted ‘you fucking queer’.

Humiliated and indignant and by now desperate to return to my friends inside, I made the mistake of trying to reason with them. This only resulted in a more sustained attack and further abusive and homophobic insults. It wasn’t until a girl I recognised as an editor from TCS walked past, looking concerned, that I accepted defeat, gave up and went home.

I have mentioned this to a few friends and in turn have been told of others who have been subjected to homophobic abuse by the bouncers outside Cindies. This is, of course, deeply troubling and I would encourage anyone affected to contact The Tab so we can build some sort of case.

However, I am not telling this story to gain sympathy – nor to find a way to exact revenge on my assailants. The principal purpose is to highlight the fact that eating disorders can affect us all. I do not doubt that the occurrence among women is higher than it is among men; nevertheless, there seems to be an assumption by some that only women are under pressure to aspire to a certain body image and, therefore such disorders should be treated sympathetically with support and understanding. As far as the bouncers that night were concerned, my bulimia was a sign of weakness and a perversion and therefore not the sort of thing that should be accepted in a man. Perhaps this is symptomatic of the alpha-male society, and is reflected in the manner in which we regard our sexuality and the way we believe that men should behave..

This might explain that when I contacted the University counselling service to see if I could attend one of their eating disorder discussion groups, I was informed that it was for women only. The better news is that there will, apparently, be a group for men next Term.

I recently got into a heated debate with a friend from college over the casual use of the word “gay” as a derogatory term. As far as he was concerned, he was entitled to use it in that manner as he was a “liberal” and able to comprehend the different meanings. That misses the point completely. If we continue to use the word “gay” to mean something bad, is it any wonder than men are inculcated from a young age to think that anything other than heterosexual feelings must be shameful?

Male sexuality and male body image are, apparently, fair subjects for public mockery and derision. How often, for example, have you heard comedians mock Eamonn Holmes for being overweight? Paul Merton, to name but one, did this for a cheap laugh on HIGNFY a few weeks ago.  At the Edinburgh fringe this year, I heard the same joke twice (by different comedians) about John Prescott being a failed bulimic by making himself sick but failing to lose weight. And I’ve lost count of how many times we are supposed to be amused by the simple fact that the object of the joke is homosexual or effeminate.

No wonder that a recent Guardian article has highlighted the major disparity between women who have admitted adopting or even experimenting with gay relationships compared to men. When it comes to mature acceptance or alternative lifestyles, women are light years ahead of us.

I’m clearly not suggesting that men should feel obliged to experiment with a fellow male – but we certainly shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed for doing so, or even wondering whether it might be fun. I just fear that the current attitudes in male society have achieved just that.

The male equivalent of feminism is a serious issue and it’s time we got to grips with it. So to those men who have been infuriated by claims of misogyny and objectification from the women’s group this Christmas, at least have the decency to concede they’re doing a better job of supporting their own sex than we are with ours.