Alex Cook – “What feminism tries to do is break the chains of misogyny. Once you can do that, you’re able to see women as human beings”

How do you self define? 

I see myself as a male, but I understand that that has a lot of connotations attached to it. So there’s quite a few misogynistic things that atone to the male identity. But I see myself as a male, and that’s not just because of my genitalia.

What do the words “man” and “woman” mean to you?

Well, for males, you know the stereotypes, like men stay to themselves, and men should be aggressive. These are things that are constantly perpetuated throughout a man’s entire life, and definitely at my school, which was a lower working class school in London. Although I definitely think in that context, it was a sink or swim situation. I think I did really well in it, but I can understand why many people, especially a lot of my friends, became quite depressed because they weren’t able to live up to the male identity. That is a cultural norm, especially in western civilization. I think the interesting think about masculinity is that it’s seen as an aspiration, but there’s a difference between masculinity and misogyny. I think I’m a masculine man, a masculine feminist. I think those two can coincide. As for the word woman, I think of strong, independent, and a struggle. I think those three words would be the main ones. I was raised in a house without a dad, by my sister and my mum, and a lodger of mine. My mum was very politically active, and my grandma was one of the higher ups in the CND. My mum’s been part of various feminist groups, and she’s constantly politically active. She raised me and my sister while working for a charity, so she’s constantly helped people, but she did that through struggle. I think struggle is probably the core of women’s entirety, purely because of this misogynistic culture. Being used as objects, being used as trophies; seen but not spoken to. I think that is the same for the higher ups as well, I mean look at how Trump speaks about women. There’s clearly this corrosive, damaging and cancerous idea of what women are, but if you actually look at what women go through, and how they aspire in pursuit of something, I genuinely think it’s incredible.

What does feminism mean to you?

What feminism tries to do is break the chains of misogyny. Once you can do that, you’re able to see women as human beings. It’s a completely different understanding. So for example, I know many guys who would say “dam, she’s a fine piece of ass”, and that would be it. They’d probably rate you from 1 to 10. I get fucking infuriated at that. Yeah okay, every man and woman finds another man or woman attractive, unless you’re asexual; but when you objectify someone to that extent, I think you create a self perpetuating limitation upon yourself. I feel really sorry for these people. I’m talking about the silent majority. They miss out on an in-depth human connection that I don’t think they can genuinely aspire to inside the realm of toxic masculinity, or misogyny.

When did you become aware of your gender?

I don’t think I’ve ever had that moment of revelation. I always just saw myself as a guy. I was always very much action man, bey-blades, you know, but my mum also brought me and my sister barbies and kens. So I never really saw the distinction between being a girl and a guy.

Do you ever feel unsafe due to your gender? 

Yeah definitely. Around my area, it’s quite a dangerous place. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been approached to be mugged, or the times I’ve had a knife against me, and that’s because I’m a guy and I’m not affiliated with a gang. Girls rarely get that. My sister’s only had that once, so I get way more problems than her. If you’re a guy, and you don’t atone to a specific social group, then you’re going to get in trouble.

Do you feel treated differently by men and women? 

No. Actually that’s a lie. I think male dominated groups have a hierarchy, and I don’t know about women. Although I’m told women have some kind of hierarchy, it seems much more subvert. Although it is a stereotype, women’s confrontations aren’t done like men’s. So, in my group, if there’s an argument, the person who finishes it is seen as the dominant one. In a manner, there’s this subvert and overt primal instinct to be a leader and control the group. I do a lot of introspective thinking, and I like understanding social dynamics. I’ve bore witness to this so many times, and I think specifically in male groups, if you’re not one of the charismatic individuals; if you’re not a person who’s willing to stand up for themselves, then you’re going to suffer some misfortune. They’ll take the piss out of you, and you could end up being bullied. Even my friends in my social group now, some of them get taken the piss out of more than others. I think that’s because they’re not seen as masculine enough. There are also some girls who hang out with guys more and will become engulfed by this attitude, and continue perpetuating a subvert misogyny. It’s a very easy trap to fall in, and it’s a trap I purposely avoid. I think you can actively take yourself away from that. It’s difficult, but you can. The way I do it, and the way I’ve always done it, is that I’ve always supported those people who struggle because I know I am quite charismatic and my support might mean something to them. I’d do it even at the expense of my own safety. 100%, I’d do it.

What do you think are the positive ways the world views women? 

I think there are a few. I think you can see people view women positively because there’s a lot more women leaders across the world. So, look at Hilary Clinton, Angela Merkel, and Margaret Thatcher, even. Although they might not be like-able to me, I think they are or were strong women. The fact that society thinks they are capable to aspire to such a powerful position, means that there’s this opening for women in politics, but there’s not necessarily an opening for femininity. There’s more opportunities for women. The idea of the strong woman, that’s becoming more regular. But I suppose you have to be masculine to some degree. There’s this idea of the leader, as being someone who can’t be walked over but I think the world would be a harmonious one if it was run with feminist ideals. Being able to speak to someone on a human level, and not subject them to a sub-human quality. But unfortunately capitalism engulfs misogyny, and the idea of taking all for one. I don’t think capitalism and feminism coincide. Socialism and feminism do, but the elusiveness of capitalism is allowing for the destruction of feminism. It’s absolutely depressing.

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Photo Credit: Aysha Panter

Did you encounter any obstacles on your path to manhood? 

Yeah, I’d say I did. I encountered quite a few. I think not growing up with a dad made me question my identity in a way that a lot of people around me didn’t have.  So, because I was living around lower working class people, a lot of crime occurs in that context, and then what you need to do to function as a man becomes quite distorted, especially with the people I was hanging around. So I had to take myself out of that. I didn’t initially think I could learn anything from my mum and sister about what it means to become a man. I thought that the only way I could learn to be a man was around other men. Eventually, I realised it’s stupid to follow these people. I can’t understand my own being through other people, and I think that’s something a lot of people still struggle with. Like one of my best mates here describes himself as a social chameleon. I think a lot of people feel like that. He ends up taking a characteristic of a person who he finds charismatic, and emulates that, in order to try and make friends. It was probably in like year eight when I realised that I can’t look for my personality in other people, especially at my school of a thousand five hundred people, when personalities are either big or drowned out. I was one of the few that swam, because I was able to cope in that environment. I finally realised that I can’t look to my dad to find myself, I have to look within. I’m not saying I atone to certain characteristics of being a man. Fuck it, it’s not even being a man, it’s just being Alex. It’s what I define myself as. It shouldn’t be anything to do with gender. It’s completely to do with how you want to be. It’s quite dangerous to link it to gender, because you end up missing out on a lot of information. You don’t need to fit yourself into being what a man is, like a puzzle. You don’t need to fit yourself into the social context and hope it works.

What do you think about casual sex?

Yeah, it’s fine. I’ve had a few situations where I’ve agreed with people prior that nothing will occur beyond this. I’m not out there all the time, but 90% of the girls that I’ve slept with where I’ve made this preliminary agreement, have ended up fancying me and it does make things awkward. I find if I get to know someone on a deeper level, it becomes a lot worse too because they become more attracted to me than I am to them. I think you need to be on the same page. I’m quite utilitarian about it. If me and a girl are happy, then that’s great. But a lot of people get lost in their own head and over-think. These people can’t be in a relationship, or have ‘casual’ sex. I don’t get lost in my head, I’m very much in the moment. Relationships are great, they can bring out a side of you that you didn’t even know was there, but I mean we’re human, everyone has the craving for sex. To ignore that is stupid. I wanted to bring this up, because I think something’s occurred at Keele, and possibly outside in the wider community. Among my friends, people do not say “this girl is a slut” anymore. If they do, someone will call them out on it. But now there’s this term “fuck boy”. It’s a bit more negative on men, at least in my social context. I can’t really say anything about anywhere else.

Are you pro-life or pro-choice, and why? 

100% pro-choice. I think it’s fine in any circumstance. Someone really close to me had an abortion recently, and it fucked her up. She went down to the clinic, and even the nurses were questioning whether she really wants to do it. That was the NHS. It really, really fucked her up and I know she’s got psychological damage from it. She cried on me for days, and I’m really close to her. Women have the right to do whatever the fuck they want with their own bodies. There comes a point where the baby has formed and there’s nothing you can do about it, but who am I to say what you can do with your body. Anyway, I don’t think it’s really a problem to people, unless you’re a religious fundamentalist. Everyone else seems pretty calm about it. But I’d argue down to the teeth on this.

What are your thoughts on contraception? 

Use it.

What are your thoughts on marriage and monogamy? 

I have no problem with it. If people want to do it, then do it, but don’t try to put that view on me. Don’t try to force me into it. I’ve been in an open relationship, and it went well from both sides, but the amount of criticism we got from other people was actually insane. Like even from my guy friends as well. I don’t understand why people enforce regressive traditions on other people. Everything eventually becomes part of the progressive movement. I think life and society is slowly moving towards socialism, even if we fall back on regressive ideas sometimes.

What are your thoughts on parenthood?

One day I would like to be a parent. I’d love to have a kid, or kids. Having offspring is quite beautiful. I think it’s definitely better to have a nuclear family, so two parents and a kid. I know because I didn’t have one. But If I had listened to my mum’s guidance when I was a kid I’d probably have been in a better situation than I was. However, I think the optimal thing is to have nuclear family.  A father, or masculine figure, and yeah it is stereotypical, but I know in my household, if I had that I definitely would have been more respectful. I needed someone to take control. I was a little shit in class, I’d always talk back and get kicked out and didn’t really have any care for it. I think a single parent can do it just as well, but it’s a lot harder because they have to work, keep the food on the table and everything else, which is what my mum had to do. It’s a 24 hour job and she didn’t get a break, especially from me and my sister. The role of parents are to guide, and not to force. That’s the way I see parenthood. It’s a deep level of guidance, and it’s so easy to get wrong, and so hard to get right.

Do you think your sex education was sufficient? 

No. My sex education existed of porn, if I’m honest with you. That’s really it. We had a few sex education classes at school, and they were an absolute joke. We had puppets involved, and different positions with the puppets. We had a video about sex. We were learning about this in year 3. I just wanted to play with my Pokemon cards. I didn’t understand what the fuck was going on. They go straight into it at school, without any understanding of relationships.

Do you feel comfortable communicating your sexual needs to a partner?

Yeah, I have no problem with that.

Has your sexuality ever been used against you?

No.

Is there anyone you would undermine your principles for?

Yeah, loads of people. I could create an analogy to show it. So, say one day you come up to me and you’re broke, and I’m broke too. You tell me you can’t eat, and you don’t know what to do. The only thing you can do is steal food. In that case I’d happily go out of my way to get you food, if it meant you could eat for a few more days. I have no problem with that. Although it’s against my fundamental values, I realise it’s for the greater good. To be honest, I’d break a lot of my basic moral instincts for a higher one. If I deem something as having a higher purpose, even if it breaks the law, I’d do it. Substituting my own morals for a different set of morals is difficult, but I wouldn’t always do it. If you said “Alex, I want to kill so and so”, I’d say “listen, let’s have a little think about this one, yeah?” But I don’t have a problem amending my own morality, because I don’t think it’s situated or fixed. It’s an ever-evolving world and I’m an ever-evolving entity. I learn something and I try to do something new everyday. I always want to do what’s right, so that could come into friction with my values if someone asks me to do something like that, even if it’s for the higher good.

Which situation do you feel safe to speak your mind? 

Any situation. I genuinely have no problem with it. I’ve never had a problem with speaking my mind, even if it’s at risk of getting hurt.

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Photo Credit: Aysha Panter

Are you satisfied with the way women are depicted in film, TV, advertising, etc.? 

I think women have come a long way in films, but I don’t think it’s fully there yet. I mean, fucking hell, sex sells doesn’t it? But currently it’s mainly just about the objectification of women. I was having a real interesting conversation with my friend the other day, and we were discussing whether we can have feminist porn, and I’m not sure you can. I think the majority of porn is aimed at the male audience. What would feminist porn look like? It’s so difficult to imagine. I mean, it’s like you saying “I’m going to show you a new colour today”, and I would have no concept of what that looks like. I couldn’t imagine it until you show it to me. It’s difficult to say because it just doesn’t exist.

How do you feel about products marketed to women? 

It’s a joke. Look at all the products that are aimed at women. Look at make-up, look at Dolce and Gabbana. They’re aimed at women but they’re created by men. I mean, it’s like an oxymoron. What it often does is it creates a narrative of what women should be like. So like barbies, they’re for girls. Ken, for guys. It creates those gender boxes from a very young age. It’s no wonder we have this massive fucking problem, which derives from capitalism.

What are your biggest fears? 

Not to be able to take my mum and sister around the world. That’s something I really want to do. My mum could never afford it, and my sister isn’t in a situation where she could afford it. It’s something I strive for everyday. It’s the reason I came back to do a master’s. It’s why I’ll try and get a well paid job. I’d do that and ignore some of my own principles. I’d happily go for a higher paid job just to do that for them.

What are your greatest accomplishments?

I’ve accomplished a lot in terms of who I am. Where I’m from, nothing happens. Literally, people do not get out of their social groups. It’s like a trap and they don’t escape. Live for the weekend and blow all your money, and then do the exact same thing next week. There’s also the way I’ve molded my personality with regards to helping people who aren’t noticeable in a group. I notice them. I do a lot with anti-bullying and charity work, I really try to be more like my mum. My mum gives herself to really good causes, so that’s my highest goal morally. Everyday I try to be more altruistic, and If I make other people smile and be happy then perhaps they can continue that.

What image do you think you project on a day to day basis? 

Have you ever heard of functionalism? It’s the idea that I can’t know myself. I mean, I could say I come across intelligent, I come off funny, and I come off cheeky. But you could have a completely different interpretation of what I am. You could say, he’s not cheeky, he’s arrogant. He’s not intelligent, he’s narcissistic. You know what I’m saying? I don’t have a checklist of the characteristics of my personality, it’s just two sides of the same coin. It’s just an interpretation. I actually think, things like meditation, where you try to understand yourself actually takes you further away from yourself.  My mates use MDMA and LSD in order to have self revelations and a lot of them mean something to them, but I find that these revelations mean fuck all. Meditation generally, I used to do it, this thing called transcendental meditation. I’d spend several hours a day concentrating on ‘being’. It was really hard to do, and although afterwards I might have this little euphoric moment, I would say that I never really understood myself from that. You feel a sense of fulfillment but it’s only partial, hence why monks meditate their whole lives. It’s an addiction. The happiest people in the world just live in the moment, just do something with their lives and enjoy it. They enjoy the sentimental value of a basic human connection.

What are your most positive relationships? 

I have a really positive relationship with my mum. I try to have as few negative relationships as possible, even if I am quite confrontational. I won’t fight for a lost cause, but if one of my mates have a problem with me and it’s something I can change, then my first attitude is to resolve it in order to progress, rather than thinking they’re wrong and being defensive. Friendships and maintaining relationships with my exes are important to me. I’m still very much in contact with them, and I still talk to all of them. There’s not one that I don’t talk to, and I think that’s important. At one point in my life I had a really deep connection with them, and I think that that’s something that you can’t just throw away if a bad situation arises. That love was very much real once. I try to work on the anger I might feel for them, because they did have a deep understanding of me at one point. Once we both get over a certain hurdle, and I transcend the realm of being in a relationship to being in a friendship, a new kind of deep understanding occurs. It takes time and it takes effort. My attitude is that I’ve got to take this anger, this deep resentment and realise that it’s temporary. I want to think about that person with what we had and not a feeling of anger towards them. I mean, there are certain situations where you can’t do that, like domestic or psychologically abusive relationships. But that’s never happened and I don’t think it ever would. In that case I would remove myself from them and never speak to them again. I wouldn’t facilitate a relationship because it would perpetuate psychological problems. The person that I fell in love with, they’re now gone, and a friendship isn’t possible.

What do you deeply love about yourself? 

I love the fact that I’m quite charismatic. I love the fact that I don’t find it hard to bring smiles to people’s faces. I love that I can stand up for people and ensure that I can connect with people on a level that many people seem to find difficult, and I love the fact that I’m confident.

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Photo Credit: Aysha Panter

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