Nick Conville – “Gender as a construct is something we can alter as a society […] we don’t have to be restricted by old traditions”

How do you self-define?

As a male.

What does feminism mean to you?

Feminism means to me the complete equality in terms of social, judicial, economic and political, between all sexes, not just male and female but everyone on the spectrum of gender.

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

Well obviously in biological terms they’re really kind of restricted. But also the characteristics those genders can give to a person, so you may be a man but also have feminine characteristics and vice versa. The whole idea of gender to me is that it is fluid, and although it is defined by biology, gender as a construct is something we can alter as a society, we can take bits and pieces that we like and don’t like. We don’t have to be restricted by old traditions that say men go out to hunt and women stay back and cook, it’s a bit primal if you ask me.

When did you become aware of your gender?

I became aware of my gender on my birth date in 1995. I kind of didn’t really have a choice in the whole thing! I became aware of how fluid my gender is at the age of probably about 17, like I could call myself a male but I didn’t have to be a “man”, I could just be a person, I could just be Nick. I could take bits and pieces and maybe… I’m a bit more in touch with my emotions than maybe most other guys my age and I can speak about them more freely. I just became aware gradually as my personally evolved… as  I become educated about feminism. I became aware of my gender maybe 17/18, when I became aware that even though I was born a man, I could take bits from both genders and be the best kind of person I can be.

Do you ever feel unsafe due to your gender?

Yeah, there are some times certain situations where I’ve been in before at university where it was very important to show your masculinity and very important not to show any femininity or weakness. I won’t really say when because it might get certain clubs in trouble. I’ve never really felt in danger, but I’ve felt threatened when other people put the idea on me that i had to adhere to some sort of social rules by them. Like I can’t talk about my feelings or I can’t talk about what makes me upset, I cant talk about how my relationships have changed me as a person.

Do you feel treated differently by men and women?

Yes. Most definitely. So people find it really surprising when I am so open about talking about my feelings. There are things that I will do as a man that are completely unexpected, but I will just do them because I see them as normal, they wont seem like the most normal man thing to do. Like talking about feelings, getting emotional about relationships, being able to talk about things that men don’t really talk about. And then also, like I’ve had really weird looks before when I’ve said to someone “Oh are you wearing new make up?” and they’d never expect a man to notice – never ever! So I get massive brownie points for noticing obviously. And it’s quite nice, but you can clearly tell there is some kind of discrepancy in how I as a male would same something compared to if it would be a female, it doesn’t seem very fair, even though people say “Oh it doesn’t matter what you say, as long as it’s nice and as long as we’re all equal, it doesn’t matter” but it clearly does because people are surprised when something comes out of a guys mouth that you don’t really expect.

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

Well, first of all, they’ve got men around their little fingers – that’s definitely a positive way. A positive way that the world sees women… obviously the contribution they’ve made to society – it’s not all done by men in back rooms declaring war on each other, it’s also about culture, art contribution, to science – like women in STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] subjects. Um, yeah and obviously, as a thing to appreciate, like, the female figure is quite a nice thing, just like the male figure is as well.

Did you encounter any obstacles on your path to manhood?

I experienced problems on the path to my own version of manhood. Yeah, so when I started university I obviously had the stress of work, and trying to balance girlfriend with other things that were going on, like sports and volunteering, and the stuff I do with the Student’s Union. I remember one afternoon, I just had the worst day ever, I was not in the mood to talk to anyone. First thing I did when I got home was have a massive argument with my housemates about cleaning, and it was just the most stupid, pointless thing ever. I got so pissed off with them, I just said to them, “Don’t talk to me for the next 24 hours, I need some time alone”. It was actually a time when I was having some really bad mental health problems, and I was considering leaving university. It was right before my first ever second year exams, so it was the first time my grades actually counted. My flatmates went to the gym, and when they came home, after a quick stop-off at Aldi, they tipped a box of tampons on me when I was just sat outside in this french veranda thing we had outside in our garden and said I should take a break. I mean, obviously, I found it funny, I did have a laugh, and it only cost them 20p for a box of tampons so it was a cheap joke.  But it just kind of resonated with me, the fact that if I was a girl, I’d probably be fed ice-cream and put in front of a rom-com and have my hair stroked; all that good stuff. But instead my friends couldn’t really talk to me about what was going wrong in my life, and a week later I had my first ever panic attack. Since then, I’ve had much better relationships with my friends, my previous partners, and my housemates, who I still live with. It was an obstacle on my path to manhood to accept the idea that not everyone would want to be there to help me and talk to me about my feelings. There were going to be those people who just didn’t understand that I was a person, and not just a man with a big iron sheet up in front of me.

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Photo Credit: Aysha Panter

What do you think about casual sex? 

I personally don’t like it, but it’s something that people do and it’s none of my business to knock on people’s doors and see what they’re up to. I only ask that they’re smart about it and use protection.

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

I’m pro-choice, up until the point where the foetus can survive outside the mother’s womb. There are some cases where abortion is definitely necessary for quality of life, in terms of health or in terms of social health of the child. Maybe the mother can’t bring up the child. If it was me giving birth to a baby, I’d want to have the choice to decide whether I want to go through twelve hours of labour, preceded by nine months of getting big and uncomfortable.

How do you feel about contraception?

There are so many types. I’ve just done this for Pharmacy actually. God there are so many types for women that I hadn’t even heard of before. Contraception is great, and it should be there, especially when we have a population problem, and a teenage pregnancy problem. And obviously to combat STI’s, which are spreading at a higher rate than they ever have in 100 years. In terms of stigma, I don’t think there’s much stigma against condoms. Maybe in some certain cultures and societies, like Islam or Orthodox Judaism. Contraception should be available to anyone at anytime, at zero cost preferably. If that’s not possible, there should be reduced costs. I feel like people just don’t like to wear contraception, because it’s not fun to wear a condom. But it’s either, do you want a baby or do you want to have better sex?

What are your thoughts on marriage and monogamy? 

Monogamy is something that people can choose to do, it’s not up for me to decide for someone else, like casual sex. It’s up to people if they want to do it, it’s no business of mine. Monogamy is quite nice though, it’s always nice to have the same person to talk to and come back to. Marriage – the idea of marriage to me is quite pointless now. The institution of marriage is dead. What is it, one in five marriages end in divorce? I only see it as something you do for law and tax purposes. A wedding’s always a nice party too. People can get married if they want to. My view is that people should be free to make their own choices, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else.

What are your thoughts on the motherhood and fatherhood, as well as parenthood more generally?

Parenthood is probably the most fulfilling and beautiful thing I could actually ever imagine. Like the idea of taking my own son to rugby training, it just like, makes me happy. Or like if I see a baby, I’m like “Aww I want it”. Motherhood’s great. I don’t feel like it’s respected enough, as in there should be maternity and paternity pay. Paternity leave could drastically been improved. I like the idea of spending a lot more time with my partner in the future.

Were you always aware of what your body could do, and do you think your sex education was sufficient? 

No, not at the age of seven. I couldn’t have imagined some of the things I’ve done at university. It was a learning curve that I got used to, and I think I got away a lot better than some of the other people my age. I went to an all boys catholic school, and there were people when I was in year eight with beards. So I was glad I didn’t have to go through shaving at fourteen. As for sex education, it most definitely not sufficient. As it was a catholic school, we didn’t even do the condom on the banana thing that everyone else did. Which is a shame, I was looking forward to that. We did have PSHE lessons, but that touched more on drug abuse and things like that. I feel like most of what I learnt about sex was from reading blogs and watching pornography. It’s the easiest thing for teenagers to access, so obviously they’re gonna watch it and think it’s real, which is unfortunate. The level of sex education could be so much better, as in we could talk about relationships and LGBT+ issues and the different sexualities you can come across. Instead of letting people see different categories like, “anal, big black women” etc. It’s not really what sex is.

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

Um, depends on how drunk I am, depends how drunk they are. Um, no. I’ve ever only been in long term relationships and I have found it difficult with certain people, if they’re maybe more awkward and squeamish about it then i am too. There are some partners I’ve been with that have been brilliant, completely receptive with feedback. But yeah, I feel like it’s still taboo to talk about what you like and what they like.

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Photo Credit: Aysha Panter

Is there anyone you would undermine your principles for? 

No, I probably wouldn’t undermine my principles for anyone, unless it served to help someone out.

In which situations do you feel safe to speak your mind or stand up for yourself? 

Definitely not with my family. Probably more with my friends at university. Obviously because we’re probably more young, open and aware of what everyone’s going through. Maybe not a total appreciation of what someone’s going through, but at least a partial one. I probably feel safest talking one on one with someone rather than two people or a large group of people. You don’t like to tell your secrets to everyone, and the things that you might say on a one on one are more personal than what you’d say to a group of fifty.

Do you feel satisfied with how women are depicted in film, TV, advertising etc.?

I don’t feel satisfied because obviously, the representation of women in the media since the 1990s, in like RnB videos showed all women with big boobs and a big ass, that kind of thing, and the ghetto queen. Stupid labels like that got attached to women at the time but got worse with soap opera stars and models. Instagram has been the worst thing for women’s body image since advertising came out in the 1950s in America. Even for men, it does wonders for the disease of body dsymorphia. It’s just atrocious. They’re not depicted as people. I feel like when people use representations of men and women, they do it to show they beauty of them and not the substance they hold as a person. So, you’ll see an Instagram model but you might not know she has a bachelor’s degree in marketing. That would speak more volume to me. What matters to me about a person is how easily I can converse with them, rather than how they look.

How do you feel about products marketed to women? 

They market femininity, so beauty, health. I don’t think marketing to women is derogatory or discriminatory but it is bound to stereotypes. But I guess stereotyping is discriminatory in some way. I wouldn’t say it’s too negative towards women.

How do you feel about feminine hygiene products portrayal in the media? 

In the media, I see they use a blue liquid instead of red. Everyone complains about the tampon tax but it is a necessary health product, it’s not like it can be switched off. I never really paid much attention to the adverts, but you usually watch a women go rollerblading or something like that.

What are your biggest fears? 

Not doing everything that I expect of myself. I have quite high expectations of what I want to do. I’m constantly thinking about what I could be doing next to help as many people as possible.

What are your greatest accomplishments? 

Ohhh. Coming out as a feminist is probably one of them. Making it to University, moving out of my house, making true friends which I never really had at home. Becoming involved with people I have lots in common with. That’s something I feel most proud of. I feel so lucky that I’ve managed to find so many people who like me as much as I like them. That is quite a strange feeling, it’s nice, but quite alien.

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

It depends which social circle I’m interacting with at the time. So, with my housemates, I’m just Nick, and with my rugby lads I talk to in the library sometimes, I’m just the guy who used to be on the rugby team.

What image  would you like to project in an ideal world, absolving social expectations?

Respectable, kind, hopefully charismatic. An individual that cares. I don’t want to be presenting myself as someone who’s there for personal gain, because I’m not that at all. I want everyone to see who scarily white I am – l don’t really have any gray or black splodges.  In an ideal world, I’d like to demonstrate all the good qualities that someone could hope to have, so patient, honest, trust-worthy, like-able, relate-able. Things like that. I’d just like to be a genuine, nice friend to everybody – and try and find my own source of happiness somewhere. I feel like I’m mainly around to serve other people, which I’m happy to do. If I can find some kind of solace in that – brilliant.

What are your most positive relationships with other people? 

Probably those connected to work. My tutors, other students at university. I always like helping out someone who’s a bit younger than me, in something they’d not have a clue about. Just making their lives that little bit easier. It brings a lot of joy to my day. One particular personal relationship I had with a sexual partner, last year, who I was amazed by because she was completely non-judgmental. I remember the first time I ever met her, and I told her my sexuality. It was a really good feeling. She’s still around, and talks to me when she gets a chance, but she works a lot now. That was probably my positive relationship, being in a completely non-judgmental space.

What do you deeply love about yourself? 

My incessant need to know more and help more. Everyday I go to lectures and see it as something that could possibly save someone’s life in 30 years time. I remember, even when I was really young, I read like an absolute book-worm. I love that about myself, I was always searching for something new to learn.

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Photo Credit: Aysha Panter

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