Friday 26th August 2016

"I love women so much I married one" goes the joke, and I've always considered myself a feminist simply because I think gender equality is a no-brainer. But a conversation with a friend a little while ago made me question that - can men really call themselves feminists?


What do you mean by feminism?

This seems like a good place to start. A simple definition says it is:

The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.

A more detailed answer would include specifics like universal suffrage (voting), reproductive rights like access to contraception and abortions, gender equality at work and protection from violence and abuse. 

How can I not agree with all these things? So that makes me think that duh, obviously I'm a feminist. 


I think you'll find it's more complicated than that

But the more I read up about this, the more contradictory opinions I found. For example this article states: 

People of all genders can be feminists if they’re willing to do the work to dismantle patriarchal oppression

I am, by anyone's definition, the very model of the patriarchy: white, male, affluent and heterosexual. I benefit from just about every privilege that society has to offer, but I'm not actively trying to oppress anyone. I think it's criminal that less than 10% of company boardrooms are staffed by women and that even with a female Prime Minister we still only have a 30% female cabinet

My business is 50% female owned, which sounds great but there are only two of us, so I shouldn't be patting myself too hard on the back. I've never stopped my wife from accessing contraception or subjected her to domestic violence, but surely all men should be able to say the same thing - I don't want a medal. And I don't do my fair share of the housework, but I don't think that's got anything to do with sexism.


Can I call myself a feminist?

I make every effort to treat all women as absolute equals, and I criticise friends who make overtly sexist comments (just as I criticise friends who are racist or homophobic) but it seems that isn't enough.

That same article continues:

It’s not a man’s place to label themselves as a feminist since at its core, feminism is for gaining equality for women. A woman you are close to can assign that label to you, but you have to earn it!

WTF? There's no way we're going to have gender equality if only women can label which men get the special badges. 

Luckily some people disagree. areyouafeminist.com gave me this lovely rosette when I completed their online test. Granted, it was a pretty simple test comprising two questions. 

But as a part of the patriarchy I do things all the time that aren't feminist like watch movies that don't pass the Bechdel Test, hold doors open for women, or occasionally find myself looking at a particularly fine pair of breasts.

  • Do I believe that women are in any way inferior to men? No.
  • Do I believe that gender is social construct? Yes, and I realise that it's not binary.
  • Do I believe that men and women are fundamentally different? Yes, I can draw you a picture if you like.

But I can't truly know what it's like to be a woman, oppressed by the patriarchy.


Walking the walk

So I started looking for ways to be a more active feminist day-to-day. xojane have a list of 35 practical steps that men can take to support feminism.

Some are straightforward:

  • #1 Do 50% or more of the housework (I still don't think this has anything to do with sexism in my case)
  • #4 Give women space (as in make it clear you're not following them along a street at night, not outer space)
  • #14 Make sure that honesty and respect guide your romantic and sexual relationships with women (weirdly specific, how about in all relationships?)

Others really made me think: 

  • #19 Pay attention to the sex of experts and key figures presenting information to you in the media
  • #20 Ensure that some of your heroes and role models are women (I've added photos of some of my female heroes to this post)
  • #30 Inject feminism into your daily conversations with other men (this is going to be a challenge)

And then there's the last one:

  • #35. Self-identify as a feminist

And so finally: I am a feminist.

I think.



Can you name all nine of my female heroes and role models pictured in this post? There's a prize for the first correct answer!

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Audi adventure

Friday 19th August 2016

I've never been to Silverstone before, so when a friend suggested a day at the track driving Audi's RS range I jumped at the chance. They offer a bunch of different experience days, but obviously we went for the most expensive one. We got the chance to drive three cars: the RS3 Sportback, RS6 Avant, and the R8 V10 plus.

Apologies in advance if you're not into cars, click here to hide all the technical jargon.


RS3 Sportback

When I was looking through the programme, I assumed that the RS3 and RS6 were just there to keep us quiet until we got a chance to play in the R8, but I couldn't have been more wrong.

Of the three cars, I think I fell in love with this one the most. It's huge fun to drive and the 2.5 litre 367 PS engine pushes you firmly back into the fancy leather bucket seats from 0-60 in 4.3 seconds.

Like all the cars we drove it's a 7-speed auto gearbox with manual paddles if you want them, but we were far too busy grinning to change gear. They all also have Audi's pretty impressive quattro four wheel drive system. The RS3 is a snip at just £40,000.

We took it out in the morning for a slalom course, and then out on the full track later on in the day.

For sheer joy factor this car wins hands down, it would be a practical daily driver but was incredibly enjoyable to throw around on the track. 


RS6 Avant

It's hard to put across how much of a monster this car is. From the outside looks like a normal estate, but when you get inside it feels like a leather tank.

It has stupid amounts of power from the 560 PS V8 giving a 0-60 time of 3.6 seconds. It's difficult to visualise this until one of the instructors showed us two sets of cones 50 metres apart and said that we'd go from standstill to 60 mph between them.

That's impressive in anything, but in a family car that weighs just under two tonnes it's quite a sight.

While we were driving it like this the fuel consumption was a whopping 5.3mpg!

It made me realise that you need to be careful buying low-mileage 'demo' cars from the manufacturer. This car had done just over 1,200 miles which was entirely foot-to-the-floor acceleration followed by high-g turns and full stomp braking. After half an hour the cars were all shimmering slightly from the heat haze and the brakes were pinging audibly as they cooled.

This car is incredible fun as you fight to keep it on the road because of the weight, but it's also just shy of £90,000 for the base model. 

I won't be buying one, but I will be giving them knowing nods when I see them on the road from now on.


R8 V10 plus

Finally then we come to the £140,000 5.2 litre 610 PS R8 V10 plusthat does 0-60 in 3.2 seconds. Yes, this is 0.4 seconds faster than the RS6, but to be honest I didn't notice the difference.

Inside it's a strange combination of basic and confusing. It has a manual adjuster for the seat position and a CD player mounted behind and between the seats.

It has a total of 20 buttons, switches and dials on the steering wheel using at least five different types of interaction. In the bottom right are a button that starts/stops the engine and one that changes the exhaust noise from loud to very loud. How often are you really going to push those on a normal drive? I didn't try the asterisk button on the right, but I can only guess that it makes it snow.

I know that it's trying to emulate the massive complexity of an F1's wheel, but I'd rather they put these buttons on the centre console and let me concentrate on the road. 

Actually addictive

To drive it's a pure joy - it sounds incredible and changes gear so quickly and perfectly that there's no point trying to do it manually. It sticks to the track no matter how fast you're going and whatever direction you point the wheels.

I was unbelievably sad when it was the end of my turn to drive it, and I had a physical longing for another lap. Audi have created a drug on wheels with this car, if someone had offered me another hour behind the wheel for an extra £500 I would have handed them my credit card. But to be honest it's not as fun as the RS3.


Driving joy

To me one of the great joys of driving is the feeling that the car is just losing traction, and the skill involved in keeping that in balance. In my Mazda MX-5 I can get this feeling at 40 mph driving winding country lanes when the rear wheels slide out round a corner. In the RS3 I felt it on the slalom track at 50 mph, tyres screeching around the cones. To get this same joy in the R8 we had to be doing at least 70mph, and that means you're rarely going to feel it on the road unless you're endangering other drivers. 

There were at least five people there who had been given the experience day as a freebie when they bought an Audi R8. This seems a bit weird because they already own the car, but after speaking to them they all said that they'd really enjoyed a chance to see what the car is capable of doing.  

One guy said that it's just not a fun car to drive on the road because you don't get an opportunity to drive it fast, and that he takes it to a local airfield to drive up and down as fast as he wants.

And this is why I think expensive sports cars are a con: they're not designed to drive on normal roads, but they're too far expensive for most owners to consider taking them on track days. Anything above say £40,000 just isn't worth it.

When I've seen expensive cars on tracks they're always driven carefully and slowly, so even then the owners aren't getting all the fun out of them. I genuinely believe that they're only good for posing on city streets, and my theory is backed up by the placement of the exhaust noise button on the steering wheel. 


Fancy tech

All of these cars feature some serious on-board computers. The driver's input - steering and pedals - are moderated by the car, which looks at the speed, direction of travel and traction data from the wheels, and then the car may decide to steer a bit less than you commanded, or ease off slightly on the throttle. It's done very well and you don't really notice it most of the time. But it made me wonder what's going to happen to these cars in five or ten years when they're on their third owner and no longer maintained by an Audi garage. 

We own a 2008 Audi A4, and in the last few months some of the sensors have been starting to go wrong - we went through three oil level sensors in a year, and a warning pops up regularly telling me that the rear brake light has failed, even though I can see it's still working. Our car doesn't have half as much technology as these cars, but it's already annoying when the fancy tech starts failing. 

So what are these cars going to be like in 2026? It's fine while Audi are maintaining them at large expense, but our local garage really struggles with any faults relating to electronics. In ten years' time I suspect that they're not going to be able to fix the majority of car problems, and so either the dealers will have to really expand their service centres, which is going to really increase the cost of owning one, or cars will need to become much more reliable. 



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Proper ferrofluids

Friday 12th August 2016

After last week's disaster, here's a short video showing how Ferrofluids are supposed to look! I gave up trying to make my own and bought some from eBay along with some extra-strong neodymium magnets.



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Ferrofluid failure

Friday 5th August 2016

If you love a bit of schadenfreude then you'll enjoy this week's post where one of my projects goes completely wrong. I've been thinking a lot about the way we present ourselves to the world, and I decided it was important to show that my life has a lot of fails just like everyone else's. 

Making ferrofluid

I wanted to get hold of some ferrofluid, a beautiful magnetic liquid. It's quite pricey on eBay, about £10 for 20mL, so I found a tutorial that shows how to make it out of acetone and old tape cassettes.

So far so good.

I bought some acetone from eBay (£6.95) and found my last remaining ten cassettes, mostly mix tapes that I'd made during the 90s and couldn't bear to throw away. Making something awesome from their remains seemed like a fitting end.

The first step was to smash the cassettes up and place the tape in a kilner jar, then fill it with acetone and leave for a few days for the solvent to dissolve the tiny iron particles off the plastic tape.

I left it a week just to make sure, then poured the brown liquid into a bowl and let it settle. 

The settling process took quite a while because the particles were so fine, but I discovered that by putting a strong magnet on the outside of the jar I could speed the process up massively - it cleared in just a few minutes and produced some beautiful patterns, below. They moved ever so slowly, like magnetic urchins.

Once the iron particles had settled out, I poured the almost-clean acetone back in the bottle and left the brown goop outside so the rest of the acetone evaporated. It became quite hard and lumpy, like a metallic cat poo.

Once the actone had completely evaporated, I added a little vegetable oil and voila!

Oh. That's not what it's supposed to look like.

I did some more research and found out that the particles on magnetic tape are far too large to work as a ferrofluid.

They're around 500nm across, which is awfully small, but ferrofluid particles need to be 10nm - fifty times smaller. So the goop went in the bin and I bought some ferrofluid from eBay, which I'll write up shortly.


I've always joked that we need a separate version of Facebook called Failbook where everyone posts photos of their average days, talk about arguments with their partners and how they feel generally unsatisfied with life.

Obviously no-one has the life that they portray on social media but it's easy to forget that when you see their perfectly curated exhibitions and compare them to your own. I'm just as consumed with self-doubt, worry and paranoia as you are, and I don't think it helps to hide it.

In eighty posts for this site I've only ever mentioned failing twice, once when I nearly ruined our front door with a jigsaw and once when a batch of charcoal caught fire while it was cooling down. 

In reality, almost all of the posts I've ever written have involved some kind of failure, but I've omitted them without evening considering it.

When we made cola I pretty much wrecked our food processor with the plastic-eating essential oils. When I made salt from seawater I took the Teflon coating off an expensive frying pan because I was too impatient to wait for it to evaporate. When I learned to make lace I lost count of the number of times I had to unpick it and start again because I had trouble learning the motor skills, and I melted a set of plastic petri dishes for the licky experiment by trying to sterilise them in steam. 

My point is that it's completely normal to fail repeatedly, and you only need to succeed once to make it work.

So in future posts I'm going to be more honest about when it goes wrong!



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