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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Thu 08-May-14 12:50:09

Guest post: Kirsty Wark on misogyny - are things getting worse for girls?

Tonight at 9.30pm, BBC2 airs Blurred Lines: The New Battle of the Sexes, which sets out to investigate whether misogyny is on the rise. In this guest post, presenter Kirsty Wark describes what she found, and considers the impact this new breed of sexism could have on the next generation.

Do have a read and post your thoughts - do you feel like we've gone backwards?

Kirsty Wark

Broadcaster and presenter of Blurred Lines

Posted on: Thu 08-May-14 12:50:09

(299 comments )

Lead photo

Kirsty Wark investigates a new breed of misogyny

I am an optimist. I was optimistic in the 1970s that life was getting better for women. The Equal Pay Act in 1970 was followed five years later by the Sex Discrimination Act and I thought, naively, that the legislation would trigger the death of sexism, the end of sexual harassment and the bullying of women at work, controlling relationships, and domestic violence. In short, a revolution. And by the time that I had my children in at the beginning of the 90s I still had that optimism. Now they're in their early 20s, I'm not so sure.

Of course much has improved for women and girls - our lives are probably unrecognisable to our grandparents. There is no job we cannot do, no heights we cannot scale. And girls are doing brilliantly in the classroom. So why in the last few years does there seem to have been a tidal wave of openly hostile and aggressive behaviour towards women, from the online response to Professor Mary Beard's participation on Question Time last January, to young women at school being 'slut shamed' and touched up; from prostitutes being beaten up and killed on a video game, to some of our best known comedians thinking rape jokes are a great laugh? Last year it was even possible to buy a t-shirt proclaiming 'I'm feeling rapey.' Why has the conversation around women become so coarse? And – crucially – what does it mean for the next generation?

For a new BBC2 documentary – Blurred Lines: The New Battle of the Sexes - I set out to investigate. When looking at several examples of sexism and misogyny that had provoked outrage, in order to gauge their offensiveness, what was striking was that the 'pain threshold' was so different, among both men and women. And particularly with young people.

Of course much has improved for women and girls - our lives are probably unrecognisable to our grandparents. There is no job we cannot do, no heights we cannot scale. And girls are doing brilliantly in the classroom. So why in the last few years does there seem to have been a tidal wave of openly hostile and aggressive behaviour towards women?


Take the case of Stirling University men's hockey team singing a new, significantly more explicit, version of an old drinking song on a busy public bus at around nine o'clock at night. A video had been taken on a phone and posted on the internet. To give you flavour:

A lady came into the store one day asking for an orgasm. An orgasm she wanted – who gives a f* what she got…

A lady came into the store one day asking for a lady train. A lady train she wanted – a miscarriage she got…

When we spoke to students at Stirling University about it, one, Katie said "I think it's okay because obviously I know some of the guys and I know that they are not sexist", whereas another, Miriam, told me "this song isn't a one off, terrible song that a group of bad individuals have sung - this is a common example of every day occurrences that really highlight an underlying misogyny."

Offended or not, there was a common feeling that this sort of behaviour was "normal". And, as some students pointed out, if Family Guy, Jimmy Carr and Frankie Boyle can tell rape jokes, and the like, why shouldn't they? This split over whether humour renders misogyny harmless, or just acts as a cover for it, came up with schoolgirls that I spoke to too. Yaz, seventeen, told me she “would hear at least three [rape jokes] every day just walking down the corridors”.

Humour, of course, has always played an important role in breaking taboos. But with a resurgence of retro-sexist jokes and banter, I wanted to know whether it could have an impact. And when we probed the research the results were striking – suggesting (in the experiments at least) that when sexist men heard sexist jokes it reinforced their attitudes, and in the immediate aftermath they were more likely to act in a sexist way.

But it's not just sexist jokes that young people are facing. The internet, a thing of marvels in many ways, has seen an explosion in attacks on women and is the gateway to all kinds of content. It's also where the next generation are growing up. So where are the trusted guides to navigate this space? We spoke to teenage boys in a sex education class, and some of them admitted to watching porn. No surprise there, but the girls in the class worried that this would give the boys a pretty skewed view of healthy teenage sexual relationships – thinking they should be the "focus" of sex, and more "dominant". Some schoolgirls we spoke to even talked about being routinely groped. All attitudes feminists of the 70s campaigned to leave behind.

But I don't think this is simply about girls being victims – I think boys are under just as much pressure, and are just as confused about what their role is, particularly (and ironically) in the face of female success. Georgia, who’s fifteen and who co-founded the Campaign 4 Consent which lobbies for consent to be taught as part of the national curriculum, said something that really struck me – "it's hard to educate people about this because we're teenagers ourselves and it sounds preachy if we tell boys what they should be thinking - what we really need are role models, like adults and teachers who they admire, to come in and say why this is wrong. We need an entire attitude change and not just one person."

I'd really love parents and teenagers to watch the film together tonight, and have a genuine discussion about pop videos, rape jokes, computer games and porn… and talk about where they want to draw the line.

By Kirsty Wark

Twitter: @KirstyWark

manwith -yeah, that bit with Rod Liddle claiming it was about social class made me furious!

funty - no, me too. I found a lot of the imagery really hard to deal with. I don't watch music videos so I guess I'm insulated from all of that and I think I'll happily stay that way!

Creeping Fri 09-May-14 11:25:25

I feel exactly the same, funty. If it was any minority group that was used for entertainment like these prostitutes are in GTA it would not be allowed. Shocking.

ManWithNoName Fri 09-May-14 11:31:34

LRD - it really isn't about social class. I cant quiet remember what Rod Liddle said but I picked up there was a bit of a sort of undertone in the Loaded magazine segment that it was really something to do with a subculture among 'working class lads'.

Well upper middle class educated lads are pretty much my social group and its there in that group too.

I did find the programme generally very hard to watch but not surprising.

Yep, I got that bit too. I thought it was fucking rude, TBH.

Especially when Stirling university was one of their examples of misogyny and I'd hazard a guess they're not all salt of the earth working class lads.

funnyossity Fri 09-May-14 11:33:43

GTA has been an issue in my house, funty. I have now said never even when DS is 18. There is an awful feeling of futility in what I do though. I am the exception. I particularly loathe the parent who said "well I trust my son not to become a killer" thus painting me as the parent of an untrustworthy, easily-led simpleton, thanks for that!

I never dreamt that peer pressure would be so vile for my kids.

rabbitrisen Fri 09-May-14 11:35:00

I presume it is a given that the family courts are biased towards women?

Yet now that there is paternity leave as well as maternity leave, that shouldnt be so any more?

funnyossity Fri 09-May-14 11:39:18

My experience is that it's not at all about social class.

funty Fri 09-May-14 11:41:05

Futility is exactly my feeling funniosity. One of my children told me the other boys in his class said I was a 'horrible mother' because I refused to let them have 18 rated games. They were in PRIMARY school at the time!!

rabbitrisen Fri 09-May-14 11:53:57

Peer pressure has a lot more influence over our children than we realise, when we give birth to them!

When my kids came home form school and said the immortal phrase "all the kids have x y z", I used to tell them to give me a list of who exactly.

Most times, it was say 6 out of 30.
It opened their eyes too. It taught them to really look at things or situations, rather than go by what they first thought that they were seeing.

ManWithNoName Fri 09-May-14 11:54:49

funny - I get that feeling of futility too.

I catch myself thinking there was stuff like this going on when I was at school and I turned out all right. Some of my male teachers were openly misogynist and sexist. It was the 1970s after all. Life on Mars was really quite an accurate portrayal but we all were supposed to laugh at that weren't we?

Are we just panicking about something we can't do anything about, didn't we all experience this ourselves when we were teenagers? I think lads groped girls at parties when I was at university and the rugby crowd sang crude songs. Its just we didn't have the internet.

Is it just we hear about it more so it seems worse but nothing really changed? I don't know. I think the programme highlighted the problem but a follow up talking about possible solutions might be good.

funnyossity Fri 09-May-14 12:00:54

sadly, rabbit there are more than enough "weathermaker" kids in primary with access to GTA.

Now at upper secondary I am in a minority of parents that is just about me and the attendees of the local evangelical, (occasionally gay-bashing) church. I'm not chuffed.

FragileBrittleStar Fri 09-May-14 12:04:31

I watched the program and thought it was interesting and provoked debate. I am concerned that the focus is on misogyny-rather than sexism in society in general. I understand the argument that society reflects the views of the current patriarchy status- but many of the attitudes that perpetuate sexist treatment are also perpetuated by women. Calling women sluts is not just a male preserve , valuing women on the basis of looks etc ditto,

StephanieDA Fri 09-May-14 12:14:27

Peer pressure has a huge influence on shaping children, and it's natural that it does because the peer group is our child's present and future - we parents are their past.
But what gets forgotten is the power of the culture on children; culture influences parents, the peer group, everyone, and it's cultural values that are imbibed unconsciously.
We have a very visible sexist culture (as noted by the UN report) and I think we parents should be supporting No More Page 3 and Child Eyes and taking action ourselves, like turning over newspapers which display sexualised images of women on their front covers (I always put a stack of Sun newspapers behind the lads mags whenever I go into Tesco).
I have 3 boys (young men) and a teenage girl, and they do all seem to take the piss out of this cultural view of women, as I try to, and they think I'm pretty cool for marching up to lads mags displays and turning them round etc.
This is just for parents who feel helpless - there are lots of little actions we can all take in the world, it makes me feel better, and our children are watching.

slug Fri 09-May-14 12:53:18

Am pissing myself laughing at AGoodDad's description of the welcoming non-sexist culture in IT.

When I did my Computing MSc degree I came top of the class. The second and third candidates were also women. I also came top of all of the computing candidates in the University. When I graduated and was presented with the academic prizes that went with being good at what I do, the men in my graduating group complained that I got these awards because of "political correctness" Nothing to do with the fact that I easily outperformed them in every single assessment. Even as they were queuing up for me to help them with their assignments they were complaining that I must be sleeping with the Dean. The sub text of this is, computing is a man's job. Any female that does well is either a freak or has a man helping her.

Every job I have had in IT I've had to deal with overt and nasty misogyny. From rape jokes and being treated dismissively to outright aggression and sabotage. Just yesterday I had a junior member of staff explain to me in a very patronising way, in words of one syllable, how one of our systems works. I'm not his boss, I'm his boss' boss. I wrote the fecking system. But he couldn't see past the breasts to acknowledge that a woman might be able not only to understand, but also to function perfectly well in a career that they see as the exclusive province of men.

It's not an unusual experience for women. It's one of the reasons that, despite government efforts to get more girls into STEM subjects the reality of the workplace is it's a difficult and at times dangerous place to be.

Ev1lEdna Fri 09-May-14 13:05:05

I think the programme highlighted the problem but a follow up talking about possible solutions might be good.

I would have liked to se the programme go into more depth. At the very least I would have liked a 3 part programme, there were areas which were fascinating, like showing how casual sexism and sexist humour/banter (urgh) can extend into other spheres of life where I would have liked more depth. I would have liked to see more sections with young people and I agree with you, a programme discussing solutions, perhaps with more input from Germaine Greer and others would make a successful conclusion to a trio of programmes.

I thought the programme was good and as someone who has been reading about and looking into this kind of issue for a while it touched on the problems, I imagine for people less aware of life online or less inclined to read about problems facing women it was an excellent introduction.

I have two boys, I think about how best to bring them up often, to prevent the normalising (for them) of casual sexism and misogyny or at least give them the tools to query it and not take it as gospel. At times it seems insurmountable when the imagery and language around us is so heavily imbued with the idea of women as objects or inferiors. I would appreciate a dialogue amongst women in a programme like this about how to tackle this issue because working against societal and peer pressure at the moment is an uphill struggle and isn't given much discussion time.

Ev1lEdna Fri 09-May-14 13:08:22

* Just yesterday I had a junior member of staff explain to me in a very patronising way, in words of one syllable, how one of our systems works. I'm not his boss, I'm his boss' boss. I wrote the fecking system. But he couldn't see past the breasts to acknowledge that a woman might be able not only to understand, but also to function perfectly well in a career that they see as the exclusive province of men.*

That makes me so angry on your behalf; the casual dismissal of your authority both in position and in skill based purely on your gender. It is worrying that such an attitude is continuing in the next generation.

tiktok Fri 09-May-14 13:21:54

I thought the programme last night was very good.

I saw comedian Brendan Burns a few years ago, in a comedy club. He was absolutely vile. DH and I almost walked out but we were bang in the middle of the audience, and well....I suppose we didn't want to draw attention to ourselves. He was berating individuals in the audience for not laughing at his women-hating material (he also had an equally horrible routine about child abuse). I get it that shocking people is his schtick. I get it that he is a persona. I get it that he believes the essence of comedy is to shock and that's why people laugh. I think he's wrong, and he came over as a total arse - 'if something's not funny, then nothing's funny'...WTF?? The researcher on the programme who explained that exposure to sexist, women-hating comedy makes men with a tendency to this mindset actually more likely to find it acceptable....it validates it and it validates them.

I felt angry for the woman who could not even play video games without putting up with sexist, hateful shitty comments.

Why should women have to put up with being made to feel scared and targetted , or even just uncomfortable?

I've been on trains with loud groups of men singing sexist songs. It's horrible. I do think parents and teachers have a role here, in guiding boys as well as girls, in modelling what's acceptable and encouraging resistance.

I hope Kirsty will return and make more programmes.

DawnMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 09-May-14 13:48:08

Hi there,

A few posters have asked us to link to our We Believe You campaign on rape myths following some rather, ahem, unhelpful posts upthread.

Here it is: We believe you

I'm really interested in the way this thread has turned (for some) into an attack on the premise of the programme.

I wonder whether sites set up to discuss the real problems faced by men (just one example being the difficulties faced by many when leaving the armed forces) get trolled by feminists arguing that these men are just 'whining' and are actually to blame for the 'choices' that have led them to their current situation?

I suspect not.

So why does the type of programme begin discussed here attract such ire, I wonder?

stickygotstuck Fri 09-May-14 14:17:40

why does the type of programme begin discussed here attract such ire, I wonder? A very good point Buffy.

I watched the program in horror last night. My own conclusions -

- Agree with PPs that things have got worse since my 70's childhood.
- I also had never seen images of Grand Theft Auto, and it was worse that I could ever have imagined, truly shocking that such young boys play it
- Totally agree with humour making things seem more acceptable. People hide behind it often
- I am more resolved than ever (if that's even possible) to bring DD up in a non sexist way. And I will continue to point out sexism to her, and anybody displaying sexist views in front of her. Even if she is 5 and if even if they are 'mild' sexist comments from my own in-laws!

But I was also heartened at the girls and young women interviewed towards the end: strong, confident girls and women who are standing up against mysoginy,and letting everyone know that actually, no, it's not just banter, it's NOT OK.

For now and to avoid total despair, I am chosing to believe the Internet will end up biting all the women-haters in the ass [hopeful naïve emoticon]

Darkesteyes Fri 09-May-14 14:17:45

"If women will show up and take responsibility for all jobs including the lowly ones"

"Agooddad" you are talking utter bullshit. I put up a link on this thread about how women are more likely to be given zero hour contracts and you obviously haven't bothered to read it because you want to continue seeing what you want to see. There are many more women in jobs like care work earning minimum wage than there are men.

I put up a link about this upthead.

You however have yet to put up any links to prove your spurious claims.

bunchoffives Fri 09-May-14 14:31:01

Please stop engaging with GoodDad's posts. His arguments are idiotic - no evidence, contradictory, incoherent and undeveloped/immature. There are obviously some personal issues fuelling his sexist views. But there's no need to let them derail this discussion.

Sticky - I too have renewed my own commitment to have a zero tolerance approach to any form of sexism.

Slug - can I ask, did you sack the mansplainer?

Re: video games. Ds keeps asking for GTA5. I keep saying no. He says all his friends play it. I don't believe they all do, but I know a couple have it.

They are 9 and 10 years old, fgs.

slug Fri 09-May-14 14:45:16

bunchoffives. The mansplainers never last very long. They either wake up to the fact that they are going to have to have a woman in charge and deal with it in a mature manner or they leave fairly quickly of their own volition.

rabbitrisen Fri 09-May-14 14:53:27

bunch - but why has he been allowed to stay?

funny - you keep going. It is hard to swim against the tide, but totally worth it. And the kids thank you too in the end

slug - I am surprised at that.
I am left wondering, from that and other threads, whether there are big geographical differences. Are you in the UK?

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