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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?

Lead photo
Kirsty Wark

Broadcaster and presenter of Blurred Lines

Posted on

Thu 08-May-14 12:50:09

(299 comments)

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

MamaMary Thu 08-May-14 14:30:28

Thank you Kirsty - this conversation is so important and the more people that start it, the better.

I have observed a steep rise in sexism since I was a teenager in the 1990s. I hardly want to watch the programme as I know I'll get even more depressed. Yet at the same time I want EVERY one to watch it.

ManWithNoName Thu 08-May-14 15:49:07

When I look back to the 1970s, when I was a teenage boy at an all male boarding school, playing rugby, hanging around locker rooms and tour buses sometimes with older men open misogyny and sexist comments were pretty routine.

Compared to today the sorts of things men say to me when women are not around are quite similar to back when I was a teenager. I don't see any fundamental attitude shift has taken place among men about women since the 1970s.

What has changed is that men are more circumspect about expressing openly misogynist and sexists attitudes. They know it is wrong so they take more care about what they say and how they behave when women are around.

I think this led women to believe things had got better - it hadn't. It was just less obvious and less blatant.

However, men feel 'safer' to express the old 1970s attitudes on the internet where anonymity is guaranteed. Go to any internet forum on any subject and you will see routine attacks on women - not about what they say but just because they are women. Women in the public eye are fair game and the comments are often expressed in more or less extreme levels of sexual violence.

There is a kind of conditioning in society that makes misogyny 'normal' whereas racism or homophobia is not.

I don't have an answer or a solution. My conclusion is that a fair proportion of men basically hate and despise women. Its unfathomable.

I have two sons and me and my wife talk about these issues with them but to be honest the culture and attitudes expressed among teenage boys today is no different from 40 years ago - not worse and not better.

ManWithNoName Thu 08-May-14 15:58:22

Incidentally, I do wonder if the Financial Crisis has pushed us economically and socially back to the 1970s and hence attitudes to women have reverted.

The pay gap has opened up again and I just wonder if in a weird way men know women have less economic power and hence feel braver at expressing the old attitudes.

A woman who is desperate for a job or more generally dependant on a man (i.e. her boss or her husband/partner) economically is less likely to fight back.

I dont agree with you Kirsty. Women have not broken through the glass ceiling. Most women cannot 'do anything; and 'scale any height'. You are among a lucky few women that have.

WowOoo Thu 08-May-14 16:03:55

I'm interested in watching this and will read this thread after I've done so.

Thanks in advance to the BBC team and Kirsty Wark.

Darkesteyes Thu 08-May-14 16:29:17

I was born in 73 and grew up in the 70s and 80s and I think things have got worse.
Im glad Kirsty mentioned comedy because I think the misogyny in comedy has got worse and now seems to include disabilism as well as sexism.
My fave comedian is the late Dave Allen While other comics were cracking jokes about their mothers in law he was pointing out the hypocrisy and misogyny in the Catholic church.
His comedy was observational Having been brought up with Catholicism a lot of it resonated with me.

A lot of todays comedy is not only sexist and disabilist Its also classist too. Its lazy and spiteful. Apart from comics like Adam Hills who (much like Dave) has the intelligence and insight to be funny without being nasty)

I started high school in Sept 1984 In my first drama lesson my teacher asked me to speak sexily to him in front of the entire class. I was 11 years old No internet back then. And only a VERY limited amount of knowledge about what sexy was. So I just tried it in a breathy voice. He then told me it was about as sexy as a bag of washing confused To an 11 year old In front of an entire class who laughed. This was my first experience of misogyny. But ive heard much worse stories about things that have happened in more recent years so I stand by the fact that ,yes I believe things have got worse.

BuzzardBird Thu 08-May-14 17:26:34

The sad thing is Darkest is that some 11yr olds would know exactly how to be sexy these days, thanks to the porn available on their phones. Girls have no chance of respect when boys view them as something to stick their body parts into. sad

Greydog Thu 08-May-14 17:42:06

I agree with Darkest - I think things have got worse. Once I would never have thought this, but the last 15 years or so I've seen a increase in the "bloody women" attitude. I was a senior union person in a male dominated industry, and their attitude to women - recently - was appalling. You're a girlie - you know nothing - and sadly I'd never encountered it before.

Redoubtable Thu 08-May-14 18:36:34

"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"

I feel this is true and has always been so.
The misogynist, the man who is afraid of women and so must act with hatred towards a group that he perceives to have (sexual) power over him, must diminish and demean those women in order to neutralise their hold over him.

i.e. "I'm a man who wants women sexually; that gives them power over me; I feel afraid of this hold over me, so I must poke fun at women to reduce their power".

I dont know (though I may be wrong) that it is any worse now. The thought of my daughter entering puberty and starting to be addressed in the way that I was at that age horrifies me. The idea of her, literally, being manhandled leaves me gritting my teeth. Not in jealousy of her emerging attractiveness and sexuality but at the danger of abusive men now reducing her to a hole-to-fill.

Seth Godin talks about how the internet has allowed subgroups to form around interests that would have been edge-dwellers before.
In terms of creativity, this is the benefit of the internet as these groups coalesce and encourage each other to new heights.

Unfortunately the same is true for extreme sexism. Men who would not have dared to voice their true opinions, now have a 'gang' to normalise their abnormal ideas. And these gangs attract to them, the less socially adequate, emotionally literate men.

Time after time, it occurs to me that so many of their remarks would not be tolerated (even online) if the target was a different sub-group e.g. asian, jewish, catholic, isalmic, disabled.

NeilDiamondRocks Thu 08-May-14 18:43:33

It has definitely got worse, and it appalls me that so many men take part in this 'bonding' over misogyny and very VERY few raise their heads above the pulpit to tackle it. People speak of men not respecting women...it is becoming increasingly difficult to respect men as their silence is deafening. I am sure I am not alone in feeling betrayed by men as a group. So many men seem to revel in degrading women, and I have to wonder what exactly has gone wrong with them?

It speaks volumes that I feel THANKFUL that I live in a country where I am not hidden away or married at 12, and that my husband is a good 'un who treats me like a human being and who hates men talking shit about women. Yes....THANKFUL to be treated like the human being I am. It is utterly ridiculous and I hate misogynists. HATE them!

Darkesteyes Thu 08-May-14 18:48:50

Greydog and Buzzard todays Everyday Sexism twitter TL bears this out on the #grabbed hashtag there are young women talking about being groped at school and it now seems to be a regular occurrence. In all my 5 years at high school it only happened to me once and that was off school grounds.
Now its happening regularly in school corridors.

And this thing of women now being expected to shave their pubes. FGS There was a thread on another board where an Mner was suffering the pain of a Bartholins cyst and her husband had the gall to say to her "Well its because you don't shave"

Because womens pubic hair is seen as dirty while mens isn't.

NeilDiamondRocks Thu 08-May-14 19:07:01

The good thing though is that more and more women seem to be waking up to the fact that there is a nasty, insidious little group of people who hate them JUST because they are women. Whether they take action or not is up to them, but it may lead to discourse and open discussion (in RL, not just on forums like this).

MamaMary Thu 08-May-14 20:16:00

I hope Kirsty recognises the role internet porn has played in all of this.

BeeBawBabbity Thu 08-May-14 20:54:50

The boys in my 11 year old's class are already telling some of the girls they're too fat. I'm horrified that already, at such a young age, they feel its their place to pass comment on the girls' appearances. Especially when it doesn't please them.

I dont know whether this is learned at home, or a symptom of a society where women are still judged above all on their looks.

NeilDiamondRocks Thu 08-May-14 21:11:23

BeeBaw it is a combination I think. As a feminist, I make a point of making clear to my children - boys and girls - that they are NEVER to make personal comments, that boys and girls are equal NO exceptions....that human beings the world over are equal! I think the grotesque men we are sadly aware of, who hate women and with whom we are uncomfortable being part of society alongside us, have been shaped by parents and society. Plus a third strand...something is not quite right with their brains. Psychopathy?? I don't know.

My husband grew up in an abusive household...he saw his mother beaten by his dad. But he didn't think this was the norm....he sees his dad as a dysfunctional, pathetic, rubbish man. And he loves and cherishes his mum (and all the women in his life).

Misogyny has a grip on a certain KIND of men I think....but I am not sure what characteristics/background this entails as yet.

Kirsty and the BBC- thank you! so important to keep bringing this up for us bewildered parents and our DDs. It has been heartbreaking talking to daughters and parents for my forthcoming book about raising girls today how upset and worried they are about this topic. I will watch tonight with a box of tissues and light a candle for the girls out there tonight facing this horrible stuff.

Darkesteyes Thu 08-May-14 21:30:50

Beebaw the boys and some of the girls at school were constantly telling me I was fat. I was/still am quite booby and have the body to go with it. This was the 80s when Princess Diana was the most photographed woman in the world and in the papers every day.

My mum is Italian and would NOT allow me to shave my legs when I was in my teens. And Christ was I made to pay for it at school. I was bullied about it constantly. And the worst of it was by 2 girls in my drama group. Although a lot of boys did it too. The bullying over my legs went on for 2 full years. Gorilla was the nicest thing I was called.

BeeBawBabbity Thu 08-May-14 21:44:44

Agreed, Neil, a certain type of man (and woman). But if it is accepted behaviour in their environment maybe some of the good men just don't stop to consider the rights and wrongs. Not your dh, obviously. He sounds like a diamond (if not Neil Diamond!).

Also agree with Darkest, girls and women are of course influenced by society's messages too, and can be just as misogynistic as boys. Sounds like little has changed. I attended a girl's school in the 80's - Kirsty Wark's alma mater I believe- and was probably protected from negative comments from boys. But the girls could be mean!

Darkesteyes Thu 08-May-14 21:45:39

So Martin Daubney thinks hoovering is asexual if a man has to do it Righty ho.

Ive said on other threads that the lads mag culture of the 90s didn't help.

wonderstuff Thu 08-May-14 21:49:31

Watching now. Making my stomach churn.

Darkesteyes Thu 08-May-14 21:53:15

if that Aussie comedian says NOTHING is off limits he would also be telling racist and homophobic jokes on stage no?

AGoodDad Thu 08-May-14 21:55:16

Oh grow a pair and stop whining! Everything that she showed she deliberately did not seek out the equivalent against men (is she practicing Misandry???) which is everywhere out there.

Darkesteyes Thu 08-May-14 21:58:10

Well that didn't take long did it!

MsVanRein Thu 08-May-14 22:01:46

Quite Darkest!

I'm watching and it's very interesting if a bit depressing.

AGoodDad Thu 08-May-14 22:06:25

Very depressing how these women are whining, it's all me, me, me. Oh boo hoo! They don't look at the bigger picture where everyone is fare game and everyone has things sexual and non sexual said about them by both men AND WOMEN.

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