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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

rabbitrisen Sat 10-May-14 19:30:46

See this is what I dont like.
Here we have a man[presumably] who is willing to do his bit, or more than his bit, and he is still being berated.
Give him 6 months, more like 3 nowadays, and he will have disappeared off of here, just like all the others.

ManWithNoName Sat 10-May-14 19:47:11

rabbit - I've been here for years and years.

I'm not going anywhere soon. grin

I know my answer is inadequate and I knew I would be berated but its understandable given the nature of the issue at hand.

Not berated. Crikey. Minority point of view expressed. Probably seems like berating (beration?) because it's a view not often put forward confidently. Men who claim to think of women as equals should express their distaste when other men are sexist or misogynistic.

Man as an experiment, why not set up a new account on some of your mainstream places with a female sounding name. Then stand up for yourself. See how it feels to be guilty of expressing an opinion while female.

ManWithNoName Sat 10-May-14 20:09:44

Buffy - generally it isn't female posters (or female sounding posters) that get attacked. Its female politicians, female public figures that get really disgusting comments made about them. You know the sort of thing that was said about Mary Beard.

It would be better to keep my name and take people to task as a man and say I am a man and then people know I am not a woman. I think it would have more impact than people thinking I was 'one of them feminazis' to quote a fairly common insult.

Yes, I agree that it has more impact when a man speaks out against sexism. I guess my point is that it's simple for you to choose to speak out or choose to ignore it when you're tired, or fed up, or just want to relax without constant activism smile. But women can't choose to ignore it. I thought you might find yourself more empathetic with our frustration with your "meh" if you got a little taste. Not berating you though, because you haven't said anything twatty. Just not tiptoeing around your delicate manly feelings as a proper lady ought. wink

NeilDiamondRocks Sat 10-May-14 20:36:45

As an experiment I gave myself a male name on a forum once, and as usual challenged misogyny if I saw it there. It took the other posters no time at all to tell me I was obviously a woman and wasn't fooling anyone. That just reinforced my opinion that men hardly ever speak out and it is so rare for one to go against the grain and challenge other men, that men (quite rightly in this case) don't believe it is real.

funnyperson Sun 11-May-14 04:32:55

Rape jokes are scary and have always been scary.
I prefer it if men don't swear and make those sort of jokes in front of women.

But I can say that because I'm old

My DD has to laugh it off otherwise she isn't seen to be cool. It makes my skin crawl and I get even more scared for her and her friends. That said, her college at university is much more aware and protective of the girls than mine was. There is a safe room to run to, with the morning after pill etc on site. That said, they need to be. Making girls drink till they are easily raped is fairly standard these days, it wasn't so widespread and routine when I was young even in the rugby club. At a younger age, the boys in the boys school all made a bee-line for the girls especially to have under-age sex. Mobile phone pictures of trophies were routine. The police and society are so blase in this country that the chances of an allegation being made let alone a conviction are small.

I think society has changed and changed for the worse. But this change hasn't happened suddenly.

ThePriory Sun 11-May-14 10:06:47

What I would like to know is precisely why there is so much sexual hatred of women by men. It's so prevalent both online, and also in RL, men shouting abuse at women just for walking along the street that sort of thing. Online it is far more graphic and vitriolic.

It is so childish, it's like a 2 year old who's hatred towards his own parents sometimes is so intense it's terrifying, but passes. I mean, these men don't hate women all the time, "Oh I'm only joking" but when it comes out, it is so intense and so childish, and so real, and so intent on causing hurt for their own pleasure/gain, it's terrifying.

I don't buy the argument that men are threatened by women being able to do high paid jobs like them. It's far deeper and more 'base' than that, like a primitive fear/disturbance. On the program can't remember exactly but something was said like - "men want women sexually, and that power that the woman has over him makes him feel out of control, so he has to redress that power balance by laughing at or belittling the women" or indeed use money to redress that balance.

The whole program was highly thought-provoking, well documented and interesting.

EBearhug Sun 11-May-14 12:36:29

Isn't it all part of Germaine Greer's statement about, "women have very little idea of how much men hate them", which they did cover in the programme? Although that still doesn't answer your question why.

DonkeySkin Sun 11-May-14 15:14:02

What I would like to know is precisely why there is so much sexual hatred of women by men.

This is what frustrates me about most liberal critiques of sexism/misogyny, which I'm assuming is the kind of critique this show advanced (I'm Australian and haven't seen it). Liberal feminists are good at pointing out the problems with patriarchy but they shy away from analysing the roots of the system. This leaves many women with a heightened awareness of sexism but doesn't actually give us strategies for eliminating sexism at its base.

So it always seems to spring back in new, horrible forms - you know, we finally get rid of a woman-hating conservative religious ideology that propagandises the message that female bodies are dirty and inferior and deserving of hatred and violence, and this is replaced by a woman-hating porn culture that propagandises the message that female bodies are dirty and inferior and deserving of hatred and violence...

At base, the male hatred and fear of women springs from their desire to control our sexual and reproductive biology. In almost every known human society, people who cannot bear children have constructed elaborate material and ideological systems to control people who can bear children, which they justify by categorising women and girls as less than fully human, as defective and deficient beings, as an exploitable resource that exists only to fulfil the functions for which they value us (sex and babies), and as appropriate targets for their rage and disgust to whom anything can be done, if they feel like doing it.

I wish every critique of specific cultural manifestations of sexism came with a little pointer to the root of all sexism - 'This is because men consistently construct women as the sub-human sex class, so they can control our sexual and reproductive biology. Chew on that for a moment.'

ManWithNoName Sun 11-May-14 16:56:11

EBearhug - Germain Greer was/is right.

I told a female friend a few years ago in a sort of matter of fact way that 'some men hate women'.

She was visibly shocked. being a SAHM with a nice decent husband with a well paid job living in a nice leafy suburb she apparently had no idea.

Not all men hate women obviously and to be honest the men that don't hate women have really no idea why other men hate women either.

Its true though that some men do hate women. I had a male boss that hated women. It was irrational. He had a supportive wife that loved him unconditionally had frankly had helped him further his career far beyond his actual ability. He was clearly frightened of my wife even though I was a junior employee. He was literally sick with fear at having to attend the birth of his son. He flew the full North - South length of the USA to visit a well known lap dancing club in New York and denigrated and under paid or got rid of every women that worked for him.

I have no explanation.

FairPhyllis Sun 11-May-14 17:39:08

Man isn't being berated here. But I am unapologetically pointing out the contrast between his actions and his proclaimed feminism. I realise that not everyone is used to women being unapologetic for challenging actions that prop up misogyny.

God forbid that a man should have to feel momentarily uncomfortable about or accountable for the way he behaves.

What Man has demonstrated is that even men who want to think they are allies are reluctant to stand up for women when it might inconvenience them. That is part of the problem.

Man I really hope you can get past your discomfort here and turn it into action, because we need men to speak up against misogyny even if it isn't always easy for them to do that. And we need them to do it in numbers. Your voices speak louder than ours do atm.

This is the world that your wife and all your female relatives and friends have to live in. Aren't you interested in doing something about it for their sakes? They don't get to switch off being a woman in the way that men can miraculously switch off their feminism when it suits them.

NeilDiamondRocks Sun 11-May-14 18:24:07

I agree with Phyllis..it really doesn't take much to stand up and challenge misogyny. I do it all the time and I STILL enjoy the forums etc. It is a compulsion I feel though, and I suppose that is the difference.

Also, just because it has more impact when men speak up for women, that doesn't mean they deserve special praise when they do so. Some of us are not falling over ourselves congratulating Man on being a feminist ally because it is something ALL decent people should do. David Schwimmer, Patrick Stewart, Ryan Gosling...all famous men who speak out AND act on behalf of women. But they are no better than all the MILLIONS of women who very day act for women so shouldn't be treated as though they are.

ManWithNoName Sun 11-May-14 18:36:52

FairPhyllis - I am not uncomfortable.

I agree men should speak up more but as I said, it is so prevalent on the internet its impossible to attack every single post I see expressing sexism or misogyny.

I think the programme was vey good but offered no solutions. Without saying it I think the programme highlighted the issue and then quietly shoved it in the drawer marked 'too difficult to deal with'.

I think everybody should make a stand but in reality do many women (or men) really do that? No not really.

If you are a SAHM you actually benefit if another woman suffers from discrimination at work and she loses out because of a sexist manager who promotes your DP/DH to a better job and he gets a bigger pay rise as a result How often and how badly does a SAHM really suffer from misogyny if her day is taken up with childcare, home making and interacting with other SAHMs, nursery, schools?

Truth is society as a whole really doesn't care that much as long as it doesn't affect them personally. Most women are complicit in their silence just like most men.

NeilDiamondRocks Sun 11-May-14 19:20:22

Women are trying to survive within a patriarchy...it is MEN who benefit the most from women's oppression so they want to see it continue. The two are ENTIRELY different, and now because of your last sentence, I don't believe you are a feminist ally at all.

ManWithNoName Sun 11-May-14 19:44:25

NeilDiamond - just trying to be honest and a realist.

I think we should all do more about sexism and misogyny, even if it seems hopeless, which is how I really feel. I'm quite old so I suppose it seems to me not much as changed in the last 50 years. Maybe superficially it has, but deep down - not that much.

Anyway, I agreed to do my bit up thread - which I will.

FairPhyllis Sun 11-May-14 19:50:30

If you need someone to explain exactly how a woman who finds that the burden of child rearing, domestic labour, possible future exclusion from the paid workforce and life-long impact on earning power and retirement savings has fallen primarily on her and not her male partner suffers from structural sexist oppression even if she chooses that life for herself ... then it sounds like you don't really get it to be honest.

ManWithNoName Sun 11-May-14 20:07:33

Phyllis - lets not argue. I watched the programme and am happy to agree that like most men I didnt take a very active part in fighting misogyny and sexism. I do something but not enough.

On the other hand my DW has been impacted very badly by the issues you listed in your last post so I have at least some appreciation of it.

Out of the thousands of women on MN only a few dozen have posted on this thread. It kind of points to what I have been saying.

Do that many women really care enough to be bothered to do anything about these issues or is it just a few very active campaigners?

noblegiraffe Sun 11-May-14 20:35:59

Man have you ever seen what happens when a woman stands up against sexism on an internet forum?

I've done it. And quite frankly the vile sexual comments made against me for sticking my head above the parapet would certainly put me off doing it again. Look at the vile sexual abuse women get for having any opinion that a bloke chooses to disagree with on social media, let alone ones that specifically criticise men and their behaviour, and you wonder why they might keep quiet?

Kimbojj Sun 11-May-14 20:37:27

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

Reporting as spam.

man - I think it's fairly normal to find that people don't all post - it's not the best index of how much people care or how active they are.

If you look at the number of people who signed, say, Criado-Perez's petition, and compare to the numbers of MNers who posted on threads about it, you might think people don't care. Same with the current campaign about Name Equality on marriage certificates.

But then, quite a lot of people simply want to sign a petition, or write to their MP, or whatever, without getting into a debate they've had often before.

NeilDiamondRocks Sun 11-May-14 20:45:35

Man, do you really believe that women don't care about equality because few post on the feminist board?? REALLY????

NeilDiamondRocks Sun 11-May-14 20:46:35

Sorry LRD x-post.

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