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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

ladyblablah Thu 08-May-14 22:07:35

In this context, would it be wrong to say Rod Liddle is an enormous bellend?

teaandthorazine Thu 08-May-14 22:10:08

Which bigger picture would that be agooddad?

GoblinMarket Thu 08-May-14 22:11:12

ironic maybe blahblah but not wrong

ladyblablah Thu 08-May-14 22:11:18

Always so adept at getting the point agooddad ?

AGoodDad Thu 08-May-14 22:13:48

Geek misogyny in IT?? What a load of rubbish. You cant compare IT workers to computer games. Most IT men would welcome more women in the industry. They have traditionally not gone into it by choice. Even the government has tried to encourage more women in IT but they haven't flocked to it. DUH it's not misogeny it's a choice made by women. Why aren't women flooding into the military, or flooding into roles such as sewage maintenance workers? It's their own choice. Stop whining about your own choices!!

wonderstuff Thu 08-May-14 22:15:31

But that simply isn't trueAGoodDad no one is threatening to rape and murder men for supporting representation. No one is tweeting about the genitalia of the men appearing on Question Time. Female societies are not chanting songs on buses that are abusive to men. No one is suggesting that women who Hoover are asexual. Scantily clad men are not being used to sell female magazines and pop songs.

Women are not a minority group but we are a marginal presence in public life.

teaandthorazine Thu 08-May-14 22:17:03

Why so aggressive AGoodDad? Are you always this aggressive when talking to women about their lives and choices? I wonder...

MsVanRein Thu 08-May-14 22:20:04

I think the suggestion that we all need to 'grow a pair' says enough really about AGoodDad's attitude to women.

ManWithNoName Thu 08-May-14 22:20:14

AGoodDad - don't you find any of the programme disturbing?

My son plays online games. I am worried about the stuff that people write in the chat. I don't want him exposed to the sorts of things the female game player is exposed to. I don't want him copying it or joining in.

That said, the online world reflects the real world.

AGoodDad Thu 08-May-14 22:24:51

Google "womens magazines" and go to images, you'll see hundreds of images of scantily clad, bikini's etc women in magazines edited by women. Uhhh men are doing this how???

Then google "male porn magazines" and you'll find the same but male porn for women. Playgirl etc.

This isn't a one way thing. Misandry is rife amongst women!

GoblinMarket Thu 08-May-14 22:26:02

horrific program horrific

AGoodDad Thu 08-May-14 22:26:03

I don't personally agree with any violence against men or women in games (yes there is also violence against men)

Hugely disturbing and upsetting but of utmost importance. Well done Kirsty and the BBC.

weasle Thu 08-May-14 22:28:28

Excellent post wonderstuff.

Depressing viewing but very important programme. I'm recording it for DH who is at work. Well done BBC and Kirsty Wark.

MsVanRein Thu 08-May-14 22:28:50

Feel ill watching footage of The Steubenville rape. Horrific, how disturbing.

teaandthorazine Thu 08-May-14 22:29:28

Sorry, what's your point?

Are you genuinely suggesting that the existence of Playgirl (which I have never, ever known any woman buy or be the slightest bit interested in btw) is the same as rape jokes commonplace in school classrooms and daily threats of violence towards women online?

AGoodDad Thu 08-May-14 22:31:03

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

LackaDAISYcal Thu 08-May-14 22:32:54

I sincerely hope you don't have daughters AGoodDad sad
And yes there is violence against men, but it's violence from men against men, all bravado and punches; not assaulting them sexually with a penis. Show me a mainstream game with male rape and I will gladly admit I'm wrong.

This whole programme is shocking. My DS is nearly 12, and I was hoping to show him this programme, but he is too young. I've recorded it though and will show him in a few years time. I would be devastated if he felt this sort of thing was acceptable.

ladyblablah Thu 08-May-14 22:33:28

What was the actual reason given for no access to your child agooddad?

rabbitrisen Thu 08-May-14 22:34:35

I think that the internet has ironically made the problem worse.

Women are in internet groups talking about womens' stuff and issues.

Men are in men groups talking about goodness knows what.

It is all very well us feeling relatively cosy in our women groups, but it leaves the men, well... [generalisation, but you see where I am going with this]

AGoodDad Thu 08-May-14 22:35:34

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

teaandthorazine Thu 08-May-14 22:36:05

Women are routinely crying rape, sexism and abuse just to get the upper hand in the workplace and places like the courts

I see from this and your posts on other threads that you're an MRA troll. How silly of me to engage.

rabbitrisen Thu 08-May-14 22:37:20

AGoodDad has got a good point about women not wandering into and branching out into traditional mens' jobs.

The term "glass ceiling" makes me feel like throwing up.

To women it has been about glass ceilings. It should be about the great outdoors and sky at least as much.

Ending a bit more encouraging - loved the look of that Robin Thicke pastiche, must look that up.

Will encourage DH to watch this later too. Strengthened my resolve to try my hardest to bring both my children up (one girl, one boy) to be respectful to others regardless of the contents of their pants and have enough self confidence to stand up to abuse of any kind. I will need all the luck in the world.

rabbitrisen Thu 08-May-14 22:37:53

oops. I too will stop, tea.

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