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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

UtterFool Sun 25-May-14 19:48:09

He realised this was only a part of the reaction that women face when they stand up for themselves. And before he confronted it, he could never have imagined it was so violent and so total.

I think the reaction you get is largely dependent on where you are and how you call stuff out. At work I will happily call some of my colleagues 'fing neanderthals' and this generally results in confused silence and bewilderment. Im pretty senior though so am not sure how this influences the reaction.

Elsewhere I might be accused of being gay but can give as good as I get. I've never had any violent responses to date but being Chinese I've had a lot worse.

I can't say I fully understand what my wife and daughters go through but we're on holiday this week in a very isolated part of the UK. There are no foreigners here at all and at the pub last night, I stopped the bloody pool ball. It's always disconcerting when half the pub stops because you're an oddity!

NormaStanleyFletcher Thu 22-May-14 20:35:06

Just posting to say I care about this, as aparently the number of people posting indicates how much women care about sexism.

WowOoo Thu 15-May-14 11:16:33

I still haven't managed to watch this or read all of this thread.

Something I've noticed is that when my husband speaks if one of his friends say something misogynistic/ sexist they all acknowledge it. If it comes from me, I wonder if they wouldn't listen so well.

Thanks to MNetters for opening our eyes flowers

ManWithNoName Tue 13-May-14 17:59:09

Spiritedwolf - I wrote to the person who operates the particular blog I am thinking of and said almost exactly your words:

"Can you imagine what it does to female participation in politics and public life when they see other women attacked..."

It was well before the events surrounding Mary Beard that occurred more recently.

I think that a campaign to ask bloggers and operators of forums to adopt a no sexism, no racism and no homophobia policy is a good idea.

It would be easy to enforce - just a policy of deleting any comments immediately that break that policy. Posters who do it would not need to be banned that just gives them the oxygen of notoriety. A simple and consistent deletion policy would eventually reduce its incidence.

Spiritedwolf Tue 13-May-14 16:03:43

Some forums have the ability to like/dislike or rate comments. Use it wisely! smile

Spiritedwolf Tue 13-May-14 15:58:49

I caught a repeat of the programme last night. I thought it addressed the problem very well in the time available, though like others I'd love to know what the solutions are.

The forums that a previous poster mentioned do sound absolutely awful. If you think its bad as a man who recognises the sexism, think how awful it must be for the women it is directed act. Many forums have a comments policy which bans discriminatory and offensive comments, and often mention sexism and racism specifically to cover themselves. If the forums you go onto have such a comments policy, then report each and every instance of sexism you see in the threads you are reading. If they don't, then challenge the site's owners on why they allow such comments. If they refuse to create and enforce such a policy, find out who their web host is and see if they have a policy against discriminatory behaviour and report them. Or look at their advertisers and ask them why they are associated with such a site. There are plenty of forums out there which do have and enforce a basic 'no racism, sexism, homophobia etc' policy. Its not hard.

Can you imagine what it does to female participation in politics and public life when they see other women attacked as Mary Beard was? Yes, some women learn to cope with it, but why should they have to? What about all the other women who would be great political commentators, politicians, etc if they weren't put off by the vicious sexualised abuse they see others getting?

Challenge it or you become part of the silent majority who appear to endorse it and make it harder for others to speak up, the bystander effect. Every onlooker not acting increases the pressure on the next person not to break the consensus.

ezinma Mon 12-May-14 15:49:32

I was at a talk last year given by a man, describing how he'd engaged in the profeminist movement at university. He's disabled, and initially thought this qualified him to understand the oppression and discrimination faced by women.

When he started challenging sexism among his peers, he was met with insults: he must be pussy-whipped, or a pansy, or trying to get laid. He was no longer listened to, or taken seriously. Quickly, he went from being marginalised within his peer group to being excluded from it altogether. 'Jokes' about him being sodomised and raped appeared on social media. It somehow became acceptable to mimic his disability.

He realised this was only a part of the reaction that women face when they stand up for themselves. And before he confronted it, he could never have imagined it was so violent and so total.

MamaMary Sun 11-May-14 22:12:41

I heard Tyger Drew-Honey, that is.

MamaMary Sun 11-May-14 22:11:50

Oh, I heard him on Saturday Live on Radio 4. He seemed quite sensible. One thing he said that struck me was that young men call women vile names, on twitter etc, and think women like being called these sexist names because women appear to enjoy it in porn.

Oh, right. I can follow that, I think.

Go enjoy Bones. I love the first few seasons. smile

noblegiraffe Sun 11-May-14 22:04:38

The oldest of the 3 children on Outnumbered is the son of a porn star and porn director so his view on the industry might be quite interesting.

It went "poof", sorry sad.

Essence: functionalism is a perspective that assumes a single, knowable, external reality and that we're all basically working towards consensus. But that one, basic, knowable reality is really just how the world looks if you're standing on the viewing platform of the powerful. If you're down the ladder, it looks different. And consensus is just what the powerful think is best.

And now, I must leave this discussion. Those episodes of Bones won't watch themselves you know, and I reckon Angel is falling for that Bones. No spoilers, please

Plus I always over-identify with socially inept female leads grin

FairPhyllis Sun 11-May-14 21:57:20

Really do recommend the programme. As I think a pp said it could easily have been a 3-parter and gone into things in even more depth.

Yes I and others did suggest a solution to Man that didn't involve wearing spandex and a cape but apparently that wasn't a real solution because it would involve some kind of sacrifice.

Apparently there is going to be a documentary on the porn industry on BBC3 this week presented by the oldest of the 3 children on Outnumbered hmm. Although it does sound like he concludes it has been damaging for young people.

EBearhug Sun 11-May-14 21:46:01

Oh, do post it, Buffy.

NeilDiamondRocks Sun 11-May-14 21:41:13

I think blue pants outside red tights. With white shirt and a big M for MANSPLAIN!

<ponders what Man's Hero costume might look like>

buffy, I'd quite like to hear that ...

It plays up to a stereotype, doesn't it? Women are all airy-fairy and shielded from the harsh realities of life, so men occasionally need to tell them how things are ...

<deletes long, earnest and possibly even dull explanation of how functionalist perspectives entrench privilege>

NeilDiamondRocks Sun 11-May-14 21:33:15

Yes, when Man (a man) tried to tell me he was being a 'realist' I knew he was deluded. Good hearted, probably, but deluded. Manspslaining at its pitiable worst!!

grin

I will, I have been watching intellectual stuff like Bones and Agents of SHIELD instead just haven't had the time yet.

Oh, do watch it, it's so good!

I think the language issue is a really interesting one. I'm aware language choices often aren't deliberate, but to me 'I'm being a realist' is slightly manipulative, isn't it? It's pre-empting any discussion of what's 'real' for the assumption that we'd all have agreed with the speaker anyway.

I'm just speculating, but something I have noticed happening in some feminist spaces is that, instead of women all posting (that is, using sheer force of numbers to make an argument, which manwith points out would be one way of showing how many people care), you get a more collaborative effect. So you get a few women tag-teaming to discuss an issue, and as one group get tired of arguing, or get called away, others who have been lurking start to comment instead.

I think it's quite effective actually.

I've not had a chance to watch the programme yet, but it's interesting how you deploy language man. You talk of being 'honest' and a 'realist' but do you acknowledge that one man's honesty and realism is another woman's how things look from a position of privilege? This assumption of a single rational perspective on reality is a very androcentric invention.

And solutions? We've posted one here, which we all seem broadly in agreement with: that men who disagree with sexism should stand up and make their distaste known, rather than giving sexists the tacit approval of silence. You don't like that solution, because it's inconveniences you and you'd rather just enjoy your nice, welcoming corners of the internet in peace. So you demand another one. Presumably one that doesn't involve much effort or sacrifice from men?

Such is your prerogative, but it's ours to call out this hypocrisy if we see it as such. Really, all you'd have to say is 'yes, I agree that men should challenge sexists and I'm going to try and find a way to do more of this challenging myself'. We're really not expecting you to design yourself a costume and patrol the internet day and night.

noblegiraffe Sun 11-May-14 20:47:18

"Instead of facing implicit bias or stereotype threat, I had the privilege of implicit endorsement. For instance, whenever I attended technical meetings, people would assume that I knew what I was doing (regardless of whether I did or not) and treat me accordingly. If I stared at someone in silence and nodded as they were talking, they would assume that I understood, not that I was clueless. Nobody ever talked down to me, and I always got the benefit of the doubt in technical settings."

"One trite retort is “Well, your friend should've been tougher and not given up so easily. If she wanted it badly enough, she should've tried again, even knowing that she might face resistance.” These sorts of remarks aggravate me. Writing code for a living isn't like being a Navy SEAL sharpshooter. Programming is seriously not that demanding, so you shouldn't need to be a tough-as-nails superhero to enter this profession."

Interesting post on silent privilege and why there aren't more women in IT here:

www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2014/01/programmer_privilege_as_an_asian_male_computer_science_major_everyone_gave.2.html

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