Tag Archives: sexism

Cheering Lauren Mayberry, who socks it to the trolls

I love the band Chvrches for two reasons. Firstly, because I spent the tail end of 2013 living in London, blithely dodging traffic while listening to ‘The Bones of What You Believe’, and secondly because its lead singer, Lauren Mayberry, is bloody brilliant at calling out casual misogynists. She casually, caustically flicks them back to their swamp.

Back in September 2013, she penned this righteous rant for the Guardian. In fact, it’s doing it a disservice to call it a rant – it’s a perfectly reasoned article. It asks why women in the spotlight attract misogynistic abuse, and why they should be expected to put up with it.

Before reading Lauren’s essay, I already knew the first answer to the first question. To some men, women who have the temerity to hold powerful positions – or indeed, any position that isn’t submissive, quiet or subordinate – are threatening. Such men try to negate women’s achievements and views by taking them down a peg or two, usually by reducing them to their appearance, or focusing on their possession of a vagina. I’m thinking here of the opponents of Julia Gillard, former Australian Prime Minister, who criticised her ‘big red box’ instead of her politics. And German Chancellor Angela Merkel, termed an “unfuckable lard ass” – by the Italian Prime Minister.  Just last week we had the Combover King Donald Trump, commenting that the Fox moderator who asked him tough questions “had blood coming of her….wherever”.

Back to today – when in typically fearless style, Lauren Mayberry posted a link to the misogynistic comments posted under the band’s new video. Leaving aside the most graphic and gross ones, the least sinister gist seems to be “you’re not allowed to call people sexists and then look nice in your video. Take yourself off and hide in a sack if you don’t want our abuse!” You see, if there’s one thing a misogynist hates more than an uppity woman who doesn’t know her place, it’s one who speaks about it publicly. The appearance of an articulate women – who happens to beautiful – having an opinion sends these misogynists into a rage.

Writing in 2013, Lauren wrote about the grotesque rape threats she had received – simply for being a woman, fronting a band. And, depressingly, she’s not the first – on an earlier blog, I compiled a not-so-nice list of women subjected to violence and rape threats for daring to have an opinion on stuff. These included Laura Bates, Lindy West, Lucy-Ann Holmes, and the Suffragettes.

Increasingly, rape threats and sexual violence have become the standard silencing techniques used to frighten women into submission. That’s why the “don’t feed the trolls” argument is invalid here – more women need to speak out, not less. It’s important to draw a distinction between men who don’t agree with a woman and can lucidly explain why (debate), and men who threaten to hurt and silence women for having an opinion (misogynists). I don’t think I’m exaggerating here when I call these silencing tactics an attack on free speech.

And that why it’s important to applaud the women like Lauren who do speak out. So these misogynists get the message – we are not going anywhere. To quote Lauren – bring it on, motherfuckers.

Advertisements

Silencing tactics: the sexist shitcake

I wrote previously about the silencing tactics often used on women who challenge damaging sexist norms. It’s something I find galling – the frequency with which a woman draws attention to a piece of sexist/unfair behaviour, to be told it isn’t a problem and to stop complaining.

It’s a double whammy: you have the oppressive silencing tactic handed to you as a cherry on the cake of whatever was sexist in the first place.

I came across a classic example of this today. Retailer M&S is running a ‘Leading Ladies’ campaign that includes models chosen for their achievements. Enter Roma Agrawal, an Indian-born structural engineer who worked on the Shard in London. She got involved to encourage women and girls to become engineers, and to challenge the UK’s perception of girls’ and boys’ subjects in the UK. In her words:

“There’s less of a divide between girls’ and boys’ subjects in India than here. It’s normal there for girls to study science. I didn’t realise that a gender divide existed until I came to university at Oxford. I looked around the lecture theatre and there were about 10 girls in a class of 150. That’s when I thought this was kind of weird. We are designing things for society and if the people designing them only represent a small proportion of society we probably can’t deliver well.”

So far, so good. Kudos to M&S for choosing role models on the basis of their academic/professional achievements, and to Agrawal for trying to show women that science and engineering are valid career choices. Where it turns to shit is the following crap reporting from the Evening Standard:

“This softly spoken 30-year-old in a yellow dress is the woman who made sure the biggest erection in Western Europe didn’t fall down”.

Obviously, what an article reporting on celebrating women for their achievements really needs is an allusion to the women’s sexual appeal. She might have helped construct the Shard but let’s not forget her ability to sexually excite men!

Agrawal’s spot-on response was to challenge the paper, on the basis that “this one sentence contradicts the core message of the article: that women can excel in engineering and other male dominated industries on their merit. I believe women should be judged on their skills and contribution in the workplace and shouldn’t have to fear being sexualised”. The Standard refused to edit or remove the comment, on the basis that it was, in their own words, “light humour”.

So there we have the sexist shitcake. Now for the cherry silencer, which came in the form of a comment from the charming ‘Whigwham”.

 

capture

 

Note the helpful copy-and-paste explanation of the word ‘erection’. Silly engineer lady doesn’t know the meaning of the word, and clearly needs to be told!

I was tempted to respond with a correspondingly helpful explanation of the word ‘pun’, but sadly the comments thread had closed. To illustrate that the “light humour” (the Standard’s own phrase, remember) of the comment hinges on the dual meanings of ‘erection’: she helped erect the Shard and she can erect penises too! See what the writer has done there? Clever, eh Whigwham?

“What’s the problem?”, he asks.  (I am assuming it’s a he. If he/she is reading this and wants to correct me, feel free). The problem, dear sir, is that this woman has raised a legitimate objection to a sexist remark, made doubly worse in the context of an article about valuing women on their achievements, not their sexual attraction. But of course, you, being a man, know better. There is no problem, no sexual objectification, and if anything this woman is prejudiced and needs to take a look at herself! Why is she complaining?

Astoundingly, five other fuckwits read that comment and decided that the appropriate response was to recommend it.

You do have to wonder about people who dismiss someone’s rational, well-reasoned point of view so casually. Their thought process seems to be that because they haven’t experienced sexism themselves, it doesn’t exist. It seemingly doesn’t occur to them to listen to their fellow human beings – if they’re women, at any rate.

On sports, sex and night-time makeup

I’ve written previously about how people I consider to be well-judging, normal humans dismiss feminism because they believe women have already achieved equality. I’ve been reflecting on this, looking at the news and my own life over the last week, and you know what? I’m open to changing my mind, so let’s re-visit that viewpoint.

Starting with sport. With Wimbledon just behind us, we can reflect with satisfaction on the fact that female tennis players now receive the same prize money as men. And how lovely to see the congratulations pouring in to this year’s female Singles Winner, Marion Bartoli. My personal favourite from the plethora of good wishes comes from the delightful @Willshow95: “Bartoli you fat shit. I don’t want a ugly bitch to win”.

Hmmm. OK, moving on. Golf! Yesterday I received an invitation to Muirfield, a club hosting the 2013 Open Championship. This is arguably the biggest professional golf tournament in the world, certainly the oldest. On opening the emailed invite, I felt pleasure mixed with alarm. I turned to my colleague (also invited) and asked “am I allowed to go to that, though? Is it not for men only?” This was a serious question – I’d read only a few days before that the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, was boycotting Muirfield because it doesn’t let women in. It turns out, though, that although Muirfield does not allow women to join, it does deign to let them spectate. Go equality. A wee question for any men out there – have you ever received an invite to an official sports event, where your first thought is alarm that you’re excluded because of your gender? Not a trick question – I would actually like to know. (As a sidenote, who fancies storming the ramparts with me, á la Rosa Parks? Go to Muirfield, sit there, and refuse to leave until they let us join?)

Thou shall not pass, wench.
Thou shall not pass, wench.

So that was yesterday morning. At lunchtime, I gave Twitter a cursory glance as I ate in the sun. (There is actual SUN in Scotland at the moment. This is a rare event for us). Little did I know, a lunchtime revelation was in store for me! Makeup you can sleep in, so that your boyfriend doesn’t have to barf with shock at your ugly, unadorned face in the morning. Apparently, ‘mornings just got a lot prettier’. In the interests of equality, I’m wondering what this company is proposing to make my boyfriend more visually palatable to me in the morning? Here’s an idea – why don’t we just both wash our faces before we go to bed, wake up a little sleepy and have some sex. That’s my idea of a pretty morning.
Looking good at 7 am?
Looking good at 7 am?

Eyes on the prize: shagging for shelter
Night-time make-up wasn’t the only treat Twitter had in store for me, however. Cue lots and lots of coverage of the Tory-led Coalition’s new benefit cap: cutting housing benefit for teenage mothers. Apparently, UK society is being bled dry by these house-hungry teenage girls, who are having cold and calculating sex to win the ultimate prize: a council house. Now I remember being a teenager, and I remember having sex. The only thing on my mind was the fact I had a boyfriend I loved and fancied the pants off. Teenagers, as most people will accept, think about sex a lot. Not so the Coalition government. Not only is it making the mistake of thinking that teenagers have sex to obtain a house, but it is also putting the burden of any subsequent children on the teenage mother. Not the father. Now I don’t have any kids, but last time I checked it takes two people to make a baby. One reader commented in the Independent this morning that “instead of coming down so heavily on unmarried mothers, isn’t it about time the Government started to focus on young dads?” Or, instead of ‘coming down’ on anyone, how about acknowledging that the UK’s teen pregnancy rates are the lowest since records began?

So in a nutshell, here’s what I learned yesterday:
1. At a club hosting an international sporting tournament, women can watch golf but not play it
2. Looking pretty for your boyfriend at 7 am is not only desirable, but something you should spend money and time achieving
3. And lastly, teenage girls bear sole responsibility for having children, and should be punished accordingly.

Yay equality! Its work is clearly done.

In pursuit of equality

Watching grainy footage of the 1913 Epsom Derby today (where suffragette Emily Davison threw herself under the King’s horse) made me think about how attitudes towards women’s issues have changed over the last 100 years.

The right to vote is something so fundamentally just and reasonable, that from today’s vantage point the counter arguments seem absurd. I looked up some of the prominent opposers of women’s suffrage: they included Herbert Asquith (Prime Minister and supporter of Liberal reforms), and Winston Churchill, the ‘voice in the wilderness’ warning us of Hitler as early as 1934.

Churchill opposed suffrage on the basis that “women are well represented by their fathers, brothers, and husbands.” What this tells me is that people who are intelligent, astute, and morally well-disposed are capable of forming entirely flawed views of a woman’s place in the world. And that’s something that hasn’t changed.

This was brought home to me this week, when I decided to ramp up my involvement with feminism by actively engaging with non-feminists. You see, nice though it is to interact with fellow feminists – people who relate to the injustices that rankle in my soul – these aren’t the people you need to convince. The people you need to convince are the men and women out there who don’t think gender equality is an issue.

Gloves off: I’m going in
To this end, I got chatting to a friend and ex-colleague about gender equality. He is intelligent, in a good job, and personally I like him a lot. Yet we sat together in the pub, beers in hand, while he spoke about how women have already achieved workplace equality, and how as a well-educated white man, everyone else has a louder voice than him – especially women.

These comments unnerved me for two reasons. First of all, because they come from someone I know to be in all other respects well-informed and fair-minded. Secondly, because they’re based on perceptions rather than reality. My friend’s perception is that wage inequality no longer exists. The reality is that women earn an average gross full-time salary of £23,100 – £5,600 less than their male counterparts. For recent graduates, men earn more than women across all degree subject areas. In a scienctific study, research shows that male candidates were offered over average £4000 a year more – based on gender and no other factors.

His other perception (that he is marginalised and women’s voices take precedence), is I think based on a lack of awareness of the menace with which women’s voices are shouted down and dimmed when they do speak out. Which is what the rest of my post is about.

For some people, women having the audacity to publicly speak out about things they consider unjust provokes ire and outrage: they’re deemed to be stepping out from their proper sphere. A hundred years ago, suffragettes were sexually assaulted and had ‘their breasts twisted’ by London police in the infamous Black Friday campaign. They were smashing stuff up? Then arrest them and put them in jail. The threat and execution of sexual assault upon women who speak up is not something new, and more worryingly, it has not gone away.

“Shut up or I’ll hurt you”
Fast forward to today, and activists still endure sex-based threats on the heels of public speech. Two female students received a spate of rape threats (not one or two) after objecting to sexist comments made on their appearance by male Glasgow Uni students during a Cambridge-Glasgow university debate. And despite these comments, which undermined the whole debate by failing to treat the students as intellectual equals, Glasgow University  replied to a groundswell of complaints that there is ‘no case to answer’. This can’t be written off as merely the work of minority internet trolls. These are students at a good university, abetted by responsible adults, literally shouting down women in a debate who are trying to conduct themselves as equals. And it’s the same pattern: voice an opinion, get shouted down, then roll on the misogynistic abuse. In this case, the abuse went like this: “I scrolled through comment after comment discussing whether it would be preferable to rape me using a knife, or to keep me as a sex slave.”

That’s not what equality looks like.

The women I’ve profiled below (today’s feminists, arguably our answer to the Suffragettes) have all received significant threats of rape and assault, for speaking publicly about feminist issues. The men who make these threats aren’t attempting to challenge their opinions or engage in a discussion: they are effectively saying ”shut up or I’ll hurt you”.  And this is a society in which men’s voices are maginalised?

Who? Public action/statement Resulting violence/threats
‘Black Friday’ suffragettes Campaigned for women’s right to vote Sexual assaults
Laura Bates Created ‘Every Sexism’, an org and online space to share upsetting and sexist experiences Death and rape threats
Lucy Holmes Objected to page the Sun’s Page 3 Death and rape threats
Rebecca Meredith Objected to comments on appearance in intellectual debate Rape threats
Lindy West Objected to rape jokes Death and rape threats

To return to the view of my friend: I can’t accept claims that we live in an equal society, when instead of a rational debate, a woman voicing an opinion provokes threats of  sexual violation. If you fit the profile of my friend, you rarely encounter sexism firsthand. You don’t experience the undercurrent of sexual intimidation, the unconscious bias against female employees, the lack of pay equality. I don’t blame you for not being aware of these things – but just because you haven’t experienced them, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

equality

Why I just deactivated my Facebook account – #FBrape

I reckon Facebook annoys most of its users from time to time. The surreptitious changes to your privacy settings, the new timeline, the relentless push towards a ‘share everything’ mindset. Until this week, my own bugbear was the insistent promptings to add my favourite films and books every time I log in on a pc. Facebook had even come up with some helpful suggestions (Dirty Dancing and Twilight), making me wonder if they think I am, in fact, a 14-year old girl.

Until now I’ve put up with these irritations because I have friends, family and colleagues on Facebook, and I’m mildly nosy. I like to see what they’re up to. Granted, there is the odd boring picture (I don’t need to see your dinner!) that doesn’t improve the quality of my life, but generally it’s worth it.

Fail
Fail

Today I deactivated my Facebook account. The #FBrape campaign of the last week made me re-think Facebook – what it stands for, and whether or not I want it in my life.

On the plus side, Facebook has very carefully defined its own parameters of what it deems to be acceptable behaviour. There is a ‘like’ button, but no ‘dislike’ button, because Facebook is meant to be a positive, sociable place. And it ostensibly does “not permit hate speech based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition”.

So far, so good. Where Facebook falls down is its inability (or unwillingness) to actually enforce its own standards. In my Twitter feed this week I’ve come across a plethora of vile images that have been reported to Facebook, including: a female child with two black eyes, a woman tied up, gagged and crying, and various pictures of girls who look unconscious, covered in blood. Facebook’s sanctimonious response has been a refusal to remove most of this content, because it is classified as ‘humour’.

One of the pages was apparently called ‘fly kicking sluts in the uterus’. I wonder if it would have been taken down if it was called ‘fly kicking pakis in the face’? I suspect it would have been – because racist content is rightly removed from Facebook as soon as it reported, which is where the raging inconsistency comes in. Race and gender are covered by the same clause in Facebook’s own standards – so either both racist and misogynistic content is not OK, or both are considered humour and tolerated. You can’t apply one rule for one and not the other.

Then there’s their other piece of inconsistent, anti-female behaviour: routinely removing pictures of women who’ve had mastectomies. You can’t share a picture of a woman who has bravely overcome breast cancer (because that’s offensive) but you can share a picture of gagged, crying rape victim (because that’s funny). To me, this just speaks volumes for the contemptuous view the company has of women.

To date, Facebook has yet to respond to the open letter, signed by 40 organisations, calling for hate speech against women to be recognised and moderated. They must assume that users are so hooked on their daily Facebook fix that they’ll overlook a small matter like gender-inspired hate speech.

I know that as only one person, deactivating my account will be a non-event for Facebook. But I want to make the gesture anyway – because I refuse to be part of a network that routinely trivialises violence against women.

FB

The peepshow women’s toilet that’s ‘a bit of fun’

A better toilet experience than The Shimmy?
A better toilet experience than The Shimmy?

When I think of revolting Scottish toilets, the first two images that pop into my head are Ewan McGregor doing his toilet dive in Trainspotting, and the typically minging festival toilets at T in the Park. But this week another contender emerged to vie for the crown of Most Ghastly Toilet experience: Glaswegian nightclub The Shimmy.

Here’s why: The Shimmy’s owners have installed a two-way mirror in the women’s toilets, allowing a select group of people (sitting in £800 private booths) to watch women. In the toilets. You know, that place you go when you’re looking for privacy.

When the fact hit the media this week, you might think the club would be embarrassed at invading women’s privacy, or ashamed of the notion that elite, wealthy guests get to pay extra to perv on ordinary, unsuspecting women. But no. The Shimmy’s response was so uppity and defensive that I just had to share it.

They start off by snootily saying: “it’s clear that those who are negatively commenting online may not have been lucky enough to get past the door staff and viewed the area”.

Damn, you got me there. I do feel downcast that I’m not ‘lucky enough’ to have spent time in a club where a bunch of random strangers are watching me without my knowledge. Oh, and clearly I can’t have a valid criticism of your creepy voyeuristic toilet because I haven’t actually seen it. Guess what though? I haven’t actually seen Guantanamo Bay either, but I disapprove of it too. Something doesn’t need to be directly in front of my retinas for my opinion to be valid. You arrogant pricks.

Next off:

The sight line is very limited and allows for glimpses into the wash up area only of the ladies loos”.

How considerate of you – so the people in these private booths can’t see me actually defecate. How comforting.

“Interestingly, you can see into a similar area of both the ladies and gents from the street at Corinthian Club and no-one has ever said a word”.

That’s right people! There’s another club in Glasgow being equally creepy, because they have these awful things called….windows. I’m now wondering how stupid the people at The Shimmy really are, if they can’t see the difference between people paying up to £800 for the privilege of peering into the women’s bogs, and panes of glass that let light in. They miss another significant point here: these evil glass-panes the Corinthian has are in both the male and female toilets. The Shimmy’s custom-made perv-mirror is only in the women’s toilets – not the men’s.

“There has always been signage in the toilets which no-one has mentioned thus far”

Translated as “we tell women they’re being spied upon – we just wait til they’ve paid the entry fee and are in the toilet”. How magnanimous of you. What you have actually done is put a sticker on the mirror, one that apparently wasn’t evident to some of your clientele. Also, poor you, having the media report on your perv-mirror without stressing this fact. One bright spot – after all this negative publicity, there’s unlikely to be a girl in Glasgow left who hasn’t heard about it.

You would think that’s more than enough arrogant chat from one company in one Facebook post, but they’re not done:

“loads of you have used the opportunity as it was intended and knowingly had pictures taken acting up to the camera individually or in a group of friends”.

Let me get this straight. You installed this mirror as an opportunity for women to ‘act up’ to groups of unknown strangers? Last I heard, that’s called a peepshow, and women generally get paid for participating. They don’t pay for the privelege. Do you seriously expect girls to fork out £10, or whatever your sleazy club charges as an entry fee, to then act as entertainment for your wealthiest clientele? Can’t you just hire a decent DJ like everyone else?

Their charming post ends by telling us that there are vibrators embedded in the dance floor. I assume this is Stage 2 in their plan to get their female guests to act as entertainment for the guys. They’ve also edited their post since I first read it earlier in the week, when they claimed that their creepy mirror set-up is ‘not sexist’. It seems even they are willing to concede that one. They’re standing by their comment that it’s a ‘bit of fun’ though.

This whole set-up is a huge invasion of women’s privacy. And the club’s cynical encouragement of women to pout and ‘act up’, is just a blatant way of lining their own pockets at the expense of the female clientele. More insidiously, it reinforces the view that women are playthings and toys of men.

I used to live in Glasgow, and I’m actually going out there in a couple of weeks. Think I’ll head to the Corinthian and check out these infamous windows it has. I would genuinely rather use the fabled Trainspotting toilet than be part of a peepshow at The Shimmy.