This post by sexologist Jill McDeviitt is quite astonishing. It chronicles her rage at being sent an entirely inappropriate e-mail by a man she had never met, and his subsequent approach to her parents when she threatened to publish the e-mail on her blog.
It is yet another story of how men send women inappropriate, disgusting and/or downright illegal messages over the Internet – an issue that we have been discussing all week.
The part of McDevitt’s post that I found particularly revelatory is when she describes how her parents behaved, when the man contacted them (he was the husband of someone who worked with Jill’s step-mother):
I’m left to marvel not just at your individual misogyny, but also the infantilizing sexism that exists in the back corners and in the cobwebs of the brains of everyone involved.
Receiving a repugnant email from you, a strange man, is bad enough. But what makes this case so compelling is how you were able to entangle my normally feminist and self-aware family, illuminating just how deep tolerance of predatory men goes in our society.
First things first: The idea of a monarchy is inherently inequitable. It institutionalises privilege and injects unelected, inherited power into the heart of our political system.
But at least its not sexist, right?! Section 1 of the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 finally eriadicated the preposterous rule that gave male children of the monarch priority over the female children (this blog demanded cognatic (equal) primogeniture back in 2006). So we should be fit for purpose, yeah?
Wrong. A crucial bit of sexism remains, and it is this:
- When the reigning monarch is male, he is called ‘King’ and his consort is called ‘Queen’.
- When the reigning monarch is female, she is called ‘Queen’ and her consort is called Prince.1
Why the discrepancy? Well, because a ‘King’ is greater than a ‘Queen’! There is obviously no practical reason for this inequality. It is just that our culture is sexist. The problem runs deep: Think of how a King is worth more than a Queen in card games.
- If we’re going to stick with a hereditary monarchy, then future male consorts of reigning Queens should be called ‘King consort’.
- You know how we change the official wording of things when its a Queen and not a King (for e.g. Queen’s Counsel; God Save the Queen)? British people should make the same changes when it comes to card games. ‘British Rules’ poker and bridge should see the four Queen cards trump the four King cards, when the monarch happens to be a woman.
1. In reverse chronological order: Prince Philip is married to Queen Elizabeth II Prince Albert was married to Queen Victoria, and Prince George was married to Queen Anne. Both Queen Marys were married to people who were reigning Kings, and Queen Elizabeth I never married. Empress Matilda was never called Queen herself.
Here’s an audio recording of my remarks at the ORGcon panel ‘The right to be offensive: free speech online’.
I saw this event as an opportunity to develop the discussion on offence and free speech that I had at the Liberty AGM panel last month. There, the discussion about offensive words centred around ideas of blasphemy and obscenity, and the conclusion seemed to be ‘people need to have thicker skins.’ When it comes to the criticism and satire of religion or public figures, I agree with this sentiment. But it is a weak and incomplete response to the hate speech and bullying. An article by Helen Lewis at the New Statesman was fresh in my mind – a nasty culture of rape threats and racism seems to be evolving, and it is driving people offline. This is also a free expression issue.
So free speech advocates are faced with a challenge. If we campaign to esnure that offensive comments are legal and permitted in public and quasi-public fora like Twitter and Facebook, what do we do about the hate speech? What do we do about the racist and sexist comments that discourage minority voices from participating in the discussion? To expect these people to get a thicker skin and just shrug it off is a privileged attitude that prioritises the free speech of one group over another.
Human rights campaigners must come up with a solution that addresses hateful comments, but without recourse to law. There may be technical solutions or behavioural remedies we can use to discourage the rape-threats and the sexism and the racism. If liberal defenders of a free internet to do not address this problem, then populist politicians will seize the initiative and burden us with authoritarian speech laws.
Is online vigilantism the answer? Can we not use our own right to free speech to shame the people posting the ugly comments? Fellow pannellist David Allen Green was wary of ‘Twitter storms’, saying that they often result in someone in the storm calling the police. He said that are unfocused and has previously likened them to an Orwellian Two-Minute Hate. But perhaps a more surgical form of online counter-speech is the answer? What would that look like, I wonder?
Many of the people who attacked the author Hilary Mantel on Twitter yesterday made derogatory remarks about her appearance. This was unwittingly ironic, given that Mantel’s speech to the London Review of Books concerned the objectification of women, and our media’s obsession with looks.
If we believe in free speech, then insult becomes unavoidable. But that does not mean that objectification and misogyny should go unchallenged. I felt it was particularly important to challenge people’s language in this case, because Mantel’s speech dealt directly with the problem of sexism in the media. I spent some time yesterday evening collecting examples, which I made into a Storify.
My conclusions? The recent phone hacking scandal and the subsequent Leveson Inquiry has given us an opportunity to scrutinise the press. The conclusion is usually that the media is shallow and nasty. However, I think these tweets, from ordinary members of the public, suggest that society can also be spiteful and sexist. Why blame the press, when they reflect the public?
Occasionally, this website forgets it is a blog and descends into sheer self-promotion. Not so today, when we share a couple of pieces posted elsewhere on the sensitive issue of so-called ‘Date Rape’ (the qualifying prefix to which is actually superfluous).
Two things have sparked another collective conversation over this issue. The first is the ill-advised, point-missing defences of Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, who is wanted for questioning in Sweden on sexual assault charges. The second is the wilfully ignorant remark by US Congressman Todd Akin (R-MO), that a victim of ‘legitimate rape’ rarely gets pregnant.
In response, two women have bravely written personal testimonies about how they were forced to have sex without their consent, and the feelings of confusion and shame that followed the ordeal. Both articles are accompanied by the phrase ‘Trigger Warning‘ (which I confess I had not encountered before). Continue reading
Good news from the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference in Perth – the Royal succession rules will be changed to end the male primogeniture rule.
Not before time. I’ve argued previously, on several occasions, that the existing law enshrined sexism at the heart of our constitution. In my opinion, this has been settled consensus since women were given the right to vote in the 1920s.
Sadly, in many other countries and cultures, the “we wish you were not a girl” sentiment still persists. The Japanese system does not allow women to ascend to the throne at all and elective abortions of female foetuses have skewed the gender balance in India.
I was in the Royal College of Surgeons for a conference the other day, and wandered past this vast canvas.
It is one of a number of paintings hanging around the place, depicting various committees and groups of Fellows of the Royal College. The other pictures depict small groups of people in natural looking poses. The result is a convincing ‘action shot’ of the Great and the Good, and they look quite dignified. This one, however, is clearly a composite of dozens of individual portraits, and the inaccuracies of scale and sightlines make for a slightly disconcerting effect. It was surely conceived as a pacifier to satisfy the members of some bloated committee.
Most bizarre is the inclusion of a tea-lady, centre-right. She has a neat plait, and her head turned shyly away from the viewer. Even so, she towers above the Fellows she is serving, and is by far the most compelling figure in the image.