How Women Are Covered

Last month I suggested that the satirical focus on Philip May’s wardrobe was because of the social media backlash against sexist media reports.

Sports reporting is particularly bad in this regard and the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro has thrown up some ur-examples, so its only right that we call them out. Continue reading “How Women Are Covered”

Fashionista Philip: The Sartorial Choices of Mr May

Our constant call-outs of sexism in the media are slowly having an effect

Societal progress moves at a glacial pace. Sexism didn’t go away when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister and it’s still with us even though Teresa May now occupies Number 10 Downing Street.

Still, it’s interesting (to me, at least) to watch our societal attitudes change, even at the quantum level.  In fact, I think it is particularly worthwhile to note the most granular changes in our discourse: in this case, how we talk about women and men.

Many people have shared this article by Nicole Morely in the Metro: ‘Theresa May’s husband steals the show in sexy navy suit as he starts new life as First Man‘.

Continue reading “Fashionista Philip: The Sartorial Choices of Mr May”

How Margaret Thatcher Hacked My Brain And Made Me Slightly Less Sexist

“My nephew Luke has no memory of a white male president” says Melissa Ryan.  “Hillary Clinton just made history but for millions of children she won’t be the first woman president. She’ll just be the president.”

This is exactly right, I responded.

I was born right before Margaret Thatcher became the British Prime Minister and she remained so until I was nearly 11 years old. In my head, the word ‘Prime Minister’ was inherently gendered female and whenever, in fiction or historical context, the Prime Minister was referred to with the male pronouns he/him, it felt odd. Continue reading “How Margaret Thatcher Hacked My Brain And Made Me Slightly Less Sexist”

Patronising Pa’s Parenting Prolongs the Patriarchy

A father can replicate a mother’s ‘instinct’ for what the kid needs, if only he is given enough time to get to know his children. If doing that makes him feel awkward or out-of-place then he needs to get over himself and his destructive, archaic idea of masculinity.

Every Friday I take some or all of my kids to a playgroup at the local church hall. It is run by a group of wonderful women, all retirees, and they charge a paltry £1 per family. Since I bring more children than most to the group, I always feel like I am gaming the system or abusing their goodwill. But no, they say, it’s a straight £1 no matter how many kids you bring. For that I also get a cup of tea plus juice and biscuits for the kids.

The group is advertised as a ‘Mother and Child Playgroup’. But I’m a father. Continue reading “Patronising Pa’s Parenting Prolongs the Patriarchy”

You’re not going out dressed like that!

What else could a parent say to their daughter, this Saturday evening? Or is it simply none of their business?

this-girl-took-us-to-churchOn social media, a friend shares the above exchange, on the subject of sexual assault and the clothes women wear.  The responses to the guy who compares women’s bodies to a bank vault are as good a refutation of this line of thinking as any you will see. (h/t Noodlemaz, and here’s a link to the conversation on Tumblr if you want to reblog it.)

There was more debate in the comments to this image.  One person (again, a man) said that refraining from dressing in a provocative manner was just being “realistic” about human nature. He seemed not to have considered the idea that, as thinking beings, a man who forces himself on a woman is not succumbing to human nature, just accepting without question the worst messages of our sexist culture.

This is a blinkered outlook.  There is nothing to say that our society cannot be changed and made better.  Whenever anyone resorts to the idea that something is “human nature” we must remind them that this observation is unlikely to be correct… And even if it were, that should be the start of the conversation, not the end of it. Continue reading “You’re not going out dressed like that!”

#KillAllWhiteMen? You must be joking

My white male privilege is such that when someone tweets #KillAllWhiteMen, I assume is a joke.

Bahar Mustafa, the welfare and diversity officer at Goldsmiths, is facing a petition for her removal after she allegedly used hate speech on social media.  Apparently she used the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen.  Critics say this is inciting violence:  “Too befuddled by theory to know that killing is wrong“.

Obviously, someone elected to a position of authority and responsibility should be more diplomatic in their use of language so its probably right that she should be asked to step down.  But the story is a useful way to restate a point about ‘white privilege’ and ‘male privilege’ that I touched on a while back when Diane Abbott was accused of racism.

Its this: My white male privilege is such that when someone tweets #KillAllWhiteMen, I assume is a joke.  I read the hashtag and my natural reaction is that she’s indulging in hyperbole.  Banter. I get to make that assumption because I don’t live in a society that demeans or belittles me because of my race or gender.  Nothing in the mainstream culture or media undermines me or makes me insecure because of my phenotype or chromosomes.

Black people do not get to make that assumption.

Women do not get to make that assumption.

LGBTQ people do not get to make that assumption.

When any of these people see comparable hashtags (posted, usually, by white men) the threat feels real, and their outrage in response to such message is real and justified.  Conversely, when there is an angry backlash against people like Mustafa on petition sites and newspapers like The Daily Mail, the outrage seems (to my mind) quite false: a mask donned in order to better fight the culture war.

None of this is to defend Bahar Mustafa or to suggest that routinely posting antagonistic messages is admirable.  Rather, its just to point out that context is important.  While laws should be blind to race, gender and sexuality, our society and the interactions within it are not.  Words that bite in one context may be toothless in another.

Indeed, changing contexts mean there will be situations where white men would indeed feel menanced by a hashtag.  For example, if it were tweeted in Paris on 7th January, right after the Charlie Hebdo murders, messages like #KillAllWhiteMen would take on on a whole new meaning, and I’d think again.

How we wake up to the misogyny in our midst

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.

Continue reading “How we wake up to the misogyny in our midst”

By the way, the Monarchy is still sexist

If we’re going to stick with a hereditary monarchy, then future male consorts of reigning Queens should be called ‘King consort’.

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.

My prescriptions:

  1. If we’re going to stick with a hereditary monarchy, then future male consorts of reigning Queens should be called ‘King consort’.
  2. 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.

Check your privilege: Whose free speech is it anyway?

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.

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?

Why blame the press for sexism in our society?

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?