There has been much media coverage of violence against women and misogyny in the UK press of late. All to the good, prompting hopes that at last a backlash is underway against the unequal treatment of women. I’ve posed the question several times: what can we do?
My answer to that is call out sexism whenever we see it, whatever gender we are. If we stay quiet every time women are demeaned or discriminated against in our presence, we fuel the flames. In a country such as ours where sexism is so institutionalised, many of us fail to recognise it; which means we fail to recognise the insidious and confidence shattering effect it has on us, on our young women and girls, and the subtle ‘women are not as good’ message it sends men and boys.
Let me give you an example from one of the UK’s quality, broadsheet papers, The Observer.
The Observer published a story about the Australian writer and broadcaster, Clive James. James is a popular and loved figure in British culture; his much publicised illness has prompted a plethora of articles and peons of praise. The Observer article was no different and clearly the writer, Robert McCrum, associate editor of The Observer, is a fan. Here’s the extract which made me suck my teeth:
His health has been so bad, he has to deny rumours of his imminent demise. His marriage has been on, and off, the rocks, after the disclosure of his long affair with a bottle-blonde Australian model. On Saturday, he spoke movingly about his wife and daughters, as if to scotch any rumours.
Did you spot it? The author clearly rates Clive James highly and writes he has been having a long time affair with another woman, and the affair was relevant to the piece I agree. You’d have to imagine consent then on both sides, yet the author in his praise of James seems keen to downplay his part in his casual use of the phrase ‘bottle-blonde’ is damning. What matters it one jot what colour her hair is? Would it have been more acceptable if she were a natural blonde, or brunette, or bald, for heaven’s sake! For a long time blonde has been a synonym for not very bright, and getting it from a bottle? How common! And how easy to trot out that phrase to plant the idea of ‘unworthy’ in our minds. To label her in this way is sexist and demeaning, albeit a minor infraction. I agree, there is far worse in the world happening for us to get angry about.
But that is my point. These hidden examples of sexism which we all indulge in from time to time, are all part of the larger problem. We need to watch ourselves. And we need to call it when we see it.
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Posted on June 4th, 2014 by Jane