How Can We Stop Sexism Without Demeaning Young Men?

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I finally got around to watching the BBC show Blurred Lines on sexist attitudes in Britain today. It made for depressing viewing. Kirsty Wark has made a documentary about attitudes towards women in 2014 and frankly I was shocked.

I didn’t expect to be; I thought I pretty much had a handle on what went on but there were elements of that programme that shocked and saddened me.

What shocked me most was a Grand Theft Auto Game where points were gained from beating the living daylights out of women. The graphics were appallingly realistic and almost made me throw up. Apparently there is the option to beat everyone up but…

I’ve tweeted about it and among the many comments were a few saying why are you just focussing on women? I understand the point but I focus on women because the evidence is overwhelming that women are severely disadvantaged by this wave of sexism and misogyny. Of course, I accept that this has a negative effect on men, too. When Kirsty Wark asked young people where they get their information about sex from the overwhelming answer was porn. And it’s never been easier for young people to access porn.  Porn sites are hardly bastions of equality and respect.

There is a danger that our protests make men and boys feel demonised which is not helpful to addressing the situation. As Kirsty Wark said: ‘I feel so sorry for the young men and boys’.

I have a son and a husband, both feminists, and I don’t want them, or any men to be alienated from this discussion. It is something we all need to address, but how? It was my question to Kirsty Wark on twitter, “@KirstyWark Will you be making a follow up? How we can begin to change things perhaps? #BlurredLines. Not sure how you kept it together“. She retweeted it so I am hopeful that there may be a follow up programme with some serious discussion about where we go from here.

There has, of course, already been much debate and comment on the programme, from all sides of the argument; Alison Phipps wrote a brilliant article about it in The New Statesman which you can read here.

If we don’t tackle this problem we are in danger of subduing a whole generation of women; who will dare to speak up when vilified and attacked in the hateful way that women are (look at what happened to Mary Beard). Yes, I know men in the public eye are also given a ‘good going over’ and we should ‘Man Up’  as advised by the male journalist Rod Liddle, (cheers for that, Rod), but the abuse women receive is very different. You don’t hear men vilified for the way they look, be threatened with rape and violence for espousing views others don’t agree with. Just imagine if Nigel Farage was a woman. He’d have more than eggs to contend with. And being seen drinking in a pub? I can hear the ‘you slut‘ accusations already. (I’m in no way of supporter of Farage but he is a good example of how men are treated compared to women).

So, and this is a genuine question, what can we do? The programme raised many questions but in the space of an hour, obviously no answers. This needs serious and urgent debate. What can we do to counteract this rising culture of sexism and misogyny?

One suggestion I have is is to share the film below.

I’d really like to hear what you think so please share your views. You can comment below on the blog, or via Twitter, or use my contact page. Let’s actually do something!

P.S. This year we have just one RenewYou licensing event taking place in London, next month. There are a few places available so if you’re a great trainer with experience of women’s personal development, take a look. Simply click this link to find out more.

Photo: Kirsty Wark in a still from ‘Blurred Lines’ courtesy of BBC.

Posted on May 26th, 2014 by

3 Responses to “How Can We Stop Sexism Without Demeaning Young Men?”

  1. Thanks very much Jane for continuing this discussion. There are no easy answers – because what we are talking about is shifting a culture of misogyny and violence towards women, rather than changing a few deviant individuals.

    It would probably help to intervene early – and we should support organisations such as the Sex Education Forum (http://www.sexeducationforum.org.uk), which campaigns for comprehensive sex education focusing on practical matters around pregnancy and sexual heath, the emotional, social and political aspects of sex, and which is inclusive and non-discriminatory.

    We also need more women in public life speaking out, and better ways to protect them from misogynistic reprisals, especially on social media. The petition to Twitter to improve its ‘report abuse’ function made a difference, but a lot more needs to be done and of course, we need to work towards a world where such abuse is completely unacceptable.

    I am not worried that men and boys will feel ‘demeaned’ – there are plenty of men and boys who are already gender-aware, and of those who aren’t, the good ones will be willing to listen while the rest would probably feel defensive no matter what. This last group are the ones perpetuating sexist attitudes and behaviours, who are unlikely to change – but we could potentially affect change amongst those who don’t necessarily participate but who might laugh along or remain silent.

    Nobody is saying all men are misogynists or rapists – but we live in a sexist society and culture which can affect us all, if we let it. We need to educate our sons about this and encourage them to practice different values in their relationships with the girls and women in their lives. We also need to teach our daughters that they deserve better – and the resurgence of feminism among young women is a development I find very positive indeed. There are young feminist groups springing up within universities and without (UK Feminista chapters are an example of the latter). They need encouragement and support – emotional, financial, political and practical. Ask them what you can do.

    Hope this helps!

    • Jane says:

      Thanks Alison. I appreciate you taking the time to reply.

      Yes, we do live in a sexist society and one of my biggest concerns is that I talk to many women, let alone the men, who don’t see it a much as of a problem and in the nicest possible way suggest that I should ‘get over’ myself. Obvious misogyny is easy to call but it’s the ‘hidden’ stuff that is so insidious. I’ve worked for someone who thought he was very fair minded, indeed had made something of a career out of it, yet treated most of the women in his management structure in a kindly, paternalistic style. Women who spoke out were subtly punished (I speak from experience) and I suspect to this day he would see himself as a real egalitarian and even describe himself as a feminist.

      It is extraordinarily heartening to see feminism once again being openly discussed, yet only this morning I was talking to a very intelligent woman who having told me how much she enjoyed my blogs went on to describe them as a bit feminist though. A bit feminist? What an insult! Totally feminist, yet once again there was that slight reluctance to identify herself as a feminist.

      Maybe it’s more generational. I am 58 and I cannot believe that we are fighting the same battles I fought in my youth; in fact, in many ways it’s so much worse. People think legislation sorted it all but as Beatrix Campbell points out in her book, the legislation is flawed. Yet still I put my faith in it. I think we need mandatory quotas for women on boards, in government etc. When people tell me it’s all so much better I ask them to name one country in the world where women enjoy equal rights and status with men:they can’t. That is a terrible indictment on all of us.

  2. Nicola says:

    I’m sorry to say this, but I think men will feel isolated from this. It didn’t seem to me to mention the problems they face an equal amount to women. I wish I felt it did, in which case I think it could seem like it was helping everyone to talk about issues of sexism.

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