This week I’m angry, and for good reason. It’s been a bit of a rubbish week for global feminism if we’re honest. With a hyperbolic and contentious US election that seemed to turn into a fight between a couple of kids rather than any sort of political debate, one thing came through that everyone can agree on:
We have no idea how to talk about women.
Whether it’s Donald Trump’s reviled comments about how he couldn’t possibly have assaulted those women because they weren’t attractive enough to bother, or Hillary Clinton being told that she’s ‘shrill’ when she raises her voice, the US media has resoundingly proven that it doesn’t know what to do with itself when there’s a woman demanding respect and power. And this election has only really acted as a case study in sexism; nothing that’s been said hasn’t been said to women somewhere before.
As baffled as most of us in the UK at least seem to be by how America could vote in anyone who champions such hatred (my answer: polls are useless, people like strong leaders, Hillary wasn’t strong enough, people aren’t intrinsically liberal like most of your Facebook feed), I reckon that deep down we’re not really surprised that such casual and entrenched sexism is carried on as the norm in public discourse.
You can see it everywhere. Particularly if you, like me, have sod all else to do of a Saturday afternoon other than scroll through Facebook comments. If you go anywhere near the comments on female athletes’ photos you will rapidly be reduced to screaming into the existential void something along the lines of ‘DO THESE MEN NOT REALISE OTHER PEOPLE CAN READ THEIR COMMENTS?!’
Sadly, the answer is probably that they do know their comments can be read, but they simply don’t care how awful they are. It’s not even the overtly sexist ‘girls can’t do sport’-type comments that get me, but the creepy, predatory ones that are so much more normal that you can hear them coming up in normal conversation. Particular highlights from today’s scrolling were some of the comments on Laura Trott’s photoshoot for The Times. Laura Kenny OBE (nee Trott) of course being the most successful female track cyclist in history, winning four gold medals at the last two Olympics and amassing a total of 29 medals from various championships. Among the genuinely positive comments that give me hope (‘Both good role models for young child and have had a great year showing you don’t need to cheat to win’) there are a veritable tonne of creepy, completely unnecessary comments (all from men and all verbatim) that every woman has heard before and grimaced her way through:
‘Just wish you weren’t married! Yum!’
‘Dear Santa, I know what I want for Christmas…I’ve been ever so good (mostly)…’
‘Think I am becoming a thigh man now!!’
‘I won’t sleep tonight now!! Lol!!’
For the record, she can pull off thigh high boots and hot pants like no one else, but that isn’t my point.
What has scared me most in the last few weeks is how utterly unremarkable comments like this are. Naturally men have the right to say things like this about women – it’s just locker room talk, it’s just the way things are, boys will be boys. Never mind the fact that it completely reduces women to their physical attributes, or that it makes them unbelievably uncomfortable. What sort of woman wouldn’t want to have her bum grabbed by a bloke? It says that you look pretty!
It happened in the Olympics – Fox News bravely broke down boundaries and questioned whether female athletes should wear makeup for medal ceremonies (answer: if they want to and have time, then sure), local radio presenters asked teenage Olympic swimmers why they didn’t show up to the studio in their swimming costume – and it happens every day in normalised interactions between respectable people. Bridget Jones’ creepy Uncle Geoffrey is painfully funny because it’s true – blokes finding an excuse to leer, for that is the only word, at women is so often brushed off as just what happens, rather than an actual issue that can, and should, be addressed.
It’s worth saying here that it’s absolutely not all men (hashtag relatable?). Whether through luck, social environment, or the fact that momma didn’t raise no fool and taught me not to hang around creepy guys, I am fortunate that the men I call my friends and interact are generally not creepy arseholes and, when they are, my friends and I don’t suffer their bullshit gladly. And nor should any other woman.
It is, quite frankly, appalling that 70% of girls say that sexism is so widespread it affects most of their daily lives, and that 57% of 17-21 year olds are ashamed of how they look. Ashamed. Not unhappy, not they reckon they could look better, but actively made to feel bad about their appearance. 40% of under 10s think that they should lose weight. When I was 10 my main concern was whether Dumbledore died (he did), not if I was unattractive to men.
If the combination of statistics like that and the language around the car crash that was the 2016 US election don’t make you angry then we can’t be friends. If the lack of shame that men on the internet seem to feel about openly and gratuitously ogling phenomenal athletes doesn’t make you at least a little uncomfortable, then we’re not on the same page. If you can’t see the problem with our continued cultural acceptance of sexism, both casual and active, then you need to get your head out of your arse and start listening to us nasty women. We’re not hysterical, we’re not over emotional: we’re finally standing up for ourselves.