A Pox on the Patriarchy
Today I woke up to a rape threat and a stream of abuse. The account that sent it is long gone, but the impact remains. A day in which I had planned to get so much done has become a day where I feel overwhelmed, exhausted, defeated. And I don’t know any woman who’s made any mark on public life who doesn’t have to go through this – many of whom give up as a result. Because we ask too much of our women in public life. It’s too much to ask them to be role models, to stand up for what they believe in, to expect them to be automatons who can just put up with a daily grind of sexual violence and just let it roll off their backs like the proverbial water on ducks.
I went to a meeting this morning, not long after reading the tweets, on the topic of women’s representation in the media and its impact on young girls. It should, maybe even could have been a positive meeting – I perhaps could have felt that at least we are talking about such an important topic. But as I sat in the room with some amazing women, all sharing their thoughts on what should change, what the dangers and difficulties were, I didn’t feel hopeful. I felt hopeless – in fact, as each woman made a new point, highlighted a new area where women were being let down, belittled, shut down, misrepresented, underrepresented, stereotyped, maligned, it was as much as I could do not to cry.
Our culture is so imbued with sexism. It’s everywhere, everywhere you look, from the media, to the education system, to the police, to parliament. Everywhere, decisions are being made, from the news we report, to the Bills we have voted in on our behalf, to what our children are being taught at school, to the benefit of white men, and to the detriment of everyone else. And no-one really has the will to change it. Because it’s just too hard. It would require too much effort, too much redirection of priorities, too much of a shift of where we put our money. We pay lip-service to the idea of change, but no-one really has the stomach for it. So we meander on, with a campaign here, a campaign there. And we work so damn hard at them. And sometimes we even win. But it’s such a small drop in such a sick ocean. Where are we even meant to start?
We have a history curriculum dominated by celebrating the achievements of white men – even where those achievements had a dramatically negative impact on other groups. We have a literature curriculum dominated by white male writers. We have a government that repeatedly refuses to contemplate the introduction of statutory Sex and Relationships Education. And meanwhile children as young as eight – maybe younger – get their sex education from porn, which in its current state overwhelmingly teaches young girls that it’s their role in sex to be demeaned, to put up, shut up, and suffer ritual humiliation and often traumatic pain with a smile on their face and grateful groan in their throat.
We have a media that repeatedly pushes the idea that women are there for decoration and nothing else. This isn’t just about the proliferation of images of half-naked women with compliant smiles, there for whatever fantasy we wish to impose upon them. It’s about the marked lack of women anywhere else. Where are the women experts? Where are the women journalists, the women editors, the women photographers, the women presenters – particularly past a certain age? You know, that age when they stop being of service for fantasies. Because of course no woman over 50 has ever had sex.
We have a criminal justice system that calls thirteen year old girls sexual predators and lets a 41 year old man off with an eight month suspended sentence because, essentially, she was asking for it. We have a judiciary dominated by white men – all the way up to the Lord Chief Justice. We have a UN international law article (20.2) on hate speech that doesn’t include gender as a discriminatory factor. We have a police service that allows two women every week to die from domestic violence – women who are known to them, but who are deemed not to be at immediate risk, because…actually I don’t know why. But judging by the initial response to my case, and by the response I know other women have faced when reporting similar levels of threats and harassment, likely because of a lack of understanding about the impact of such speech, and its potential to lead to further, potentially fatal, violence.
This society we live in is sick. It’s filled with injustice – and unsurprisingly, hatred. And again, we act surprised when that hatred spills out into violent speech and acts against oppressed groups. We wring our hands about what we’re doing to punish it – but we lack the will to address what we do to create it. In the words of the ultimate Daily Mail reader’s letter, I’m sick of it all. I’m sick of the lies, the pretence at caring, the lip-service, the tiny drops in the ocean that come at the expense of rape threats and burn-out. Frankly, the revolution can’t come quick enough.