This has been a week where female politicians have argued that the current government is effectively sidelining them by removing them from prominent roles. Sally Morgan, on being removed as head of Ofsted, pointed out that she was the fourth woman to be ousted as the head of a public body in favour of a man.
At the same time we are witnessing high profile males being acquitted of sex crimes almost on a weekly basis. Men whose behaviour is questionable at best and who seem to arrogantly believe that women exist for their own entertainment. It’s perhaps the comments I have heard from both men and women in regards to these cases that has made me despair the most. It seems that we have reverted back to the general viewpoint that women bring rape and sexual assault upon themselves by their behaviour and/or appearance.
I had the misfortune of being at a party this weekend where the fate of a convicted rapist footballer was being discussed. Several men argued that the victim had asked for it by being so inebriated that she had no way of knowing where she was or what she was doing and, as a footballer, he was an easy target – for what I’m not sure, maybe women objecting to being raped? As the only sober person present, my incandescent outrage was completely ignored as the men in question continued to peddle their misogynistic nonsense. Incidentally, it did make me realise why people drink – wits definitely need to be dulled in order to survive social interaction as sharp sensibilities just make you want to kill people.
This experience was the icing on the cake after spending all of January watching Celebrity Big Brother and feeling my blood pressure spike on a nightly basis. When Jim Davidson, a man whose entire career was built on sexism and racism, was declared the nation’s favourite, I seriously contemplated emigrating to Outer Mongolia or Alaska. I had followed bug eyed as he verbally abused women, groped them and made unsavoury comments like the one he made to a young glamour model, stating that he wished she was his daughter so that he could bath her. In fact, the young woman in question was young enough to be his granddaughter.
What horrified me most about this state of affairs is that the people who actively participate in reality television by voting are predominantly women, which means that Davidson the misogynist was supported in his defilement of women by other women. This was borne out when the mothers of two young women were allowed briefly into the big brother house. One was the mother of the aforementioned glamour model, who thanked Jim for looking after her daughter; one can only assume by leering at her and making sexist comments about her. The other was a young woman who had been sworn at and verbally attacked by Davidson. Admittedly, she gave as good as she got but what kind of sixty year old man gets into such undignified slanging matches with a twenty five year old woman? This young woman’s mother, however, was even more astonishing than the first as, instead of giving him short shrift for the many insults he had directed at her daughter, she embraced him and told him that she loved him.
It all started to feel like something out of the 1970s, when my aunt worked as a waitress in a variety club, where lots of the men now associated with sexual misconduct would perform. For decades my aunt has appalled us with stories of celebrities who molested and abused young women. If any of the women complained to the management they were summarily dismissed as trouble causers. Women soon got the message that if they wanted to keep their jobs they must also keep their mouths shut. In a climate where it seems like sex crimes against women are not taken seriously (in just the past few weeks it has been reported that three women, whose allegations of rape were dismissed by a jury, have subsequently taken their own lives) is it any wonder that many women don’t even bother to report incidents of rape, choosing instead to shoulder the burden of blame themselves?
As a student in the early 1980s, I supplemented my grant by spending one of the long summer holidays working in a casino. It was a grubby, low end casino where sexism was rife. I was a waitress and my uniform consisted of a short skirt and skimpy top. The bosses were all men who saw women as nothing more than a pair of legs and boobs. The customers were also mostly men, many of whom thought their membership to the club allowed them to grope any young woman who got within arm’s length. Those of us who were green behind the ears would huddle in the kitchen, terrified to serve the tricky customers but, the more seasoned waitresses would happily protect us by taking over and disempowering the perverts using both humour and disdain. It was women looking out for women and, in a world that was far removed from the sanitised bubble of university, it felt like sisterhood.
What’s changed then? Why is it so often women who are judging other women? I suspect part of the problem are the mixed messages that have for a long time been sold to young men and women. The onset of so-called “girl power” promoted the idea that power equated to volume and brashness. The “feisty” girl became the yardstick by which young women measured themselves. Feisty girls like The Spice Girls, who I assume didn’t have a brain between them given that it was Simon Fuller, the man who put them together and managed them, who got the lion’s share of the money out of the concept of “girl power”. The five young women, we can only guess, didn’t do that well out of it judging from the fact that, apart from the one who married well, the others continue to tout their wares on the reality show circuit.
As women have become increasingly brash, emulating the testosterone fuelled bad behaviour previously associated with young men, I suppose it is inevitable that the lines between what is and isn’t acceptable have become blurred. As young women look to role models who drink until they drop and confuse promiscuity with liberation, is it any wonder that men see them as fair game. Men like William Roache, a self confessed “naughty boy” with no control over his sexual urges, who this week was cleared of rape but admits to having slept with thousands of women. Meanwhile women have been persuaded that sexism is just a bit of fun and anybody who tries to assert otherwise is a “miserable, bitter old bitch” as Jim Davidson so eloquently put it.