I’ve been a bit quiet of late, and that’s primarily because I’m engaging with a bit of online debate on various forums; most of which is to do with the casual sexism that is so rife in everything we see, hear and do in the United Kingdom.
I thought I’d write myself a pocket guide to dealing with misogyny, and hope that it allows me to let off enough steam that I can stop engaging quite so much, because it’s frankly tiring and repetitive, and it makes me despair for what I am dealing with.
I would like to start by saying that I NEVER seek to to “make other people agree with me.” That is not my intent. Rather, I comment and debate on various threads, in order to engage and discuss issues that matter. I am happy to hear other sides, and am happy to put my viewpoint across. Too often, however, it descends into name calling and personal insults, and it is at that juncture, that I realise that the point is all but lost.
These are all examples of recent “debates” I have fallen into the trap of getting involved in.
1) On the Morrisons Facebook page, a reader posted a photograph of the toy aisle, in which boys and girls toys were separated and advertised with a gender divide. Not news, of course, and pretty much prevalent across most high street stores. A debate ensued. I made the point that I felt the gender divide – where girls’ toys are all sparkles, tiaras, dolls, prams, make up, shopping trolleys, kitchen items and pink lego, and boys’ toys are all dinosaurs, construction, vehicles, monsters, aliens, gunge and guns – was unnecessary. I (politely) advised that I felt it was unhelpful to segregate and market certain toys at different genders, because children will basically play with anything, and rightly so. I said that I didn’t like the message that it sends to children – “these are your toys, and those toys belong to the other gender” because it embeds the notion of the gender divide at an early age, and I gave an example where, at my son’s nursery, a boy had a doll and pram removed from him, whereupon it was given to a girl, and he was taken to the cars section.
A couple of people agreed with me, but for the most point, the vitriol and hatred I received made me wonder if I had inadvertenly posted that I was planning to kill, cook and eat some babies. I was told to “grow the f*ck up”, “stop projecting [my] own inadequacies”, “shut up and grow a pair”, “leave kids alone to be kids” and was also advised that I was a “rampant lentil-weaving feminist”, an idiot because it’s “adults what buy toys , not kids, you tw*t” and that there are “much better things to be worrying about”, and one kind soul made my point for me, stating that her daughter “loved to dress as a builder, and likes other boys’ toys. What’s wrong with that?”
Because although many of them failed to see it, we were actually ALL saying that children should and could play with anything and everything that came my way. Which was exactly my point in saying that gender marketing was unnecessary.
2) I commented on a thread by a local radio station, which asked if Page 3 was “cheeky fun, or pornography”. Most replies ran along the “cheeky fun” line, and I responded with a short statement saying that Page 3 IS pornography and unnecessary and helped to embed the notion in our society that women are there to look at, and not be listened to, because Page 3 is in a newspaper, which I feel is inappropriate. I followed it up with a quick “I’m not debating about the existence of porn, I am merely stating that it should be removed from a newspaper which markets itself at the family demographic”
I was attacked left, right and centre. I was told by one respondent that he had “fought for King and Country for 18 years, and he did that to protect the right of women to do whatever line of work they wanted”. My response that we actually have a Queen and haven’t had a King since 1952 didn’t go down too well, and neither did my question “what about my right to not see porn in a newspaper?”
I was told that I was jealous (I’m not), campaigning to remove something which is our country’s heritage (it’s not), and that I was a “do-gooder with too much time on my hands”
I was also told, by several people, that if I don’t like it, then I shouldn’t buy it – which clearly misses the point, because it is the existence of Page 3 which I object to, and which continues to objectify women in our society. I provided links to the No More Page 3 campaign, and to the #EverdaySexism project, and also links proving a correlation between Page 3 and some instances of sexual violence. I was called a “sad woman” a “f*cking idiot” and a “silly b*tch”
3) I saw a lovely photograph of a steam train, posted by my friend. It had a description on, advertising the fact that “even women” work on trains, and that a woman named Steph was the new fireman on the train. These were not my friend’s words, but I commented on the page, and mentioned that I felt it was a shame that it had to be pointed out that “even women” can work in this industry. I also asked, politely, why she was referred to as a fireman? I was met with a wave of misogyny that really shocked me.
I was told that the job description was part of the heritage of our country, and no “lady” has a right to change it – and the “ladies” who worked there didn’t want to, so why was I getting het up about it? I was told that women can do the job as well as men, and they were merely pointing that out (erm…thanks) and that men who work in hospitals as “ward sisters” don’t get all militant and “foot-stampy” about the job title, because men don’t react like women.
I replied to this by saying that I felt it unnecessary to include a gender description in any job title, and I would support anyone – male or female – who opposed it. I also commented that men in general tend not to react to sexism, because it isn’t directed against men in the same way it is, and always has been, against women.
Another poster told me that it’s “just language” and I shouldn’t get annoyed with language. I replied that I wasn’t annoyed, but that there is still a gender pay-gap and employment opportunity disparity in this country, and opinions like the one published were all part of that problem. I was then challenged because none of them believed in the slightest that there is a gender pay divide because “in all my years of working in public and private sector, I have never known women get less money than men”
Within two minutes, I posted 5 links to support these facts, which I found on google, published by The Telegraph, The Times, The Independent, the BBC and the Guardian. I then found a piece on the pay divide in professional sport and posted that. I mentioned that in graduate professions particularly, and including politics, science, engineering and business, the pay gap is very real.
The response to this? “When you’re in a hole – stop digging.”
My favourite bit, though, was the man who told me that there were lots of “feminine ladies” who worked alongside him on the trains. How lovely for everyone concerned.
These are but three examples. There are dozens more.
I find it interesting that the people who argue with me, tell me that I’m wrong, even when I explain to them why I feel the way I do, but they cannot tell me why they think the way that they do.
■The people who want to keep gender divide marketing just tell me I’m being silly and they’ll buy whatever they like – fine. So let’s get rid of it, if there’s no reason to have it
■The people who want to keep Page 3 tell me that it “doesn’t do any harm”, and say that it’s their right to look at it. – fine. Look at it from the top shelf
■The people that feel that gender-descriptive job roles are OK and that there’s no issue just told me I was wrong when I explained I felt there was. One of them did tell me that the job-description was part of the heritage of the industry, which is a historical indusrty, and something that they wanted to preserve. I disagree, but at least he had a coherent reason. However, when I presented them with facts to back up my opinion, I was just told I was incorrect because men don’t complain – fine. That’s their business. This is mine, and I feel like righting wrongs.
Very often I am flogging a dead horse, but I still think that my opinion has value, because I back it up with reason and fact. That doesn’t mean that I expect the world to agree with me, change their minds, or tell me I’m right. I just expect people to understand what I am saying, and accept my responses when I answer their challenges. I also welcome debate from people who hold other opinions to me – but I rarely get it. Because most people deny that it’s an issue, ignore the facts that I give them, or completely misunderstand my point of view.
However, if one side of a debate can only fall back on insults, aggression and refusal to acknowledge that there is even a debate to be had, then they are part of the problem that they don’t believe in.