Blogging friend Makagutu mentioned the abolition of bride price in part of Uganda, ie you pay to buy a woman.
In our discussion, he asked how we could counter the view that even women approve of bride price. I glibly answered, by getting rid of patriarchal society.
We may not have bride price in the UK but women still retain the vestiges of being a chattel passed from one man (father) to another (husband), by changing their name and wearing a ring to signify the new ownership.
And just as women endorse bride price, women willingly change their names, and proudly flaunt engagement and wedding rings, and wear a white wedding dress to denote their unused status.
Back in Spain, I was reading a preview of a new book published this year by Laura Bates: Everyday Sexism.
Bates suddenly worked out, after a week of being grabbed/innuendo/verbal abuse that sexism, surprisingly, continues to be a problem in our advanced egalitarian society. (my sarcasm)
And so she started to collect tales of everyday sexism. As her project rocketed and, courtesy of the internet, became international, she was deluged with stories that ranged from sexist jokes and patronising put-downs to sexual assault, domestic violence and rape.
She makes the valid point that both men and women continue to perpetuate sexism, and that sexism has become both ingrained and acceptable. I’m guessing she is younger than me as a) she sounds more moderate and b) more patient in that she can actually be bothered to explain all of this in an extremely lucid and readable style.
While everyone, or rather most people, accept that domestic violence, sexual assault, and rape are illegal and morally unacceptable, they see nothing wrong with commenting on a woman’s appearance, or making jokes that treat women as sex objects, and that includes rape ‘jokes’. Bates tries to join the dots and show that sexism comes as a total package starting from indoctrination as children, through to the predatory prowling of young men on the streets to the lack of education in poor countries to the unequal number of women in powerful positions to the number of rapes – and significantly, the unreported rapes. And the continued reinforcement every day in both language and actions.
I’ve not read the whole book, because, um, I’ve been there and thought/spoken/written all that before.
A couple of the most powerful examples to me, are what might be termed minor ones, but I think they speak volumes.
One woman tweeted about her experience on a dating site. ‘I’d pay to ram you up the arse,’ wrote one man. When she argued with him, ‘Chill out love, it’s only banter.’ In her words, no it isn’t. And if you don’t understand why not, please leave your name below and I will attempt to explain.
Earlier this year (my example, not from Bates’ book), one very brave woman decided she’d had enough of being manipulated by sexual innuendo from a ‘popular’ blogger and went public with his sexually loaded comments, which again, were defended as being light-hearted chat. His blogs no longer exist although he may well have started again; new name, new place? I don’t know.
But calling sexism humour is a classic way to deny it. Another example from Bates was of a woman who wrote that she was told she had no sense of humour when comments were made about her breasts, vagina or behind. Seriously what gives men the right to make these comments and then make the excuse that they are funny, humorous, just ‘banter’? And that if women don’t accept it, they have no sense of humour.
Or how can Austin Mitchell (who I always loathed when he presented the Yorkshire TV programme Calendar – good to know my instincts were right) seriously be allowed to get away with telling Louise Mensche ‘A good wife doesn’t disagree with her master (ie her husband) in public…’ Master???!!! Is Mitchell lusting after BDSM perhaps? And then, in the ensuing fall-out, ‘Calm down, dears’? That, is sexism at its finest, putting women down every possible way but without making loaded sexual innuendo.
As Bates points out, sexism is unique in that it is acceptable to laugh at it, and anyone who objects is over-reacting. And lacks a sense of humour at these oh-so-witty remarks.
I see two key problems in tackling sexism. One, is that people don’t understand what constitutes sexism, and therefore don’t consider themselves sexist so continue to perpetuate sexist behaviour, and two, a total lack of interest in sexism. Sure, abuse of women as inferior beings is justified by the big three religions, and we can all happily criticise Judaism, Christianity and Islam for their discrimination against women. But what is denied by people is that the small nuances of everyday speech and behaviour reinforce the old stereotypical views that women are merely a commodity to be bought, sold or given away.
My father was unashamedly sexist. When I was young, I heard endless tirades about Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi and Sirimavo Bandaranaike. (Prime Ministers of Israel, India and Ceylon, as was before it became Sri Lanka). ‘Better a bad male prime minister than a good woman prime minister,’ was his favourite mantra. He later went on to vote for Margaret Thatcher. On the rare occasion we went to church – filling in time before the pubs opened at 7pm – he would audibly rant and rave if there was a woman giving the sermon. ‘I won’t have women telling me what to do.’ This was before the ordination of women. I had to smile when his funeral service was led by a woman vicar.
But time hasn’t moved on. My father’s views are still prevalent today. Bates cites some great examples of prominent people all saying women shouldn’t do the same job the men do, because, well basically, they are just women. So they are not up to it. Or they are just seen as sex objects so who could possibly take them seriously?
Boris Johnson says women only go to university to find men to marry. Because, you know, the only aspiration a woman has in life is to find a man… have 2.4 kids… wear a pinny and slippers and have his meal ready for when he comes in after a hard day at work. It was a joke. Really Boris? So why didn’t you say men only went to university to find a wife?
Forty odd years later and the same old crap, just disguised as ‘humour’ now. So you can’t possibly object or you have no sense of humour. A clever tactic eh?
Now, for those of you who think you are squeaky clean and not remotely sexist – which seems to be all my right-on readers, although I might possibly disagree – I would recommend you at least take a look at the free sample offered on the book sites eg iBooks, Amazon etc.
I should also like to point out, in the words of Carly Simon, ‘If you think this
song post is about you…’ It’s not. It’s about everyone out there who is unconsciously sexist and thinks they aren’t. Or considers sexism humorous, clever and witty. Or conflates sexism with sex. Or who immediately trounces any objection with the ‘lack of humour’ card.
Are we looking our best? Will someone buy us?