Alex Phillips: Today, we need to talk about misogyny
As a woman, it is easy to become immune to misogyny. It is baked into so much of our lives, we largely tend to accept it
When the Me Too movement erupted in 2017 I must admit I was sceptical. Here were a load of beautiful, rich, famous women bemoaning their treatment in Hollywood. 'I wonder how many have used their looks to get ahead', I thought.
Seems like a fair question to ask. Yet I don’t think I have ever heard it asked of a man. 'Oh I bet he got to where he is because he’s good looking'; 'I wonder who he had to bed to get to the top?'
Then, we learned about the scale of the horrors and the crimes committed by Harvey Weinstein and an industry rife with exploitation, objectification, commodification and abuse, and witnessed similar revelations in other sectors, with many more doubtless set for their own MeToo moment soon.
As a woman, it is easy to become immune to misogyny. It is baked into so much of our lives, we largely tend to accept it. A lot of low level abuse and harassment is frankly normalised. But should it be?
Sexism has come a long way in the last hundred years. Women and men are legally equal in all aspects of life. We’ve had two female Prime Ministers, more of us sit on boards than ever before, and while the gender pay gap hasn’t disappeared, things are looking up, so surely it’s time for women to shut up and move on?
But that’s the problem. In the wake of female empowerment has come a slew of regressive misogyny. A backlash that rears its ugly head on social media, and drips down into real life. A concretised resentment that has grown such strong roots it has groomed men around the world to form incel communities, where they discuss sexually assaulting and killing women. The horrific shooting in Plymouth has reminded the country that these things can, and do, spill into reality.
We have also imported misogyny from other countries and cultures, barbaric practises from forced marriages to FGM. Now we are also unleashing a wave of women-hating from so-called Trans Activists against any woman who stands up against losing our intimate and secure spaces, and biological identity, to men. The hypersexualisation of society and the unfettered abuse that lives behind the veil of anonymity of social media is now seeing behaviours that would have been utterly unacceptable a couple of decades ago brazenly exhibited in life.
The sense, as a woman, that we have lost the respect of the opposite sex is palpable and poignant. Many women are growing detached and distrustful of men. While people like me are inoculated against the vile misogyny a lot of women get online, others aren’t. And the only reason we become immune is because we’ve gone through the hurt, the anguish and the anger at being abused already. Something surely we shouldn’t have to suffer. But the drip feed of casual misogyny is corrosive.
For some women, it is abuse they cannot handle. It is no surprise that female suicide rates have gone up, particularly among teenagers where the exponential growth has seen young girls taking their own lives explode by 67% since 2010, ushered in by the advancement of social media.
Make no mistake, a huge number of these deaths are because a girl has been bullied for the way she looks. Have a look at my own Twitter timeline today. I spent an hour retweeting examples of the patently misogynistic attacks I receive. It should make embarrassing reading for some users.
It has now been proposed that misogyny should be made into a legal hate crime, enabling sentences to be increased if it is apparent a crime has been motivated by hate towards women. Yet the backlash has been quite extraordinary. The vitriol that spewed out against the proposal reinforced the fact that there is a strange and growing sense among men that they are the ones under attack.
The focus became banal reportage about criminalising the wolf whistle, something frankly a great number of women like me really don’t care about that much. But it distracted from and infantilised something far more serious, when five women a week are being killed at the hands of abusive men.
In 2021 women are still afraid to walk alone at night. They are being harassed more than ever before. The pressure is now not only on how to look, but how to perform sexually, with extreme demands almost no woman could live up to. Yet every time we talk about this, we get accused of being men hating feminists. The attacks come raining down. Instead of being regarded as resilient and brave, we get told we have a victim mindset and not all men are like that.
We have fathers, brothers, uncles and friends whom we adore. But actually, some men, and more than you think, are serial users, abusers and offenders of women, and it requires men to accept that and to help.
Virgina Woolf once said, the history of men’s opposition to women’s emancipation is more interesting than the story of that emancipation itself. Could it be that as many of the battles of sexism are won, something more sinister is filling the vacuum?
So what is going on? Can the sexes be reconciled? Today, we need to talk about misogyny.