Tag Archives: misogyny

Becoming Unbecoming by Una – Book Review

This is a graphic book – a genre (I vaguely think of comic books) new to me.  It is beautiful to handle, with inky images you want to touch and narrative that falls into prose.  It is also a harrowing and politically sharp book that weaves a woman’s tale of adolescent awakening in the context of 70s/80s’ version of (the usual) sexual double standards – the hexing of women’s bodies – with a frosty account of the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper.  The anger is subtle and the images speak as loudly as the words.  Its subject may be in the past, but its feminist ire is entirely present – relevant now as it was then (ladybird Summer, Madness, vinyl, learning to be a nice girl).  It seems a travesty to call it ‘history’.

The Yorkshire Ripper is now history – it is my history that I share with Una, the author.  As a young teenager in West Yorkshire during the suffocating height of Sutcliffe’s (let’s give him his real, human name shall we?) incomprehensible brutality against women, I too lived for a decade with the normalising of female fear and the media, police and public constructions of ‘innocent’ and ‘not innocent’ women victims.

Una nails it.  The memories come flooding back.  Women were encouraged to maintain a curfew (and the feminists really blew their stacks), not men, amongst whom the perpetrator walked and worked.  Prostitutes were seen as obvious victims (dead women walking) and shock only rippled through the press when the ‘innocent’ were targeted – surely a mistake, they said.  He must feel some remorse now.   The positioning of women, whose sex was bought by men, as non-innocent victims mirrors Una’s personal experience of being used and abused by older men, being sexually labelled and forced into a special caste apart from respectable girls. Did anyone know just how devastating and misogynist the term ‘slut’ was?  Do we know it now?

This book is compelling, not simply for its haunting illustrations and narrative, but for its unflinching reflection of the world I grew up in.  Keep your hand on your ha’penny.  Don’t go out at night.  Don’t dress like a slag.  Be a good girl. Lower your gaze.

This is a timely read.  Peter Sutcliffe has been declared ‘sane’ and will move from Broadmoor to a mainstream prison.  Of what kind of madness has he been cured?

Sharon Jagger

 

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Becoming Unbecoming by Una

I’m NOT a feminist because……… (fill in the blank)

I have recently seen and heard statements such as ‘some of my feminist friends…’ and ‘I’m not a feminist but….’  This began to intrigue me as it suggests people think of feminism as a niche ideology, something for a particular type of woman (admit it, you have an image in your head).  ‘My friend the feminist’ distances the speaker from feminism as it would from a political party or club member (my friend the freemason; my friend the communist etc).  This is interesting because it suggests a vacuum where there should be a definition.

Let’s get to the simple fact:  feminism is the belief that men and women are equal and should be treated as such.  It’s really not any more complicated than that.

So to distance oneself from feminism is to say ‘I don’t really believe that the genders are equal’.  That’s fine to have that belief.  We can then have an honest and open debate about why you may not believe in equality of women and men.  And I will try to persuade you otherwise.  It could be stimulating, but we are unlikely to be friends. What I find difficult to grasp is the (let’s face it, lazy) approach which puts feminism into a box that is for single-issue fanatics and politicos with an axe to grind, as though it has nothing to do with the wider society.  As though my life, your life, your daughter’s life is unaffected.  Gender equality affects the entire human species and you’re either for it or you’re not.

 

A child, innocent of the beliefs we stamp on to it from the day of birth, asks “Mummy, Daddy, what’s a feminist?”

“Well, kiddo,” you answer,  “a feminist is someone who thinks men and women are equal and should be treated as such.”

The child is observant.  “But men have willies and women have ‘ginas, so they’re different.”

“Yes, our bodies have different jobs to do, but they are equally important.”  You may want to add that one job is vastly more physically demanding than the other.

The child finds it simple to grasp that men and women are equal.  Why wouldn’t they be?  Biologically they may have differences, but why would this translate into inequality?   Why would one gender find itself subservient to the other?  At this basic level, it doesn’t make sense except as a bad way of gaining power by one gender over another – a morally dubious goal.  As the child starts to think for itself it may ask; “so why isn’t everyone a feminist? (And why is my bedroom pink?)”

Why isn’t everyone a feminist?  For every wave of activism in favour of this equality there has been an equally robust backlash which has sought to make the label ‘feminist’ a pejorative one that only a minority would be prepared to stand by.  It has in the past been emptied of its meaning.  It has made fighting for equality between genders a minority past time that can be sidelined as irrelevant when it is inconvenient.  It’s inconvenient that women require equality within the work place after having given birth to the next generation.  It’s inconvenient that women want to be equally represented at all levels.  It’s inconvenient that men need to check their sexual behaviour in order to eradicate rape culture once and for all. It’s inconvenient that world religions need to dramatically change to allow women the equality they have a right to.   If you agree that these are inconveniences worth addressing, you are a feminist my friend.  If you don’t then that’s OK.  But it does make you a misogynist and you need to take on that label and justify it.

The myths about feminism probably do need debunking, but for now, if the sceptics can grasp that feminism is as simple as our definition above states, we can start to debate real issues rather than wasting energy on explaining why distancing yourself from feminism is to distance yourself from equality of men and women.  And for those who don’t believe there is an issue with gender equality and feminism is simply stirring up disagreement, please read ‘The History of Misogyny’ by Jack Holland as a start.  After 3000 years of horrendous subjugation we need activism, movements and a label on which to hang our beliefs.

For those who DO wish to distance themselves from gender equality –  let’s do it!  Let’s debate the whys and wherefores.  I would like to offer a tip to the would-be ‘unequalists’:  when preparing your arguments, replace gender with race and test whether your beliefs are acceptable then.

If you are not prepared to call yourself a feminist (even in private, to yourself – you don’t have to buy the tee shirt), then you are saying you believe women are NOT equal to men.  And we have a problem.

BBC ‘Blurred Lines : The New Battle of the Sexes’

This programme screened 08/05/2014 on BBC2 is a gut wrenching synopsis of the misogyny that is now explicitly being expressed in the UK. However, it is the type of sexism that a woman can avoid and ignore if she does not venture into the virtual world or (very worryingly) school. It would be easy to assume there is little overt sexism in this country. The comments of the UN’s special rapporteur, describing Britain as one of the most sexist countries in the world, elicited a skeptical backlash; we don’t stone women here and they are allowed to drive so what’s get problem?

‘The problem’ was succinctly and calmly described by Kirsty Wark in this programme, drawing back the curtain of wilful blindness to show us a vile, seedy and downright misogynistic side to our culture. As the programme points out, the internet hasn’t invented a new misogyny (my goodness, no. This is the exact same misogyny that comes straight from the ancient civilisations). However, the internet has amplified sexism and feeds the print press with the extremism it propagates. The sickening tweets received by Prof Mary Beard just for expressing an opinion are the tip of the iceberg and we may never know how many intelligent, talented women are diverted away from a public voice because of the extreme backlash the internet facilitates. Who are these people who use threats of death and sexual violence as a response to a woman’s opinion being expressed?

The most insidious aspect of modern misogyny is within the world our young people inhabit. A quick survey of the responses to the programme reveals shock from parents and a shrug from their teenage children; this is how life is for them.  Rape culture is endemic and the influence of porn is rife.  A cursory look at the popular game Grand Theft Auto  reveals staggering misogyny and there is a suggestion that the concept of consent needs to be taught in school to boys.  Imagine that!

We are left with a grim picture of age-old misogyny expressed in new forms.  The rise of feminism needs to match it blow for blow or we risk losing ground that has been  slowly and painfully gained over centuries.

Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely — and the right to be heard.

Hillary Clinton

This sums up the need for women to write.  To ensure the very notion of an ‘oppressed majority’ is consigned to the history of bad ideas, women should write and communicate how misogyny, subtle and outrageous, diminishes us and the entire world.