Funny how sexism never goes out of style, isn’t it. I used to think it was out of style at least among people who occasionally use their heads for something other than putting food into, but I’ve been disabused of that starry-eyed notion lately. Certainly people who don’t go in for multi-purpose heads seem to think sexism is both funny and truthful. Like the tabloid press in the UK, Laurie Penny says.
We are used to seeing this sort of story about women in the tabloids, the familiar narrative of vapid idealisation, followed by shame and sexual humiliation. What we are not used to is seeing a real woman in a smart suit telling us how these stories affected her life. Now a collection of liberal feminist groups has come forward to say what everyone knew already: that any investigation into media ethics would be incomplete without an acknowledgement that the British tabloid press is oozing with the very worst sort of malicious, heavy-breathing misogyny.
Sexism is so consistent a feature of the culture of media in Britain that it has become easy to overlook, like the whine of an alarm that has sounded for so long you’ve learned to ignore it. Until a few years ago, it was the modern “problem with no name”. However much it hurt to have to see slut-shaming, rape-apologism, victim-blaming and sexual objectification in the press every day over our cornflakes, women just had to ignore it, because challenging media misogyny in any way was next to impossible. It was just “the way things were”.
How familiar that is. (Atheists hear a lot of that, too – most people are religious, and that’s just how it is.) It may be next to impossible (or it may not), but that’s not actually a reason to submit to it.
But back to the tabloids.
Here’s what you learn, if you’re a woman and you grow up with British tabloid newspapers in the house: if you get raped or murdered, it’s your fault; if you are old, overweight or just having a bad hair day, you are disgusting. You must work to appear as sexually attractive and submissive as possible, at which point you will be called a slag, a disgrace and a “loose-knickered lady lout”, in the words of Quentin Letts. Women who have careers are miserable and pathetic. You were born to be a wife and mother, and succeeding at these things is the only thing that will fulfil you. Having a baby is the most valuable thing you can possibly do, unless you’re poor, or unmarried, in which case you’re society’s scum. If you complain about discrimination or sexual violence, you’re a shrill, jealous harpy.