Oh come on, laydeez, you can’t expect to have women on the money and the postage stamps, for cryin out loud. There’s a limit.
Caroline Criado-Perez started a battle on this principle: if the Bank of England wanted to take Elizabeth Fry, the only woman on any banknote, off the fiver, it had to replace her with another woman. We couldn’t live in a society that was only prepared to celebrate the achievements of men. What kind of a message is that to the nation, that the only declaration of legacy people will see most days, the only open declaration many of us will ever notice, includes no women?
That men are more important, of course. Which they are. Aren’t they?
The thing that triggered my interest was when people started laughing, and the laugh was always this: “Look on the other side, you dumb cow! The Queen is a woman! She’s on all of them!” Just as a thought experiment (redundant, now that Criado-Perez has won), try to explain to a hypothetical person why the Queen does not count as a “woman of note”. Do you feel as though you’ve regressed 50 years, even 100 years, to a time when it actually needed explaining, the difference between attainment and an accident of birth?
What I’ve been saying. An accident of birth didn’t magically make Charles Windsor a medical expert with no training.
Meanwhile, there was something interesting going on in the Council of Europe (I know, there’s a sentence you may not have read very often). It held a conference in Amsterdam on gender equality, in which Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project – so far 25,000 women have tweeted examples of often eye-popping misogyny – gave evidence. Her highest-profile campaign recently has been to get Facebook to apply its own moderator-standards – the rules it uses to prevent racism and anti-semitism on the site – to images of violence against women. As she points out in a brilliant video: “There are images of women being raped, being killed, being tortured, pictures of women with black eyes and bloodied faces with the caption, ‘Next time, don’t get pregnant’.”
Facebook, with that distinctive, MBA, small-c conservatism, will come down hard on abuse if it can see itself getting bad press over it, but cannot make a moral decision of its own about whether or not a joke about violence towards women might be equivalent to a joke about violence towards a particular race.
Women are more irritating, you see.
Following Bates’s and other testimony, on 10 July the Council of Europe made a set of recommendations (which it announced this week): member states should adopt an “appropriate legal framework” that would ensure “respect for the principle of human dignity and the prohibition of all discrimination on grounds of sex”, as well as of incitement to hatred and to any form of gender-based violence within the media.
Naturally, the Council of Europe doesn’t have the power to enforce it; and David Cameron, with his craven fear of the attack-labrador Europhobes in his party, will probably not simply reject the recommendations, but use his rejection of them as a calling card. The opposition to the call will be hideous to behold, uniting all the people who hate Europe “telling us what to do” with the people who treasure, above most things, their right to make hilarious jokes about rape; and what a cesspit that will be (hang on – unless this is not a Venn diagram at all, but a picture of one circle overlapping entirely with another circle?).
Pretty much. “Don’t tell me what to do, bitch” – that’s the Weltanschauung.
But this is potentially huge: imagine some crazy future, some post-angry time, when people listen to sustained argument and take it seriously. This “respect” would go far beyond Facebook. How could the Sun defend page 3 from the charge that it discriminated on grounds of sex? How could lads’ mags exist; what would happen to the Sunday Sport? The landscape of the printed media in the UK would change completely. And it would change because of Laura Bates and Everyday Sexism; because of Kat Banyard, and Lose the Lads Mags; because of Lucy-Anne Holmes and No More Page Three; because of Caroline Criado-Perez and her campaign on banknotes; it would change because of the 34,000 who signed the Bank of England petition, the 220,000 who tweeted about the Facebook campaign.
Two things are unarguable about this century; the first is that it is more sexist than the end of the last, raunch and postmodernism having converged to normalise the presentation of women as meat; the second is that the internet has had profound consequences for privacy and, inevitably, personal freedom. But pause to consider the vivacity of the feminist fourth wave, its energy and victories, the way it has honed and deployed the power of social media rather than surrendered to the misogynist tropes it throws up. It is fearless and pugnacious and alive with a sense of possibility.
Campaigning is better than it was in the 90s or the noughties; it is more determined, its weapons are more lethal; it is Buffy to yesteryear’s Mary Poppins. Look on its works, ye Mervyns, and despair.
But if whatever wave this is is so much better than all the previous waves, why is this century so much more sexist than the last? If Buffy is so great why is she losing?