Just the one

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?




  1. Pen says

    Why is this century so much more sexist than the last?

    If this is indeed generally true, which needs verifying, or at least true in the western world it might be because we pretty much started the century with one small recession, one massive one and a state of hostility between two cultures that has a lot of people rushing to conservative mode. Or possibly the internet is the relatively new and uncharted territory of the century, still relatively ‘lawless’ in all sorts of ways and thus very attractive to people who would like to behave in antisocial and unacceptable ways but also heavily occupied by women who are negatively affected by those behaviours.

    But I really wouldn’t agree with the author that it’s ‘unarguable’ that this century is more sexist. What is the measure? Access to the means for sexual and reproductive autonomy? Equal division of family/work responsibilities? The number of gender based insults a woman has to listen to on average/week? I don’t think my daughter is actually growing up in a world more sexist than the one I grew up in for any measure I can think of. I’d call it about the same, taking one thing with another, which means that much needed progress hasn’t been made.

  2. oursally says

    >why is this century so much more sexist than the last?
    What? I am old enough to remember:
    – being denied a job because they didn’t have “facilities”
    – ditto join the navy and go to sea
    – being legally paid less than a man for the same work
    – a wife not allowed to work without her husband’s permission
    – ditto open a bank account
    – being denied promotion because “I was only going to get married and leave”
    – getting stalked at work and being told by my boss that I should feel complimented about it
    – rape and other violence in marriage was not a crime
    – abortion was illegal
    – contraception was not available for unmarried women (and what they had didn’t work properly, hence my 5 siblings)
    etc etc
    And when I tell young people about these things, they don’t believe me until they go and check. This is good! Because they cannot imagine their own mothers and grandmothers having to put up with this and they would never tolerate it themselves.
    We’ve come a long way, here in the free world. Yes, we’ve still got a way to go, but no, the world I am privileged to live in has got less sexist.

    My mission is to do what I can to help women in less privileged situations to catch up. Though I do not know the way.

    As you say, it’s the little campaigns, the constant vigilance, the small steps that keep it moving. Never let a sexist (and the other -ists) remark go unchallenged. A hard job, but somebody’s got to do it.

  3. Morgan says

    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?

    The quote wasn’t that this century is more sexist than the last but than the end of the last. That means there’s room for third wave to have done good building on the good already done, but for there to now be particularly harsh pushback that fourth wave has to work hard to deal with. At least, that’s how I took it.

  4. Lyanna says

    I don’t think it’s worse at all. I think it’s much better, some men resent the hell out of that, and the internet lets them come to the surface.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *