Blurred Lines

BBC 2 had a show about misogyny a couple of days ago, and the New Statesman has a review by Rachel Cooke.

She starts by saying misogyny is nothing new and she’s not sure it’s worse now than in the past.

I see, though, that in one sense all of this is irrelevant. What matters is that women feel misogyny is on the rise, there being so many exciting new outlets for the expression of woman hatred.

Well no, that’s not right, because it’s two different things. If women feel misogyny is on the rise when it isn’t, then it’s worth explaining that it isn’t. But the fact that there are so many exciting new outlets for the expression of woman hatred is not just a feeling; it’s reality. So there’s no need to make concessions to subjectivity and fee-fees, because the fact that there are lots of new outlets for misogyny means that there is more misogyny around now. Because of the outlets, you see.

It’s in our faces (or perhaps I mean on our screens) like never before. In her excellent and often shocking documentary Blurred Lines (8 May, 9.30pm), Kirsty Wark thankfully didn’t get too bogged down in trying to ascertain whether misogyny really is growing. Instead, she focused on the impact of the internet (and, to a lesser degree, the media) on both women and men, whose more sexist impulses it may validate.

Ya think?

It was disappointing that she allowed the Spectator columnist Rod Liddle to talk so flabbily about how men get trolled as horribly as women – apparently, we should just “man up” and deal with it – without ever asking him why he thought it was acceptable to write of the deputy leader of the Labour Party: “So, Harriet Harman, then. Would you? I mean after a few beers obviously, not while you were sober.”

Rod Liddle is a shameless, indeed boastful misogynist. I did a post about that once, years ago.

Wark’s material was cold-shower sobering. The unstoppable vileness – from Frankie Boyle telling “jokes” about vaginas to a Stirling University men’s hockey team singing songs about inducing miscarriages on a public bus service – seemed even more than usually shameful, piled end to end in this way. We all know what followed when Mary Beard appeared on Question Time but Wark had thought to look at social media responses to all women guests on the show over the course of the first three months of this year. Dear God, it was ugly. Does this stuff keep some women from public life? Yes. For my part, there are pieces I avoid writing for fear of what will follow on Twitter and “below the line”.

Well then it’s the women’s own fault, right?! They should just toughen up – or else they should get off the internet. Oh wait…

Germaine Greer reflected on the prescience of her statement that (I paraphrase) most women have very little idea how much men hate them. Say what you like about the internet; at least it has given us a bracing slap round the face on this score.

Yes, but I’d rather it wasn’t true. I’m naive enough to wish fewer men did hate women.

Our friend Maureen Brian watched the show (the programme for you UKnians – never let it be said that I try to force everyone to speak and understand American!) this evening and gives this report (in the present tense because she was reporting while watching):

KW is a pretty competent journalist and is asking the right questions but she’s meeting a hell of a lot of people who are either deeply brain dead, totally confused or refusing to engage with the question. Heading that last list is the execrable Rod Liddle. There have been stars – a psychologist whose experiments show that e.g. tolerating sexist behaviour does indeed encourage those who are really sexist to go out and do it some more! Surprise!

Also a linguist countering the “but the internet isn’t real” meme by tracing the feedback loops between trolls and mainstream media and public life. Also Laurie Penny is on the ball.

Finally we get to the shift in the balance of power – Germaine Greer not sure about this – and the immaturity of the adolescent male. How this is being addressed in the very best sex & relationship education which not everyone gets.

Now we have Steubenville and more confusion. Balanced by the thought of using the changes in technology to power the fight-back.

It’s mystifying that they had Rod Liddle on that show (programme) at all.


  1. Blanche Quizno says

    I don’t know about you, but I don’t find slaps round the face “bracing”. I find them hurtful, even grounds to file an assault charge.

    Perhaps that’s MY problem because I’m female. I’m sure that, if I were male, I’d find it all in good fun, perhaps even the stuff that new insights are made of.

    But no.

  2. suttkus says

    I don’t think misogyny is on the rise (though, of course, being male I might not be the best person to notice it if it was). I think we’re seeing a generation of women who are less willing to put up with the same old trash. Where before women were trained to *cough* man up and bear whatever garbage was thrown at them with a smile, they’re now wondering why they should.

    And finding no reason whatsoever.

  3. arthur says

    It was a good programme covering a lot of bases. My only complaint was that it was too brief, we could have used a whole series to cover these issues.

    As for being aware of how much men hate women, I’ve learned a lot over the last 2 years or so following the atheist community. I had no idea that so many men would become obsessively irrational and nasty towards women. It was the scale of the attacks, the number of men involved, that amazed me. The BBC doc covered stuff that I’d seen first hand.

    I hope you get to see the programme, Ophelia. I also hope folks like Dawkins and Phil Mason (who hides behind the name Thunderf00t) become aware of it as well, because the show clearly lays out the flaws in their positions, and gives encouragement to all right minded people to fight against them.

  4. Seth says

    Suttkus, you’ve answered your own (implied) quandary; women’s refusal to accept previous levels of misogyny has meant that misogynists have ramped up their attacks on any woman who dares speak out against them and their privilege. Sure, we don’t (mostly) live like Mad Men anymore, but important, brilliant women whom I admire and respect have been hounded off of the Internet because of the virulence of Internet misogynists. You might not think that counts as ‘on the rise’, but it requires pushback, all the same.

  5. Bernard Bumner says

    Not very mystifying that Rod Liddle was there – a knowing, relatively liberal audience watching BBC2 would understand that Rod Liddle is there to provide what the BBC euphemistically calls balance. Auntie requires that an opposing counterpoint is given, even when the opposite of sensible description/discussion is confused bigotry.

    Which is to say that on the BBC, for every actor there is an equal and opposite reactionary.

  6. says

    suttkus @ 2 – no, that’s completely wrong. The resurgence of feminism dates from the late 60s. It’s not the case that we (women who’ve been around since then) have been placidly accepting misogyny for the past four or five decades and it’s only now that “we’re seeing a generation of women who are less willing to put up with the same old trash.” It’s not possible to be less willing to put up with the same old trash than I, for instance, have always been (and I know countless other women who can say the same thing). This is not the same old trash. This is a new kind of trash made possible by a new technology which has spawned many new media.

    I can’t begin to express how wrong it is to think we’ve been “willing to put up with the same old trash” all this time. Ugh.

  7. Seth says


    Thank you for pushing back against suttkus, and I apologise that my own poor attempt at a refutation accepted his premise; I am both too young and too male to have understood how deeply offensive it truly is.

  8. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    suttkus @ 2

    I don’t think misogyny is on the rise (though, of course, being male I might not be the best person to notice it if it was).

    You know, it’s pretty ridiculous when someone sees no problem with both acknowledging that they’re perfectly placed not to notice a thing and asserting the non-existence of said thing. Within a single sentence, no less.

  9. Blanche Quizno says

    Calm down, folks. This is the problem of privilege – it blinds people who believe (and predictably, if not rightfully, so, from their own experience), that their experience is “normal”. And, thus, it’s “normal” for everyone. That’s why the attacks on affirmative action – the feeling that this group, who has the same everything else, the same “normal” as everyone else, is somehow getting a free pass they don’t deserve. And why don’t they deserve it? Well, if they don’t manage to “make the cut”, it’s because they’ve been lazy, irresponsible, underperforming layabouts, and why are we going out of our way to reward THAT??

    Back to women and misogyny. As a woman on teh intarblaaghs, I have been on the receiving end of some just unbelievably hateful savaging. From being called “Daddy’s little fucktoy” because I admired my dad while growing up, to being just shut down by dozens of dismissal “It’s her – lol” or images from “Requiem for a Dream” images whenever I make a post, regardless of its contents:
    The isolating effect is unbelievable. Good people are *shocked* at the attacks, and, being social animals, quite rightly assume that, if they engage with me at all, ignoring the attacks, in other words, like we think good people should, they will become the targets themselves. And having seen that happen, it’s a valid assumption. This creates a toxic environment for women most of all. Only when it’s a woman target do we see this level of absolutely vile hatefulness – from men. You’ve surely heard that there are no girls on the internet, right? Everybody’s a guy. Or else.

    When we’ve got someone from the “blind side” who apparently wants to engage and learn, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and inform him. He’s not getting the knowledge from his own personal experience, so it’s unreasonable to expect him to be able to see things through our eyes. Unless we explain to him what it looks like.

    Seth, thank you for pointing out that it is when a disempowered minority (women count here, despite their numbers) speaks out against the status quo, demands changes to the status quo, THAT is when they are attacked the most violently. A Civil Rights example – it is the black men driving BMWs and Mercedes cars who get pulled over for a license/registration check, not the black men driving hoopties. It’s the ones who have the effrontery to advance, to elevate themselves above their “second class” status, who are targeted. So it’s an intersection between race and class – exactly what we would expect from a majority who view their privilege at risk.

    We women are the intersection between gender and class. Given that it was only a few generations ago that women were not allowed to own property or vote, the conservative mindset is particularly toxic to us. Remember, “conservative” means “believing in the value of established and traditional practices in politics and society”. For us minorities-in-terms-of-lack-of-power, this attitude is absolutely poisonous, as the “established and traditional practices” are what stripped us of power – economic, political, interpersonal – in the first place.

    It’s just like that berk who was saying that back in the day, black people were happy to work hard for little money under terrible conditions – they never complained. Without realizing that they were very aware that, if they HAD complained within earshot of him, a white man, he would likely report them and then they’d find themselves thrown in prison or even killed, because they knew they could not count on any protection under the law, something their white coworker took for granted, because it was his “normal.”

  10. latsot says

    I recorded the show but haven’t had time to watch it yet. I appreciate the warning that Rod Liddle is in it. The warning probably won’t stop me turning green and ripping my purple trousers but might give Liz and Fortran the opportunity to run away before I do.

  11. latsot says

    I see you don’t know what “berk” means.

    It’s a word I haven’t heard for a while but was used a lot in my childhood. I always understood it to be rhyming slang (Berkeley Hunt) and was amazed that nobody else seemed to know it. Am I right or is that an urban myth? I’m a northerner and know little of this fancy cockney talk.

  12. latsot says

    it is pretty startling to be told I’ve been willing to put up with the same old trash all this time.


    A lot of people seem determined to think of feminism as an abstract notion and that they can weave feminists out of straw like Rumplestiltskin as if no actual feminists really exist. Way better to ‘splain things than simply ask or look it the fuck up, right?

  13. latsot says

    It doesn’t seem like a myth – it sounds like rhyming slang.

    According to some usually trustworthy sources, you’re absolutely right. Funny, it was used as a playful insult in many childrens TV shows in the 70s. I have a vague memory that the the hero of the claymation series Trapdoor was called Berk. I wonder if they knew.

    It reminds me of the use of Polari by people like Kenneth Williams on radio in the 60s and the sweary episode of The Clangers.

  14. Bernard Bumner says

    The O.E.D. recognises rhyming slang for Berkeley or Berkshire Hunt as the etymology. In this case it probably true to say that the origins of the word are so long forgotten for a majority of users beyond a knowing few that there is no connotation of that. In any case, it seems to be a dying word. (It is also a surname, and thererfore Google hits are not very illuminating.)

  15. theobromine says

    I certainly agree that the same old trash is around, while new modes and methods of delivery have been spawned by the internet (and also by the evolution of traditional media). However, as someone who was a child in the 1960s (so I was there *and* can more or less remember it), I find the fact that the same old trash is *still* around to be particularly irksome. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was expected for girls to be discouraged from becoming doctors and engineers and lawyers and plumbers and truck drivers and construction workers – the misogynist approach was that women were not capable of those activities. Similarly boys were discouraged from becoming teachers or nurses or childcare workers, since, from the misogynist perspective, it would threaten a man’s masculinity if he pursued such a career. But 40-50 years later, why are we still seeing guidance counselors discouraging girls from taking math and science, and boys discouraged from childcare and nursing? Why are we still seeing boys encouraged to be clever but girls encouraged to be pretty? Why are we still fighting battles that we thought were done decades ago?

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