Kirsty Wark presented a show called Blurred Lines – referencing the song – on the BBC, one just as awful and biased as the one about porn hosted by Jameela Jamil and retreading much of the same, tired, old ground as that did.
You might still be able to find it on iPlayer but the central thesis, presented at the start of the program is the question whether there’s a:
New culture in which men feel they have the freedom, and the right, to speak about, write about and portray women in a derogatory – even abusive – way.
I don’t know that it’s new exactly, but yes. People have the freedom and right to speak about, write about and portray other people in a derogatory and even abusive way. Within certain legal bounds varying by state and constitution.
The immediate presumption is that any of this must be down to misogyny and sexism. Misogyny is the hatred of women and it does not follow that enjoying a crude joke at the expense of women, or even trolling come to that, means that a person actually hates women. Sexism is prejudice on the basis of gender. Women seeming to expect different, special or protected treatment would be sexism, but against men in the form of positive discrimination for women.
This isn’t, of course, to say that there isn’t genuine misogyny and sexism out there, rather that the problem appears to be being misdiagnosed.
Wark starts out, after the introduction, by admitting that women are now equal in the eyes of the law and admitting that many think that that’s a case of ‘job done’ so far as feminism is concerned. I would be inclined to agree and to promote an egalitarian and humanistic outlook based on achieving equality for all in a similar fashion in as many arenas as possible. Others think differently and want to try and force changes in other spheres while leaving other problems, arguably now higher in priority, unattended.
Underneath it all is the telling, socially conservative concept that sex is bad. That the liberated libertine is somehow not in control of their own desires and can’t really like what it is that they say they like. She talks of a backlash against feminism when what I see is a backlash against the libertine strides made in the 80s and 90s.
An example is made of an event in Stirling on a bus, a university sports team singing a rather saucy song, as sports teams have been wont to do since the dawn of time. Nothing special about it, other than it was recorded and presented as somehow being unusual and bad. Drunk sports fans and teams on public transport are a problem to everyone, not just women, because it’s annoying and loud but drunk people will act like arseholes. It can’t even be that intimidating since they were confronted about it and recorded. Drunk people of either sex can be intimidating and annoying, but there’s usually no more to it than that. It seems to be another example of overreaction, an overreaction that is being encouraged, expected, even demanded.
‘Lad culture’ is portrayed as a backlash to the power-suited women and ‘new men’ of the late eighties while I think those of us at the time just saw it as a breath of fresh air and an allowance to look at pretty girls and have a drink without feeling guilty all the time. The Loaded editor made a good point that women were celebrated. Even if it was for their looks, that can hardly be called misogyny and – as he pointed out – it’s what sold. He did concede that the women were like objects, to sell the magazine, which he probably shouldn’t have but the point that everyone seems to miss, even though Rene Magritte got it right, is that “Ceci n’est pas une femme.”
He further goes on to make a point that I consistently find compelling in these arguments. That people are – on the whole – intelligent and savvy enough to tell the difference between something said in humour, irony or contextual harmlessness and those which are not. The other side, patronisingly (or is that matronisingly?) seems to think that the only ones able to view such material unaffected are themselves.
That is, in a large way, what has rendered sexist commentary humorous in that it is now so socially unacceptable that it is almost only ever uttered in the form of a joke. This is not something that should be fought since it’s humour at the expense of sexism and that undermines its power. Trolling is another story, there it’s to get a rise.
Perhaps feeling trapped he backed away from supporting MacFarlane’s boobs song at the Oscars and some near-the-knuckle T-shirts, but I would consider even those to be fine, at least the one’s shown. T shirts can’t really hurt you.
That section segued into one about comedy and differences in sense of humour between men and women. Offence comedians like Frankie Boyle base their whole oeuvre on outrageously over the top abusiveness that you simply can’t take seriously – unless you’re an idiot. The silly-string/pepper spray/rape joke by some American comedian was less funny, but that was more to do with delivery and timing than the joke itself.
The comedian she interviews makes another solid point. ‘Why do you think women are a sacred cow?’ he asks, and then goes on ‘I think it’s about equality’. There he has it absolutely right. What has changed is not that women are being abused per se, but that they are being treated equally – that is with exactly the same contempt, hostility and verbal rough-housing that men have always subjected each other to. Equality needn’t necessarily be all rainbows and glitter.
Then we get into trolling, politician’s gaffes and journalistic spats. This is a bit of an unfair conflation I think, though perhaps journalistic link-bait comes closest to trolling. The examples given are too much of a mish mash to address at length, ranging from Cameron’s ‘calm down dear’ to a UKIP member’s anachronistic use of the word ‘slut’.
A psychologist is then wheeled out, telling us things we already knew but with a different spin on it. The idea – as with all moral panics – is that media, jokes etc somehow brainwash people. What he actually found was that people who were already sexist were drawn to and empowered by it while those who were not sexist were essentially unaffected. Where this differs is in trying to blame the behaviour of the already prejudiced group on the environment around them, rather than the men themselves. What we’ve found in other, similar studies is that having an outlet can reduce or delay bad behaviours. EG: Most men who consume ‘violent’ pornography are no more likely to commit rape, those men who are more likely to rape anyway may find their desires blunted or delayed by access to that porn.
The documentary then moves on to the internet, with reference to abuse thrown at Mary Beard, Criado-Perez and – surprise surprise – Anita Sarkeesian.
Wark only monitored the abuse towards women, specifically those appearing on Question Time and not the abuse hurled towards the men. Studies have shown that the volume of threats is comparable, what’s different is the type of abuse. Women tend to get abuse over their looks and get sexual threats or derision, men tend to get threats of violence and abuse over other qualities – arguably more relevant – like intelligence.
Can this be said to show misogyny or sexism? Not really. It’s a matter of utility. What hits home? What is more effective and insulting? Trolls go for the soft target, angry people attack because of ideas. For whatever reason women are more vulnerable to insults and disrespect in general and to sexual threats and derision in particular.
Why is a threat to rape one person (female) treated more seriously than a threat to decapitate another (male)? There’s no reason why the rape – objectively less terrible than being killed – should be thought worse other than the ‘privileged’ position in which he hold women and the peculiar sensitivity we have towards sex.
If someone is insulting your looks, it’s irrelevant to the point your making. Why pay it any attention whatsoever? Is this the difference? Women aren’t used to it, aren’t brought up in an environment where they’re used to it? Is the answer for men to soften down or for women to toughen up?
And why, why, why, why are you taking trolling seriously?
Criado-Perez is essentially a troll, a legitimately unhinged fringe feminist who sees it as a victory to have knocked Darwin (a legitimate world-shaping genius) off the fiver, for Jane Austen a tedious writer of dreary romance novels. She flew off the handle at some irrelevant trolling, lumped legitimate criticism of her in with it so she could ignore it and ended up prosecuting a campaign that put two harmless, stereotypical, basement-dwelling trolls in jail for a whopping eight weeks at huge expense. Her example is also being used to tighten up restrictions on the internet. None of this is any victory for British citizens or human beings at all, let alone feminism. One need only look at her feed to see her pulling the same tactics, such as her over-the-top reaction to Sarah Pinborough.
It might be that threats to rape and murder are illegal, but if they’re spurious, what then? If I steal the last biscuit and my wife threatens to kill me, it’s a spurious threat and a joke. Trolls might not be joking per se (they’re trying to get a reaction) but otherwise how is that any different? Why take these ‘threats’ seriously?
I think the answer is that it serves their purpose to take them seriously. It gets them sympathy currency to spend and creates an atmosphere of ‘something must be done’ that helps them push their agenda. Ironically, it perpetuates the ‘woman as victim’ trope, but as one from which power can be derived.
She talks to Rod Liddle, who gives the only real, sensible countering voice in the whole documentary. As he points out, abuse is universal and it can be disregarded. He rattles off some of the insults and threats he gets every day (I could do much the same) and asks the pertinent question.
Why would it be any worse for a woman to get these threats?
It’s rhetorical of course. It isn’t any worse. It’s simply reacted to more and treated as worse.
As he says: “If there’s one thing to take from this, it’s that you must not take the internet seriously.”
After that the documentary tries to shore up the idea that internet speech matters by showing how it spreads and circulates from article to commentariat to social media and back. She thinks she’s tracking abuse, but what she’s actually tracking is a trend, or meme. An item catches someone’s attention, they talk about it, social media talks about it and then the media – may – talk about the reaction. All perfectly normal and not at all sinister. The linguist’s bias is obvious the moment she starts talking about objectification. We desperately need neutral research in all these areas.
Wark returns to talk to Liddle after this analysis and again, he knocks it out of the park.
“As soon as we feel this self-censorship coming on, ‘oh my god if I write this will people take it the wrong way’. It’s incredibly damaging and limiting to freedom of speech. That’s no way for a journalist to behave.”
Wark then goes to talk to Laurie Penny about whether the internet is amplifying sexism that was there or whether it’s something new. Now, I don’t know what internet Laurie Penny grew up on but it bears little resemblance to the one I knew.
I have excellent internet hipster credentials, having first logged into BBSs and MUDs on a creaking modem and my Atari ST. I’ve been plugged in as much as possible since then. The early internet was very welcoming, very open, didn’t treat anyone too badly and while it was predominantly male that was because the kinds of skills and tech knowledge needed was, at the time, predominantly a male field and sufficiently technical to keep normal people offline.
The ‘bad shit’ only really started to happen once the internet became ubiquitous, that is, the attitudes they are criticising only became noticeable once ordinary people started using the internet in larger numbers.
Again though, there’s the immediate presumption that all these people sharing jokes – in whatever bad taste – or accessing pornography necessarily hate women and that this represents sexism and misogyny that genuinely exists.
Laurie is right when she talks about the early internet as a utopian space, but that is a source of a great deal of the resistance to those who came into those spaces demanding that its utopian rules – especially about free expression – be curtailed. By and large that was, and has continued to be, feminists, the politically correct, members of various minorities who wanted to police speech which, of course, only prompted a larger and more visceral reaction. Laurie misattributes this to prejudice and hatred because despite knowing the lingo she doesn’t seem to be able to empathise with those who were being impinged upon.
This is where talk of ‘male space’ becomes important, because the internet as a whole was a male space and now, on or offline, there is no safe male space, while there are safe female spaces. It’s like the loss of working men’s pubs. Men would go there, bitch harmlessly about the missus, sink a few pints and go home and it wouldn’t mean a thing. Now there’s nowhere to hide, in either the virtual or physical world and that, along with being told women want equality, means they’re running into things and – mistakenly – taking them seriously.
Laurie paints nerd/geek culture as misogynistic, but it never has been. Distrustful of women yes, but this is not the same as being misogynistic. Women who entered the space and earned their chops were and always have been treated fine but nerds and geeks were often traumatised by and therefore suspicious of women. This is much less the case in the upcoming generations where general nerdery is much more acceptable, even sexy, but for now it endures – and with good reason. It’s just not misogyny, they don’t hate women, they’re wary.
Note that this doesn’t make such behaviour rational or acceptable, any more than the behaviour of some men makes some women’s fear of men as a whole gender legitimate or acceptable. It does make both instances understandable though.
Many of these nerdy, geeky spaces were male spaces, now they’re not, this likely wouldn’t be a problem so much if there weren’t so many attempts to police, control and change/ruin those spaces. Many women coming into those spaces are seeking to add and diversify, but to control and erase. Make more art, don’t tell other people what to do.
There’s a bog standard critique of Grand Theft Auto, which fails to note the humour, parody and satire or the fact that it deliberately stirs up controversy to get sales and interest. Why do people make Youtube videos of their prostitute killing in GTA? Precisely because its a stereotype and because people overreact to it. It’s a deliberate cliché.
How women are treated when playing online is another tired old trope. The answer is, yet again, the same as men. Which is what most women profess to want. People trash talk each other, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, they just go for whatever is going to get a reaction and throw you off your game. Don’t react, don’t let it affect you and it won’t happen.
Then, for the love of the fuck, professional victim Anita Sarkeesian pops up. She’s a fraud, a scam artist, a liar and people have worked this out since day one. She’s also obvious troll bait and has the same synergistic relationship with trolls that Criado-Perez has. She simply cannot be trusted, she’s using a whipped up situation in order to profit from it. Again, she conflates genuine critique with trolling but at least seems to understand that, to trolls, it’s a game of prestige, though she still makes the mistake of taking it seriously. She also claims it’s the hatred of women, rather than hatred of her specifically.
Sarkeesian has no business being taken seriously by the media, or the computer games industry. And yet…
The documentary wraps up with an exploration of why men might feel the way they allegedly feel, starting from Greer’s quote about women having no idea just how much men hate them. A grandiose statement that still has no real evidence behind it. Men love women, men make huge sacrifices for women, men want women to be happy to the point where they put their own needs behind those of women and that has – arguably – been taken advantage of and led to something of a reversal in the social positions of the sexes.
Greer victim blames men while simultaneously pointing out that men have no spaces of their own any more. She thinks it’s due to men being toppled from their imaginary perch at the top when it seems to me more than women are not only occupying mens spaces and leaving them none, but that they are also demanding that those spaces all be changed to accommodate women in every regard. The same issues facing gaming in other words, demanding others change what they love, rather than adding what they love. It’s like the difference between cultural assimilation, cultural ghettoisations and cultural conflict you can see in various racial and religious demographics in UK cities.
It’s not ‘female success’ as claimed in the documentary, that is giving men an identity crisis. It’s societal failing of men.
What it is to be a man today is an important question and some of what the man they interview next about that says is accurate. There’s little in the way of traditional male employment, offices are feminised, men are failing in education while women continue to get all the help. Men feel surplus to requirements, unneeded as fathers, partners, husbands or as participatory in society at all. Simultaneously the modern feminists blame them for everything and tell them they’re dominant in a society that affords them no such dominance and very few opportunities in the case of the majority.
Women can do anything and are constantly told and helped into doing anything. There’s been no similar examination of manhood and solutions, sadly including those that this lecturer presents, tend to concentrate on eliminating manhood entirely, rather than examining it and redefining it.
And then we end with some kink shaming and blaming of violent porn, that we’ve gone over before and exposed as bullshit.
We need strong, countering, level headed, intelligent voices and they’re simply not being represented in opposition to this moral panic.