Humour me here. Replicate a little experiment I did today. Go onto facebook, and in the search bar, type the words “kicking sluts”, and look at the results. At last count, there were more than fifty groups that included that very specific phrase in their names. The groups include several called “Wiping makeup off your shoe after a long day of kicking sluts in the face” one of which boasts a staggering 86,000 members, “Kicking sluts in the vagina and losing your shoe”, and “Push kicking sluts in front of trains”. Now, you may well be wondering how I discovered this: well, it’s because a friend posted that she’d signed this petition, which showcases these and some other lovely groups on facebook promoting violence against women. If there are fifty “kicking sluts” groups, it’s altogether too scary to imagine how many others there are expressing similar and worse sentiments.
Indeed, it’s been a peachy day for male/female relations on the internet today. It all started when I logged on to twitter this morning. Two of the TTs (“trending topics”, for you non-twitterers) were as follows: #TerribleNamesForAVagina. At 9pm, that one is still going strong. Wow, people are endlessly inventive. And #SideChickBirthdayGifts, suggestions for presents for your spare girlfriend. This has gathered some touching responses, including “a :) text. And if the b*tch real special, she gettin the wink ;)”, and “an extra 4 minutes on Skype but if she aint showin titties it will get knocked down to 2”. It’s not an unusual situation, there is usually some appallingly sexist TT running, which garners a selection of illiterate and jaw-dropping responses.
This is just a tiny isolated snapshot of what is going on in social media, just today. By the very nature of social media, we know these thoughts are being expressed by men (and some women) in developed countries with internet coverage and minimal censorship. It doesn’t begin to compare to the horrors endured by women elsewhere in the world or in more repressive cultures. This is the way people think and talk about women in the places where feminism has apparently actually worked.
And before you dismiss these worries and say that the writings are the work of a minority of trolls, or illiterate internet nerds who have never met a real woman, consider these two recent examples from the mainstream media. MP Nadine Dorries recently took her own leader to task in Prime Minister’s Questions. She made a reasonably valid point, which was to point out that while the Lib Dems make up just 8,7% of parliament, why did they seem to hold enormous sway over so many decisions and policies in government? While I know she is no one’s favourite MP, it seems to me a reasonable question worthy of a serious answer. DC’s response was to call her “extremely frustrated” and then fall about giggling like a naughty schoolboy with Nick Clegg until she stormed out. It’s a sign of her enormous lack of public support that the story made barely a ripple in the news. It’s not Cameron’s first hilarious parliamentary stand-up set either. He also told MP Angela Eagle to “calm down dear”, and then had to explain to us all that that was a joke and not at all sexist.
Then there was the recent story reported in the Bookseller and the Daily Mail, about Polly Courtney, a novelist who parted company with her publisher Harper Collins because she felt they were marketing her books as fluffy chick-lit. The story is somewhat garbled, and it’s hard to know what she did and didn't say, although the Daily Mail is quick to point out that she had posted pictures of herself pole dancing on the internet in the past (so clearly can never make any claims about sexism ever).But it was the readers' comments after the story that most wore me down. From “This woman, as with many like her, have an over inflated opinion of their abilities and their position in life. Go away you stupid woman!” to “If she wants respect, she needs to stop being a feminist, she does herself & women no favours at all”. Yes, yes, I know it’s the Daily Mail, but still.
Am I losing you yet? Do you want to say, yes, Rosie, but these are jokes, passing comments, not grave issues? Do you want to tell me to get a sense of humour? I do too. I desperately want to be able to laugh, to say it’s not serious, to say that of course the world does not contain so very, very many men who seem to hate women and have no respect for them as human beings. But creepingly continually, I get scared. I get scared for the girls and young women I know who pose in every picture they post online in tiny clothes, with big hair and pouting lips as if they were porn stars. I get scared for the young men I meet who use sexist and anti-gay language without thinking about it and get shocked when you call them on it. I get scared every time I meet a woman who says “I am not a feminist”.
Are you not, sweetheart? Well then please hand back the following: the right to own property, the right to work, to be paid the same as a man for the same job, the right to choose your sexual partners, to use contraception to plan your family, to have custody of your children, to protect yourself and your children from an abusive partner. Oh, and the right to travel freely, wear what you like, and have opinions of your own. All of those rights are yours because feminists of both genders fought and died for them, and they are rights that millions upon millions of women do not have.
They are rights worth having. Worth protecting. So do me a favour. Sign the petition. Talk back if someone talks down to you. Challenge someone in person or online who denigrates women. Let the sluts do some kicking back.