Trigger warning: there are non-graphic mentions of abuse in this article.
If there’s one thing we can be sure of it’s that some people hate FreeThoughtBlogs, AtheismPlus, and Skepchick, and dislike those involved or associated with these ventures. A lot of the criticism levelled towards these sites and the people involved or associated with them is quite personal and hateful but, the critics insist, not misogynistic.
That isn’t okay. If you’re attacking someone you don’t agree with it isn’t okay. Telling the world ‘it isn’t misogyny though!‘ doesn’t make it alright. Ad hominem attacks are illogical and irrational and have no place in civil debates or discussions. Making your argument with someone personal is a sure way to get yourself discounted as worth any time or attention. However, the claims of ‘it’s not misogyny‘ are often untrue or ill informed.
The number of times I have been told by other people within skeptical communities that I don’t know what misogyny and feminism really are, or have been dismissed as a ‘radical feminist‘ is both baffling and mildly amusing. I can recall once tweeting ‘misogyny is everywhere’ and being mocked for it by some UK based skeptics because it was apparently a stupid thing to say. I was accused of ‘playing the victim card’, as though I was grasping for stereotypes to hide behind so that I didn’t have to answer the criticism I was receiving. It wasn’t a stupid thing to say though, because casual sexism is everywhere, and casual sexism has its roots in a society that has, for a long time, struggled to shake its patriarchal (and in turn, misogynistic) chains. It’s easy to revert to the dictionary definition of ‘Misogyny’ as many people do, but in reality it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Women have probably never had it better in this country as far as equality goes, but today’s standards of equal treatment and respect are far from perfect, despite being better than it is for most women in other parts of the world. Suggesting that a woman is playing ‘the victim card‘ every time she speaks out about casual sexism that she encounters or observes is ignorant, telling someone they’re ‘just a radical feminist‘ because they speak out about feminism and the treatment of other women is dismissive, and either naively or purposefully patronising. Suggesting women should appreciate how good they’ve got it compared to other countries is ignorant of the women in this country who have the same problems (for example, forced marriage is a big problem in the UK too!)
Casual sexism comes in many forms. An example would be the number of women who don’t report sexual harassment they receive on the street, at work, at events, or at home because we live in a culture where women are blamed for their rape or assault – ‘What was she wearing?’, ‘Why was she walking alone?’, ‘Did she consent then regret it?’, ‘Was she leading him on?’, ‘Is she an attention seeker?’ ‘Did she have too much to drink?’. These attitudes not only blame the victim for her assault, they are insulting to men too, and suggest that men cannot control themselves around women who wear revealing clothes, are drunk, or who are walking alone at night.
Then there are the threats of sexual violence used against women on a regular basis in an attempt to intimidate and frighten them. Such threats led to Isabel Fey creating the ‘Thank you, hater’ video (below) that so many can identify with. In it she mentions threats of rape, as does comedian Josie Long. Threats of this nature are aimed at women because they are women, and rape has been used as a weapon against women throughout history; whether it be during war, civil unrest, domestic disputes, or online harassment, the sentiment is the same. Women are things that can be controlled, humiliated, punished and displaced through rape, and threats of doing so can be used to intimidate them and shut them up.
Harmful and damaging stereotypes still exist that would have you believe that women who sleep with lots of people are whores, while women who don’t sleep with people are stuck up prudes and ‘asking for it’. Women who are fat are undesirable, but women who aren’t curvy are unhealthy and disgusting. Academic Mary Beard was called ‘too ugly to be on TV‘ after she presented the BBC Documentary ‘Meet the Romans’, and in response to this a popular British women’s magazine ran a poll called ‘brains or beauty?’, suggesting you can only have one or the other. Growing up I was called ‘a tomboy’ because a girl who likes playing cricket and climbing trees more than making daisy chains and playing with dolls isn’t considered to be a normal girl.
Recently, a charity fundraiser knocked on my door and asked for the man of the house despite the fact my mum owns our house. I was buying balloons for a party a couple of months ago and Sainsbury’s only had blue or pink ones available – the pink ones read ‘Birthday girl’, the blue ‘Birthday boy’. Supermarkets and big chain stores in the UK are only now reconsidering the way in which they display their magazines in store because of an online campaign from The Everyday Sexism Project that pointed out that science, gaming, archaeology, astronomy, economics, photography, and sport aren’t just men’s interests. This is The Everday Sexism Project that collects statements from women who deal with sexist harassment and assault every single day. For example
I submitted a written complaint to my local hospital following serious issues which arose during my MATERNITY care. I received a reply nearly immediately from the Hospital manager addressed to my husband.
I was just boarding a bus when a man started yelling from across the station at a woman next to me about what he wanted to do with his “hard dick”. I was so horrified I just stood frozen to the spot with my mouth open. Every one ignored him and the woman beside me pretended not to hear anything before quickly boarding. I felt awful.
Thesis supervisor told me that he had noticed one day I wasn’t wearing a bra under my jumper and that this was inappropriate as it was “distracting” to other male academics. I was told that if I want to be taken seriously as an academic, it is my responsibility not to let my body distract others. When I told him that if people are staring at my breasts, it’s their problem, he replied that it is “simply the nature of male to female interaction”.
This is casual sexism. This is a consequence of a misogynistic, patriarchal society.
These are problems swept aside as ‘not important‘ and ‘not misogyny‘ by so many. A magazine display is not as big a problem as rape apologetics, but these attitudes stem from the same ingrained casual sexism within the society we are all raised in. The problem is there and we rarely see it as a problem because it is normal. These normal attitudes are not going to disappear unless people speak out about them, and try to change them.
These problems exist within atheist, skeptical, and scientific communities too, and people who act as though they don’t isolate a whole portion of their communities. Not only those who’ve been at the receiving end of harassment and assault, but also those who know the problem does exist and are trying to change it. Pretending these problems don’t exist and refusing to deal with them in a proactive way doesn’t mean the problem disappears, it simply discourages people from reporting assault in the future, and it discourages people from interacting with the communities they belong to, and from attending events too. Personally, I’d rather an event organiser admitted there was a problem and that they were working on putting a system in place to deal with that problem, than for them to suggest it isn’t a big deal, but that’s just me…
When you tell a blogger she is an attention whore, or a bitch, a prude, a slut… when you tell someone to ‘stop acting like a girl‘, or tell someone to ‘go back to the kitchen’, or you tell someone that they should be raped, or they should be cut, or they should be thankful that anyone would even want to fuck them – you are being misogynistic, even if you don’t mean to be. You probably don’t hate women, you certainly don’t hate every woman, but the words you are using to intimidate and degrade women are misogynistic in origin. When people point out misogynistic behaviour as misogynistic they often get told they’re ‘playing the victim card‘ – clawing at whatever stereotypes they can apply to themselves in an attempt to cry ‘discrimination!’ When I did a G+ hangout recently with Alex Gabriel and Rhys Morgan to talk about age-trolling, we were met with exactly that response.
‘It isn’t because you’re young, it’s because you’re wrong‘
If that was the case people would attack the arguments where we were wrong and wouldn’t use age related insults, but they do and as such, are being ageist. Misogyny isn’t an accusation that is thrown around in an attempt to defend people from valid criticism. Valid criticism never comes in the form of ad hominem attacks against the person you disagree with or don’t like (whether misogynistic or not), it’s an accusation levelled because of deep rooted social attitudes that are ingrained in the everyday actions and reactions of (probably) otherwise good people. Referring to sexist threats and language as ‘misogyny’ doesn’t mean people think those making the threats and insults ‘hate women’ as the dictionary definition would suggest. It’s being pointed out that the language being used stems from a society where patriarchal attitudes are considered normal.
In that respect, misogyny is everywhere.