Misogyny, rather like the poor, will always be with us. Don’t worry, I am not going to rehearse the “How OK is it to threaten to rape a women online” number. Is it quite OK? A little bit OK? Not OK? Show me your workings. Essentially Twitter has to decide whether it is a platform or a publisher (responsible for its content). As it is selling ads, it is indisputable that it is more than a mere conduit.
All this has been useful in highlighting the crap thrown at women. This is not to say others don’t suffer abuse based on their race, religion or sexuality. We are not special victims. The abuse is samey: you will be raped/mutilated into silence. It’s no surprise to me, as I wrote pre-internet. There were angry people and what’s more they had got hold of stamps and envelopes.Scary.
Aeons ago Sharon Stone described Hollywood thus: “If you have a vagina and an attitude in this town, then that’s a lethal combination.” The only thing that’s changed since then is that now we all live in this town, offline and on it. So let’s call out what it is we are fighting. A conscious backlash against the gains that women have made.
When Susan Faludi wrote Backlash in 1991 it was interesting but documented a different culture – the US. In the UK, we had no strong religious right for example. She then produced Stiffed in 1999, about how men were suffering too: underpaid and abandoned.
Significantly, though, she had recognised that an anti-feminist backlash occurs not when women have achieved equality but when there is any possibility that we might. It’s “a pre-emptive strike” and here, I would say, it’s been going on for the past five years. This is a strange time to be talking of backlashes when we have just seen several successful feminist campaigns, but we need to understand the scale of what is happening. I am glad there is a woman’s face on the money. But can we have more actual money? Equal pay?
The reality is that in public life, politics, business and media, we are grossly under-represented. There are constant attacks on abortion, a push to make women dependent on partners – Iain Duncan Smith‘s “belief” – and women are disproportionally hit by cuts. The icons of the day are mute and “respectable” – such as Sam Cam and Kate Middleton.
The backlash started in the early 90s when to be laddish and un-PC was a bit a naughty. Liam Gallagher, described brilliantly by his brother Noel as “a man with a fork in a world of soup”, was its pin-up.
Right now we are dealing with something worse: a rightwing establishment and its lackeys who have managed to convince themselves they are mavericks and who are openly anti-feminist. From Toby Young to James Delingpole to Guido’s bloggers, their putrid offerings are not outside the establishment but part of it. They are just fagging for the Tories.
They may do some childcare and fantasise about PJ O’Rourke, but they encourage the bottom-feeders of the “manosphere” who never seem to realise that feminists not only have relationships with men, but sons too.
A recession first reduces equality, then liberty. Look at Clegg wincing next to Cameron. The Lib Dems really don’t do women at all, they are just like … liberal. Clegg is a classic example of a man who pays lip service to feminism but supports the backlash that stops women entering his hallowed territory.
The “manopshere” celebrates BoJo getting rid of an adviser on women as he gets his leg over. Equal rights are just an 80s throwback. Tory women promote a fuzzy, free-floating feminism – marry well or have a cupcake business.
So when surrounded by angry men who feel belittled, it is necessary to point out that women haven’t won. Actually we are losing our hard-won rights. They still own most of the world.
Those in power are legislating away women’s rights at work, making sure women are not promoted, maintaining a status quo in which half the population are silent and invisible. Internet trolls are but fleas on the mangy coat of the backlash. In popular culture as in politics, as Faludi wrote, this is not an organised and centralised conspiracy. Its workings are “encoded and internalised, diffuse and chameleonic”.
So, as a humourlesss feminazi, if I really need to explain that threatening to slit my throat and rape my entrails is not much of a joke, then perhaps we just haven’t had that much feminism.
Indeed, post-feminism has splintered into tiny groups each policing their own identity politics with little sense of a bigger struggle. But as the online cracks open up, some light is shone on women-hating as more than a game. The propaganda is everywhere. What makes women unhappy? Equality. It gives us careers, cancer, makes us drink too much, it makes us ugly to men! Boo-hoo. The backlash whispers in our ears that women secretly yearn for servitude not power. Those who say otherwise will be shut up. No, simply drown this out with noise, pure noise, and wake up. It’s starting to happen. Remember all of them are just guys with forks in a world of soup.
We make the soup.
['Woman peeking behind notebook' via Shutterstock]