Recent tech developments have contributed to a third wave of feminism – noticeable this time for including the voices of young, switched on and pissed off women, who are carving new social space for themselves via the internet. But where are the men’s voices in the debate? And what does their relative absence tell us? Natalie Proctor looks at contemporary attitudes towards women and the confusing state of gender politics today…
I found myself drawn to the recent BBC documentary ‘Blurred Lines: The New Battle of the Sexes’, because it was set to address issues that plague modern society. I wanted to see what it made of the state of feminism and sexism today. The documentary discussed some very important questions, but gave very few answers. We are asked to consider whether sexism is in fact just as bad as it was some ninety years ago when women in the UK were still struggling for the right to vote, or whether we have developed into a more equal society. Perhaps what is more easily suggested, is that sexism towards women is in fact not better or worse, simply different.
The documentary looks at several areas that evoke ideas of the objectification of women on a daily basis – the internet being a primary culprit. Cases of women being harassed online, with the word ‘rape’ thrown around like it was no more than an emoticon, are sadly increasingly common. Equally, the use of derogatory images of women throughout the media enhances this idea of the woman as a body, and not a mind.
It is at this point however that I must make something clear. Women are used to sell things. Men are used to sell things. Women are presented as half naked to sexualise a product. Men are presented as half naked to sexualise a product. The point being that we cannot overlook the obvious fact that this form of advertising – whether in magazines or on billboards – is not selective when it comes to gender. A particular version of sexy really is what sells. Gender equality is a balancing act. Both women and men must learn to accept the fact that sex does not define who we are. Furthermore, this image presented by the media highlights an important issue for everyone, in that our society is fast becoming, if not already, one based on looks and not merit.
In the case of the documentary, this form of sexualisation is suggested to be only problematic for women. This is, as I have stated, not the case. However, it is clear that the female form is more present in the media than the male. At the same time, sexism towards women is also more common. I found myself infuriated by the suggestion that women need to “Man Up”, as the ever so sensitive editor of ‘Loaded’ magazine states in the documentary. Martin Daubney argued that the magazine celebrated women, and suggested that the images were far from sexist – no surprises there! Of course, who would think that a woman with her legs spread, pouting at the camera, wearing nothing but some see-through pants could ever be deemed overly-sexualised? This woman is on the cover for her “great personality” right?
Hypersexualised images of women are promoted by a laddish culture created by outlets like men’s mags that associate the ‘perfect’ man with the hairless, oily, breasty woman. We need to break down both our preconceptions of the ideal man and woman: they feed each other, and neither exist. Dangerously, whole industries are built on the foundations of these false principles.
There is an important point to be made here however about the women who take up jobs in these industries. Are they really slaves to a man’s world, or are they profiting from the inherent nature of base male desire? This was something brought into question by the Channel 4 documentary ‘Strippers’. The girls interviewed all seemed to project the idea that they were far from being exploited, but in fact exploiting the men who pay for their services. However, it was certainly apparent that some of the girls argued this more convincingly than others. On the other end of the spectrum, the men interviewed who frequented these clubs told the cameras they went for ‘company’ not for sexual pleasure. This was argued unconvincingly in all cases. The fact that even the men who pay for these services feel the need to dress them up as something else, proves lack of moral certainty. Obviously, as I have mentioned before, if women are freely choosing to take up such occupations, then I see no real issue. However, this is hard to guarantee. In the same way, as a woman, it is difficult for me to understand the attraction men have to paying for false affections. Don’t they know these women are only thinking about their wallets? But to each his own I suppose.
Is there gender equality in modern society? In many ways; yes, but it is not yet fully won. Aside from aspects of the media, everyday sexism occurs all the time. A woman knows that if she walks down the street next to a group of male builders, she will be shouted at. At a club, having your arse grabbed is old news. And let’s not forget the old chestnut of double standards when it comes to male and female promiscuity. Personally, I think that the only way we can move forward into a world where women are treated as women and not simply objects lies in two key steps. First, men should remember that women are their sisters, mothers, aunts and friends, not just pieces of meat. Second, women should continue to strive to break the stereotypes engrained in modern society. Human beings have come a long way in achieving status as a person beyond our gender, but we still have a way to go. Rather than a battle of sexes, we should be focusing on battling our own perceptions of what gender means. The problem is one for both men and women to address.
Ultimately then, equality relies on the strength of both men and women, to avoid stereotypes, victimisation, and discrimination. Currently, it looks as if women are generally further on this road of progress. Sadly, I think it will be some time before men are willing to let go of the macho image they have become so accustomed to. But, once they are ready to rid themselves of misogynistic tendencies, equality will truly be in sight. For now though, if men want to play video games with female characters that have breasts the size of space-hoppers then let them! Have faith in the fact that they will probably never experience the real thing.
– Natalie Proctor