Tuesday, July 30, 2013

On misogyny, on and offline

Bill Bailey, well known feminist and supporter
Two stories about misogynists have been in the news over the last 24 hours. The first was about the Co-op and the Lads' mags; the second was the threats made on Twitter to Caroline Criado-Perez after her successful campaign to have a woman on a banknote, for a change.

On yesterday morning's BBC news, Simon McCoy interviewed a man who was introduced as having been involved with the publication of one of the so-called "Lads' mags" - I forget his name. He was reacting to the Co-op's decision that they won't stock these magazines unless they're supplied in opaque covers, so you can't see the glamour models. The Co-op says it's had complaints from customers that the images are not suitable for viewing by children. Simon's interviewee made some pathetic comments about "feminists" who were out to spoil boys' fun, or words to that effect. It was clear from the way he practically spat out the word that his attitude to feminism was anachronistic and ignorant. To him, and men like him, feminists are just unhinged trouble-makers. Children can see women baring all on the beach, he said, so why the fuss about seeing them on a supermarket shelf? Their objectification, and the blatantly sexual poses that might attract the wrong sort of attention on Skegness seafront, that's the difference. I'm sure he knew that.

On Newsnight, a small panel, including Caroline Criado-Perez, discussed the abuse she was subjected to on Twitter, and the reaction to it by her supporters and others. Twitter has been fairly useless, so far. The police don't seem to be doing much, though they have arrested one man. Caroline's not the first woman to experience this sort of thing. By coincidence, Newsnight followed Professor Mary Beard's programme about Caligula; Mary experienced similar abuse after she appeared on Question Time not long ago. One of her trolls was "outed" and when Mary found out who he was, she threatened to tell his mum; he apologised. Most trolls are probably not bothered about what their mums might say. Most trolls are probably almost as horrible to their mums as they are to other women.

Not for the first time, this has set me thinking. Compared with the horrific treatment of women in other parts of the world, threats of rape and other online unpleasantness are, arguably, less serious. Domestic violence in the UK is very serious. Misogynist attitudes towards women in the Middle East persist, whether or not there's been a brief Arab spring. The forced marriage of young girls, honour killings, and the denial of basic human rights to women, are familiar stories in Pakistan. When young men have been raised in these patriarchal cultures, where misogyny is mixed up with fundamentalist Islam, it's difficult to see how they can be persuaded to change. But here in the UK, and in America, where there are plenty of Twitter trolls, attitudes ought to be more enlightened.

There is a word for women who hate men. The Oxford Dictionary says,
A woman who hates men can be described as a misandrist, and the corresponding noun is misandry. But however prevalent the attitudes described by these words may be, the words themselves aren't common. There are currently only 23 examples of misandrist in the Oxford English Corpus, while misogynist appears more than 1,200 times; 37 uses of  misandry are overshadowed by 1,592 examples of misogyny.
"He is unaware of punctuation
and is as literate as a spoon."
A Lucy Pepper troll.
"However prevalent the attitude"? Of course there are women who hate men; many have good reason to hate them - see previous paragraph. But why is it that Internet trolls are overwhelmingly male? Why do they enjoy being so disgusting? Surely they can't all have been neglected by their mothers? How do they behave towards women in their day to day lives - their female relatives, colleagues, neighbours? Are most of them basically sad cowards, whose relationships are non-existent? Artist Lucy Pepper has compiled a troll catalogue, which shows some of them as quite endearing failures - failing to understanding what is acceptable behaviour, and why they'll never win any reasonable friends or influence any sensible people.

It's evident from the sort of thing that misogynist trolls tweet that English was probably not their strongest subject at school, and that they're generally as thick as a brick. I'll bet that many of them were the sort of boys who spent all their schooldays sniggering at the back of the class, like Beavis and Butt-Head, a distraction to anyone who wanted to learn anything. They hate women, yes, but they hate clever women the most. Clever Caroline's campaign to have a clever women - Jane Austin - on an English banknote stirred something in their pathetic little troll brains. How do they function? It's a mystery. Emma Barnett of the Telegraph tried to find out, but didn't get very far. After one troll told her that "men are predators", she asked how he would feel if, like Criado-Perez, his mother received 50 rape threats an hour?
His first answer was genius: “She wouldn’t because my mum’s not a feminist.”
Pity his dad wasn't a feminist, like most of my male friends.

And what would Jane have thought about all this? She'd have been horrified.
"I cannot think well of a man who sports with any woman's feelings; and there may often be a great deal more suffered than a stander-by can judge of."
Jane Austen - Mansfield Park.
(The above will be unintelligible to the average male troll.)

For those who don't know: feminism means the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.


Pat (in Belgium) said...

Sometimes it "helps" to have an androgynous name. It usually takes trolls a little longer to start gender slamming me because "Pat" can go both ways.
I continue to be surprised at the venom from inhabitants of countries I think I "understand" -- at least a little -- because of a common language. (Interestingly, Canada, so far, has come off better than either England or the United States.)
And I have a tendency to stereotype the trolls as very young (barely double digit) males with skin and/ or body image problems & dating issues...or solitary over 40s, with hair and/ or body image problems & dating issues. I need to stop stereotyping, period, and definitely stop focusing on age AND image! :3

Margaret Nelson said...

If an androgynous name helps, that would mean disguising your gender in other ways too, or it wouldn't work. Many people on Twitter don't use a photo of themselves but some sort of avatar. But why should it be necessary to hide your identity in this way? It only inhibits genuine communication, and one of the reasons I like Twitter is being able to communicate with all sorts of people.

I think the majority of trolls are likely to be white males between 15 and 40, though I'm unaware of any research about them - will have to check.

Christie said...