Friday, 16 September 2011

Topman, misogyny and feminism

When I saw this, I can honestly say I was not shocked:

Disgusted? Yes. But did seeing such a casual display of misogyny in 21st Century Britain surprise me? Not in the slightest. If you've been living under a rock for the past few days, allow me to explain. The above image is a new T-shirt recently released by the high street giant, Topman, which, until the backlash against it, was on sale in shops and online. As you can see, it breezily compares women to animals which men have a right to own and, presumably, use and abuse at their will. Lovely stuff, eh?

I am proud that so many people recognised the vileness of this item of clothing and took a stand against it. Topman was forced to withdraw the monstrosity, such was the anger it sparked. So can we conclude that this crude chauvinism is merely an aberration on the behalf of one company from the gender-equal norm? The answer, sadly, is no. 

Misogyny of the sort displayed above is everywhere; in schools, offices and, indeed, homes up and down the country. I have lost count of the number of disgustingly offensive groups and pages I have seen on Facebook. These include: Never hit a woman. No matter how bad the sandwich is, A girls [sic] period should be referred to as "Blow job week" and a fan page for Women who know their place to name but an infinitesimal number (and those, would you believe, are relatively mild). And not just this. Quite literally, a day does not go by where I don't encounter a misogynistic comment, be it a scrap of a conversation I hear when in school or on the bus, or some raucous laughter, the catalyst of which, I soon ascertain, is an hilarious rape joke. What's more, women are forced to put up with sexual harassment from perfect strangers day-in, day-out. On adverts, women are told that lathering themselves with expensive creams, eating nothing but two bowls of cereal for a week and investing in the latest fashion will keep them young and beautiful, safe from the judgement and ostracisation of a society which deems them "useless" when they are no longer pretty and fruitful. Still we live in a world which rigidly adheres to gender stereotypes. Go into any supermarket and you'll find a pink section for "girls' magazines" and a blue one for "boys' magazines". The former of these will deal with make-up, celebrity gossip and fashion. The latter with football, cars and gadgets. This segregation continues into teenage- and adulthood, with "girlie nights in" and "lads' nights out". We may pride ourselves on women no longer being forced to stay at home and rear children. But look at the reality of things. Make no mistake, the 50s attitude still lingers in the minds of many. And even now this government has launched an assault on women and, in particular, those messengers of Satan, single mothers, with their programme of brutal cuts to essential services. Speaking of politics, the recent Nadine Dorries debacle illustrates quite starkly that there are still those who believe the state should be in control of a woman's body. We know we're in a sorry situation when a white, middle-aged, male Tory comes on Newsnight and pontificates about the evils of abortion. 

The point is this: equality before the law and gender balance in the world of work are not enough. Attitudes still remain. The patriarchy is alive and kicking and mere Acts of Parliament ain't gonna get rid of it. Misogyny is commonplace in the present day, and people are not horrified by it as they would be by, say, racism. In fact, let's remodel that T-shirt. Let's imagine it saying: Nice New Black Slave. What breed is she?. Now even the morally bankrupt knobs at Topman wouldn't dream of putting that on one of their products. And yet, it's perfectly fine, funny even, to imply that women are nothing more than the slaves and pets of their male overlords. Sexism and racism are as bad as each other. The sooner this is realised, the better. 

And if anyone calls me "humourless" and protests that those Facebook groups and that top are "just a joke", I say this. It is it "just a joke" when women are abused and raped every day, often by men they know and trust? Is it "just a joke" when women are too afraid to walk the streets alone at night? It is"just a joke" when a 10-year-old girl is kept up at night with worries about her appearance and weight? You say that top is merely a joke. I say it is merely the manifestation of the deeply-rooted, poisonous misogyny which is present in every aspect of our lives.  

So I'd encourage you to boycott the sexist, tax-dodging Topman, and to combat misogyny wherever you find it. Feminism has a lot of work left to do yet if it wishes to establish real gender equality, but I believe such a world is attainable. Every revolution begins with the words "No more". It's up to you to use those words. The patriarchy is waiting to be smashed. 


Alex said...

I couldn't agree with this more. I'd express my enraged, disgusted opinion, but you've doen that and I shan't dwell.

What I find kind of interesting is that we seem to have lost the good manners and respect that we possessed in the past. Maybe these were just civilities, and I admit there was greated subjectation of women in the past, but such an open opinion about something so undeniably abhorrent is sickening. My point is just that there seems to be degeneration in many circles.

I think Trending Topics on twitter also highlight the way many think of women. Just think of yesterday's "Scarlet Johansson" topic, merely because she was attractive, to put it in politer terms.

Ed said...

"And yet, it's perfectly fine, funny even, to imply that women are nothing more than the slaves and pets of their male overlords."

The fact that this hideous t-shirt slogan has been quickly picked up, protested, vilified and removed from circulation would seem to prove you wrong in this point.

The fact is that gender/age/race stereotypes will exist for as long as we can distinguish between different genders/ages/races, and these stereotypes will invariably lead to people causing other people offence. Sometimes this offence will be registered and some action taken against it, sometimes it will not.

Here is an example of offence registered after the fact, with only vitriol left as a form of redress for the grieved party.

Sam Liu said...

Ed, I would counter that with the fact there were lots and lots of people who said they found the T-shirt funny and totally inoffensive. The reason it was withdrawn is that a) people against it were louder and b) the misogyny, as I said, was so crude and public, whereas it is usually either more subtle or kept to private conversations rather than the public sphere.

Susan Deborah said...

What irks me is the fact that many women are the perpetrators of such comments and sexist one-liners.

A well-written post, Sam. Good to be stopping by after a very long time.

Joy always,