If you switched on your TV last week, this is what you’d have seen: Two hundred and seventy six school girls kidnapped in Nigeria, Oscar Pistorious on trial for murdering Reeva Steenkamp in his bathroom and media personalities accused and convicted of terrible sex crimes against young women and girls. Tough going. Then to relax in the evening, there was new BBC drama ‘Happy Valley’, which is not happy at all, just very violent and quite rapey.
Sexism and misogyny have always been there. The ‘stay in the kitchen’ jokes, the ‘changing a plug’ problems, the ‘being overlooked at work in favour of a younger and less qualified boy’, the leering weirdos, but just lately, it all feels louder. I’m a girl. I’m the mother of a baby girl. And I’m starting to feel, for the first time in my 31 years, a little bit threatened.
‘Blurred Lines’ (BBC1) on Wednesday night was a heinous patchwork of sexism in all its most gruesome glory and asked where the ‘lines’ are. Is it OK to have a chortle at a sexist joke? Is it OK that young people learn about sex from pornography? Is it OK to play a computer game where your digital self can have digital sex with a digital woman and afterwards, digitally kick her to death? Is that more OK if the ‘game’ is rated 18? I couldn’t imagine anyone would think, ‘yes’, but on Twitter as usual, there were lots of people (men and women) who couldn’t really see a problem with it.
Girls themselves aren’t helping matters. Female entertainers are increasingly naked, and aggressive and so are lots of our young ladies. The ‘empowered’ woman’s reaction to sexism seems to be provocative and goading. Miley and Rihanna are marketed to us as women who can do whatever the hell they like with their bodies (hang on that’s actually a Gaga lyric isn’t it?) as now they’re in control. Yeah! Hi five sister! But no matter what they say, whether it’s about control, empowerment, ownership of your own sexuality, it still feels a bit wrong doesn’t it? It feels dangerous. It feels like giving validation to a sinister sub section of people with bad intentions. And if something feels wrong, it probably is.
I have no problem planning the conversation with my daughter where I tell her she can be whatever she wants. I believe our society has a great and normal structure where women can get any job and be treated respectfully as the citizens which they are. However, I do struggle to imagine how I’ll explain sexism or misogyny to her. Do I explain it? Or do I let her find out about it for herself online, and then blink up at me with those baby blues, puzzled.
Games like ‘Grand Theft Auto’ are profoundly negative. It’s just not possible to see them in any other light. After ‘Blurred Lines’ I went onto Twitter to search desperately for people who felt the same as me and reassure myself that a hell-mouth hadn’t opened up and swallowed our planet. I tweeted that a game where you could be abusive to children or to animals wouldn’t be allowed, so why was this? Someone replied and said, ‘Perhaps if you played the game instead of jumping on the anti-GTA bandwagon, you’d know you can kill animals on it’. Oh. Wow. Well, I am firmly on that bandwagon my friend. I have a front row seat on that particular wagon and you should be sitting next to me, not sitting in your bedroom pretending to mug people and kill animals.
Violence and crime aren’t fun. They’re not games. They’re not fantasies or hobbies and shouldn’t be made available as those things. If you feel like you need to indulge dark sides of your character, I’d suggest having a cold glass of water, taking a very deep breath, doing up your anorak and walking quickly to a psychiatrist. ‘Hello, my name is X and I think I need some help’. Off you go. Chop chop.