After a long weekend away from any and all internet, I finally got round to watching BBC2’s one off show about sexism and the media Blurred Lines: The New Battle of the Sexes, and I have to say it was rather good.
The show covered a lot of ground, including sexism in comedy, sexism in journalism and sexism online, with the premise that it would uncover to what extent the new media had allowed a new kind of sexism or misogyny to breed. Before I go any further, I am going to outline my personal definitions of the terms feminism, sexism and misogyny. These are not dictionary definitions, but simply what I understand the words to mean.
Feminism: The belief that there has been, and continues to be, a systematic oppression of female/women identifying individuals due to the social structure of ‘patriarchy’ – or the dominance of men in society (specifically, cis, straight, white, middle-aged, middle-class men*). Feminism wants to remove this structure from society, and replace it with a system which benefits male indentifying and female identifying individuals equally, of any race, ethnicity, weight, mental or physical ability, or sexual orinetation.
Sexism: Behaving in such a way that assumes that one sex is lesser than the other, specifically that female identifying individuals are lesser than men. A prejudice against female identifying individuals based on their indentity as female.
Misogyny: A hatred of all female identifying individuals, and an active attempt to oppress them and an internalised prejudice against them.
I hope those definitions are clear to everyone. If you have any questions, or need further clarification, feel free to contact me here in the comments, or on my twitter @VickiMaitland. Please note, however, any abuse I experience on any of these social media platforms will result in report.
* I use the term ‘female identifying individuals’ in order to be as inclusive as possible towards the struggles of transwomen and intersex women. I did not use the term ‘male identifying individuals’ in this instance because patriarchy also systematically oppresses transmen and intersex men. The discussion in this post, however, will be primarily focussed on the experiences of women, however, as this was the main concern of the BBC2 programme.
On the whole I believe this programme did an excellent job of showcasing the various forms of sexism and misogyny that women experience in their everyday lives, as well as the mountainous problem we have to face in order to begin to break down this sexist and misogynistic society. It did this primarily by showcasing the (frequently ridiculous, and, frankly, mostly irrelevant) opinions of middle-aged, middle-class, white men. Unsurprisingly, many of their opinions were concerning, particularly the one of a comedian, who stated that once women were equal they became ‘fair game’ as a punchline – seemingly forgetting that after centuries of oppression by men it is completely unfunny for men to mock them. Comedy only works provided it is poking fun at the oppressor, not the victim of oppression. Making a rape joke in which the victim is the punchline is wholly comparable to making a slavery joke in which the slave is mocked. It is disgusting and inappropriate in a society when the balance of oppression has not been redressed, not to mention highly triggering.
The idea that ‘women should be able to tell when something is a joke’ was another opinion which stormed its way through the programme in various different forms, along with its sidekick ‘it’s not my fault if you get offended by something if I meant it as a joke’. We all need to take responsibilities for our words. Whether or not offence was meant, if offence is taken it is only right to apologise and learn. This links to another worrying view which was expressed: the idea that words on the internet do not matter, as if the internet were this magically fairy land where you can say anything without consequence. The internet, as the programme stated, not only reflects our world but also shapes it. It is just as real as the words in a newspaper, or the words spoken during conversation. Just because something is not tangible does not make it any less real. Just because threats and discrimination can be made anonymously doesn’t make them any less serious. It was particularly worrying as this argument came directly after the interviewer had presented evidence that mild, inferred sexism from journalists on and offline turns into extreme misogyny on social media platforms, which in turn becomes validated in the media.
Interestingly, however, there was also evidence to show that non-sexist men are not made sexist through an exposure to sexist media or comedy. Sexist men, on the other hand, are validated in their opinions and are made more sexist by this. Laughing at a sexist joke only serves to validate the opinions of sexist men. A wonderful quote ran roughly as follows: ‘Sexism is like air pollution. We’re not all producing it, and not all in equal quantities, but we’re all breathing it in.’ This quote is so fabulous as it not only articulates how everyone is effected by sexism (men and women alike), but also forms a wonderful backlash to the cry of ‘not all men’ which is so often heard in debates over sexism. Yes, obviously not all men contribute towards sexism, but all men (and all people) need to be part of the solution.
I’ve spoken quite heavily on the different views of the white, middle-class, middle-aged men which were interviewed, and you may be wondering where my commentary on female opinion will begin. This was one of the main flaws of the programme. It tended to give far more airtime to the views and opinions of those whom it was arguing against than those it was arguing for. Rarely we got to hear about the female experience from a woman (other than words given to us by the presenter Kirsty Ward), and although Germaine Greer and Mary Beard were fascinating to hear from not once were we given the voice of a person of colour, or an obvious member of the LGBTQA+ community. This was a programme wholly encompassed with an old fashioned idea of feminism, the type of feminism which only concerned white, middle-aged, middle-class women. I had hoped, since this programme was directly addressing new media, and today’s sexism, that it would give voice to all female identifying individuals. For me this was the programmes major failure.
The programme also attempted to cover a lot of ground – which sadly meant it didn’t really fully deliver on many of the things it said it would in the opening preview. There was very little discussion of music and music videos. Similarly there was minimal discussion of gaming and the ‘geek girl’. This is not necessarily the fault of the programme itself, but rather the fault of the BBC, as this could easily have been a series with each episode focussing on a different aspect of sexism and the media, rather than a one off, one hour long show.
I'm sure there are plenty of elements of the programme I could have gone in distinctly more depth with, as well as there being many ares I have not covered at all. If you have seen the programme, and do want to contribute to this discussion, I would love to hear what you have to say. If you want to contribute but have not yet seen the programme, I would prefer you check it out first. It should still be here on iplayer for the time being.
All in all I was impressed with the show, and for me (a cis, straight, white, middle-class woman) I felt my experiences were relatively represented and recognised. I just wish so much of the programme hadn’t been based around the opinions of white old men telling me how I should or should not feel.