Here we are in the 21st century, an era of (alleged) enlightenment and progress, where we speak of tolerance, human rights and inclusiveness, and where we claim we want to end prejudice, racism and sexism, yet all over the world misogynistic attitudes seem to be on the rise.
A leaked memo by a Google software engineer basically repeated sexist stereotypes and declared that as women were biologically wired differently to men, they were not equipped to do the same jobs. Known as the Manifesto on Gender Differences, the memo apparently got the writer fired by Google, but it’s likely that men all over the world are still nodding in agreement at his views and feeling ‘bullied’ by the politically correct. Then of course there was the Mary Beard Roman History episode where the Cambridge Classics Professor was trolled and abused simply because she stated that Roman Britain was actually quite ethnically diverse. She described the abuse as “a torrent of aggressive insults on everything from my historical competence and elitist ivory tower viewpoint to my age, shape and gender.”
Anybody who criticises anything a woman says will usually attack her on her appearance — as Beard aptly summed up, on the basis of their age, shape and gender — in a way that they will never ever attack men.
Recent incidents in Pakistan display the same raging misogyny: the much publicised episode where a female MNA from PTI, Ayesha Gulalai announced she was leaving the political party, due in great measure to lewd text messages she alleged were sent to her by the party leader Imran Khan, was shocking in many ways — mostly in how people reacted to what she said. Vicious things were said about her ‘political opportunism’ and her ‘base moral character’, and she was made the target of very nasty personal attacks.
The women of the political party she had worked for years, all attacked her too as if to say that because the leader had not made a pass at them, this was proof that he would not have made a pass at her… They dismissed her accusation of sexual harassment automatically and unthinkingly.
TV talk shows were ablaze with this debate too but the underlying narrative there as well was that ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’. And the tv anchors did their usual thing of interrupting and talking over her or any other woman they had invited on their shows.
The other much publicised incident was the revenge rape in South Punjab, where a family panchayat decided that it was appropriate for the brother of a girl who had been raped by a relative, to rape that man’s sister. The incident underlined the thinking that a woman is a possession, that she must be kept in her place and that part of the process of controlling her is sexual humiliation. This is the 21st century.
But it’s also the 21st century in the western world, where misogyny is evident not just on social media where women are abused and trolled, but also in mainstream social and employment attitudes. Last month when the BBC revealed the salaries of its top earners, the gender pay gap was astounding — the men being paid much more than women doing the same job. And this gap reflected what is the practice not just at the Beeb, but at most organisations.
Attitudes towards women’s bodies and regarding what should be defined as ‘indecency’ were evident also in the rather amusing incident at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum where a woman who was breastfeeding her child was reprimanded and asked to ‘cover up’. The woman, who says she ‘flashed a nano second’ of breast, tweeted how ironic it was that she was reprimanded in a museum whose walls were covered with depictions of nude women.
It’s the new misogyny — not that different from the old one perhaps, but one that women need to actively challenge and resist.