Online Misogyny 2.0

Whipping up a storm in a teacup is easier than one might think. Take a generous amount of generalisation, add a touch of casual reading around the “facts” of an issue, and throw in the odd random piece of information that serves no purpose other than to flesh out the aforementioned generalisation. And so it is that we have another article, following the furor that occurred yesterday with respect to the Demos/Twitter/misogyny info thing, that does little other than speak to those who love to leave comments at the foot of online articles, which, if you’ve ever taken the trouble to read such comments, you’ll find degenerate rather quickly into nasty slanging matches – now, where’s the taskforce to deal with those kind of comments?

Asserting that the Internet is “an exaggerator of everything human, where the bad is extraordinarily horrible and noisier than the good,” is such a simple, generalised position to take, in that it conveniently ignores all the good aspects of a medium that connects people around the globe in a way never before seen – and there are a great many examples of such. Following this, we are told of the “brave campaign in the House of Commons against online misogyny,” where politicians will “call for people to join a consultation on what can be done about the poisonous sexism, racism, homophobia and plain bullying the web has unleashed into the ether.” Now, I’m pretty sure that all of the “poisonous” things listed here existed prior to the Internet. The Internet hasn’t unleashed such things; it’s just that it’s way easier for people to express their views and for others to hear such views.

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Then there’s the claim that the report focuses solely on the words “slut” and “whore.” It doesn’t. Demos also researched the use of the word “rape.” And here’s an interesting thing they found with respect to the use of the word rape: “79 per cent of users tweeted only once, 12 per cent twice, 4 per cent three times. The most prolific tweeter of ‘rape’ tweeted 392 times.” So, straight away we see that one person (the prolific tweeter) is responsible for a whole lot more uses of the word than anyone else. The same is also true of the use of “slut” and “whore,” where: “78 per cent of users tweeted either “slut” or “whore” once, 14 per cent twice, 4 per cent four times. The user who produced the most tweets containing these words tweeted 415 times.” It seems that most Twitter users whose tweets became part of the research findings may, in fact, only use these words a few times – and it is noted that the use of such words increases around things like media coverage and celebrity involvement in similar discourse, and so, the bulk of what we seem to be seeing is a form of public engagement, like it or not, with what takes place in the media and in the world of entertainment. Should we look to suppress such engagement? For sure, it might be nice to think that we could suppress the “prolific tweeter” mentioned above, but is that realistic? There will always be a minority who hold unsavoury views – just look at some of our current politicians.

Getting back to the article. It goes on to ask why such expression of hate via this use of language? The answer appears to be simple. It’s all down to the fact that, “like the sad angry men, girls lashing out express all their own insecurities and lack of self-esteem. If you hate yourself and your body, if you can’t match the impossible ideal woman imagery all around you, then you lash out to make yourself feel better.” This seems to be a very reductive view of the women using “slut” and “whore” in their tweets. Again, as mentioned in the previous post, we can look at women’s appropriation of such words in many different ways – some positive (Slut Walk), some negative. Surely we can’t generalise that all such uses are down to insecurity over body-image – that’s a really sloppy take on the situation and more than a tad convenient. One could even say it was misogynistic, right?

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After all the generalisation, there’s also an example of the kind of random piece of information that I alluded to earlier. In this particular example, we are told of the Swedish education system and its sterling work at setting up “feminist girls’ clubs” to protect and support girls. Yet throwing this factoid in opens up another can of worms when we look at the figures that seem to suggest that Sweden has the highest rate of rape in Europe, where “according to a study published in 2003, and other later studies through 2009, Sweden has the highest sexual assault rate in Europe, and among the lowest conviction rates.” Again, it’s more complicated than this – stigma around reporting incidents may differ, the categorisation of what constitutes a sexual offence may be broader than other countries. In short, there’s no easy answer.


Online Misogyny

There’s a slightly bizarre stat embedded in Demos’ recent research into “Misogyny on Twitter,” and it’s that over half of all the offenders accused of using the words “slut” and “whore” in an aggressive way are women. Another bizarre thing to come out of today’s breaking news is that a task-force set up to tackle the problem of misogyny online is to be headed by Yvette Cooper, one of the candidates being touted as a possible successor to JC, if the Labour Party ends up having another leadership battle.

Now, the report’s findings are bizarre because if you’re looking specifically at the hatred of women, how on earth are you supposed to tackle such a problem if women appear to be equally to blame, which in this case, according to the report, they are. Similarly, the appointment of Yvette Cooper to head the task-force is bizarre because of the current relationship the public has with its politicians, who are mostly viewed with distrust, and for very good reason, what with expense scandals and other stuff dating back a good way into the distant past. It would seem that if you want to end the practice of misogyny, a form of hate, the worst thing you could do is let a politician take control of finding a solution to the problem, and that means any politician, not just Yvette Cooper, because arguably they are hated figures at the moment.

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And you also have to consider that many of the women using the terms “slut” and “whore” are doing so in an ironic way, according to the report, which is something the authors of the report call “casual misogyny.” These women are said to have reclaimed the terms from their detractors and are now using them as they see fit. Now, the question here is, who has the right to tell them that they can’t do so? A politician (who undoubtedly, because this is what politicians do, is using any form of media headline in order to further their career ambition)? Basically, it’s just a very messy area of the Internet to be dealing with because the circumstances surrounding the data draw no clear conclusions. Men are the problem, but women are also the problem. Some women are using the terms in an ironic way, but is that also the case for some of the men? The report doesn’t mention this.

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So, how does Yvette Cooper plan to tackle the rise in online expressions of a seemingly misogynistic nature? Perhaps again, relating this issue to the issues raised in a previous post about masculinity and its origins, we really need to look at the very early stages of a child’s development, because, as stated in that last post via a piece of anecdotal evidence, such things begin to occur at a very young age. “I hate girls,” an expression heard by many a parent, I’m guessing, always has the potential to turn into “I hate women.”


The Masculinity Project

With Grayson Perry’s (Alan_Measles) All Man series* fresh in the mind, with its exploration of modern-day masculinity, an interesting approach to take from this point might be to track back to uncover those sites that promote unadulterated gender-trait propaganda. One such site, surely, must be early years education, where the “genders” are split in very distinct ways (boys with trousers/girls with skirts or dresses – and of course, girls can wear trousers but boys very definitely cannot wear skirts/dresses, at least not without severe consequences, for the most part), and where, and this is purely anecdotal and not meant to be a completely universalised approach, for anyone with hands on knowledge of young children and the prejudices they bring home from school, there exists a tangible sense that “boys are better than girls.” One such conversation held just a matter of moments ago, and thus inspiring a continued interaction with Grayson Perry’s recent topic, ran along the lines of “girls are rubbish at my school because they’re rubbish at football and games.”

Now, anyone who has a reasonably long history of reading posts on this site (hi, Bercianlangran) will know that it is unlikely that I would be inclined to further such petty notions of boys versus girls, and so, if we stop to think about such things, where does this misogyny-in-miniature stem from? Could it be from an unmonitored engagement with TV and stuff? In this instance, no. Could it be that there’s an overly masculine father figure? Again, no. Could it be the influence of peers and contemporaries? It’s doubtful. The site most responsible for the boys/girls antagonism, and again this is just conjecture, is likely to be early years education, which, for the most part, seems to engage in gender-splitting conduct (gender-splitting referring to the ways in which boys and girls are kept separate and thus, as a result, grow up thinking that there are vast differences between one another). Such conduct occurs around dress, toileting, sports, games, activities, colour association, physical interaction, and classroom behavior techniques, amongst other things. The very interesting thing about looking into such a site is that females, in terms of teachers and support staff, predominantly populate early years education. In the very same way as was pointed out in the recent post about episode two of Grayson’s All Man, females seem to be at the root of those places where masculinity is bred, and where it then has a habit of manifesting into a really dysfunctional noun, which, perversely if you think about it, comes back to be a real thorn in the side for both females and males in general. Maybe Grayson will come back with a second series looking at the roots of masculinity, with early years education a part of that conversation? What say you, Channel 4?

*Whilst the YouTube clip attached to “All Man series” (above) is unlikely to offend, the comments are proper NSFW stuff, yet they are highly amusing if one is interested in knowing what makes people get hot under the collar.


Masculinity in the City (or Just a Lot of Bankers?)

Grayson Perry’s (@Alan_Measles) series, All Man, has been a lot of fun to watch and the third in the series, dealing with masculinity in the world of high finance, is no exception, although, initially, the thought of watching anything to do with the people who value money over and above everything else in life seems a little off-putting to say the least (there’s the ever present working-class chip-on-the-shoulder making an appearance). However, having sat through part of the cage-fighter episode (I still need to watch the whole thing on catch-up), and the one on masculinity in Skem (see previous post), I thought it rude to give up on the series, especially as Grayson is such a charismatic, insightful and subversive television presenter. And so, with preconceptions and prejudice at the ready, most of which appeared to be mirrored in Grayson’s own dim view of financiers as the antithesis of his own “lefty-artsy” sensibilities, I watched to see if wealthy masculinity is really any different to that of the underclasses in Skem, or to that of the cage fighters in the North-East. And you know what? I don’t think it is, at least judging by what was shown.

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The most interesting aspect of the show, for me, was the way masculinity was shrouded and “gentrified” by the financiers to appear more “sensitive” to onlookers. Whereas the cage fighters and Skem lads wore their masculinity as a badge of honour (although in fairness, some of the Skem lads wore literal shrouds to obscure their faces from the camera, at times) it seems that masculinity in the “City” is hidden behind a very thin veneer – a stance that feels far more pernicious because it is being obscured from view. The reasons for this were not explained, at least not by the financiers, and some of them seemed to claim that they aim to leave feeling and emotion behind in order to reach a more machine-like rationale with which to harvest ever more Dollars and Yen and Pounds and Euros, and so on (which sounds like just plain old masculine bullshit, really). Whatever the reasons behind this charade of masculinity as non-masculinity, it’s safe to say that the same skewed and idiotic notions of “masculinity” abound amongst the financiers as they do amongst the other groups Grayson visits. Finally, in a popular culture setting (via the medium of TV), masculinity is having its layers picked at in order to uncover what it’s all about. Unlike femininity, feminism, and other stuff related to the fem prefix, masculinity hasn’t been subjected to such careful scrutiny outside of academic circles. Masculinity – what a load of bollocks.

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All Man – Really?

A very interesting thing came out of Grayson Perry’s programme, All Man, during the second show concerning the inhabitants of a housing estate in Skelmersdale. The overwhelming story linking the majority of “disaffected” young men on the estate is one of the absent father, and the state of growing up in a household headed by a matriarch. Grayson’s end-of-show art-piece, meant to reflect the things he’s learned during his time with the “men,” in this instance, led to a work titled “The King of Nowhere,” indicating the futility of the “men” in their playing out of the role of the “masculine protector.”

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Confusingly, then, we are exposed to the Skem estate version of masculinity that has had very little in the way of “training” in masculinity from male role models – note the prevalence of the absent father figure. However, we are introduced to a mother living on the estate whose child, we are told, gave her both a Mother’s Day and Father’s Day card because the child recognised that she fulfilled both roles in the absence of the father. So, it seems that the men of the film must be acting out a version of masculinity that has its roots firmly entrenched in the female role model of the mother figure. The question is, then, are the mothers in some way responsible for the “men” they have birthed, must they, as a result, be labelled as being complicit in the dysfunctional cycle of “masculinity” being played out by the men? The question that follows this initial question must then be: how do we all tolerate such ridiculous notions as “masculinity” when we see that it has no basis in actual experience, because if masculinity is meant to be a trait of gender (linked to the male), how can the Skem men be said to be enacting a form of masculinity when they’ve grown up, to a man it would seem, without male role models?


Citizen Four versus Snowden – Who Wins?

It seems like yet another disappointing blow for counter cultural forces, if that’s even a term that applies here, when we learn that a feature film is coming out of Hollywood to fill us in on the “truth” behind the Edward Snowden whistle-blowing episode of recent times. What, and this really is a pressing question, is so wrong with Citizen Four that a Snowden even has to be made? Depending on how you like your conspiracy theory kind of stuff, it’s easy to imagine that O. Stone has done all manner of freaky stuff to ramp up the tension between the NSA and Snowden himself, and then presumably also the Kremlin, given Russia’s role in housing Snowden.

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But what is the overall effect of such profiteering meddling? Will we learn anything more from Stone’s film? Citizen Four seemed a pretty good effort at uncovering, potentially, a whole hornet’s nest of deception and lies and darn right Machiavellian plotting on the part of the NSA and GCHQ, so where does Snowden come in in all of this? If, yet again, we end up with a dumbed-down approach to something that, if true (Snowden’s accusations that the NSA (and GCHQ) has the ability to spy on ALL its citizens), should be investigated by all manner of responsible bodies (but not really sure who or what might fulfill such a role, given the state of governments these days). Perhaps the money that went into making and distributing Snowden may have been better spent spreading the word, and distribution, of Citizen Four. But then again, who’d have made serious money from that? Not Gordon-Levitt, nor Stone, nor Woodley, nor the countless studios involved in production, and on and on and on…


Louis Theroux on Britain’s Favourite Drug: Alcohol

Louis Theroux’s most recent documentary, Drinking to Oblivion, shows Louis in a slightly different light. He’s known for his own particular style of documentary interview technique, where his face cracks a kind of smirk or appears with a sort of nonchalant look on it as he asks questions that seem to be designed to make the viewer squirm. Thinking of the word that best captures Louis’ on-camera persona from the recent past must be… disingenuous. Disingenuous is perhaps how Louis’ old style of interviewing could be seen – snide seems a tad harsh a description, and if you look and listen closely to DtO, where Louis is very well behaved, on the whole, there is still a flash of the old style in there. As Louis visits Peter and his partner at their new rented lodgings, and as Peter explains how he is feeling better after being diagnosed and treated for mental health issues, Louis slips into the conversation, rather uncomfortably, that Peter’s partner was considering leaving him at the height of his last bout of alcohol dependency – “did you know that?” Louis asks Peter. Fortunately, Peter and his partner do seem to have discussed the issue, but had they not, what would such a question have added to the programme? In what way would Peter’s newfound alcohol-free calmness have been affected by such a potential curve ball?

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For much of the rest of the programme Louis is quite tactile with his subjects, and even displays signs of genuine affection towards those he meets, Peter included, but he also falls into a habit that perhaps many members of the public would also fall into when faced with such an uncomfortable position of watching seemingly “together” and intelligent people fall into the trap of alcohol dependency. The habit, here, is of asking the same questions repeatedly: “Are you okay?” “How are you feeling?” This documentary, more than any of Louis’ others that come to mind, shows Louis at a loss for words – how else would you describe the tactic of asking the same banal questions to people who are clearly neither okay, nor feeling terribly well. And perhaps the best example of Louis being at a loss for words is when Aurelie asks him a question about what he thinks about her and her plight. Fair play to Louis for keeping those bits in the documentary and for not having them edited out. Let’s hope the programme goes some way to shedding light on what is a massive problem with Britain’s favourite drug. To back up this statement, here’s a statistic courtesy of Huffpost Lifestyle UK: The NHS estimates that around 9% of adult men in the UK and 4% of UK adult women show signs of alcohol dependence. Truly shocking.


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