As we celebrate the official introduction of same-sex marriage to England and Wales, we celebrate the progress of another of society's 'minorities' previously deprived of total equality. But this has got me thinking; it's not long at all since being gay was illegal in the U.K. and yet this group has now been fully recognised in U.K. legislation. There's no denying that this is amazing progress but has anyone wondered why progress made to represent women has been SO much slower? My theory: because some gays are men. Yes, I believe that, as far as societal norms are concerned, that extra appendage makes an awful lot of difference.
Sexism is an everyday occurrence, so much so that few people actually bat an eyelid when it happens. And this is what really makes me angry. WHY? Why do people think it's acceptable to demean and objectify women, treating them like second class citizens who are just around for the entertainment of men? It's not just the men. Sure, they're the ones who carry out sexist acts against women, but some women are just as bad for not questioning it, giving it their silent approval. Just because sexism happens every day, that doesn't mean that it should!
Today, I was out running in my local park and I lost count of the amount of times I was leered at and had crude, sexist comments yelled at me, commenting on my 'fit arse' etc. Yes, they're that imaginative. One man nearly fell out of the passenger window of his car trying to get a good look. These are everyday occurrences. They are demeaning and repugnant but everyday nonetheless, because men are taught by society from an early age that this is appropriate. And it's everywhere; magazines, television, films, celebrities and even in parents and male role models close to home. So with all of this working against us, what chance do women have of being accepted as people with the same rights as men and deserving of the same respect?
When Andy Murray won the Wimbledon men's singles, he was hailed as the first British person to win Wimbledon in 77 years... Whatever happened to Virginia Wade? Doesn't she count because she's a woman? Marion Bartoli was rewarded for her incredible achievement with sexist insults and cruel tweets, telling her she was "ugly", looked like a man and other offensive taunts. And more sexist slurs have come from the likes of Commentator John Inverdale, Boris Johnson, William Hague and even David Cameron. If people in such positions behave in this way without sufficient consequences, how can society overcome this problem?
Of course, I'm not saying that all men are crude specimens who treat women in this way. I can honestly say that I have met some truly respectful men who have treated me with dignity, as an equal person. Perhaps these men are not recognised enough for their attitudes towards women. Perhaps they should be exemplified more and shown as positive male role models, as examples of how men should treat women. And of course, we must acknowledge men who tolerate sexism and objectification too because this is just as wrong. However, I can't help but feel that men seem to be much braver (and often more offensive) about sexist behaviour than women. So maybe more positive male role models could help to head off this problem at source.
Today, I discovered Laura Bates, founder of The Everyday Sexism Project, a platform for women to catalogue their experiences of sexism in a safe, supportive online environment. As part of her campaign, she has also started the Twitter campaign #shoutingback. This is a very positive step forward and, she has received feedback from men saying that they didn't even realise that women had to put up with this kind of treatment. However, not all of the feedback is positive. She has also received messages saying that she should be "raped every day to remind her who's boss." At what point is this acceptable? And WHEN are we going to stand up and say that we will NOT stand for this anymore?!
Reading some of the entries on The Everyday Sexism Project, it really hits home that what society considers everyday sexism is utterly shocking and yet is allowed to happen EVERY day! It ranges from the irritating with
"Trying to find air pump at the garage to check my tyres. Attendant asks "Do you have a man with you to help?""
through to the abusive and damaging with such examples as
"Was groped on the metro + didnt do anythng bc I didnt want 2 cause a scene. Still remember a woman's face next 2 me in shock"
And yet any woman who stands against such behaviour is considered odd or melodramatic and risks being subjected to public humiliation. When discussing this issue with my family, I was told that there was no point in speaking out against sexism and I should just put up with it because attitudes would never change. I refuse to accept this because if everyone who'd encountered sexism had thought like that, women would still be wearing corsets and petticoats and we certainly wouldn't have the vote! Countless women such as Emmeline Pankhurst, Sylvia Plath, Caitlin Moran and thousands of others have dedicated themselves to fighting for the recognition of women as valuable members of society and their efforts have not been made so that we can simply watch sexism happen and allow the women of our own and future generations to be undermined.
In no way am I saying that women are better than men but this is about showing a reasonable amount of respect for all people, regardless of gender. Therefore, we need to come together to show those who think it's acceptable to demean women that it really is not, nor will it ever be. This is a time of iPads, electric cars and the HPV Vaccine... if we can achieve these complex technological feats, why are women still being oppressed and objectified? There is not an app for this! There is no excuse and by passively accepting it, we're condoning this behaviour. Each of us has a place in society as a person with equal rights and responsibilities so it's time for all women to take our places as people and all men to strap on a pair and take responsibility for their own behaviour. Because really we have one thing in common: we're all people, even women, right?