31/07/2013 07:04 BST | Updated 29/09/2013 06:12 BST

Broken Windows and Topless Bimbos - Why We Need to Believe Both Are Serious Problems


It was just a question on University Challenge that set me thinking. The answer was: 'Broken windows theory'.

And I suddenly asked myself - if it's not OK to tolerate broken windows and so-called low level crime and vandalism - because visible evidence of low level crime leads on to high level crime - why is it OK to put up with low level sexism?

Doesn't every high level violent and dangerous sexist crime start with low level sexism? Isn't this the message that the parents of of the murdered girls, Tia Sharpe and April Jones have given to the Prime Minister? If sexism is wrong, why is it allowed at all? Do we allow a little bit of racism in public life? Er no I don't think so. So why do we tolerate sexism?

And why am I thinking about this? Because at last we have some good news, some feminist victories on anti-sexism. Some evidence of the ground shifting under our feet. It feels historic. It feels as though we are starting to realise that broken windows and topless bimbos both need to be taken seriously if we are ever to make any further progress towards a really equal society which doesn't treat women as second class human objects. Clue: we will have made real progress when wardrobe malfunctions, boobs, bottoms, and side boobs are not seen as great ways for female celebs to attract attention.

So here is a summary of the good news which has set me thinking more positively about the future:

• The Bank of England is at least putting Jane Austen on the ten pound note from 2017 and announcing this, Mark Carney, the new Governor of the Bank of England, was amazingly (in old-fashioned male establishment terms) photographed with Caroline Criado-Perez of the Womens Room which led the campaign for another woman on banknotes besides the Queen after Winston Churchill replaces Elizabeth Fry on the fiver in 2016. Their online petition was signed by 35,000 people.

• The Co-op has put plain covers on lads mags to stop them appearing normal for children and for the rest of us and has asked the magazines to provide their own covers by September.

• The fightback has begun against sexist hate-filled, rape-filled, messages sent on Twitter to women in the public eye like Professor Mary Beard, Stella Creasy MP and Caroline Criado -Perez - and sadly many, many others. (Writer Caitlin Moran tweeted: 'For those who say, "why complain - just block?' on a big troll day, it can be 50 violent/rape messages an hour. Exhausting and upsetting.')

• Will a new Twitter hate report button be enough? Probably not, but at least it is a start - and a statement of intent in a big context.

• Child pornography online and the Government's continuing battle to keep it out of our homes by making it opt-in only. Another important statement of intent.

• The continuing good work of Laura Bates with the exposure by her Everyday Sexism website of just how horrible and prevalent sexist attitudes and sexist violence are for women in the 21st century. Her latest campaign working with the Metropolitan Police has already increased the number of sexual harassment incidents on London's trains, Tubes and buses reported to the police.

Why are all these particular victories, this series of good news stories, so important? Well I think it's because at last we feel we have hope again that things can actually change. That we haven't got stuck in a world still run on men's terms even after the heroic efforts and improvements, now so frequently derided, caused by the Suffragettes and the Feminists.

The pressures against women having individual identity , personality and achievement are still very strong. Have you ever noticed how young girls start out looking different and individual and then as teenagers you see their Facebook pictures. They all start to look so similar. They all know how to pose to look like models. It's the long hair, the submissive expressions, the poses. They all morph into the same type of glamour look. I think the pressure for girls to conform to sexist stereotypes is actually getting worse.

As Jeanette Winterson has so aptly put it writing earlier this year about the Suffragettes.

'The Suffragettes believed that a woman who could vote was a woman who could change the way society operated. That hasn't happened. Instead women have become adapters to an environment that doesn't suit us.

'Men control the workplace and the work ethic. Now that our brain power cannot be doubted, our bodies have been requisitioned. When a woman cannot feel comfortable in her own body she has no home'

This Government loves public inquiries. Why don't we have one into what on earth is wrong with men?

And no. Broken windows and topless bimbos is not the title of my next country music hit.