Thursday, 10 September 2015

An MOT on offense

“I appreciate that this is probably horrendously politically incorrect but that is a stunning picture !!!! You definitely win the prize for the best Linkdin photo I have ever seen”

Those words have triggered something of a storm on social media and the print and online media in the case of Sarah Vine, as feminist activists and feminist pragmatists and everyone in between, adds their comments to the notion of whether a man paying a woman a compliment equates to sexism or misogyny or both in these febrile days online.

After Charlotte Proudman contacted Alexander Carter-Silk on Linkdin, and received his response, she decided that it was both and posted their exchange on her Twitter feed. She used phrases like social policing, gender control and terms like demeaning to explain her case

This then triggered the mobs on both sides of the argument to rip and tear the reputations of those involved, until the bones of the whole thing became bleached by the white heat of anger. When it comes to the mob rule of Twitter in shaming people, that is probably the best definition of “social violence” that exists.

I posted a joke comment that at my age a compliment on my photo is welcome, “just don’t call me stupid”, because I’m 49 not 27 and my response to these things are framed by my own perspective and lived experience.

I posted this comment from the garage, which was carrying out an MOT on my car. I had time as I was waiting.

I like the garage that I go to. It’s always been reasonable, they don’t over charge they are good at what they do and they have built up a client list by adopting a friendly approach. They also have never made me feel idiotic by dint of my gender for not having any knowledge about car mechanics.

As I finished writing the tweet. I heard the tail end of a conversation happening in front of me. There was another customer who had arrived to pick up his car, a man in a suit, who I suspect was in his late fifties. The owner of the garage was asking him if he fancied joining his pool team.

“Looking for blokes to join are you” Suitman said

“Or women” the owner replied

“Are you? They really do have to have it all equal these days don’t they? Most of them can’t play pool” he said without a smile.

“I’ve been beaten at pool by many women over the years” said the owner reasonably, and laughed

The suit man wasn’t laughing. Instead he looked angry then he looked directly at me and said “Well, do you play pool?”

I looked at him for a moment or two. Then I said “No I don’t play pool”

Then he started laughing. With triumph in his voice he looked back to the owner and said “You see, they can’t play pool”

There was a silence from everyone except him. I got up and went outside..

That‘s the desired result of sexism and misogyny. Its intent is to shocks and awe women into silence and other men into admiration. I saw no admiration from the other men just embarrassment. I was a required prop and had played my part sufficiently well so that a man could reinforce his blinkered, narrow and bigoted view of the capabilities of women to the full.

I was simply included in the conversation to be used and then discarded. It was of no interest to Suitman how humiliated I felt. He had “won” his pointless argument.

The interesting thing is that it wasn’t the men in a male dominated environment who were being sexist. It was the man in the suit, one who probably works with and for women every day , who simply couldn’t contain his need to be right.

It wasn’t the mechanics, stereotypically and wrongly deemed to be blokeish and misogynistic, who had humiliated me but another customer, who thought it totally fine to drag me into a conversation just to show me and them, who was going to win his gender war.

I still think it’s fine for a man  to compliment a woman’s photo, I think his Linkdin response was a little awkward and self conscious, and at worst creepy but making too much of the greyer areas of sexism tends to play directly into the hands of those people who believe that feminism is to be feared and therefore loathed.

He was possibly stupid but not misogynistic

Not all women find those comments offensive and not all men would comment in that way,

I think I resent this sort of fuss because, ironically I feel it plays to a notion of female fragility which I dislike and don’t adhere to. A notion that words like “tits” can’t be used because it offends or that universities can’t debate all issues and topic as free spaces, in case it triggers those who may be hurt. I find that quite frightening.

I know that often the argument levelled at women who feel as I do, by women who feel they know better; is that in feeling that way I have a deeply repressed inner misogyny, wrought over years of oppression.

I believe that over reacting to the foolishness of some, with disproportionate rage, lessens the impact of action when it’s truly required and conversely it allows sexism and misogyny to flourish.

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