Thu, Aug 05, 2010 - Page 9 News List

Casual, everyday sexism reveals the deep misogyny in society

You can easily spot a woman-hater by the language they use and their daily modus operandi of sneering and leering at, exploiting and ignoring women


Last month I graced the overground line’s replacement bus service to Gospel Oak, north London. Sitting near some posh teens chatting about a party, I heard one boy snicker: “I have never so wanted to slap a girl as I did then.”

Everyone laughed and nodded.

Cut to a Starbucks in Holborn. Four sleek, Middle Eastern guys, the type who look like sophisticated, multilingual diplomats’ kids. They’re gossiping about their classmates.

One is laughing so hard he can barely speak: “That Saira, she is the fucking ugliest girl I have ever seen in my life!”

Or how about a tube journey last winter. A group of tracksuited, pimply London “youths.”

One of them mentions a schoolmate and another replies: “Yeah, but she’s a slag, though, isn’t she?”

All nod sagely.

This is the casual sexism of strangers — strangers of difference races, classes, ages, cultures. They know that when the conversation flags, a joke at a woman’s expense will revive the ­atmosphere in a twinkle.

Sometimes I don’t need to use my supersonic skills to eavesdrop on this toxic matter. My own friends serve it up. An agent pal tells me he had to chase a publisher because “some bloody middle-aged woman didn’t read the manuscript.”

A once-beloved writer friend relates how he Googles his exes, “and they all look like hags.”

Another man liked a book: “And I was dubious, you know, because it’s a woman author.”

An urbane friend spotted a chic girlfriend of mine at a party: “Who’s that whore over there?”

Not to mention what goes on at work. A photographer at a liberal publication discovered she and her female colleagues were paid less than their male counterparts.

When she got pregnant, her boss told her: “You can’t be a photographer and a mother.”

We are not talking about six months embedded with Military Man-Trauma Unit Zero in the Democratic Republic of Macho, just shooting a house in Holland Park.

A radio producer recounted holiday tales of how he met “some tart from Thomas Cook.”

He showed me a picture of an author and jeered: “She’s had her teeth done, look, look.”

When I asked, “Please, don’t make stupid comments about women’s appearances, OK?” he got angry.

A female producer told me that when she recommended the excellent Quilts exhibition at the V&A to her boyfriend and father, they both jeered: “My boyfriend said, ‘Were most of the people there women? I bet they were.’”

Yes, Woman is truly jeer-worthy, and anything associated with Woman is jeer-worthy too.

An acclaimed novelist told me that when she and a male author turned up to review books for a radio show, she was assumed to be doing his public relations by three different people before they even got inside the studio — where she was the only woman, and they only reviewed men’s books. A prominent academic constructed a literary course featuring equal numbers of male and female authors. Her male students complained that there were too many women.

Why don’t these women want to be named? Why don’t I expose the perpetrators? Because the victims will be punished and women’s jobs, opportunities and places will be lost. Belligerent women will be replaced by docile ones, or by men. So I say nothing, and we cling to our tenuous position and retain the privilege of working alongside the people whose “casual” sexism is nothing less than an integral part of a society steeped in contempt for women.

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