Misogyny laid bare – Laura Bates and Winnie M Li at the Edinburgh Book Festival

Imagine if, in the wake of the shocking murder of a woman Police went door to door in the area telling men that they could only go out in pairs, telling them that we know that one of you is murdering women, but we don’t know who.

It would be utterly absurd, wouldn’t it? And the outrage in the Daily Mail would probably melt the polar ice caps in seconds.

After Sabina Nessa was killed last year, Police went round telling women in Camden not to go out alone. Why should women constantly have our lives restricted because of the behaviour of men?

At the Edinburgh Book Festival, Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates challenged us to think creatively about how we can get rid of the injustices faced by women.

She was talking about her book Fix the System, not the women, in which she highlights how society’s structures reinforce each other in failing to recognise and tackle that unfairness.

It tends to be the pretty, white, middle class women who hit the headlines, but, as Laura pointed out, a woman is murdered every three days in this country. We don’t hear about them. If we did, it would be impossible to ignore the pattern of behaviour and institutional bias that puts them in danger.

Apparently the top Google search about Sabina Nessa’s murder was “what was she wearing?” As a society, Laura said, we are prepared to believe that murders and rapes are isolated incidents, which happen because of something some silly woman did wrong, whether it was her attire, the amount she had to drink or who else she had ever consented to have sex with and in what circumstances.

The media reinforce these attitudes, leading to a situation where a third of jurors believe that if a woman was drunk, she was complicit in her own rape. This environment is not conducive to bringing perpetrators to justice.

She looked at the language often used when reporting about rape:

We don’t see discussions of theft described as non-consensual borrowing yet they call rape non=consensual sex.

Nobody would say to a victim of arson that because they went to s bonfire party 3 years ago they maybe they secretly enjoyed a good fire.

And then there’s the fear kicked up by the media that good men are losing their jobs because of false allegations of sexual assault. That fear, Laura said, is completely unfounded. A man is 230 times more likely to be raped himself than to be falsely accused of sexual assault.

She talked about how the Metropolitan Police were so quick to dismiss the murderer of Sarah Everard, at that time a serving officer, as one bad apple. However, we know of the awful culture of misogyny throughout its ranks.

We therefore have  media, law enforcement and justice systems all stacked against women, so you turn to politics to help and find a chronic under-representation of women in positions of power and a disproportionate number of men accused of sexual misbehaviour.

Power is concentrated in the hands of white men who prioritise their own agenda. As an example, the news that a third of girls were sexually assaulted in school came out at the same time as the new football superleague was announced. Laura highlighted how Boris Johnson basically cleared his diary to sort out the football situation. What did the crisis in education get? Some words about how awful it was but no meaningful action.

Laura was joined by Winnie M Li, a Taiwanese American author whose latest novel, Complicit, features a culture that enables sexual assault and inappropriate behaviour towards women in the film industry. The main character, through the device of a lengthy interview with a journalist, realises that the isolated incidents she saw working in the industry were part of a pattern of misogyny and sexual assault.

Winnie’s first novel, Dark Chapter is basically an account of her own rape by a stranger in Northern Ireland. This shocking incident attracted media attention. Obviously she was anonymous, but she described listening to a radio discussion about her rape just after it happened and someone said that her life had been ruined. That, she said,  made it so much worse for her as it took away the hope that she would recover. She felt that they were discussing her without thinking about  the impact on her of what they were saying about her.

She feels that institutions should listen to survivors’ feedback on how to improve their processes so that they become more survivor centred.

Laura Bates called for a statutory enquiry into misogyny which would also look at intersectional issues facing,  young women, women of colour, disabled women, transgender women. She pointed out that a fifth of women are disabled yet accessible domestic abuse refuges are thin on the ground.  This is not unlike our policy calling for a Royal Commission on tackling men’s violence against women in all its forms.

There is little doubt that we need to take serious systemic action to tackle misogyny. There is little hope of that under the current Government.  That’s yet another reason to get them out of power.

This was a thought provoking event calling for serious societal change. You can watch it online for a donation of your choice here.

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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5 Comments

  • Ruth Bright 23rd Aug '22 - 6:01pm

    I am clawing my way back to health after months of illness and often walk about on my own to get my strength back.

    Monday before last I was harassed three times on the street in Eastleigh. Once going passed a dodgy pub at about 8.30pm. All three incidents were of the “go on, talk to us love” variety.

    On Wednesday I was shouted at from a car in a traffic jam when I was coming back from the park. The man was in his 20s (I am 55), he made a sexual sort of grunt and then turned it into a “Ugh” yuk sort of sound when I turned round and he saw how old I was. Had a good cry when I got home 😢

  • Lorenzo Cherin 24th Aug '22 - 1:02am

    Caron
    A poignant and powerful article. Much in it sayst ou something regarding the personal rather than the political agenda. Villainy needs to be punished. That might require sentences increase, and harsher punishment. Liberals who are demnocrats must face the need for harsher punishment, as socially and politically necessary.

    Similarly the schoolboys asaulting girls. This indicates abysmal lack of both decency on the part of those offenders, and lack of discipline in schools. Liberals who are democrats also on this need to face the fact that parents favour school discipline. As do they and others who are voting.

    We need to also do something this party does not like much. Face the fact that media, particularly video games, and violent pornography, are consumed by teenage boys. Either the state seems keen to do something unlikely yet to actually be do-able, or parents on that must face their responsibilities.

    These aspects of discourse are a lot to do with values and morals. Areas where both right and left fail.

    And for Ruth,

    Can I add having seen what our much appreciated and dear friend Ruth says, this makes this is very sad. Hope you are ok Ruth, adding, chin up, won’t do it, but knowing you are far better than those pathetic men who bothered you perhaps might. I do not need to tell you that. But I want to as you deserve it to be said.

  • Ruth Bright 24th Aug '22 - 9:36am

    Thanks Lorenzo x. Agreed brilliant article by Caron.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 24th Aug '22 - 12:31pm

    Hope you are alright Ruth, thanks for responding,reading that, despite my typos, having issues with keyboard!

  • David Garlick 25th Aug '22 - 11:01am

    Thanks Caron.
    Spot on. It is men who need to change and those who recognise that it is so, have to call out those who have not when they see/hear such comments.

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