The Taming of the Shrew: Online Misogyny

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Charlotte Proudman, a barrister and Ph.D researcher, received an inappropriate comment on professional networking website LinkedIn. Whilst most people use sites such as LinkedIn or Research Gate to connect regarding work, a married 57 year old man Carter-Silk decided to use it to comment on 27 year old Charlotte’s looks.

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Yes the 57 years of age is relevant, no I’m not ageist (my spouse is considerably older than me). But in the world of work, especially a professional such as law, age means considerably experience, contacts and power.

Giving someone a compliment is not misogynistic. But the context can be. Much like the man in the street who shouts “smile” at women (but never other men… and when do women shout it at males?) to exert power, here we must read the comment in the context of work. Carter-Silk comments on Proudman’s physical appearance, before saying he is always interested in understanding people’s skills and how they might work together. If you genuinely think that is an innocent form of praise, with no under tone, then good luck with life. Would Carter-Silk have sent a man this message? Of course not.

The same as a man saying you look nice in a bar is acceptable, but your boss pulling you into a meeting on potential promotional and commenting on your looks is not acceptable.

See how this works?

It seems the masses don’t. Charlotte has herself to blame apparently, for styling her hair, wearing make-up and having a professional photograph taken. Bear in mind if Charlotte’s picture looked like she had been dragged through a hedge, she would be deemed unprofessional and sloppy. Women can’t win. Wear ‘too much’ make up and you’re an attention-seeking slapper, wearing none? You’ve let yourself go and you’re a lazy mess. Charlotte is now being called a shrew, ugly, a stupid slag, an attention-seeker, plumpy, frumpy, a bowl-head etc etc with men sending sexually explicit messages and threatening ones. She should be ‘grateful’ for the attention.

Just take a look at the Daily Mail online each day. Women are judged on their looks in a way that men are not. Our bodies and behaviour are regulated through this modes of mass media. Think of Aintree Races, think of ‘Boozed Up Britain’ programmes or Carnage coverage, it’s about women and our out-of-control bodies. Professor Bev Skeggs hits the nail on the head when she argues that the ‘chav’ woman provides media porn, ” “The excessive immoral woman is also a useful figure… providing the soft porn grotesque for titillation and disapprobation” (2005, p.968). If a woman is wearing ‘figure hugging’ clothes she is ‘asking’ for the attention. If she covers up she’s a useless frump.

Just a brief scan through of the Daily Fail 11th September 2015 has an article on Kyle Jenner’s abs “being on display”, Lady Gaga “flashing her flesh coloured underwear”, Beyoncé “showing her curves”, a pregnant Kim Kardashian wearing thigh high boots, Eva Longoria in a “bra less” outfit, Elizabeth Hurley putting on a “leggy display”, Kate Moss turning heads in a “plunging blouse”, Demi Lovato showing off her “enviable legs”, Penelope Cruz putting on a “busty display”, Rihanna wearing a “cleavage baring cut-out minidress”, Hilary Duff “flaunting her taut stomach”, ETC ETC.

The problem isn’t the women’s outfits, but that stories are framed in this way. The Daily Mail is basically an assortment of female body parts. The discourse is that women must look a certain way, and that all of there accomplishments will be reduced to their appearance. This isn’t flattering!!!

Tim Hunt claimed female scientists are too distracting and should work in same-sex labs. “Tim’s comments have struck a negative chord because careers in science are still hugely dominated by men – with only 13% of workers being women – despite campaigns over the years by successive governments to get more women into the field”.

Charlotte Proudman has a right to only be contacted on a work website regarding… work. Her appearance should not come into it. It is part of a much wider problem, and it flourishes in male-dominated arenas such as law, medicine, engineering etc.

But it’s the reaction to her that proves misogyny is alive and well. Whilst I hold a very different stance on sex work than Charlotte, and whilst I don’t buy into ‘objectification’ when used in such a broad-brush uncritical way, the abuse she is facing proves her point. I tweeted Charlotte, and she retweeted. I have had more abuse on twitter in 24 hours than ever before. I have been called ugly/a fascist/crazy/ungrateful/hysterical/stupid over and over again. Luckily for me I don’t care what random gimps on the internet say, but it’s the fact these men feel they have the right to abuse a woman online, that says it all.

If a woman is too attractive she’s a slag who is “asking for it” and unwelcome attention is her fault. If she is not deemed attractive, she is ugly/ worthless/ jealous/ a shrew/ disgusting etc. Men do not face these regulations. A male lawyer will be called a lawyer. A female lawyer will often be judged on her looks (Amal Clooney case in point).

A US male newsreader did an experiment where he wore the same suit on air for a year, and nobody noticed. Compare this to how women are judged by their outfit not their credentials. “I’m judged on my interviews, my appalling sense of humour – on how I do my job, basically,” Stefanovic told the Sydney Morning Herald. “Whereas women are quite often judged on what they’re wearing or how their hair is. Women, they wear the wrong colour and they get pulled up.”

The unhappy people who sit behind their computer screens lashing out abuse are only a symptom of the wider problem of entitlement to comment on and regulate women’s bodies, dress and behaviour.

Worst for me has been the women, “she should be flattered”, “I don’t see a problem with it” “she’s over-reacting”. Much the same reactions to a woman anytime she speaks out. This is why sexual harassment goes unreported, and why rape victims are blamed. You only need a brief trawl through twitter, facebook or the terrifying Daily Mail comments section to know how many people, male and female, blame a woman for being raped.

Twitter also is a port hole to a fascinating world where some women refer themselves as “purposeful wives” in a 1950’s way, and comment that this case shows how feminism has ruined everything, Charlotte should be flattered apparently. Do these women realise what life was life before women had economic freedom, the power to leave abusive marriages, the freedom to have a life outside of the home and their families? The freedom to have an abortion, obtain birth control, make their own decisions? To have children outside of marriage? Feminism is not the problem. And no, I am certainly NOT a radical feminist, but I’m damn proud to be a feminist. Luckily I am married to a strong man who wants an equal, and who doesn’t base his masculinity on tired gender stereotypes.

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Charlotte Proudman has every right to call out unwanted personal comments on a professional site. It’s LinkedIn, not Tinder. In the workplace or on social media designed to facilitate working relationships, let’s stick to comments about professional achievements and capabilities, not if we’re pretty or not.

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