#NNSexism: Newsnight illustrates the rise, Twitter the need, of digital feminism

Last night, Fi Glover had an excellent piece on BBC’s Newsnight about digital feminism and the future of women’s liberation in the 21st century. She profiled Laura Bates’ “Everyday Sexism Project”, the media’s fascination with and objectification of breasts, including Amanda Palmer’s Glastonbury nip slip, as well as the objectification of black women’s bodies. The prevailing theme was that technology and social media is changing the face of feminism, promoting the democratisation of the women’s movement.

So perhaps it was inevitable that a story about feminists online would prompt a storm of controversy on the Twittersphere. Using the hashtag #NNSexism, the Twitterati engaged the masses in their own experiences with everyday sexism while a debate erupted over the role of feminism and, indeed, women themselves. One of the biggest debates I had was the tiresome, redundant, 20th century debate over the difference between sex and gender, as illustrated below:

Now, for those of you who aren’t aware, the difference between sex and gender is quite simple. Sex (male/female) is physiological. It has to do with your reproductive organs, your hormones, and your pelvic bone. Gender (man/woman), on the contrary, is a social construct. It’s the set of characteristics we are assigned, even before birth, based on our sex. Think of it as blue for boys, pink for girls. Dolls for Linda, trucks for Liam. It’s not a radical notion; it’s been debated pretty heavily for the past sixty years, certainly since the advent of the third wave feminism in the United States.

My position sparked a lot of vitriol, mostly from conservative (small c) men. Some of it was quite nasty:

Others took to calling out the “sexism” of the Newsnight piece:

What was most poignant, though, were the women (and some men, like myself) using the hashtag as a sounding board for their own experiences with everyday sexism:

What was most disappointing was the number of men trying to trivialise or completely write off sexism and misogyny:

To say there is no evidence of real sexism is laughable. It certainly shows, at the very least, that one hasn’t been paying much attention to, well, anything. Just this month we’ve had Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis speak out on the fear many women have of being “found out” or labeled a “fraud”, the United Nations showing just what the internet thinks of women (and it isn’t pretty), and The Great British Bakeoff finalist Ruby Tandoh defending herself against allegations that she flirted herself to the top. I mean, cos, you know, pretty women can’t bake well. Only male chefs and your nan.

Or they attempted to turn the conversation away from women and onto their own perceived grievances:

Which Laurie Penny succinctly put down to actual, perhaps stealthy, misogyny:

And of which I stand guilty:

I’ll be honest, it hadn’t occurred to me that by sharing my own experience I was steering the conversation away from sexism against women (which is 99% of sexism, after all). In fact, I thought Laurie Penny was calling me specifically out when she tweeted that, and it made me reevaluate my personal approach to the hashtag. After all, regardless of whether or not I identify as a feminist, gay men are still capable of sexism, and we have a notorious entitlement to womanhood and women’s bodies.

In the end I forgave myself. My feminist credentials are fairly well known, and while it was perhaps rude to change the subject in the middle of a conversation, it wasn’t entirely off-topic. In fact, I challenged Laurie on this point (and got no response, I should mention-though I do hope she’d agree):

For as the men who couldn’t grasp the difference between sex and gender prove, we (as a society) can’t even seem to get the vocabulary, let alone the conversation, right. So the men who actually acknowledge not only the merits of feminism but the hindrance patriarchy places on their own existence ought to be not only allowed but encouraged to freely contribute. At the very least we’re acknowledging sexism is real and tangible, which is more than can be said for a great lot of us.

That’s not to give us a pass, though. Patriarchy manifests itself in all sorts of ways, and the internet has proven that even those of us with the best intentions can sometimes stand accused, and even slightly guilty of, inadvertent sexism. In the end, Newsnight did a commendable job of highlighting the rise of digital feminism, but Twitter itself illustrated the dire need for it. Social media makes it possible, in real time, to illustrate tangible examples of blatant and even unintentional sexism and misogyny, and the Twittersphere was not lacking either yesterday. The rise of sites like EverydayFeminism and Jezebel give voice to women (and men) who may otherwise lack one, and perhaps it’s only a matter of time until we have a Feminist Spring.

Until then, let’s all brainstorm it a catchy hashtag.

3 thoughts on “#NNSexism: Newsnight illustrates the rise, Twitter the need, of digital feminism

  1. Pingback: Gender, a social construct? | Screw Labour

  2. happydoodlestudios

    Well said! I read an article a friend on facebook posted that said “chivalry is dead” and that women were the ones allowing for men to treat them like crap and that men were just going along with it. It also stated that men should always pay for meals, be the bread-winners, etc. Traditional stuff that just bugged me. I offered a polite comment on my friend’s post stating that I disagreed with some points in the article and that I felt it was sexist to treat women so delicately just because they are women. In turn, his older female family members and himself turned it around, making him the victim of my feminist ways. He went on about how he hated that women think he’s evil for doing nice things. An older woman family member of his posted “why would I want equal treatment when a good man can treat me better than he treats himself?” which just made me want to vomit. I eventually gave up, deciding it wasn’t worth my time to argue with a pig-headed traditionalist and his aunts.

    It bugs me a lot when people flip the script a lot about sexism. I feel like I can hardly ever talk about inequality without someone chiming in and talking about how men have it equally bad or worse. This is not to say that men are not screwed over at times and not to say that men don’t get crap from women out there who identify as feminists but are actually just misandrists.

    Sadly, I’ve even been told before by members of my own family not to bring issues to light. Whether it’s the horrible anti-gay laws of Kentucky or the way that women are treated in society, people have literally told me “don’t bring attention to this or you’ll just make it worse”.

    It kind of makes me feel hopeless at times =/

    Reply
  3. Annie Erskine

    Well said! I read an article a friend on facebook posted that said “chivalry is dead” and that women were the ones allowing for men to treat them like crap and that men were just going along with it. It also stated that men should always pay for meals, be the bread-winners, etc. Traditional stuff that just bugged me. I offered a polite comment on my friend’s post stating that I disagreed with some points in the article and that I felt it was sexist to treat women so delicately just because they are women. In turn, his older female family members and himself turned it around, making him the victim of my feminist ways. He went on about how he hated that women think he’s evil for doing nice things. An older woman family member of his posted “why would I want equal treatment when a good man can treat me better than he treats himself?” which just made me want to vomit. I eventually gave up, deciding it wasn’t worth my time to argue with a pig-headed traditionalist and his aunts.

    It bugs me a lot when people flip the script a lot about sexism. I feel like I can hardly ever talk about inequality without someone chiming in and talking about how men have it equally bad or worse. This is not to say that men are not screwed over at times and not to say that men don’t get crap from women out there who identify as feminists but are actually just misandrists.

    Sadly, I’ve even been told before by members of my own family not to bring issues to light. Whether it’s the horrible anti-gay laws of Kentucky or the way that women are treated in society, people have literally told me “don’t bring attention to this or you’ll just make it worse”.

    It kind of makes me feel hopeless at times =/

    Reply

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