Tag Archives: newsnight

#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.

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What do Peter Hitchens and Russell Brand have in common? They both sound like Katy Perry.

Let’s clear one thing up: I’m American, okay? I don’t claim to be anything but. I’m prone to hyperbole. I talk with my hands. I’m loud. I’m crass. And I don’t understand the point of apologising to someone who stepped on my foot, even if it was stuck out halfway across the train carriage. Watch where you’re going, ass.

One thing all Americans do understand, though, is political turmoil. After all, much like iOS7, our government tends to unexpectedly shut down. So you can see where I could possibly understand Russell Brand and Peter Hitchens, arguing from completely opposite political plains, that the government is fundamentally broken and beyond hope. The only thing is, I don’t understand at all. For like listening to a drunk Sarah Palin talking to a stoned George Bush, it’s all just a bunch of babbling with some laughs here and there.

I’ve already taken Hitchens to task over encouraging young Brits to abandon the ship of state, which he reckoned he “ought to be pleased by.” Likewise, the Telegraph Men columnist, Caroline Kent, did a bang up job in her personal blog (which she Tweeted-so I feel alright citing here) of surmising Brand’s articulate but ultimately incoherent argument; “he is basically just spewing the contents page of the Occupy manifesto in people’s faces,” she wrote, adding that it is “hardly groundbreaking stuff.” Hear, hear.

There’s been a lot of commentary on Brand’s Newsnight interview, and I imagine the story has only just gotten its legs. Less has been written about Peter Hitchens’ comments, because let’s face it, the average Brit hardly knows (or cares) who Hitchens is. But what I haven’t seen is anybody linking their dour pessimism together.

Yes, obviously comparing the two is akin to comparing Chantelle Houghton and Katie Hopkins, but I can’t help but to think that there’s a lesson for those living in the Westminster bubble. I mean, after all, it’s not very often that you’ve got the left and the right agreeing, albeit for very different reasons, that things are, on the whole, quite crap. On last Thursday’s Question Time, David Dimbleby deadpanned that anyone conscious knows the British people are disillusioned, and Russell Brand attributes voter apathy to a betrayal by the system.

In his column for politics.co.uk, though, Phil Scullion points out that “voter apathy grows in societies which are well fed, safe and where people feel they are being dealt with by the state in a just and fair manner.” By his estimation, then, people were most content in 2001, the zenith of the Blair premiership, when voter turnout was lower than at any time since full adult suffrage was achieved. However, in the two subsequent general elections, turnout has steadily increased by two to three points. By this logic, though, people are increasingly fed up. So Brand and Hitchens are right.

According to the other star of the week, they are. I don’t want to spend an endless amount of time analyzing Sir John Major’s windfall tax proposal, but his uncharacteristicly candid foray into policy debate is, at the very least, indicative of a wider concern. “If we Tories navel-gaze and only pander to our comfort zone we will never win general elections,” he cautioned, encouraging the Conservatives to look geographically north and economically down to address the concerns of workaday Britain.

Likewise, sitting opposite Peter Hitchens-figuratively and literally-on Question Time last week was Owen Jones. “There’s a huge disconnect with politics and ordinary people,” he said, going to lambast M.P.s for the same things Sir John cautioned his own party over, recounting a conversation he once had with Hazel Blears who allegedly admitted that there was no one in the Brown government interested in housing issues. Like Sir John, Owen recognises that the average Brit feels completely alienated from their own political process and their representatives. He too sees the writing on the wall.

I’ve sung a similar refrain for some time now. A couple months ago I did an analysis of the increasing support for Ukip over the past four years, pointing out that it hit double digits for the first time in April of this year. The question I was most often asked afterward was whether Ukip was chipping away from Tory votes or Labour votes. What’s interesting isn’t my answer, but that the answer most of my inquisitors offered depended on their political persuasion; Labour blames disenchanted Tories for the Ukip rise, and the Tories think Labour’s natural constituency is moving in favour of the nationalists. Recent opinion polls show Labour’s lead narrowing, with the Tories growth marginal, so it looks like the latter is true. At least now. I imagine most of the Tories that will have already defected.

So at least to here, I agree, with both Hitchens and Brand that the British public are forlorn and weary, not of Broken Britain but of the gits in government. What I don’t agree with, though, is their rhetoric. Phil Scullion hit the nail on its succinct head: “the content delivered by Brand is so often empty populism, wrapped in linguistic window dressing.” Likewise, Hitchens’ incendiary comment that young Brits ought to emigrate before it’s too late does nothing other than garner him the ire he feeds upon. In both cases the only purpose served is fueling the flames of their own vanities.

It doesn’t raise the level of political discourse. And it certainly doesn’t offer any real alternatives to the British people. What it does do is pander to the likes of Ukip and the SNP, fringe parties which feign populist (small p) agendas but which ultimately serve nothing more than their own doctrinal desires. It’s all a bit like listening to another American that Brits (especially Russell Brand), love to hate-Katy Perry: autotuned to sound appealing, but when you strip it to its barest, is nothing more than out of tune superficiality.