There is far too much sexism in the UK - but a point scoring system against other countries won't help to tackle it

Those who get hung up on winning the sexism battle are ignoring the real issue


I went to visit a good friend last week, and as we reminisced, I told her how annoyed I was that the day before, a plumber who had come to fix a leaking bath had turned to me and asked if there was a “man of the house” who “might be able to take a look to see what’s going on”. When I replied that I was perfectly capable of seeing what was going on for myself, he smiled and rolled his eyes. “Women,” he sighed, with no further explanation.

Then there was the water softener salesman who knocked on the door recently, and, as part of his opening gambit, told me “not to worry about the technical stuff – all you girls need to know is that it makes your hair shiny”. Or the gas man, who focused his attention on leaving a detailed list of instructions for my “fella”, and only turned in my direction when asking for a dustpan and brush.

My friend and I laughed, partly in horror, partly in embarrassment, as we casually swapped tales. She recounted the time that a man put his hand up her skirt as she walked along the street. I giggled ruefully about the day that I awoke on a crowded train to find a penis (clothed, thankfully), being rubbed against my cheek. Then there was the moment that a man grabbed my crotch, in India, in broad daylight; or the time, in Cardiff, that a stranger pinched my bum so hard that he left bruises. In Japan, I was followed home late at night by a man who waited until I'd gone inside before opening my front door - luckily, my screams scared him away.

This week, in London, an old man growled "whore" as I walked past a busy row of shops, and just yesterday, while doing the nursery run, with wet hair and a buggy in tow, a man accosted me outside my house. “Alright, darlin’?” he leered, as I pushed on stoically, crossing the road to get my daughter out of earshot. Then came the follow-up: “Oi, come back here, you bitch!”

These are anecdotal examples, of course, and can’t possibly paint a conclusive picture. But for me, it’s been quite a month for misogyny, and therefore I wasn’t entirely surprised to discover that Britain has been named and shamed by UN Special Rapporteur Rashida Manjoo as the place in which sexism is more "pervasive" and "in your face", with a distinct, "boys' club" culture, than any other country she has visited.

Immediately, people sprung to Blighty’s defence. Former minister Edwina Currie told the Telegraph that most of the women she knows "like living here and enjoy being in a diverse and interesting society", and suggested Ms Manjoo look at places where women are not able to drive, such as Saudi Arabia; or where there’s no paid maternity leave, like the US; before denouncing Britain’s "sexist culture".

Yet denial doesn’t make a problem disappear, and neither does competition. Some may argue that yes, Britain has Page 3, but Somalia has the highest incidence rate of female genital mutilation, and South Africa one of the highest rates of rape in the world, so what are women here complaining about? But now is not the time for a tally, or a "who’s worse" points-scoring contest. After all, coming out on top for having "better sexism" would hardly be something to crow about.

Ms Manjoo raises an important point that we need desperately to address: that there is sexism in the UK – that it's insidious and nasty, and thanks to the platform of social media, seems only to be getting worse. And in order to hold ourselves up as role models, and to try to help bring about global equality and an end to violence against women worldwide, we need to stop burying our heads in the sand and start where we know best – on our doorstep.

Read more:
We could have had a proper debate about sexism, but we didn't
Britain isn't the most sexist country in the world
Boys' club Britain is more sexist than Italy, Azerbaijan and India

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yvette Cooper campaigning in London at the launch of Labour’s women’s manifesto  

I want the Labour Party to lead a revolution in family support

Yvette Cooper
Liz Kendall  

Labour leadership contest: 'Moderniser' is just a vague and overused label

Steve Richards
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine