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.Reuse content