The battle that men who aren't sexist must fight

The abuse Louise Mensch has been subjected to provides an insight into attitudes that are rampant

Share
Related Topics

Backbench Tory MP Louise Mensch is a craven apologist for Rupert Murdoch, and deserves to be exposed as such. This does not distinguish her from the Tory leadership, except that she is more honest about it and has less power to act on her sycophancy.

But following the culture, media and sport select committee's conclusion that Murdoch was not "a fit and proper" person to run a major international company, it was Mensch who rode to the much-maligned mogul's defence on Newsnight.

The backlash took the form of a torrent of violently sexist tweets. She was a "whore", a "cold faced cold hearted bitch", and far worse. "Louise Mensch... You would wouldn't you?" tweeted Northern Irish "comedian" Martin Mor. "Given half a chance you'd strangle her!" Vice magazine proceeded to ask Occupy protesters if they'd have sex with her: just for the "lulz", as the kids say. No male cheerleader for the Murdochs – there are many – is subject to these chilling attacks.

No stranger

I'm no stranger to Twitter abuse, though generally my critics are wound up by what they regard as my excessively youthful appearance. "Does your mum know you're up this late?" and "Shouldn't you be doing your paper-round?" are irritating largely because the Tweeter (who invariably hides behind a picture of some cartoon character and a profile ranting about the BBC and "lefties") thinks they're the first person to crack the "joke", and they're never very witty about it. It is nothing compared with the poisonous misogynist vitriol that women in politics and journalism – such as my colleague Laurie Penny – receive.

Twitter is an interesting insight into attitudes that are rampant in society, because it allows people to easily project venom that most would never dream of screeching at a passerby in the street. And it provides alarming evidence that sexism – of varying intensities – remains widespread among men. Whether they purport to be on the left or the right, there are all too many men who simply cannot bear to be lectured by a woman they passionately disagree with. "Who does this bitch think she is?" sums up their attitude; and if Twitter is anything to go by, what they say can be a lot more explicit than that.

It is time for more men to speak out about the continuing scourge of sexism. That does not mean – ironically – muscling in on the feminist movement. "Man Finally Put In Charge Of Struggling Feminist Movement" was a headline a few years ago in satirical newspaper The Onion, summing up this potential absurdity. The emancipation of women is down to women themselves. But men need to be far more vocal allies of a feminist movement that has a long way to go.

Given thousands of years of gender oppression that has to be overcome, women's struggle for equality has made stunning advances in the past century: in the home, the family, the workplace, the political sphere, and the world of culture. But there is no basis for complacency. Women are, on average, paid 17 per cent less than men; only one in five MPs is a woman, fewer than in those well-known citadels of feminism Pakistan and Sudan; and at least one in four women faces domestic violence in her lifetime.

Cuts to public sector jobs, benefits and services are disproportionately hammering women. Of course, the experience of a privileged, powerful woman like Louise Mensch is very different from that of a part-time checkout worker being paid £6.12 in a Newcastle supermarket. But sexist abuse is a symptom, or a warning sign, of a society in which women overall are still not equal.

It matters for men, too. What it means to be a man has changed dramatically over the ages: what it meant in, say, the Middle Ages was quite different from the 19th century. And it has been transformed over the past few decades by the women's movement and, to a lesser degree, the gay rights movement.

Oppression

These struggles have challenged an aggressive form of masculinity that defines itself against stereotypical female traits, like being emotional, or weak, or sensitive. It oppresses not just women, but "lesser" men who fail to meet such expectations: "You big woman" or "Stop being gay" are cusses aiming to suppress those deemed to be deviating from the "manly" norm.

Men still struggle to talk about their feelings (with often devastating mental consequences); numerous studies have found they are more likely to interrupt women than interrupt other men; recent research by the IPPR think-tank found that eight in 10 married women do more housework than their husbands; and some men are clearly sitting in their Y-fronts while they spew misogynistic venom over Louise Mensch's Twitter feed.

But the old boorish, domineering man is in retreat: straight men are more likely to have friends who are women or gay; the number of "househusbands" has tripled in the past 15 years; and the male "grooming" industry booms as men tend to their appearance in a manner once seen as "womanly".

We'll know when we've overcome sexism when Louise Mensch is assailed for being a right-wing apologist of dubious corporate power, rather than verbally assaulted for being a woman. In the meantime, men must not remain silent while women continue to face sexist persecution. And overcoming the oppression of women will have profound consequences for humanity as a whole.

There is no finer way of putting it than how US feminist anthropologist Margaret Mead did, many decades ago: "Every time we liberate a woman, we liberate a man."

React Now

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

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mary Christmas: the Bethlehem story is Mary's moment, when a poor peasant girl gives birth to the Son of God in a stable  

The appeal of the Virgin Mary: A supernatural hope at a time of scepticism

Peter Stanford
 

Letters: Why Cameron is wrong about EU child benefits

Independent Voices
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'