Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Sexism is wrong. But are we women our own worst enemy?

Male chauvinists carry on because the victims of their contempt let them. Women slink away from confrontations when they need to create a stink

Share
Related Topics

I picked up the magazine Allure in the dental surgery and flicked through the dreary beauty advice and other junk designed to keep their readers chasing after chimeras, addicts who spend and spend and never find release from inner disquiet and self-doubts, even those who seemingly have it all.

Jennifer Aniston is spread all over this month's issue. In one picture she is dressed in pyjamas, with the top undone, so her pert boobs invite you in, like a beckoning finger behind a curtain. In another she holds a teddy bear next to her bare skin, eyes wide open and childlike. How pathetic, how sad, this yearning she apparently has to turn back the clock, to turn herself into Lolita at the age of 41, a woman you might think would know her own worth.

If super-successful women readily objectify themselves, and powerful women recycle misogynist images and reinforce prejudices, why should men behave any better?

Last week Andy Gray and Richard Keys were shown the red card by Sky TV bosses, for their coarse banter about females. Many of us grizzled old feminists were mightily cheered by the penalty faced by the loutish lads – who never grew up – and the general public approval that followed. The usually anti-PC papers did not add coy quotation marks around the word "sexist". The Sun savaged the two men, who must have felt they had died and gone to hell.

But even on that day, as ever, semi-naked bait appeared on page three of the suddenly righteous paper. "And why not?" would be the tabloid's defence. Millions of chaps get cheap pleasure from the daily bosoms proffered to them in colour. How are they sexist? They adore women, the younger and fuller the better. If interviewed about men like Gray and Keys, these bimbos would probably say "I dunno". And, probed further, perhaps, "it's just a laugh innit?", or like Keys's wife, "boys will be boys", and they like my tits. Aniston must think that too.

Modern feminists like Catherine Redfern (co-author of Reclaiming the F Word), Nina Power (author of One Dimensional Woman) and Ariel Levy (who wrote Female Chauvinist Pigs) ask some tough and important questions: how come the stereotypes of female sexuality that feminism once endeavoured to break are now presented as empowerment? Instead of trying to beat sexism, women today are enthusiastically joining in with their own debasement.

Look on the web and you see self-abuse, anorexia, alcoholism, shopping and love of chocolate repackaged as hip, fun feminism. Middle-class whoring (made popular by the Secret Diary of a Call Girl, which this week returns to our screens), pole dancing and promiscuity have become signs of liberation. Surveys show that large numbers of teenage girls would rather be WAGs than professionals; they want to marry rich guys and stay at home.

Meanwhile, rape conviction rates, which were 33 per cent in the 1970s (when British feminism was loud and confident) are down to 6 per cent today. Never before have we had such levels of domestic violence and murders, trafficking and sexual exploitation. And the recession is punishing many more females than males. Drowning in a bowl of soapy dishwater sometimes feels more appealing than living through these times.

Some of the forces rising against these disheartening trends are also reactionary and will do the cause of gender equality no good: veiling, authoritarian child-rearing regimes, anti-feminism ideologies which promote ruthless individualism, ambition and feminine guile. So go up the ladder, fillies, wearing skirts and thongs and high, high heels, and you will never look back. Until they tire of you and have you pushed off – often by another woman, like Jay Hunt, who when controller of BBC1 did just that to Miriam O'Reilly, a popular BBC presenter.

If we are to beat, or at least stem, the virus of sexism, more women – particularly younger women – will need to wake up and shape up, and no, I don't mean go on a diet. Too many are choosing to keep shut, to accept insults, join in with mortifying jokes, play the game and even tolerate discrimination for a quiet life, or maybe for the rewards that come to those who do not rock boats or talk back. Male chauvinists carry on because the victims of their contempt let them. Gray and Keys were infamously nasty and crude towards female colleagues. So why did the women say or do nothing about it? By banding together for strength and safety they could have stopped this a long time ago.

The same applies to the amazingly gutsy women breaking into male sports. I would love to know what Sian Massey, the female referee who was so crudely referred to by Gray and Keys, thinks about what happened, but she stays silent. She was withdrawn from her next match and a statement from the referee association says: "She is a professional... [and] only wants to be notable for her performance as an assistant referee and is keen to go back to normal (my italics)."

Normal is what we don't want, lady. Women slink away from confrontations, when they need to create a stink and take some flak. It is a big ask but there is no other way. As for wives and lovers who stand by boorish men, I have no words to describe my sense of despair and revulsion. These molls of the enemy need to be sent off to feminist boot camps.



Hope lies with brave lasses who don't sell out, like those previously in the inner circle of the Scottish Socialist party who stood up to their married, swaggering, perjuring leader Tommy Sheridan, just sent down for three years. A newspaper exposed his energetic activities in a swinger's club; he took the paper to court for libel and is alleged to have tried to force female colleagues to lie for him under oath. They were said to have been ostracised by former colleagues, and even by Sheridan's loyal wife, but did not waver.

Tough, young, ballsy feminists use the net brilliantly to stir up activism. Look at The Feminist Wire, for example, or Object – two excellent websites. However, it is women within businesses and institutions who can make the biggest fuss, the biggest difference. Most do nothing. And that is why creeps like Gray and Keys can carry on the way they do. Women must take some blame for the horribly sexist culture – a bitter truth we must now acknowledge.



y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

React Now

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

Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds This i...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ukip leader Nigel Farage  

Election 2015: Ukip is a non-sectarian, non-racist party with a forward-thinking plan for Britain

Nigel Farage
Nicola Sturgeon with voters today in Inverness  

Election 2015: It's not about independence or another referendum — but having our voices heard

Nicola Sturgeon
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power