Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Sometimes, the more things change, the more they really freaking change

Just watched a fantastic BBC thought-piece about the "new misogyny" - how in the internet era, abuse and disrespect towards woman has moved into a whole new gear. I was expecting not to be convinced that modern sexism is any different or worse than that of the past but in the end I completely was.

And it really made me realise how the horrifying misogyny we see today is a consequence of, or reaction against, culture shift. A really huge culture shift that is changing one of the most fundamental elements of human society - the gender binary. Ever since society officially (theoretically) acknowledged that men and women should be equal, we have indeed started slouching towards equality. But the more equal things become, the greater the upheaval of traditional roles and social structures. This causes crises of identity and a sense of fear among the dominant group, as it always does. In the past, you didn't need to overtly threaten women with rape, because that threat was at all times implicit. Women were so obviously subservient that you didn't need to abuse them to feel secure about your position.

So the show did end up persuading me that this is one the VERY rare cases where the Golden Age Fallacy does not apply. Things really are changing. We're in a moment of vast cultural shift, the first time that the foundations of gender, itself a social bedrock, have ever been challenged in the millions of years of human history. Just think about that.

And the consequences are awful. Unspeakably awful. At times watching the program, I felt overwhelmed and just immensely distressed at how people could foster and enact such hate and cruelty. It's not the vicious examples that get to me, it's the ubiquity and frequency. The scale more than qualifies as an epidemic of vile proportions. If I think about it too much, I just want to be swallowed up by the earth and cry in the dark for the rest of eternity.

This is the price we pay. And by we, I mean women. Today's women pay this hideous, hideous price for history's greatest cultural shift - a shift that once complete, will benefit everyone, including the men who resisted it. Is it worth the cost? The answer doesn't matter - we can't stop it now.

But despite all this, the program also gave me great hope. More than anything, I got the sense that the awfulness is not in response to perceived threats, but to real ones. Things are changing. And it's only because they're changing so defiantly and so rapidly that the backlash has been so terrible. And most of all, the backlash won't stop them changing. It won't even slow them down. The women who bear the burden of modern misogyny have kept fighting against it, to different extents and in a million different ways, often with a strength that beggars belief. And there's no sign that they're lagging. Yes, they are exhausted. Yes, it is an unrelenting, uphill stuggle. Yes, the issues are incredibly complex, and it is often difficult to know the best course of action. But the simple fact is, women have right on their side, and everyone knows it. It may take many years, but losing the battle is unthinkable. Never has Ghandi's annoying aphorism been so pertinent: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." We're nearing the final stage.

I also get a lot of hope from children today. From what I can tell, they seem much more thoughtful and less bigotted than previous generations, including my own. I'm sure a lot of them are still as nasty as ever, but as a whole, they are not as hardwired to nastiness as they might once have been. It seems to me that prejudice is something they have to learn or are taught by specific social influences - in the old days, it was the default, and had to be unlearned if you were lucky. Thus the wheels turn, slowly and surely.

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