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Young Readers’ Edition: Sexism is endemic in all of society

Thursday, January 30, 2014
1:00 PM

Objectifying women fuels a culture of abuse, says Nathalie Weatherald.

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I was eleven the first time a man tried to slide his hand up my leg on the Northern Line; twelve when I was wolf-whistled and followed home by a large group of boys; thirteen when I was told by a man on the top deck of a bus that “the pay was good”.

Girls like me, have been raised to live in a state of perpetual and necessary caution because of our sex, despite living in one of the most diverse and advanced cities in the world.

The knowledge that we are being continuously observed starts at a very young age. For some it stays just that: continued observation, judgements passed, verbal and low-level physical abuse – but others become trapped in abusive relationships; have their career limited due to institutionalised sexism; see their rapists exonerated as their outfit the night of the attack is deemed to be ‘asking for it’.

Advertising tells us our negative space is worth more than our positive space; that we are living breathing decorations, existing for the pleasure of men; our primary value lies in the quality of our performance.

By reducing women to objects at everyday level we are creating a culture in which daily harassment is commonplace, and a fertile environment for sexist abuse and violence to blossom.

The rise in media interest in feminism, the emergence of campaigns and feminist newspapers and the creation of sixth form feminist groups are a response to the harmful effects felt by the maturing of the internet generations.

Porn is no longer a bare breast in a crumpled Playboy magazine stuffed underneath a mattress. It is online, free and hard-core.

It is in this environment that boys my age, the boys my friends and I are in relationships with, come into sexual maturity.

In the words of gender expert Ran Gavrieli: “It is not about erotica or healthy sexual communication; it is all about male domination of woman. In mainstream porn on the web, we can find the rape category side by side with the humiliation category, the abuse category, the crying category. Porn is filled with these motives, even in its mildest form.”

He describes how “after making a habit out of porn, I lost my ability to imagine. I found myself trying to fantasize desperately about something human and not making it because my head was bombarded by all of those images of women being violated and subordinated.”

Young boys are being conditioned into expecting this from their sexual partners and woman into believing this is what they should be providing, presented with an increasingly violent, sadistic ideal of sexual relationships.

The thirteen-year-old boy curiously Googling will soon need more to receive the same thrill.

The impact of this widespread exposure will impact for years to come. Currently 400,000 girls a year are sexually assaulted in the UK and over 85,000 are raped.

Sixth form feminist societies and campaigns such as Lose the Lads Mags, No More Page Three and Everyday Sexism tackle issues at root-level and spread social awareness of these issues. However, this is inherently limited: it’s in the nature of these campaigns that those who get most exposure to them are those most likely to be educated on the issues.

It is vital that the cause these groups are fighting for is articulated to everyone – not just teens rolling up on a Tuesday lunchtime to a school Fem Soc.

Feminism has become synonymous with a small sector of middle/upper class females who parade around Muswell Hill and Crouch End with organic canvas bags and art folders, preaching the benefits of quinoa, tofu and Echinacea.

Sexism pervades every level of society but economically disadvantaged women feel the brunt of it as legal aid is cut back, including for those in abusive relationships, and the recession leads to disproportionate cuts in services for women.

The aim of feminism is sometimes obscured - the belief that both men and women have equal rights carries a pervasive stigma that deters others from getting involved. In reality, it is not the liberal, left middle class sixth formers of north London that are most in need of understanding that women should not be objects.

The feminist movement goes some way to confronting issues; from leering at year eight schoolgirls on the C2 bus to unacceptable levels of abusive relationships (83% of rape cases are still not reported). But young feminists like me must address the economic deprivation that allows all areas of discrimination to flourish, including racism and homophobia. We need to be strong enough to fight other battles as well as our own: it’s a busy time to be a teenage girl.

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