Dissertation Part 6 – Or Should That Be Sex?

Having slowly worked my way through over 30 research papers, I though I’d make a start drafting a part of my dissertation today, but sadly it didn’t happen.  Study at this level, and for some aspects of it, are so new to me, that I keep discovering more and more gaps in my depth of knowledge and have to go off and find some more information.  Plus, as I read, I’m highlighting sections of the papers; making separate notes and selecting a few judicious quotes to help me remember the important points of the paper; once I’ve decided it’s relevant and good enough, I’m using an on-line referencer to format and store the reference; then I’m adding the paper title to a visual graph to see how it connects with the other papers I’ve read; and finally recording thoughts and ideas for everything connected with this on virtual post-it notes.  And then, just when I think I can get started on an actual bit of the essay, I find that I could really do with some background information to refer to.

This led me to look up things like Mary Beard’s lecture ‘Oh Do Shut Up, Dear!’ about how women’s voices have been shut out from public spaces; and the ‘Like A Girl’ and the ‘This Girl Can’ advertising campaigns.  In fact, there are so many examples in popular culture, and academic research papers, of women being represented in sexist or misogynist ways that I hardly know where to start.  How did we get here?  How is it possible that we are in a culture, in the 21st Century, where it’s so easy to find examples of outright hatred of women?  And ok, of course there are LOADS of men who aren’t sexist or misogynist, but that doesn’t mean that their attitudes haven’t developed bias.  Charles Ramsey, the leader of one of the largest police forces in the USA, was talking about this on radio 4’s Analysis recently, a programme which asked why American policemen kill so many black men.  Ramsey mentioned a recent study (which I have yet to track down) which demonstrated that some individuals have an unconscious bias against black people.  The word ‘unconscious’ is the key – they assumed black people were more likely to have committed a crime / be dangerous even when they didn’t consider themselves racist.  

Has this happened with women?  We could argue that the scientist Sir Tim Hunt’s recent comments about female lab assistants ‘crying when criticised’ reveals an unconscious bias against women if we are to believe that he has been victimised (and there’s still some controversy surrounding the context of his remarks, and the woman who reported them).  If we agree that yes, unconscious bias may be present, we can extend that by thinking about the lack of women in business, holding Directorships, being CEOs, in Science, film Directors, in the computer game business, in engineering, in politics….. is this evidence of the aptly-named ‘old boys network’? The system of cultural and social capital that means men in positions of power and/or authority only appoint men similar to themselves, even though they may claim they’re just appointing ‘the best person for the job’?

Why are women often the victims of the kind of vile misogyny?  The kind of comments I’ve seen on public forums continue to shock me.  The only difference I can see between men and women, really, is that it’s women that give birth to other humans.  They can be impregnated with the genetic code of another human being and so the blood line continues.  Survival of the male genes, as least to the next generation, is assured.  Is this the basis of all the hate?  the need to keep women ‘in their place’, the whore/Madonna dichotomy where women are either seen as chaste and loyal, or nothing of value?  It would be nice to think that, with the advent of female contraception in the 1950s, and the Equality act in the UK, that as a society we would have moved on to a more civilised place where men and women were genuinely equal.  Sadly, this hasn’t happened.  The evidence is all around, and it’s encoded in our language.

For the purposes of my study, I can only look at one public, online forum where misogynist language is used.  I’m only going to be looking at a group of key words, and there are some limitations I will have to take into account.  However, I intend to show that misogynist language is being used publicly and regularly, and it matters because the attitudes of the people behind the words – be they male or female, of whatever creed, colour or class – are reflected in their language, even if it’s an unconscious bias.  Language is what we are, and misogynist language needs challenging at every level.

And that, dear reader, is just about as far as I’ve got with my dissertation today.


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