Blurred Lines: The New Battle of the Sexes, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews
Blurred Lines: The New Battle of the Sexes, BBC Two
Blurred Lines: The New Battle of the Sexes, BBC Two
Kirsty Wark's tour of the 'new misogyny' is an eloquent and powerful primer
Almost 45 years after the publication of The Female Eunuch, Germaine Greer - now 75 years old and working on a rainforest conservation project in her native Australia, but still “full of bile” - thinks that it is time for a new analysis; a go-to feminist text as succinct and divisive as the one that she created in 1970. These days it is men that are experiencing the identity crisis, she tells Kirsty Wark; now that women are free of the restrictions created by expectation that prevented them from entering traditionally male-dominated spaces like the workplace, politics, the media and gaming it’s unsurprising that social media and the internet has become a “grab bag” of contempt for the female of the species.
I like to think that the journalist Laurie Penny (below right, with Wark) could ultimately produce that text. As a writer who practically grew up on the internet, and somebody who is used to having her every opinion scrutinised, dissected and thrown back in her face violently and near-instantaneously through social media, Penny is already living on the front lines of what Wark’s thorough, engaging and ultimately rather depressing documentary terms “the new misogyny”. Sounding a note of optimism, Penny says that she does not believe that technology has “created” this new misogyny - rather, it has facilitated it. At the same time it has also facilitated the fightback: in the form of Twitter campaigns and YouTube parodies with serious messages, No More Page 3 and the Everyday Sexism Project.
At the same time it has also facilitated the fightback
To those of you who lurk in the comments of the seemingly never-ending parade of articles published online by the traditional broadsheet press in response to the latest online controversy spluttering that ladies and lefties just need to grow thicker skins, Blurred Lines: The New Battle of the Sexes must have seemed like one long whine. To the rest of us, the documentary’s whistle-stop tour of some of the most sickening instances of online misogyny and violence against women over the past year or so - Steubenville, Daniel Tosh, threats of rape and violence against campaigner Caroline Criado Perez and the historian Mary Beard, the Stirling University men’s hockey team, Anita Sarkeesian - was a depressing and familiar litany. Chris T-T, the Brighton political folk singer who recently announced that he would no longer speak on panels where no women appeared, has a lyric that has always seemed apt in these cases: if you’re preaching to the converted, you might as well go home. Wark’s documentary was an eloquent and powerful primer that ought to be watched by every parent and deserves to be shown as part of the curriculum, but given the sheer number of people who think that feminism is an irrelevant concept in 21st-century Britain I’d be surprised if many of them tuned in.
At the end of last year, a YouTube video appeared of male students from Stirling University on a bus in the city, chanting a drinking song that grew increasingly more violent, disturbing and misogynist with each verse. As somebody who had attended the institution in the 1970s, at the height of the feminist movement’s second wave, Wark was surprised - although the consensus from students she interviewed later was that she should not have been. “I work in a bar,” said one of them, Katie. “I hear stuff like this all the time and I don’t think it was as bad as some people made out.”
So what changed? A quick journey through the "lad culture" of the 1990s led by Martin Daubney, the longest-serving editor of Loaded magazine, found few answers; while comedian Brendan Burns suggested that sexist jokes were actually a measure of equality. Spectator columnist and professional troll Rod Liddle claimed that online abuse was not a gendered issue - but he wasn’t around to hear Wark read out some of the tweets referencing Mary Beard’s genitalia posted after her appearance on Question Time in her cut-glass accent.
But it was later scenes in a Portsmouth school, where Wark discussed the real-world repercussions of the language that some would say is only flippantly tossed around online with teenagers, that were the documentary’s most powerful. The correlation, she said, left her “shocked and distressed” - but perhaps should not have been a surprise: “If we continually treat women as sex objects and trivialise sexual assault, aren’t we in danger of colluding in - or at least allowing to exist - a culture where rape isn’t seen for what it is?” she said.
But then again, I’ve been saying that for years.
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