The Real Problem with Misogyny and Casual Sexism

This is not a man-bashing article written by a militant feminist. I could easily write about how misogyny is worryingly apparent at Oxford, despite the fact that it supposedly harbours some of the brightest young minds in the country. I could bitterly complain about the fact that, “you really need to get laid”, is still used as an appropriate response to a female expressing a perceived feminist opinion on a night out, or that I know a certain male who stands in the corner of clubs specifically trying to locate the drunkest females in the room (both of which, I’m sure, I hardly need to report that I find disgusting). But I’m not going to do that. There are enough articles out there highlighting the problems of ‘lad culture’, sexism and misogyny in Oxford to sink a battle ship. The problem is, that these articles, whilst raising awareness of the issue, do not seem to have posed a noticeable impact: Misogyny continues to be an elephant in the room – a ‘touchy’ subject that causes disagreement between students on a daily basis.

The reason for this is, I believe, quite simple: The majority of publicity is given to the aforementioned ‘corner lurker’ type of misogynist. Most males wouldn’t dream of placing themselves in such a category, and indeed, would denounce it entirely. In so doing, many also count themselves as exempt from absolutely all misogynistic behaviour, despite actually committing lesser acts of misogyny themselves and often venturing into the territory of casual sexism.

This is not to say that these males are in denial and refusing to see their own conduct for what it really is, but rather, that they really do believe they are innocent of such behaviour and their actions are part and parcel of everyday life. The most common sexism, the sort that women encounter on an everyday basis, goes undetected by the vast majority of the male population. In fact, women are so used to such treatment that they often dismiss it themselves; after all, we’ve grown up with it, and have come to tolerate it along with other mild irritations of everyday life such as road rage and chewing gum on pavements. However, tolerance and acceptance are poles apart.

Herein lies the real problem surrounding sexism: If men don’t know that they’re being sexist, and don’t associate their behaviour with misogyny, and women come to ignore or, worse, accept it, then how can we ever expect to make progress in this field?

Everyday misogyny, not the in-your-face-outright-women-hating misogyny, is so inextricably linked with our everyday lives that it becomes hard to identify and even harder to denounce. Most females wouldn’t bat an eyelid at an unwanted wolf whistle on the street, or a cheerful, “smile love it might never happen”, as you walk past, although they may roll their eyes, mutter a sarcastic response (“It just did, sweetheart”), or perhaps smile in embarrassment. These are pretty innocuous examples.

Now imagine a female telling a male counterpart to “smile” because it ‘may never happen’, or a group of fifty year old women whistling at a teenage boy as he walks past. Instantly, these commonplace examples become socially unacceptable. In fact, they become downright creepy: I rest my case.

While it might not even cross a man’s mind that a female could conceivably find him intimidating or creepy, I have all too often found myself feeling downright uncomfortable or frightened in a male’s presence. Whilst walking home one evening this Christmas, I walked past a drunken group of men outside my local pub only to have one jolly chap in a Santa hat step out in front of me, shout ‘boo’ at me, stop me, tell me I have ‘beautiful eyes’ and ask me for my telephone number. Now whilst I’m sure this festive boozer had no intention of scaring me, and, indeed, paid me a fair few compliments, the mixture of the dark and the unwanted attention from a large group of very tall males, who towered above my rather vertically challenged frame, made it a very unsettling experience for me. If you think I’m ‘overreacting’, imagine yourself in my position, or even better, imagine the situation with the genders reversed.

Of course, I fully recognise and appreciate that often, females revel in male attention, and indeed, often exploit it in the form of free drinks, entry into clubs or bars, and other perks, as I am often reminded by my male friends when I try to argue that misogyny continues to pose issues for Oxford students. However, the sexist inconsistencies in society, however minor, combine to create a patchwork of inequality that women and men have come to overlook. I find it impossible to accept a widely held male opinion that misogyny “isn’t really a big problem”, or that women “exaggerate” when speaking out against inequality, or that “it isn’t really that bad”. Does inequality have to be ‘bad’ in order for its rectification to be justified? Surely the fact that it simply isn’t equal is enough!

So, to the well-meaning males who fully support female rights, and in no way consider themselves to be a part of a misogynistic culture: No, being refused entry to a club because you’re not wearing heels isn’t the same as being refused because you’re wearing trainers. A sexist joke isn’t ‘friendly banter’, it is never ok to call a girl a slut, and if a girl is friendly to you, the chances are it’s not because she’s interested, and no, that doesn’t make her a ‘cocktease’, and she isn’t ‘leading you on’. If you honestly don’t want to be a ‘corner lurker’, start by choosing your words carefully and putting yourselves in the position of the female.

To females, who gloss over both the misogyny and the casual sexism they experience, laugh along with sexist jokes, and who have come to accept unequal treatment, or even to profit from it – I urge you, quite simply: just don’t.