T he Everyday Sexism Project is a an excellent initiative by Laura Bates, and she is a brilliant, brave and determined activist who suffers horrifying threats that more than make her point for her. But knowing that, and reading the accounts that pour in from women inspired to tell the world of the abuse they suffer, I don’t think ‘sexism’ is a strong enough word. It’s fine for the instances of people mistaking presidents for tea-ladies, but what we’re looking at is deep and aggressive misogyny.
Women can be ‘sexist’ to men: assuming we don’t know how to look after children, expecting us to have a facility with shelving and objectifying David Beckham when he poses in his pants. There is all sorts of stereotyping of both sexes, backed up by cod-science and faux irony. The innovation of the term ‘man up’ is demeaning to both sexes, and is as deliberate a piece of sexism as the appropriation of ‘gay’ to mean all things crap is a piece of homophobia.
But ‘sexism’ is an expression like ‘racial tension’, meaning something that can cut both ways. And even though it is usually reported with women being the recipients, it doesn’t come near to describing what we’re dealing with. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be concerned about women in the cabinet. And I’m certainly not saying we should ignore women being whistled at and think about Boko Haram. I’m saying women being whistled at and Boko Haram are on the same spectrum of contempt and inhumanity.
Perhaps some men think women like men to shout ‘Hello darling!’ from a van. Doubtless some think being enslaved by a militia is every woman’s dream. Wolf whistles are the mild end of something that gets very ugly very quickly. We’re talking about hatred.