Originally posted on The Guardian:
‘Why are you whining about this when there are more important things in the world?’
It’s amazing how this criticism is so rarely levelled at football writers, say, or people writing lighthearted pieces about DIY or dogwalking. Curiously, in fact, it’s almost exclusively women who are policed with the shouts of “it’s worse elsewhere so think yourself lucky”. The existence of rape and other forms of sexual violence don’t invalidate the experiences of those who are discriminated against in the workplace or harassed in the street; nobody tells the police to stop investigating fraud until they’ve solved every murder. The presumption that women in the UK have nothing to complain about is simply false: 85,000 women are raped in the UK every year and over 400,000 sexually assaulted. An average of more than two women are killed by a current or former partner every week. And perhaps most importantly of all, this argument fails to see the links between these different forms of oppression and violence. If we aren’t allowed to challenge the more “minor” forms of harassment and discrimination, we set a precedent for the treatment of women as second-class citizens that has a direct impact on the more serious crimes.
‘I don’t know if these people can ever be changed’
It’s probably true that people who are sexist or commit acts of abuse are unlikely to be swayed by a Guardian blogpost. Revelatory. But I’ve heard from a lot of men who say reading these articles has made them rethink sexist behaviour that they had previously considered to be harmless. And it’s my belief that there’s a critical mass of people out there who wouldn’t dream of carrying out such abuse, but also aren’t aware that it’s going on. If we can engage them, and open their eyes to the problem, they will be more likely to take action and become part of the solution. Maybe a dad will read one of these articles and be alerted to the importance of talking to his sons about respect for women. Maybe a woman who has been groped will read one and realise that she has the right to report the incident to the police.