So, International Women’s Day has been and gone for another year. Yet, at the moment, every day seems to be International Women’s Day. Every day, a new horrific story involving women, breaks and comes to the forefront of the news agenda. In this article, I want to address three things. How that happened, where it happened, and why.
I bet there was not a single woman, or man who was not repulsed, disgusted and shocked when the dossier of allegations against the one time television presenter Jimmy Savile was made public. Savile was a television personality, who to all intents and purposes, enjoyed success because of children. The Jim’ll Fix It badges, with their red ribbon and iconic slogan “Jim Fixed It For Me” became synonymous with Saturday night must see TV.
However, it has become all too apparent that Savile broke, not fixed many people. He was the ultimate master of deception, and left his victims with a lifetime of sorrow, misery and trauma to contend with.
The current revelations from the recently published report into the scandal reveals a Pandora’s Box of missed opportunity to see Savile convicted, and for his victims to see and feel justice being done. Had the police acted more swiftly, more lives could and should have been saved. There was also an overlooked chance to convict in the 1960s because he was “a celebrity.” My feeling is that no one, celebrity or not, should ever be above the law.
That said though, the Savile allegations are not a moment of panacea for the ongoing problem of misogyny and violence and abuse perpetrated against women and girls.
It is a psychological issue too, with even the former Editor of Newsnight dismissing the allegations made as being those of “just the women.” Would we ever hear a similar remark made about a man? I think not.
I meant that this is a psychological issue in terms of how such issues are perceived in wider society, and that the wider structure of it is unashamedly patriarchal.
Social mores have meant that over the centuries we have grown up with, and to some extent embedded the notion in our minds that women are weak and feeble, and that men are big and strong. Also, that men are rational and sensible, whilst women are angry and hysterical. Such tropes, though populist are misguided and should be avoided.
The effect of such tropes though cannot be avoided. They are what give rise to the notion, in a patriarchal society that women’s accounts of abuse and violence should not be taken seriously and are being over-exaggerated.
In a sense, this is hardly surprising. It is what one would expect those who feel comfortable with the status quo and those who defend it to say.
But the truth is, Savile is merely the tip of the iceberg, and we are told by the CPS to expect a new wave of high profile arrests over the next few weeks.
The Savile allegations were closely followed by those against Lord Rennard, although apparently some think a bit of light knee touching is OK.
So that is how it happened. But I strongly believe that this story does not begin and end in the world of celebrity, nor with the celebrity culture and subsequent power relations that run deep within it. It begins and ends with the everyday women in the UK; the women who are fighting back.
To my mind, there is no doubt in one thing, women in this country, are annoyed, not just a little but a lot. It is as if Savile acted as a catalyst, for women to stand up and be counted, in essence that they have had enough. Too often, wimmin’s problems are perceived as exactly that. Wimmin’s problems, cooked up as a scheme by the “bloody feminists” to annoy men and make their lives difficult and demean their reputation.
But the best thing about the current crop of visibility around feminist activism is this. It is not a Government initiative. It is not a charity. It is activism generated by women, for all women.
One of the best known agents of such activism currently is the Everyday Sexism website, founded by Laura Bates.
A fair criticism made by many feminists is that often, we don’t name the problem; we dance around it, alluding to it but never quite name it.
Well the website very much names the problem, and holds it up clearly for the world to see.
The most fabulous thing about Everyday Sexism is that it is not dramatised fiction, but real life experiences that are happening right now. Through the medium of Twitter and emailing the website, women are telling their own stories from their own souls. Nobody is asking them to do so, they are absolutely making that choice.
From a quick scan of the Twitter account, it seems that something as innocuous as walking to the laundrette with a pile of washing can provoke a disgusting slur, or that being pregnant can prevent you from managing an account in your company as your long term commitment is not guaranteed.
So Twitter and the Internet are powerful mediums. Whilst men seem to be frantically flailing around trying to find ways to justify patriarchy, women are fighting back, and fighting back hard.
There is also the painful stain of violence against women and girls. It is a sad indictment on our society that this is such a problem. Women and girls live with the trauma of rape and violence for a lifetime. Interventions like counselling can help but it never fully leaves you.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer yesterday issued a report showing that false accusations of rape are extremely rare, and he appealed to police not to develop an over-cautious attitude, since this may deter victims of rape.
BBC Radio 1 the BBC’s youth station, whose primary target audience is 15-24, ran a report on Newsbeat that directly contradicted the findings of the DPP. They suggested, to outrage across the Internet, that false rape allegations were a common problem with a “devastating impact for those involved”
This kind of reporting is irresponsible for two reasons. Firstly, it falls far below the normal high standards of journalism one would expect from the BBC.
Secondly, it is irresponsible on the part of the BBC due to Newsbeat’s young, impressionable target audience.
Is it truly the sort of message we want to be sending out to our young people? That we want to tell girls if a boyfriend does something inappropriate, that it would be better for them to keep quiet, as no-one will believe them anyway?
Or to boys, do we want to send the message that it’s absolutely fine to rape, because they will probably get away with it?
These may be the consequences of Radio 1’s unusually baseless reporting, in actuality. It sets a dangerous precedent and that is why I thoroughly endorse and appreciate the stance of Keir Starmer, on this issue.
It is important that all victims of rape, whether female, male, straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or non-binary know that their allegations of rape will be dealt with seriously and sympathetically. By broadcasting such a report, the BBC did nothing to assist in this aim.
In terms of my own situation, trans people are subjected to misogyny too, with some traduced to mere objects of fetish for the enjoyment of men. This too is unacceptable.
However, we as trans women, must stand shoulder to shoulder with all women in their struggles. To be a separate side dish is not appropriate in my view is not appropriate as that is not why I transitioned.
I transitioned to be at one with myself and the sisterhood. Food for thought.
So has some good come out of Savile? Through organisation, of women, by women, for women, it has brought issues that are normally special interest into the public gaze, and into sharper focus. It has made women stand up and say enough is enough, which it is. It has shown women they are not alone. It has allowed women to take the power back from the patriarchy, and to gain strength.
Above all, through the pernicious medium of social media it has allowed women to control their own narrative, and share it with each other.
You know the best thing is this. When I ask myself the question, who brought this change about, there is one clearly answer. Women themselves. That piece of knowledge is so beautifully empowering.