Pick a side

If I presented it to you as a possible plot, you’d shoot it down before the first draft: woman campaigns for a single female image (aside from the Queen’s) on a British banknote. Woman succeeds. Woman is subject to repeated threats of rape and murder. Where’s the motivation, you’d say, who would do that? It beggars belief. Give me some backstory, make it credible.

Jane Austen

I don’t know where to start with the backstory; how far back do you want me to go? I think we’re all aware there are centuries’ worth here.

It comes down to this, though: in 2013 Caroline Criado-Perez – and some of the women who support her – have been bombarded with threats of the most violent, hateful and gendered kind because they campaigned for a woman to be on a banknote. I applaud her campaign and fully support it but seriously, am I the only one to think: what the actual? If this is what misogynists do over an issue of representation, what do they pull out of the bag when feminists choose a harder target, one which directly addresses the economic imbalance between men and women, for example?

The threats take place, of course, in a wider context of sexism which lands every day like a pounding fist. It hammers away so relentlessly that we’re in danger of not hearing it, or of thinking it’s part of our natural soundscape. This stuff is constant, but here are some recent examples: if you’re Wimbledon women’s champion in 2013, John Inverdale will struggle to comprehend you in terms other than that of your appearance. (And if you were Wimbledon women’s champion in 1977, by 2013 you’ll be airbrushed out of history altogether).

Murray front page

A couple of weeks after that, the Duchess of Cambridge gave birth. OK magazine was quick to set her priorities – and ours:

OK mag

And on, and on, and on.

Criado-Perez gathered evidence on her attackers and called on police to enforce the law – there has been one arrest, and more may follow. Elsewhere, women are speaking out and mobilising public opinion. In Criado-Perez’s formulation, they’re ‘shouting back’. I think it’s time we joined her. I think it’s time we picked sides, whatever our gender.  I don’t think you have to be a woman to do this. I don’t think you have to be schooled in feminist theory, or use proper terminology, or any of those other misdirections which deter us from doing the right thing. I just think you have to pick a side – Team Caroline, not Team Bastard. Team Bartoli, not Team Inverdale. Team Mslexia, not Team OK.

Because it’s not OK. It’s not bloody OK.

Pick a side

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