A couple of weeks ago, ‘edgy’ Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle caused a furore over an alleged rape ‘joke’. The Daily Mail (admittedly a dodgy source) reported that Boyle had joked at the Latitude Festival about raping and killing TV celeb Holly Willoughby.
In his vehement rejection of criticism for said joke, Boyle impatiently explained that it was part of a broader discussion of toxic masculinity and whether or not it was okay to make rape jokes at all. (Because, as you know, that’s a grey area.) When questioned later, he apparently said there were plusses and minuses on the issue, then advised us on Twitter that we’d “struggle to be offended” if we’d heard the set.
Ah, well, that’s okay then, Frank. As long as you were trying to make your wider point, we can forget that —
a) it was still a ‘joke’ involving violence against women, and sorry, pal, that’s never funny
b) the ‘joke’ targeted an individual; a living, breathing woman, used in the most repugnant way to educate your audience.
Willoughby has not commented thus far. Yes, she’s used to sexism, and while we don’t know how upset she was at being singled out for a rape-and-murder joke, the point is — It’s not okay to use anyone as a learning tool in this manner.
It happens every day on the Internet too. In discussions about issues that mainly impact women, men interject not only with #NotAllMen or “What about the men?” but to demand more and more ‘proof’ from us that the issues we’re discussing are real.
Not having the faintest idea of what it’s like to be a woman, they’re often in disbelief at our experiences. That’s not surprising; some of what we go through boggles the mind. Not willing to accept our word and experiences, these men demand we back them up with data and non-anecdotal evidence. Because you know, just because a woman tells you something happened doesn’t mean it happened.
“Too many women are being attacked on the streets.”
“Show me the statistics”.
“There’s been a dramatic increase in violence against women.”
“I need more than three surveys if I’m to believe you.”
“Apparently, it’ll take X years to close the gender pay gap, according to (5 named reputable sources).”
Almost magically, as I was writing this piece, a perfect example arrived on Twitter. Here Feminist Next Door suggests that a guy offers solutions to men (for the problems they cause). His immediate response is to ask her to do the work for him:
Lads, there are many reliable ways to research a subject if you’re genuinely interested. Joe here could have read more of FND’s tweets to get a feel for the subject, for example. If you come into a thread or a discussion with less than the basics, it’s up to you to drag yourself to the starting line.
It reminds me of the cringe-worthy moment on The Talk when Sharon Osborne demanded that her black co-host Sheryl Underwood “educate” her on the alleged racism of Piers Morgan. (4.48) Metro journalist Alicia Adejobi explained the problem better than anyone, and it’s just as applicable to women and sexism.
“The bottom line is that no one should ever think they have the right to demand that a Black person ‘educate’ them on racial discrimination. Aside from it being incredibly insensitive, it’s essentially asking a Black person to resolve an issue that they didn’t create.”0
Girls-as-teachers also occurs in our schools. For example, the 2021 UK government’s rapid review on sexual harassment in schools highlighted a serious problem often under-appreciated by teachers and staff. Consequently, not much was being done unless the girls addressed it themselves.
“Some girls expressed frustration that there was not explicit teaching of what was acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. They felt that the need to educate peers had been left to them. One girl said: ‘It shouldn’t be our responsibility to educate boys.’
No, it shouldn’t.
To this end, there’s great work going on to educate boys and men to rein it in and become active bystanders. This is all good stuff since this is the source of girls’ and women’s problems. A quick Google of ‘allyship programs’ shows how much work is being done in this area. That’s great, but given this is a cultural shift that will take years to achieve … what happens to the girls/women in the meantime?
There will still be sexism in schools, workplaces, on the street, and everywhere in between. What are we doing to support them while this continues? Are they just left to fend for themselves until men get the message?
being “subject to misogynistic attitudes and behaviour is the routine experience of girls — in schools, on public transport and even within the educational community charged with their care and progress”.
In my experience, while we’re teaching boys what not to do or how to intervene when their friends are behaving like jerks, we’re not teaching girls what’s inappropriate or illegal. For example, after a presentation I recently gave to a high school, one young woman said she didn’t realise her experiences amounted to sexual assault. In my book, there are several examples of young women not recognising their boundaries had been crossed and, in some cases, that the behaviour had been illegal.
When we live in a society that raises girls to subjugate themselves, standing up to sexism and speaking out isn’t intuitive and isn’t encouraged. For every programme that encourages young men to change their behaviour, we need another to help young women identify personal and legal boundaries and make a noise when those lines are crossed.
In this way, we help them deal with an ongoing problem instead of being left by the wayside and expected to suck it up until the boys and men learn to do better.
If we don’t do this, what message are we sending?
This post was previously published on MEDIUM.COM.
You may also like these posts on The Good Men Project:
|White Fragility: Talking to White People About Racism||Escape the “Act Like a Man” Box||The Lack of Gentle Platonic Touch in Men’s Lives is a Killer||What We Talk About When We Talk About Men|
Join The Good Men Project as a Premium Member today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
A $50 annual membership gives you an all access pass. You can be a part of every call, group, class and community.
A $25 annual membership gives you access to one class, one Social Interest group and our online communities.
A $12 annual membership gives you access to our Friday calls with the publisher, our online community.
Register New Account
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: Shutterstock