To those who leave the house – in fact even those who don’t, thanks to the likes of Channel 4 – the following exchange won’t come as the shock that it really should.
Who’s worse? They boy? The girl who stays with him? Or the society that produced them both?
Such disrespect, such unhealthy relationships, are certainly not something new, but the increasingly aggressive ‘front’ that I see young boys and men displaying proudly today really is concerning to this girl. Unfortunately, I overhear such verbal abuse daily, working as I do in education, and the mindless, go-to phrases – of which ‘do you want to get punched’ up is comparatively friendly – often seem to me like a knee-jerk response to the angry culture that has sprung up in our entertainment industry. It’s like life has become one long rap video, in which we women really are ‘hos’. It’s madness – but, maddeningly, a reality.
Maybe I’m overreacting and this routine verbal assault is just another mode, in a long historical line, of exaggerated teenaged expression; for whom it is all or nothing. The thing is though, it’s not just words that are exuberantly exchanged in our classrooms and on our streets – what gets me are those slogan / graphic t shirts that seem to be a staple of every young man’s wardrobe now. You know the kind I mean. Half (or often, a lot more than half) naked women touching themselves, bending over etc etc. Basically, people are just going about in public with pornography on their chests. The majority of it is especially insulting, considering the woman tend to have their eyes blocked or are wearing sunglasses. It’s just breasts. Great message to send out – thanks. And it’s not even like we’re talking about discerning young men hunting this stuff out in specialist or joke shops either. The following images are taken from products on offer at River Island and Republic, for God’s sake. (Apologies for this onslaught – or you’re welcome, depending on what side of the sexism line you’re on.)
I think I’ve made my point. I mean really – would you want your son to turn up to college displaying one of those dismissive, patronising messages? Would you want to be served in a shop by someone wearing an aggressive image of sexual objectification? It’s a really quite sinister form of sexism that is being unapologetically shoved in our faces under the apparently harmless guise of fashion.
Of course, at the end of the day this is no different a sexism to subtle inequality, still inherent, exhibited quietly by those more ‘civilised’ members of society dressed in suits and sitting at desks, rather than in their offensive t shirt on the bus.
I can’t decide what’s worse.
As feminism campaigns enjoy a media moment of sorts, and the battle for equality reaches more of us, it seems such a cruel and unnecessary affront that, at the same time, our high streets seem intent on pushing more and more of these angry and downright aggressive sexual messages onto our bodies. Our young men have become walking mouthpieces for outdated sexual stereotypes. Worse still, they are actually shelling out money to be ambassadors for this sexism. Are high street designers fuelling the desire for these messages by producing them ? Or are they sating a demand for them from our young people?
This problem was put into a new context last week when Dr Matt Taylor, of the Rosetta space project, caused a media furore by appearing on a video livestream of the European Space Agency’s mission to land on a comet sporting an inappropriate – and frankly, ugly – shirt. Covered in a bevy of half-naked buxom cartoon blondes, it looked like something from 1980s Blackpool. There was an immediate Twitter backlash, where the scientist was accused of being sexist. I mean, what was he thinking? Typically, Boris Johnson later waded in with an outdated opinion, claiming that ‘if you are an extrovert space scientist, that is the kind of shirt that you are allowed to wear.’ Even more alarmingly, he went on to compare the attacks on Dr Taylor to ‘a scene from Mao’s cultural revolution’, where weeping individuals were forced to confess to their crimes against the people…
The thing is, Boris – and other fellow dinosaurs – you must have had your eyes closed, because there is a revolution happening. People are fed up. And if we are determined to tackle casual sexism, one shirt at a time. Women are always being judged on their looks, what they’re wearing. It’s hilarious to see the defensive storm that rises after, God forbid, a man is brought to account for his appearance.
No wonder there aren’t enough women in science – it’s hardly surprising with such a culture of casual sexism – reading, as I did researching this post, about what Dr Taylor said when talking about the mission during his presentation, never mind the offensive shirt, is toe-curlingly cringey and blood-boilingly frustrating; “the sexiest mission there’s ever been. She’s sexy, but I never said she was easy.
Ugh. Who’s at fault? Those who make these things, or those who choose to wear them? I can’t decide but, I implore you – give our young men a chance. Don’t buy them one of these t shirts as a festive gift. Their message could have an impact for life, not just for Christmas.