When Aretha Franklin belted out those words at the start of the era of gender politics, I, in my innocence, having never heard of gender politics, assumed that she was making reference to the civil rights movement in the US. It was the era of ‘Black Power’ after all.
The song has stood the test of time, and is one of the most popular at Karaoke evenings now. So I am told anyway – never having been willing to apply evidence based thinking to my knowledge of Karaoke. Now it seems to be the theme song of the modern woman, or female Twitterer.
That really is what the Twitter outrage story is about, isn’t it? None of these women really believe that they are about to be raped, any more than the ‘Female bloggers cry rape‘- but they do object to being spoken to in such a rough and uncouth manner. It has become the latest battlefield in the gender politics war. One more mountain to be climbed in the search for female emancipation. Or is it?
One defining characteristic of the women, Laura Penny, Caitlin Moran et al, who are shouting loudest about the indignity of being spoken to via Twitter in this manner is that they are young. Too young. Too young to realise that women once had the respect they demand today as though it is some new and shinny bauble that is missing from their lives.
I am happily starting to give Methuselah a run for his money in the longevity stakes, and I have a different perspective on these matters. Women had respect – few men as recently as the 60s would have uttered a swear word in front of a woman, even under circumstances of great stress, without reddening and apologising profusely. Rape wasn’t unknown, even rape within marriage, but it was a rarity that we had heard of but didn’t expect to experience nor live in fear of, simply because the vast majority of men took it for granted that protecting a woman was his duty. A boyfriend who took you out, and didn’t walk you safely home again would never get a second chance.
That wasn’t solely the way of the world for a favoured few, but the norm. Even as a teenage run away – surely that most vulnerable of creatures in terms of harm that could befall you – men routinely stepped forward to protect me from harm, to ensure that I was safe, warm and fed. Nowadays it is axiomatic that the first man who sets eyes on you as a teenage runaway will ‘groom’ you for sex with 15 of his mates. Of course there were dangers around, aberrant males, child abusers – we all knew not to ‘accept sweets from a stranger’ – but it was still possible for the average woman, even a vulnerable teenage runaway, to go through life without being raped, without being abused, without having a string of foul language directed at her.
So what has changed?
Is it that women are more emancipated these days? Taking men’s jobs, invading their spaces, usurping their authority? Scarcely! In the 60s women were everywhere in positions of authority. On the throne, (and consequently on our bank notes!) running schools, hospitals, heading up departments in the Civil Service. An entire generation had found a shortage of men to marry, and used as they were to doing the ordinary men’s jobs whilst the men were busy blasting away at each other in the trenches had merely continued to do so. They trained as Doctors, ran shops, became lawyers, aircraft mechanics, naval officers, farmers, bred horses and dogs rather than children….I have heard tell of the ‘glass ceiling’ that kept women ‘in their place’ – but I saw precious little evidence of it amongst the women that I knew.
So it must be that men have changed, yes? After thousands of years of civilisation, they have suddenly turned into untrustworthy animals? Foul mouthed, spending every waking moment looking for new opportunities to abuse the nearest child, or to intimidate an unwary woman? Allowed an anonymity that previous generations didn’t find in the poison pen letter or toilet wall graffiti but now given by the ability to call themselves what they will on Twitter – why Mary Jane can become Fred Bloggs, and Fred Bloggs can call himself Annabelle, and this has somehow unleashed the animal in man? I am struggling with that one…
Undeniably there is foul mouthed abuse and threats delivered and received via Twitter. (I should add here that the most sustained and foul mouthed abuse I have ever received on-line turned out to come from a Mother of four children…) Shouldn’t women be more concerned with how they came to lose the respect of men, rather than demanding that its absence be punished? Rather than making it illegal, or rather more illegal than it already is – would it not make more sense to explore the reasons why it is happening, rather than assuming that you can put a stop to the apparent change of heart by men towards women simply by adding a button to Twitter?
Why did women lose men’s respect so dramatically? For lose it they did…
Discuss – under a false username if deemed necessary!