THE world can be a depressing place in which to be a woman sometimes; if we’re not being told we’re too fat or too thin, or too compliant or too stroppy, we’re being surreptitiously viewed through a two-way mirror in a nightclub toilet.
Yes, really – that’s what’s been happening at The Shimmy Club in Glasgow’s Merchant City and, although police are now investigating, the fact that the revelation hasn’t generated a greater sense of outrage is an indictment on a society that seems to be increasingly insouciant about the degradation of the female sex.
How can you interpret the venue’s decision to allow customers who hire private booths to leer at women other than as voyeurism bordering on misogyny? And what about the management’s response – that most visitors regard the mirror as “a bit of fun” and that those who are making negative comments have probably not been “lucky” enough to get past door staff?
The implication is any woman who doesn’t enjoy being put on display is probably not cool enough to be allowed through its hallowed portals in the first place. The contempt of the venue (which claims there is a small sign on the mirror alerting customers to the gimmick) is rivalled only by the self-righteous indignation of the handful of people of both genders who can’t see what the fuss is about. Why would any woman object to being furtively watched while applying her lipstick? It’s not like she’s got a right to expect respite from the male gaze in a room generally referred to as the Ladies, is it?
The upsetting thing about the Shimmy Club’s attitude, though, is that it’s not really remarkable; everywhere – on TV, on advertising billboards, in the Mail Online’s Sidebar of Shame – women are being objectified on a daily basis; not only are consumers not complaining about it, they’re clicking with zeal on images of Julianne Moore’s wayward toes or the woman who upstaged the cast at a Cannes premiere of La Vie D’Adele by flashing her “shapely derriere”.
Increasingly, feminism seems unwilling or unable to confront these issues. Some women are content to collude in their objectification, while those who feel strongly enough to oppose it have become increasingly bogged down in abstruse theoretical discourse. It’s not that I don’t understand the need for debate on privilege, it just sometimes feels we’re getting sidetracked from battles which need fighting right now.
That’s why it’s reassuring to see the #FBrape Twitter campaign – which aims to force Facebook to crack down on pages promoting violence against women – gathering momentum; last week representatives of 40 organisations, including The Everyday Sexism Project; Women, Action and the Media; and Object, sent an open letter to the social networking site, which continually fails to remove pages which celebrate domestic abuse, while censoring those showing women breastfeeding or displaying mastectomy scars. When the open letter was posted, the pages included Fly Kicking Sluts in the Uterus and Kicking Your Girlfriend in the Fanny Because She Won’t Make You a Sandwich. One page showed a woman sprawled at the bottom of the stairs with the message: “Next time, don’t get pregnant.” The open letter demanded Facebook recognise speech that trivialises or glorifies violence against women as hate speech and take action to make sure it is eradicated. But, aware of Facebook’s record of intransigence on the issue, the campaigners have also been targeting companies whose adverts appear on those pages, using screengrabs to demonstrate the disgusting messages with which their brands are being allied.
At first most of the firms were coming back with a set response – that they had no control over where their adverts appeared and that anyone finding such images should report them to Facebook. But such is the power of Twitter that campaigners were easily able to demonstrate the futility of filing such reports, posting Facebook’s reply that it had reviewed a particularly abhorrent page and concluded it didn’t violate any of its policies.
Gradually, some companies began to take a more constructive approach, emailing Facebook to express their concern and finally offering to take direct action. As of Friday, several companies, including Nissan UK, had agreed to withdraw their advertising completely, with more expected to follow suit. Others, who have been less co-operative, are not only being boycotted, they are being rebranded courtesy of mocked-up adverts which campaigners believe better reflect their outlook. One shows the Kellogg’s logo alongside Tony the Tiger with the message “We Think HATE SPEECH is Grrrrreat.” Another changes the text of the advert for audible.com (a digital audiobook provider) to Gender-based Hate Speech Can be Anywhere; With Audible, Go Ahead and Take it Everywhere.
One of the highlights for me is the way campaigners have rounded on Dove – a company that trades on its positive attitude to ordinary women, but which was slow to respond to the barrage of comments on its Facebook page and Twitter feed. It is now discovering the impact of bad PR; its advert has been changed to read “Because Advertising Dollars are More Important Than the Treatment of Women” while hundreds have taken the time to tell it what it can do with its “real beauty” campaign.
The groundswell of support – 16,000 tweets using the #FBrape were sent in the first 48 hours – shows what can be done if we join forces instead of bickering. It is easy to feel powerless against the tide of misogyny engulfing society. But lots of enlightened people do want to put an end to it. These days all we need to make a difference is a smartphone and a degree of perseverance. So let’s get cracking.