Friday 11 September 2015

Charlotte Proudman and that LinkedIn photo: time for debate not abuse

When I was in my late twenties, I can remember being given a low whistle of admiration - at very close range - by a workman, and something inside me flipped. 'Why the f**k do you think it's OK for you to do that?' I shouted, before marching into the office.

He looked astonished and backed away, no doubt to tell his mates about this raving madwoman he'd just encountered, who hadn't fallen over herself in gratitude for his attention. I was wearing an above knee-length skirt, after all. And it wasn't as if he'd done anything very extraordinary; it was just the culmination of years of suffering in stony silence every time I walked past building sites or was leered at out of a passing white van (yes, sadly) that caused my outburst.

This was many years ago, and nowadays, cloaked in the invisibility of the middle-aged woman, I no longer encounter such problems. That this attention turned off like a tap is mostly a great relief, although I can't help but admit it might be pleasant to be given the occasional second glance. Just to prove I still exist, you know? But, as my daughter pointed out, when you're objectified, you have a shelf-life and I've obviously gone way past mine.

Nevertheless, I'm as conscious as ever of the objectification of young women every time I'm out with my daughters (aged 21 and 17). And I can completely relate to where Charlotte Proudman is coming from (although I may have stopped short of naming him on Twitter) when she decided not to put up with clumsy, sexist comments anymore - in this instance made by a man twice her age.

Of course it's not true that you're no longer allowed to pay a woman a compliment; it's all a question of context. LinkedIn is a professional forum, not a dating website; you wouldn't begin a business meeting by telling someone you'd never met before how stunning they looked (would you?), but if you were seeing them for a date you might well do so. Just as friends of both sexes will compliment each other on their appearance without any offence - and usually a great deal of pleasure - being taken.

It's sadly inevitable that, in deciding to call out this issue, Charlotte Proudman is the one who has become the victim of a tidal wave of online abuse, as this excellent article in The Pool points out. At least my own 'red mist' incident occurred years ago, before I could be vilified on social media. The Daily Mail has happily branded her a 'feminazi' on their front page for the last two days - as though reacting against the boorish comments of men who should know better somehow equates to the excesses of a regime which murdered millions. As a label, it isn't clever and it isn't funny. Nor is it acceptable to demonise someone for at least challenging years of subjection to 'low-level', ingrained misogyny - however benign you might deem it to be.

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