1. The rise of Ukip.
While we may mock the likes of Godfrey Bloom for his comments on how nobody should employ women of childbearing age, and Demetri Marchessini (the major Ukip donor) for saying women shouldn’t wear trousers as this is ‘hostile behaviour’, the rise of Ukip and support for their policies are as serious a setback for women as for immigrants. Ukip’s key policies include not only scrapping maternity leave, but they would also make it legal for employers to discriminate in terms of gender and oversee the scrapping of regulations against sexual harassment in the workplace. The incompatibility of women’s rights under the far-right is more than some laughably backward opinions, but rather some serious implications for structural sexism likely to plunge thousands of women into even greater poverty, pay inequality, shit jobs and terrible choices.
2. Reproductive rights are sliding backwards.
This year the High Court in London reaffirmed that women in Northern Ireland are still barred from free abortions on the NHS, ruling against a case brought to challenge the existing ban which affects over 1,000 women who travel over every year. The case brought before the court which resulted in the reaffirmation was concerned with the audacity of a 15 year old girl and her mother whose costs to travel over had increased by £350 because she’d passed the 14 week mark. Abortion may have been won in England in 1967 but for our sisters in Ireland that’s 20 women who used to fly over every week who have an even worse deal.
3. Rape convictions are down while rape culture is on the up.
In case these figures have passed you by, last year we were still only around the 12% mark for convictions for rape…and only 6% of those were convictions of rape itself, the rest were convictions for related or decreased charges. While this is fairly consistent year on year, the rate seems to be slowly dropping: we’re at a 4 year low for convictions. Women are being penalised for bringing cases forward, with rape victims ‘encouraged’ to drop cases, or at least lower the charge. Over the last year we’ve had 9 investigations into the specialist sex unit set up by Scotland Yard for ‘misdemeanours’ such as pressuring hundreds to drop cases, including the case of a woman whose children were later murdered by the perpetrator; falsifying police records in order to drop sexual assault claims so as to up their conviction rates; and failing to hold proceedings against officers.
Of course, reports and convictions are only one tiny end of a rape culture. What is increasingly worrying is the normalisation and minimisation of rape, assault and sexual objectification: from student clubs using rape to appeal to a youth market, to ‘i feel rapey’ t-shirts being sold on eBay.
4. Our girls, our bodies, ourselves.
Even Kinder Eggs are now embracing the ‘pink for girls, blue for boys’ format of gendered toys to box those creative young minds. A few years older, and the continuing restraints put on girls in terms of their sexuality and expectations are having major effects. The charity Girlguiding reports girls’ self esteem is getting lower year on year and “87 per cent of girls aged 11-21 think women are judged more on their appearance than on their ability”.
They think that because it’s true. In a society where the backlash against feminism means it’s not just the horrendous economic future and institutional sexism that works to destroy them but objectification. Hospital admissions for eating disorders rose 8% in the UK last year, and ‘pro-ana’ websites are as popular as ever: there are 65,000 users on the biggest pro-ana website alone. 20, even 10 years ago, the shame and loneliness of dealing with our bodies was a political and collective matter. Rates of depression in girls doubled between 2000 and 2010. There you are girls, our beloved daughters, this is our gift for you.
5. The online firing line.
The internet and press coverage of Elliot Rodger’s misogyny-driven murders, from both ‘Men’s Rights Activists’ and the mainstream media, has been almost as despicable as the crimes themselves. Mainstream outlets have adopted the seriously problematic label “Virgin Killer” which reminds girls that the onus is on them to put out, as fragile male sexuality has lethal consequences if not submitted to. Likewise, the coverage of the “the stunning blonde” who drove him to it…who was 10 when she last saw him. Sympathetic, heroising, anti-feminist forums are set up by ‘Men’s Rights Activists’ and not taken down by social media companies as they don’t contravene ethics codes.
From the threat of increasingly regressive policies by government to the threats within the freedom of the internet, women are losing out. Online, women say, is not only the place where sexist men threaten to seek you out and kill you, but the place where other women, other feminists, are most likely to shut you down. In the 1970s Jo Freeman wrote Trashing: The Dark Side Of Sisterhood, and tales of second-wave feminists turning on each other as Enemy No.1 are abound throughout the Sex Wars. But now the trashing happens without the face-to-face support and the collective struggle. Women, within that unfettered, unbridled techno-wonderland of exploratory political development must in 2014 know their place and stay there.
And that place, sister, is nowhere.