Blurred Lines: the New Battle of the Sexes

Blurred Lines: The New Battle of the SexesKirsty Wark’s BBC documentary, Blurred Lines: the New Battle of the Sexes, was shocking and provocative but too short. It needed another hour or two to properly do justice to its subject. It needed another hour on whether misogyny really is on the rise or whether it is just more visible. We were told that it was but, equally, that men had always felt this way about women.

It needed more evidence from the offline world that the online misogyny rampantly on display was making men treat women differently face-to-face. For example, is domestic violence on the rise and, if so, can it be linked to online misogyny?

It needed to investigate how much women participate in online abuse. I’ve seen plenty of comments from men and women online that degrade the female subject of the comment in a misogynistic way. Why are women getting involved in this behaviour? Is it less about misogyny and more about the tolerance of bad (criminal) behaviour online in general?

It needed an examination of the psychology of the abuser. Clearly, it’s a power thing, but those interviewed said the online abuse was harmless because it stayed online. They wouldn’t behave like that in the real world. Some of the women agreed that, because it was online, it could be shrugged off. Why? Is it something about the medium that enables this behaviour to be accepted whereas offline it would land the perpetrator in court?

It needed an interview with law enforcement agencies to find out why more prosecutions weren’t being brought. Only one prosecution for the online threat to rape had been brought. Are the authorities therefore turning a blind eye to it or is it going unreported because people don’t take it seriously enough to report it?

Germaine Greer’s two interview segments were too brief. Arguably, her most controversial statement that, because of her generation’s feminist advances, women are pushing their way into traditional male preserves and it is driving men nuts, needed more explanation. Was 1970s feminism wrong in its approach or was it right but feminism has been warped by subsequent generations into something more aggressive that diminishes men in the world?

There was much talk about “geek” culture being responsible for the Internet’s misogyny. Created by geeks, used by geeks, they set the tone. Except that this strikes a jarring note. I know and have worked with lots of geeks from my days in the computer industry and they aren’t like that. Most are more interested in Star Trek and gadgets than women. One of the gamers interviewed said as much. He found the ability to murder prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto distracted from the game play. The documentary needed to examine the motivations of the “geeks” that built the Internet because it certainly wasn’t about creating a male-only space to share abusive images of women. The misogyny came after the architects had opened the space up to the rest of the world.

Ultimately, the documentary was a parade of more and more vile examples of abuse through the impersonal medium of the Internet. Eye-opening though this was, it didn’t get you very far. Wark ended the documentary with a plea that she didn’t want her son or daughter growing up in a world where this was acceptable but I’m still not sure from what she presented what she thinks anyone can do about it. Perhaps, by raising the issue in a high profile and shocking way, Internet users (let’s not just say women as there are men who will feel sickened by this, too) will feel angry enough to take action, but don’t hold your breath that this is going to change any time soon or without government intervention, and that’s a whole other can of worms…

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