The Times, 28 April 2014
Sometimes I can’t believe my luck. During my working life, I’ve witnessed massive changes in women’s lives, most of them for the better. When I was growing up, few women went to university, there were hardly any female MPs and women still needed a male ‘guarantor’ to get a mortgage. Early on in my career as a journalist, I even met a woman who’d been put in a mental hospital just for having an ‘illegitimate’ baby.
Things are so much better today, even though I’m as shocked as anyone by the visceral misogyny on social networking sites like Twitter. Some men, it seems, can’t see an articulate woman on television without going online to abuse her in personal and explicitly sexual terms. I’m still wondering why a man who disagreed with something I said about the monarchy on Sky News felt he needed to post a tweet calling me a ‘stupid bitch’.
I’m sure Germaine Greer is right when she says that some men feel women have invaded spaces they used to regard as their own. To an older generation, the first women to work in offices on equal terms did seem like intruders, and they went out of their way to make us uncomfortable. I don’t think it’s an accident that young women faced a barrage of sexual harassment at work in the 1970s and 80s.
I can think of a couple of incidents, at the beginning of my career, which amounted to sexual assault. Now there’d be a company equal opportunities policy and someone senior to complain to, which is a great improvement on how things used to be. I’ve also heard lots of younger men say how relieved they are that they don’t have to work in laddish, all-male environments.
That’s why I’m mystified when Greer claims that ‘things have got a lot worse for women’ since she wrote The Female Eunuch. The statistics tell a very different story, from girls outperforming boys at school to the number of women in the law, journalism and medicine – and owning property. The internet may have provided a forum for sexist abuse, but it’s also the place where one feminist campaign after another has taken off, from No More Page 3 to the Everyday Sexism Project.
The foam-flecked misogynists are furious because they’re losing the argument. We’ve yet to achieve full equality, but I don’t think there’s ever been a better time to be a woman.