Jesus was a gentleman, if only more men were

(AP)

Athough many British women face harassment, degrading comments and unwanted sexual advances on a daily basis, there are still those who scramble to contend that British culture is one that by nature champions liberation and equality. The truth, as most of us girls know, is that sexist attitudes in the UK have been around for a long time.

It is perhaps no wonder that UN Special Rapporteur Rashida Manjoo's recent report on violence against women has been poorly received in some corners, especially her claims of a "boys' club sexist culture", the "over-sexualisation" of young women in the media, and the "marketisation" of the female body.

"Have I seen this level of sexist culture in other countries? It hasn't been so in-your-face in other countries. I haven't seen that so pervasively in other countries. I'm sure it exists but it wasn't so much and so pervasive," Manjoo said.

But isn't her home country, South Africa, the 'rape capital of the world'? And isn't there the systematic oppression of women through legislation in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran? So the complainers go.

I can't help but feel, as a young British woman myself, that this is an unhealthy and ultimately damaging way of approaching her remarks.

It's all too easy to get defensive - we don't want to hear the bad things about our own country. But to dismiss the report as a fuss about nothing and to start deflecting attention onto other 'worse' countries than ours really doesn't do justice to the concerns she has raised.

"Our response should not be to claim that because women in the UK seem to be 'better off' than women in certain other countries, sexism and gender inequality are not genuine issues here," says blogger Hannah Mudge.

"Our response to this, as Christians, should not be to dismiss what Ms Manjoo is trying to draw attention to. We should be looking at these statistics and feeling motivated to do what we can to combat the injustices perpetrated against women in a society where we are so often told to be 'grateful' for 'how far we've come' and 'thankful' that we live in a country where women's rights are enshrined in law.

"It is easy to dismiss such injustice as insignificant if it's not happening on our doorstep. But we need to look at the facts."

Ms Manjoo's report highlights "the easy availability" of porn, social media and "routine" bullying in schools as tools by which women are subjected to harassment and sexism, all of which, she contends, indicate a wider cultural problem that must be addressed if true equality is to be achieved.

Dr Kristin Aune, a sociologist at the University of Derby and co-author of 'Reclaiming the F Word', agrees.

"While there have been improvements in the position of women in Britain over the last few decades - for instance equal pay legislation - the UK is currently experiencing a resurgence of gender inequality," she says.

"Since the economic crisis, the government cuts have hit women especially hard. Figures indicate that women have shouldered 75 per cent of the cuts (eg due to tax and benefit changes and the loss of public sector jobs), and men only 25 per cent. Between 2010 and 2012, local authority funds to sexual abuse and domestic violence services fell by 31 per cent."

Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, in an article for The Guardian, adds: "Women are suffering human rights violations all over the world – they should be taken seriously everywhere and at every level," adds

"It isn't a competition, and bleating that sexual violence is statistically less common here than in other countries is of zero value to the tens of thousands of UK women experiencing it on a daily basis."

Despite entrenched beliefs that devalue women, some recent campaigns to transform misogynistic attitudes have been successful, however.

Nuts Magazine has announced that it may be forced to close due to a significant drop in sales. We can't be sure but it would be nice to think that the Lose the Lads' Mags movement and the wider conversation being generated by the No More Page 3 campaign have helped in their demise. I can't say I'll be sad to see Nuts go.

Leah Green of The Guardian recently had a video go viral in which she "turns the table" on sexism, making lewd comments to men to see how they react to real situations experienced so often by women across the world. It has resulted in much discussion about the treatment of women and the normalisation of a corrosive mindset.

These are small steps forward but it would premature to say there has been a substantial breakthrough in being respected as women, so Ms Manjoo's comments are timely.

As Christians it's vital that we take note and not only join the conversation but actively oppose oppression as we see it. Injustice has no place in the Kingdom of God; the Gospel of Jesus is one that liberates, transforms and restores, and we are called to stand against that which seeks to obstruct it, whether it's happening across the world or outside our own front door.

Jesus was a gentleman who defended the woman the others despised as she poured perfume on his feet. How much happier a world this would be for women if more men were like him.

What Others Are Reading
More News in Society