As I drove home from work this evening, my thoughts turned to Emma Watson and what a joy it is to have such a high-profile woman tackling gender equality issues in an extremely public forum. However, like me, most of the people who were delighted to hear Emma’s speech won’t have been overly surprised at the level of backlash she received as a result. It seems that anybody who dares to mention gender equality in a vaguely public space is offering themselves for crucifixion by women and men alike, such is the amount of trolling and abuse that occurs.
Since her speech Emma has been threatened with the publication of a series of nude photographs, something which Jennifer Lawrence was forced to experience the reality of only last month. Not only are these revelations a flagrant violation of privacy, I would go as far as to suggest that their publication was an act of sexual violence which escalated the usual objectification to which women are so unfortunately accustomed into something much more sinister with it almost becoming a ‘sport’. Similarly, women’s magazines continue to be hell bent on highlighting women’s flaws and imperfections with a huge red circle and magnifying them for everyone to mock, something which is done for no other reason than it being considered a form of entertainment. Further, the murky depths of comments sections across the internet provide a perfect breeding ground for the denigration of women’s bodies simply because it’s ‘funny’ and because it helps to prevent women from being taken seriously. Simply put, women’s bodies are being used against them in order to keep them silent.
This barrage of corporeal abuse can be truly painful because we live in a society which instils ideas of beauty and sex into girls from an incredibly young age, to the point where the emphasis placed on these attributes is quite staggering. Women participating in worthwhile and intelligent activity are often undermined by comments on their appearance, whether that be to demean the importance of their achievements through failing to mention them alongside the obligatory outfit analysis, or whether the comments about their bodies are purposefully negative as if that will somehow diminish the imagined threat that an intelligent and attractive woman may pose. Sexuality is persistently encouraged but this behaviour is then utilised as a weapon to silence women through body shaming, esteem-battering, ‘slut’ discourses, and mortification of promiscuity (the latter was extremely evident in the victim-blaming responses to Jennifer Lawrence’s nude pictures with many people shaming her for having taken nude photographs in a trusting and private environment, rather than shaming the person who released them).
If you’re told to be a triangle your whole life and you consequently perform as a triangle, you shouldn’t then be made fun of for being a triangle. It isn’t fair, it smacks of double standards, and I’m sick to death of women not having ownership over their own bodies because society thinks it’s good sport to humiliate them, delegitimise them and shame them. We are all capable of feeling empathy and I’d hazard a guess that most of us wouldn’t want our nudie pictures being shown to the entire world so why is there still a culture that not only accepts it as entertainment but also blames the woman involved for the consequences she is facing?
These behaviours and attitudes create a tumultuous, sometimes humiliating and often unsafe environment for women to speak out about gender inequality causing many women to simply not raise their voice. It’s safer to stay in the shadows, to not have to face the inevitable torrent of abuse and if somebody was threatening to release photographs of me then I’m not sure I could confidently tell them to eff themselves as Emma Watson so brilliantly did. This is why it’s so important that every person who is striving for gender equality sticks together and speaks out where possible against this persistent use of women’s bodies as weapons to silence them.
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