Sexist memes that flood WhatsApp and group chats aren't funny, it's time to stop
HOW many of you have received a meme on Facebook or WhatsApp which has had a bit of a pop at women?
I would hazard a guess that almost all of us have.
Have you seen the one about women’s golf? “Same old story, crap at driving but brilliant with an iron.”
Or the one about man’s original sin? “Teaching her to talk.”
These are just a couple that have somehow found their way into my WhatsApp inbox.
Of course, I know that it’s only a bit of banter.
The men in my life aren’t sexist — they’re dads, brothers, boyfriends, husbands and colleagues — and they all want to lift women up rather than put them down.
But when these memes end up in your inbox, what is your response?
You might not be the one who made up the joke, you might not have sent it on and you might not even laugh at it, but are you calling it out? Are you saying, ‘It’s not OK’?
I must admit, I haven’t done this in the past.
I tend to ignore, or reply with the disapproving eye-roll emoji — the virtual embodiment of the, ‘Ha, ha, very funny’ look that every female has mastered as a way to respond to such jokes.
But if we don’t call out this “harmless bantz”, what’s to say that one in ten of those blokes in your WhatsApp group won’t take that as a nod to send more venomous memes.
Like the cop who was guarding the site where Sarah Everard’s remains were found.
The Met Police constable allegedly sent colleagues a sick meme on WhatsApp — which showed a policeman, in a mock-up of the Highway Code, going through six stages from abduction to murder.
And it’s not just a problem in the Met — it was reported this week that a Conservative councillor in Plymouth has been suspended for posting a picture on social media where he is wearing a pink dress and black wig in protest against a proposed curfew for men.
He wrote: “If the Green Party and some Labour Party politicians get their way and impose this ridiculous 6pm curfew on men, then I’m going to wear my dress more often.”
In a week when women’s safety has been the conversation of the nation, this is tone deaf.
And while many might think, ‘Oh give us a break, he’s just having a laugh,’ where is the line between banter and sexism? Sexism and misogyny? And misogyny and abuse?
If that police officer thought it was OK to share his sick meme with his colleagues, is it then OK to shout at a woman in the street, to push her around — or worse?
The hashtag #NotAllMen erupted last week in response to talk on social media about women not feeling safe, and reclaiming the streets, after 33-year-old Sarah’s alleged killer, Met Police constable Wayne Couzens, 48, was arrested then charged with murder.
And while it is certainly not all men who harm women, or give us reason to feel unsafe, the statistics suggest it is far more than any of us would like to admit.
A survey from the UK arm of global charity UN Women, which campaigns for gender equality, found that 97 per cent of women between ages 18 and 24 had been harassed, as had 80 per cent of women of all ages.
Further research by YouGov recently found four in ten women had been groped, a third had been followed and one in five had been confronted with indecent exposure.
After reading about these statistics, I had conversations with people who were saying surely they could not be correct because none of the men we know would ever do such things.
Initially, I also thought the figures seemed over-inflated — but sadly they are the reality.
Like most women, I am now so used to these minor aggressions that they have become normal.
I was first flashed at when I was just ten years old.
A handful of friends and I were at a public swimming pool for a birthday party when a grown man pulled his shorts down to show us his bits.
As for being felt up, that first happened at secondary school — where “nipple crippling” was a deranged way to flirt with the opposite sex, as was a quick tap of a girl’s private parts.
As a teen and in my early adulthood, I’ve been called a slapper, a slag, frigid — you name it.
Even now, in my thirties, I’ve received verbal abuse from men I don’t know, and experienced misogynistic trolling.
It’s a similar story for female friends and family members who have been followed home from nights out, flashed at on public transport and felt up on their way to work.
The reality is that there are some men out there who are not allies
It does not surprise me that 96 per cent of women who say they have been harassed do not report it.
It happens so often that we think it won’t be taken seriously, or in some instances we don’t even take it seriously ourselves.
I know it’s difficult to know where the line is, and that many men feel they can’t do right for doing wrong at the moment — they fear being tarred with the same brush as murderers and rapists.
I personally don’t want men to feel they can’t say hello to a woman at a bus stop or strike up a conversation in a bar.
I know most men are women’s allies.
But the reality is that there are some men out there who are not allies — and one of them might be lurking in that Facebook group of footie lads, or blokes from that stag do years ago, where sexist memes are rife.
If he thinks the lessening or othering of women is normal among his mates, then who knows what else he might think is OK.
I’m not saying that the “Women should stay in the kitchen where they belong” type of memes should be criminalised.
But maybe it’s time we said what we have all been thinking — they’re offensive, outdated, unnecessary and, in all honesty, not very funny.
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