What is so threatening to masculine identity about replacing Darwin with Jane Austen on a £10 note? So threatening that it merits abusive tweets describing rape and murder? At its apex, Caroline Criado-Perez, the campaigner responsible for this menacing spectre of Emasculation In A Bonnet (the worst kind) received ‘about 50 abusive tweets an hour for about 12 hours’.
So, why are these men so hostile to Jane? Could it be quotes such as, ‘There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort’? This was obviously written in a time before sociopaths on social media could pinpoint and broadcast your home address, as they did to Ms. Criado-Perez. Poorly played, Jane. Bit dated, that. Here she is more on track: ‘A woman, especially if she should have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.’
196 years after her death, the pandering subordination of female intellect to the prickly intransience of masculine identity remains a necessary social tool to avoid violation. These necessary social tools are often defined as ‘womanly wiles’- manipulative, crafty, underhand, ignoble. They are conflated with our sexuality- the only arena in which we can be said to have power over men. Except when that power is taken away from us- through rape. There, we may be said to be at a loss. Gangbangers are notoriously resistant to charm.
Jane Austen is one of the best-loved female authors of all time and thus her work is regularly maligned. One of the criticisms levelled against her is her very innocuousness- the ‘mundane’ descriptions of society and love from a women’s perspective at a time where power and agency rarely went hand-in-hand with having a vagina. This very benign quality, of women navigating their future with only gentle quips and fine eyes to recommend them, should have made Jane a perfect candidate to appease the dastardly feminists while leaving insecure men with a reassuring sense of their own superiority.
It is not enough for a woman to be inoffensive, apparently. Better that we are ignored entirely. The argument that The Queen is on the other side holds no water- she is there as the Monarch, not because of her achievements. So, really, why- why is it threatening? Why is a tiny visual concession to women’s contribution to society a destabilizing force to small-minded, petty, violent misogynists?
There are those that argue that these men have been disenfranchised. That they are probably young, jobless, poor and angry. They no longer have a place in society. This may or may not be true. Due to the anonymity of Twitter, supposition is all we have. The harassment could have come from a financially stable, middle-aged man in Kent who always secretly suspected that all women are gold-digging whores and had his suspicions confirmed when his wife ran off with Lembit Opik. It doesn’t matter. These are excuses. We are coddling. A hateful misogynist is a hateful misogynist in the same way that a hateful bigot is a hateful bigot.
Misogyny is regularly downplayed or side-lined. This dismissiveness, by men and women, denigrates all of humanity. It is a cultural act of gaslighting to say that violence against women, rape culture, sexism in the workplace, street harassment and negative stereotyping is exaggerated, or is only really evident in extreme cases. Most women will not experience a bombardment of twitter abuse threatening rape and death (I speak of privileged women- for the unprivileged, the threat of rape or death can be a part of their daily lives). What they will experience is a death by a thousand cuts in which their concerns, work, effort and opinions are patronized or treated with quiet disdain.
Most men aren’t like this. Most men are lovely. Yet until, as with racism, the behaviour of those men that are Total Shitbags (or Undercover Shitbags) is called out and collectively shunned, the subtle insistence that women are not true equals will continue to pervade society. And it does. Women are not even allowed to claim ownership of this, this regular denigration. ‘We are all equal now’ can be a threat in itself, when it is used to dismiss the personal experiences of women who have not been treated as equals. It negates our concerns and renders us invisible- or worse, high-strung, shrill, aggressive, pettily overreacting.
The Hysterical Woman has been replaced by The Feminazi, her image popularly accessorized with dungarees, a shield of obesity and a coating of unacceptable hair- wielding a vibrator in a call to arms. Is it any wonder that many women, particularly women who associate their personal power with conventionally feminine traits, don’t wish to align themselves with a movement that at its heart only asks that the essential value of the female sex be treated with as much respect and deference as the male? Scared to lose what little power they have, they disassociate. This is very short sighted. Sexual power fades and a life lived in reliance upon it will be a life of dependency at best, subordination at worst.
In millions of little ways, I have made myself small over my lifetime so as not to offend, aggress, accidentally encourage, hurt, belittle or threaten men’s egos. Ways that have become second nature and men are not even parenthetically aware of. I used to consider it good manners, a socially useful tool and a relatively unimportant concession for an easy life. I am starting to think that as a sex, this pandering, this good girl niceness is what causes male rage. More than disenfranchisement. More than joblessness or poverty. Men surrounded by women that have made concessions to them since birth throw their toys out of the pram when their rightful place is threatened. By a face on a ten pound note.
So, ladies, it is our fault, really. We were asking for it. We were too quiet.
‘I do earnestly wish to see the distinction of sex confounded in society, unless where love animates the behaviour.’ – Mary Wollstonecraft.