On banknotes and the etiquette of shouting

Womanhood: it’s an etiquette minefield. What’s the correct way to respond to a rape threat on twitter? Should one really make a fuss when reproductive rights are under threat? Should the word “feminist” be uttered in polite company? All these questions and more will never, ever be answered. The minute you raise your voice loud enough for them to be heard you’ll get told off for being too shouty.

This is the perennial problem with being female. Embody “feminine” values – be good, keep quiet, don’t push yourself forward – and you’ll be rewarded with sod all. Ask for something more – be dominant, demanding, self-assured – and you’ll get worse than sod all. We’re trying to win at a game where, each time we change tactics, the rules change in response. We can’t possibly win by playing properly. We don’t even have the status of true competitors.

This has become clear to me more than ever looking at recent twitter responses to Caroline Criado-Perez’s successful campaign to ensure we keep one – just one – female face (yes, other than the bloody Queen) on banknotes. I wasn’t even sure this mattered so much. I had it down as the kind of thing the Bank of England might as well do since Jane Austen on a tenner is hardly going to annoy anyone, is it? It’s not exactly equal representation of female achievement across the board. It’s not as though it changes all that much. I underestimated how shocking just one grassroots victory could be.

To some men, one woman on one banknote is clearly a step too far. Or perhaps it’s the fact that one woman got something done by persistence, and it worked. The broken record technique be used again, and again, and again. It’s not necessarily so easy for everyone else to use it – particularly where discriminations are multiplied – but it is a model that gets away from all those social rules we’re meant to follow, which only end up reinforcing our supposed “difference”. Ignore the rules and just keep at it, as Criado-Perez did.

Usually when women want change we’re given a stark choice between using our feminine wiles or emulating the “tried and trusted” methods of men. The former slots in nicely with neurosexist narratives about “essential difference” and “erotic capital”, narratives which reinforce the idea that what we experience is just ”how things are”. The latter comes to the fore in recent recommendations that girls need to be more “disruptive” in school; they’re later failing in their careers not because the criteria by which they’re assessed favour men, but because they’re being too girly (ignoring the evidence that women who behave more like men are judged more harshly not only than men, but than women who are more submissive).

Sod all that. Women, there’s nothing wrong with you. The fact is, the minute you open your mouth you’re losing because your words are not the words of a person; they’re the words of a woman, and it doesn’t matter how you play it, that’s what people will hear. Those who hate you won’t start to love you when you’re quiet and reasonable. They just won’t yet know you exist. Then once they do they still won’t believe you’re a human being. You can’t expect generosity or empathy. If empathy worked – if the fact that women are people was enough – we wouldn’t still be where we are now. What we think of as a precondition for equal representation – being seen as equally human – might only come afterwards.

The invisibility of women in public life isn’t even fully acknowledged. I want those raging over banknotes to switch on Prime Minister’s Question Time and see a House packed with braying, boorish female MPs, laughing and jeering as a lone man stands to speak, silencing him before going on to make ill thought-out decisions which change the lives of all other men. I don’t want that to happen in real life but I want them to know how it feels, or rather, I want them to feel it. Because I, and I imagine most other women, don’t feel it at all. To me a mass of men governing just looks normal. I don’t feel anger, just resignation. I have to actively remind myself this isn’t how it should be, and that it could be different.

Whether it’s to do gender or other forms of discrimination, it’s senseless that when we ask for a change of rules we’re told “yes, of course, but providing you stick to the old ones”. It is never going to work. We should just ignore them.

And hence, to the MRAs who are likely to swoop yet again on this post, just as you’ve been doing on the last few: I don’t have to approve your comments. I don’t owe you a voice. I don’t owe you my thoughts. This isn’t your game and I’m not letting you join in.


16 thoughts on “On banknotes and the etiquette of shouting

  1. What’s even more dreary is that the articles about the rape threat have resulted in predictable comments – must not have censorship, freedom of speech is everything, don’t take it so seriously. Funny how freedom of speech raises its head when women are threatened. Imagine if a Muslim threatened a white man over the banknote issue. Or some white supremacists tweeted that an attack on immigrants was jusitifed. Or someone tweeted they were going to attack a child. I don’t think we’d hear half as many protests that freedom of speech includes the right to threaten violence.

  2. These people talking about ‘violence against women’ and ‘inequalities women face’ and ‘women’s oppression’ really need to pull their head out of their asses, stop thinking of themselves as the center of the universe and look around at every single person considered ‘controversial’ getting the exact same treatment this woman got, creationists for instance get worse treatment online than this woman got. Now why is she ‘controversial’ because feminists made it so, by constant decades worth of turning everything to do with a woman in the public sphere something about women as a whole feminists have created an atmosphere where any talk about women is now seen as ‘controversial’ and trolls come out of the woodwork when controversy is afoot, they don’t care about feminism, or men’s rights, or anything really except laughing at the angry response of the person being trolled. If Jane Austen was put on the bill because someone campaigned for it not because she is a woman who did something great but because she is a person who did something great and if the media didn’t spin it into the gender war bullshit and she got put on the bill out of merit without talk of her gender, no one would have thought it controversial and no one would have trolled.

    1. Oh right, because women are to be blamed for misogynist trolls. Because fuck logic.

      I think your comment may be a perfect example of how women are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Basically all you said was – “well if those feminists would just shut up then this wouldn’t be controversial” which is precisely what Glosswatch talked about with her discussion of treatment of women daring to assert themselves.

      The only reason that women’s rights and dignity is “controversial” is that, as Glosswatch already eloquently explained, women are not viewed as human beings.

      This treatment is precisely the same as the silencing of all black people in the U.S. and now what do we have? “Well if those NAACP people would just shut up then this wouldn’t be controversial” ignoring that before black people dared to assert themselves they were politically and socially understood to be SLAVES.

      The situation is identical. And you are part of the problem.

    2. Yep. Because if we just shut up and went home and did nothing like nice little wimminz, none of this would happen, right?

      tiffany267 is exactly right. You’re part of the problem.

    1. “Banker” is a bit of a harsh summary of Elizabeth Fry! (It is of course her replacement that sparked off the campaign.)

      To take you literally on “British banknote”, the Clydesdale Bank has Elsie Inglis and Mary Slessor on two of its notes. Both notable for campaigning for women’s rights, too.

  3. RIGHT ON Glosswatch! I can’t decide if I’m delighted to read this (because it’s so familiar) or if it’s depressing (because it’s so damn familiar)… but BRAVA!

  4. I must know enlightened men (? surprise to me?) but most of the ones I asked to sign the Caroline Criado-Perez petition thought it was only right that at least 1 note should have a woman. Perhaps maybe it was because a lot of them also worked in the City in finance and thought Mervyn King was a plonker. I’d like to think it’s a hopeful sign that attitudes may be slowly changing.

  5. Perhaps I should know better by now, but I must admit I found this incident pretty shocking. This person is hardly a public figure as such, and the campaign itself is so moderate as to border on the minimalist, and for that to end up in a campaign of harassment this extreme and so public seems vastly, vastly out of tilt. (Not that I want to suggest that there’s some amount of hatred and threats that would somehow be “proportionate”, in this or any other case.)

    This very much smacks, not of a spontaneous reaction to some imagined slight (however vile and unreasonable that would be in itself), but of an orchestrated effort to systematically bully a “soft target”. One can only assume “pour encouragez les autres”. Reprisals conducted on an utterly arbitrary basis, in order to have all the more chilling an effect? Beyond that, I’m at a loss, and no little depressed about the whole thing.

  6. Just heard it reported there’s been an arrest of one of the people (and I use the term loosely…) making the threats. Only one out of however-many, but hopefully *that* will have an “encourager les autres” effect, in the opposite direction.

  7. Great post. I totally agree. I think we kid ourselves that this level of sexism doesn’t really apply to us, until it suddenly crops up. It can be quite disarming if you’re not expecting it and the more women understand the tone of the reception many will give when they try to start a conversation, the better prepared we are to deal with it. That said, I have been massively heartened by the amount of support from both men and women over the last few days.

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