The car ad that prompts a sexist backlash
Audi, the car manufacturer, recently released an ad for the Super Bowl which has become controversial. It was not because the message relating to gender parity, was particularly contentious or new. It wasn’t. It was a dad’s message to his daughter. According to the World Economic Forum‘s Global Gender Gap Report of 2016, the US is lagging behind many other countries in this area, sitting in 35th place. But what does stand out about this video is the number of “thumbs down” a car ad would be receiving, compared to the number of “likes.” There is a significant difference. Not just that, the nature of the comments attributed to the video is worthy of mention, many of which are extremely sexist. Today it is not uncommon to see an outpouring of virulence and sexist commentary, across all platforms. Sadly, the normalisation of misogyny is becoming an increasingly common part of our daily social media diet. It suggests that gender resentment is hovering very close to the surface and can spew out at the slightest, even benign, provocation.
The normalisation of misogyny has become part of our daily diet
It would be too simplistic to blame one person totally for this trend. But there is no doubt as a senior world leader, President Trump has in many ways legitimised the outpouring of sexist commentary and overseen the normalisation of misogyny. He is the champion for many men who feel aggrieved. In his election campaign it was suggested that “he is saying what we are all thinking.” And let’s not forget this, there are also many women who admire and support that stance.
What we can’t ignore, is that this base was pre-existing. He just tapped into it. He has simply given people permission to communicate their views in the fullest of voices. The anonymity and pace of social media allows both men and women to vent with venom, in a way that we have not experienced before. Comments that in another generation would have been contained in a small and local group, now shoot around the world within nanoseconds. There is no time for reflection and even deleted content can be retrieved by some IT geek, somewhere, with the click of a mouse.
The world order is changing. Women make up 50% of the workforce and 60% of graduates. For the first time in history men and women are competing in the same workplace. Companies can be run with the touch of an iPad. Blue-collar manufacturing jobs traditionally occupied by men are disappearing. AI will eliminate 5 million jobs worldwide by 2020. Trump and others, tap into groups that feel threatened both by economic and social circumstances, as well as other demographics (migrants, the educated and women just to start.) They are experiencing a dialling back of their cultural and economic dominance, which is difficult to handle and harder to accept.
Turning back the clock
Sara Grossman in her article “Masculinity,anxiety, fear of the other in the age of Trump” suggests that we are seeing a return to McCarthyist thinking of the 50s.
While Donald Trump—with his casually offensive comments towards an array of groups, proud references to penis size, and endless remarks on how ugly, fat, or sexually appealing any particular woman is—may seem like an entirely new phenomenon, his strategy could be taken right out of McCarthy’s playbook.
In cultures which are coming to terms with terrorism, violence, economic uncertainty and changing cultural norms, many people are experiencing acute anxiety. Progressive, diverse and inclusive values are being labelled “left and liberal.” Compassion and empathy are now frequently perceived to be political positions.
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In Europe women want to nudge forward what seems like a stalling movement for gender parity in their regions. But at the same time many feel that they have to support women in other countries who are experiencing a backward shift towards “hegemonic masculinity” defined as:
dominant socially constructed form of masculinity exists which is “culturally exalted above other expressions of masculinity” as well as femininity
In Russia domestic violence has been partially decriminalised. In the US women are losing control of their reproductive rights. We are seeing cultural shifts that endorse and support male dominance and an emergence of “toxic masculinity,” that damages men and women equally. The reality is also that Audi’s executive team is far from balanced with only two women on board.
This normalisation of misogyny is only the outward sign of worryingly deeper, polarising cultural trends which need to be discussed and addressed before they get worse.
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