Calm down, dear, it’s just casual sexism

For once, I agree with Labour.

In Prime Minister’s Questions our rich, heterosexual, cisgendered, able male Prime Minister told a woman MP, a member of the shadow cabinet, to “calm down, dear”.

This was, rightly, immediately pointed out to be sexist.

The Prime Minister denied sexism, claiming that he was simply quoting an advert for a car insurance firm.

Perhaps he thought he was. Perhaps our Prime Minister genuinely believed this comment not to be sexist. This is, after all, the same man who merrily made a casually transphobic remark in the Commons. Perhaps, on his rich, heterosexual, cisgendered, able-bodied male planet, he did not think that a patronising, dismissive attitude to a woman colleague was in the slightest problematic.

Perhaps our Prime Minister had no idea that the original “Calm Down, Dear” adverts were themselves revoltingly sexist. In these ads, Michael Winner, himself a revolting sexist, patronises a woman fitting the hysterical woman trope to a T.

Casual sexism still flies. The subsequent shitstorm following the Prime Minister’s remarks has been referred to as a “sexism row”: the media appears to be presenting both sides, when what it actually achieves is simply to obfuscate the reality of the situation.

It is not PCgawnmadcantsayanythinganymore.

It was simple, blatant, casual sexism.

Thanks to Tim from beyondclicktivism for pointing out the casual transphobia exhibited by the PM.

Ambivalent sexism: research into attitudes towards women

Many of us are familiar with the concept of misogyny: hatred of women. Sexism has another face, though: the belief that women are wonderful and must be protected from the big, bad world.

These two sides to sexism were given a name in a paper by Glick and Fiske (1996): ambivalent sexism. Ambivalent sexism consists of two types of attitude towards women: hostile sexism, and benevolent sexism. Hostile sexism is classic prejudice; benevolent sexism is the view that women are lovely, fluffy nurturing caregivers (or, as the paper puts it, intimacy-seeking and prosocial). Within these categories are three “sources” of ambivalent sexism, each with its corresponding hostile and benevolent face.

First, paternalism. Paternalism is theorised to come in two forms. Dominant paternalism is the idea that men should control women, while protective paternalism is the notion that men should protect women.

Second, gender differentiation. Competitive gender differentiation is a set of beliefs that bolster the idea that men are the better sex, while complementary gender differentiation, its benevolent counterpart, focuses on the “equal but different” myth, wherein women have their own, special roles in the kitchen.

Finally, heterosexuality. The theory of ambivalent sexism acknowledges that a major source of sexism is the hegemonic heterosexual ideal. Heterosexual hostility is the viewing of women as sex objects and fear of female sexual power, while intimate heterosexuality romaticises this objectification and sees men as incomplete without a woman.

The theory therefore provides a fairly comprehensive account of sexism. It does not just stop at theorising.

Measurement of ambivalent sexism

Ambivalent sexism is measured by a questionnaire called the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (ASI). This measure was subjected to the rigorous development and validation standards typically used in questionnaire development (for those interested in methodology, it is described fully in the Glick and Fiske paper, which is available in full without paywall).

The ASI consists of 22 items; 11 in each category. Examples of questions which tap hostile sexism are “Once a man commits, she puts him on a tight leash” or a reverse-scored item “Feminists are not seeking more power than men“. Reverse scoring allows researchers to check if participants are just selecting the same response for every item on a questionnaire, and also help to test the reliability of the measure.

Examples of questions which tap into benevolent sexism include “A good woman should be set on a pedestal“, “Women have a quality of purity few men possess“, and “Men are complete without women“. Spot the reverse-scored item.

The Glick and Fiske study found that benevolent and hostile sexism were distinct, but they were also correlated with one another, suggesting that people who hold hostile sexist attitudes also hold benevolent sexist attitudes.

A problem with the ASI, though, is that it is dependent on self-reporting. Even in an anonymous questionnaire, research participants may give responses that make them seem socially desirable (i.e. less of a sexist knobend). Furthermore, a questionnaire may influence their behaviour or responses to other questions if the participant guesses that the study is about sexism. For that reason, some researchers prefer to modify the ASI to present scenarios or observe behaviour.

Effects of ambivalent sexism

Much of the ambivalent sexism research has focused on workplace sexism. Hostile sexism has been linked to negative evaluations of women candidates for a managerial job and higher recommendations for a male candidate for the same role. It has also been linked to greater tolerance of sexist events after hearing a sexist joke, which suggests that sexist humour does have real-world implications, for hostile sexist people, at least.

Benevolent sexism has many real-world implications. It, too, has been linked to low evaluations of women in the workplace, as women are seen to be neglecting their traditional roles as caregivers and homemakers. As well as this systemic negative effect on women, the impact of benevolent sexism extend to psychological effects. When experiencing benevolent sexism, women perform worse at various cognitive tasks, which suggests that the benevolent sexist attitude further reinforces a vicious circle which allows women to do worse.

What about teh menz?

A similar scale has been created for measuring attitudes towards men: the Ambivalence Towards Men Inventory, a 20-item questionnaire which also differentiates between hostile and benevolent attitudes. This measure has generated much less research than the ASI, with fewer real-world implications. However, using the measure, it has been found that feminists are not man-haters: in fact, women who identify as feminist score significantly lower on hostility towards men.


While the problems of hostile sexism are well-known, and generally viewed as less acceptable in our society, “benevolent” sexism, too, has huge implications for equality for women. Benevolent sexism still allows women to be viewed as objects, and unworthy of equal employment, yet it is thoroughly acceptable to express opinions that women are cute little walking wombs. This needs to change.

Destruction and rebirth

Three years ago today, my destruction began. Nothing lasts forever.

Once upon a time, I was in a very long, monogamous relationship with a man. Including the agonising death throes, the relationship lasted a hair under five years.

Three years ago today, the death throes began.

I knew exactly what was happening, that the comfortable, happy reality I had inhabited for much of my life was falling apart around me. He was cheating on me; I knew with whom, I knew when it had began. I am not the most perceptive person, but this was blindingly obvious to me.

I decided not to rock the boat. I did not want a confrontation, then. I was afraid to let go and shake up everything that I knew.

For two months, I stayed in that relationship, insisting to all and sundry that it was just a rough patch.

I knew it was not a rough patch. I was afraid to let go. I still believed us to have a future.

It occupied my thoughts perpetually, the fear of change, the knowledge that I was all of a sudden cast off and thoroughly unwanted, unloved. I cried a lot.

He was miserable, too. He was afraid to let go.

It was never the cheating that bothered me. It was the lying, the sudden gulf that had opened up between us.

In the end, I had to know. It had turned to an obsession. I broke the last taboo of being a trusting lover and looked at his phone. I felt awful for that. It’s just not the done thing, is it? It’s what bonkers bunny boilers do, isn’t it?

So I finally confronted, by email.

I walked around all day with a weight sitting on my chest, frantically checking my emails for a reply.

I was afraid to let go. I fervently hoped I was wrong. Perhaps I would receive an email which told me I was wrong and featured a marriage proposal? Or what if I’d completely fucked everything by my confession of Going Through A Mobile Phone? Shit. I could have ruined it all by my refusal to trust.

None of this happened.

I had been right with my suspicions all along. We agreed to “a break”.

I insisted on a break, rather than a break-up.

I knew all hope was gone.

The mourning began in earnest.

I spent the best part of two months in my dressing gown, alternating between tears and numbness. My ashtray looked like a tar-stained porcupine. All the while, a vast knot of wretchedness wrapped itself around my guts. My body ate itself.

We were not even friends any more, me and him. The link was severed. We attended one last festival together and I have not seen him since.

The universe is riddled with cycles of destruction and rebirth. Stars bloat up and explode, spewing their innards out to create new stars, planets, life. Fleetingly-sentient blobs of matter die, and become new parts of life; maybe some blobs of their matter become sentient, too.

Having eaten my body, phase two began. I was an unethical slut.

I made sure I never fucked anyone I liked.

I had some blindingly good sex during that phase. I was still unhappy, albeit getting lucky.

It was a nebula; my new self was coalescing. I was disillusioned with monogamy; I just had not quite learned how to have functional, happy connections with other human beings.

I was a spinning mass. The star at the centre had not yet ignited.

When it did, it was not the dramatic, sudden explosion of illumination. It grew slowly; a phoenix egg incubating in smouldering ashes.

My reality, what I had accepted to be real, had been torn away. I reshaped my reality.

I am unfamiliar, now, with the woman who cried and held on. I see her as weak, even though she was not. She was working with the options that she had available.

I feel intense sympathy for people who have experienced being cheated on. It seems alien, though, that I was one of them.

Yet I am still that woman who wept and ate herself. I am still the woman who would not let go. It is all the same materials, just as we are all made of the remains of an exploded star. It is reconstituted into something different, yet it is all the same molecules.

Destruction and rebirth. I am grateful for it.

The Bellend effect

It is gratifying to see that a shift in public attitudes means that more Americans support marriage equality than oppose it. This would be better news if the figures weren’t ~50% in favour, ~46% against; there is still a long way to go.

I was more interested, though, in the graph of poll data surrounding support for marriage equality.

It looks like a willy. Let’s all giggle and get it out of our systems.

It looks exactly like a cock.

The reason it looks like a cock is due to a spike in opposition–in combination with a decline in support–around 2004. This statistical trend just happens to make the rest of the graph, where the trend holds fairly steady, look like a bellend.

What happened in 2004 to create the bellend?

It could be that in 2004, pollsters began asking the question differently: how a question is asked will have a great impact on what the answer is. As this graph combines data from several surveys, however, it seems that something else is contributing to The Bellend Effect: the effect of question framing declines when synthesising results from several sources.

2004 was a big year for same sex marriage in the States. Same sex marriage was briefly legal in San Francisco, theorised to be an entirely politically-motivated PR stunt. In Massachusetts, too, same sex marriage was legal.

The conservative Right lashed out, and referenda were launched in Massachusetts to overturn the marriage. In San Francisco, it was doubtful as to whether the marriages were ever legal in the first place.

In the face of all of the rhetoric in launching referenda, in combination with a huge, all-pervasive right-wing media, is it any surprised that The Bellend Effect occurred? In 2004, Americans were bombarded with propaganda informing them that marriage was only for heterosexuals.

The Bellend Effect, therefore, reflects the success of the right in affecting public opinion.

Due to this, I will now call right-wing propagandists bellends.

It turns out, I’m not a woman.

To my great surprise, I discovered today that I’m not actually a woman. I’d always thought I was one, but apparently I am mistaken.

It turns out that I am a girl.

That’s right. This exchange provides a Taxonomy of Females.

One night at a dinner table at a wedding, I got into an argument with a female guest about terminology I was using. She was asking about my dating escapades and I kept calling females “girls”. After a while, she took offense:

“We are not girls, we are women.”

I said: “No, I call most females girls. Women are different than girls.”

She asked me to explain my terminology for females. I responded:

“Girls are girls until they have a baby. Then they become women.”

She asked: “And what do they become after they are moms?”

I said: “Well eventually they become ladies.”

Before reproduction, then, women are children. It is reproduction, and only reproduction, that can help us grow up.

Forget anything else. We are defined by what comes out of our uteruses. As my uterus plays host only to eggs that I make damn sure are immature and unfertilised, I shall remain a child.

At least this means I don’t have to ever be a lady. I have always hated the word “lady”; it smacks of nobility and sitting uncomfortably primly. Ladies don’t go paddling with their dresses tucked in their knickers or smoke or eat a big fuckoff rare steak or shout “cunt” at an utter cunt.

All of the above, though, are better than the increasingly-popular use of the term “females”. I hate the group noun “females” to the depth of my soul. It makes women sound like cattle or livestock, defining us by our ovaries and uteruses, and by our genitals, thus excluding a sizeable chunk of intersex and transwomen.

Worst of all, “females” is grammatically incorrect. “Female” is an adjective, not a noun.

In the face of the infanitilising, the puritanical or the perjorative and syntactically wrong descriptors, I think I will stick with “women”.


Nicholas Shaxon, in his fantastic book Treasure Islands, calls the City of London the centre of a spider’s web.

I call the it Mordor.

The Square Mile is, to me, the heart of darkness, the epicentre of evil, the source of a great deal of the evil in the world. It represents greed, usury, capitalism. It represents financial crises and cosy cuddles with Conservatives.

Mordor has always been fitting.

Until a few weeks ago, I had not in adult life set foot in Mordor, save to change Tube at Bank. I have now been there twice.

One visit was for protest purposes; the other a quest for food, intoxicated.

Dragons guard the City. As I passed the heraldries, a deep sense of unease settled in. The air felt thicker, somehow; my body heavier.

Perhaps I was thinking too much of Mordor.

I was Samwise the brave. I pressed on.

When I visited to protest, megaphone courage lessened the disquiet.

Nothing feels real in the City.

I ate with friends in a place that was indistinguishable from a stage set. A shop named THE PEN SHOP squatted opposite us. It did not appear to sell pens. We were indoors but outdoors, an arcade made to resemble a street. A staircase led to nowhere. A simulacrum of a pub bustled with identically-suited patrons, murmuring and guffawing rhythmically. A jogger ran past. She was indoors but outdoors.

The people in the City do not feel human.

There is a sense of hostility; that they would look at a group clad in Doc Martens and bobbly woolly tights and know that Something Was Afoot.

One friend, a man, spoke of a time he walked through the City dressed in a suit. There was a sharp contrast to travelling in his usual attire; each City-working man he passed squared up to him in a show of dominance.

In casual clothes, we faced quiet malevolence. It never rose beyond this, even when causing a spectacle with a megaphone and banner.

All the while, I worried we would be Noticed, that Something Would Happen. It never did. Muted threat. Perhaps they are still too English to make a scene.

Passing out of the City once again, I exhaled, long and hard.

Like Samwise and Frodo, I am glad to tell the story of my adventures in Mordor.

I do not wish to return.

Equal pay now: a small feminist action


When I am behind a megaphone, something quite magical happens. I become the message I am conveying: there are no insecurities or fears, it is just pure dissemination of information. It is intoxicating and empowering.

This is perhaps part of the reason I protest so frequently.

Yesterday I was part of a tiny action aimed at raising awareness of the gender pay gap. We chose the City, as for doing the same jo

We met at Holborn and unfurled the banner which bore the stark, simple message ‘EQUAL PAY NOW’. There were five of us, all pa We shouted and leafleted, then began to march through the City towards Liverpool Street Station, pausing briefly to spread the word on the steps of the Bank of England. Some faces lit up in understanding. Others sneered.

At Liverpool Street, we draped our banner over a clock and shouted from above, like angry feminist gods, to puzzled commuters below. Some faces lit up in understanding. Others sneered.

At this point, Liverpool Street’s security asked us to leave. We politely ignored. The police arrived. We told them calmly of our message. The manager arrived. As she asked us to leave, we complied, not having the numbers to risk arrest and dearrest.

We left, shouting, and stood outside the station until all of our leaflets were exhausted. Some faces lit up in understanding. Others sneered. A young man joined our small, lively group.

‘You are being ripped off,’ we told the women in the finance sector, talking to them in a language they could understand.

Many did. Many sheepishly accepted leaflets.

‘Surely this can’t be true?’ we were asked frequently. We explained that it was, and they should check out the extensive set of references on our leaflets.

There was support, delicious, glorious support. Many women and some men cried, ‘Good on you!’. One woman walked with us for a while.

‘Well done,’ she said. ‘You’re not preaching to the converted here.’

And we were not. I counted seven instances of outright misogynistic abuse. Then there were those who victim-blamed, declaring women were paid less because they chose to be, or that they worked differently, despite our repeated assertions that the pay disparities we were highlighting were for doing exactly the same job. Then there was the mirth: so many men laughing and sneering that people had the gall to be angry and take action.

I was annoyed. We were there to point out unfairness and oppression, and we were greeted at times with stark evidence of women not being taken seriously.

Megaphone in hand, the empowerment it bestowed flowing through me, I would, at times, shame those who detracted us.

The man who said that women were paid less because women had smaller brains got a public scolding outside Holborn. Passers-by turned and stared. He slinked off briefly.

The man who, while laughing, said, “We work in the finance sector, and I can tell you that she earns more than me,” was greeted with sarcasm. I said, “The plural of anecdote is not data. With a grasp of numbers like yours, I’m not surprised there’s a financial crisis.”

The men who laughed from the concourse of Liverpool Street were greeted with a shout of “shame”. E was on the megaphone at the time. She shared the feeling of power. The men blushed.

The young man who stood and sniggered, finally plucking up the courage to utter the height of witticism, “Get back in the kitchen, love,” received the apex of my ire.

Megaphone in hand, I followed him up the street, informing him and a group of commuters that he had a tiny penis. His friends hooted with laughter.

It was perhaps misjudged, to cast aspersions on the size of his genitals. There are implications to that. I was not thinking of the consequences. Just once, I wanted him to feel what women feel every day: the sense of powerlessness in the face of harassment, of gendered abuse, of humiliation. I think it worked.

Reception of the action was largely somewhere between neutral and positive, though.

The support we received was exhilarating. The interest shown by those who did not know about the magintude of the problem was uplifting. I truly feel as though we may have changed some minds rather than merely preaching in an echo chamber of saved souls.

We should do it again, we decided, with greater numbers, and a more audacious form of action.

On the way home, buoyed by such a wonderful day, I encountered a completely novel form of street harassment. Just when I had thought I had seen all the patriarchy had to offer, I saw something new.

A man leapt out from behind a lamp post and shouted “Boo!”

I had no megaphone.

I gave him an angry scowl.

He looked sheepish. He blushed, chastened.

I smiled to myself. The strength does not have to come from a megaphone. It is only a conduit.