2012/07/11 by admin
“Why did you say that?”
‘Banter’ is the word of the moment. Whether you’re male or female, young or old, banter has become the universal excuse for all sorts of behaviour. That racist rant at the football? Banter. The outing of a gay friend? Banter. The rape joke at a bar? Banter.
A joke shared between friends is all good fun, but, when it comes to banter, it is men who are usually expected to find it hilarious and keep the joke going, at any cost.
With porn readily available on the internet and a stream of vitriolic sites like UniLad making claims like the heavily criticised “If the girl you’ve taken for a drink… won’t ‘spread for your head’, think about this mathematical statistic: 85% of rape cases go unreported. That seems to be fairly good odds” it’s almost impossible to get away from images and viewpoints that are consistently damaging to women.
UniLad were forced to take the site down but the story is the same in numerous men’s magazines, Facebook pages and all over the web. It might not seem like such a big deal, but given that it is estimated 1 in 7 women have been raped, it is not hard to see that perpetuating jokes like this through ‘banter’ poses a very real threat.
When considering the language that lad culture uses to describe women – everything from “gash” to “I’d smash her back doors in” – it is difficult to see what those outside of this behaviour could do about it. On asking the men around me if they would ever challenge sexist banter from their friends, not one said yes, but when asked if they felt uncomfortable or wanted to challenge it, almost all also said yes. There is a clear discrepancy between inner feelings on so-called ‘banter’ and the external behaviour.
One student spoke of his experience with a university snowsports society – “There were a lot of girls, and they were all treated with constant, boring misogyny.
“I think some of them rebelled against it, but eventually just joined the herd and accepted it to the point of going along with it, even pretending to enjoy it, and that is when it became ‘banter’.”
He said that women “accepted their lot as pieces of meat – I suppose it was like a really awful white middle class gang.”
Others described similar experiences within sports teams and during stereotypically “male” activities such as watching a football match or playing computer games. One man described the process of “dehumanisation of women”, agreeing that most men wouldn’t directly approach a woman with sexist comments, and wouldn’t make them outside of their friendship groups.
The experience of finding this uncomfortable seems fairly widespread – another student told me “I find that loads of guys aren’t a fan of banter, and just tolerate it as that is what is deemed socially acceptable.”
The difficulty arises in the inability of both men and women to challenge banter as unacceptable behaviour without being ridiculed or ignored. I can’t claim for a second that is in some way their fault, but there has to be a shift in culture for the inexcusable dialogue surrounding women to be broken down. It has to become the case that making derogatory sexualised comments about the woman behind the bar is greeted with the same response as insulting a male friend.
Whilst it is difficult to challenge a whole culture ingrained in everything from billboard advertisements to porn, it will be impossible to break free of an idealised and sexualised view of women without removing the societal expectations to engage in banter. If young men are consistently taught that their role is to join in with their friends regardless of their own personal stance they will never break free and be able to enjoy sport or other activities free of “boring misogyny”. This role is perpetuated throughout television programmes, the “bros before hoes” mentality and even adverts by beer companies.
Men are just as much a victim of patriarchy as women in this case, and the time is coming for men and women to stand together and call out ‘banter’ as unacceptable. It takes courage, but it almost certainly garners respect. If a friend of mine couldn’t respect me when I told them to stop speaking about someone in a particular way, I’m not sure I would want to call them a friend.
Male feminists are beginning a revolution. It might be quiet, under the surface, pledging your allegiance. Of course, no man can tell feminism what direction it should take, autonomy is key, but it might be time to start putting that allegiance into practice. A simple challenge – “Why did you say that?” – to the sexist banter found in bars around the world could be all it takes to trigger a reaction, to snap a man or woman out of their patriarchal stupor and open their eyes to a world where banter is something shared, not something that puts women in real danger.
Tomorrow Jamie Thunder writes about how his own perception of harassment suffered by women was changed when a female friend explained how she’d been approached by a man while on public transport.