Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Stirling's dross too old-fashioned to be angry about

Racing driver Sir Stirling Moss decided that, at 83, it was time to make a foray into biological anthropology: "I think they have the [physical] strength," he said of female Formula 1 drivers, "but I don't know if they've got the mental aptitude to race hard".

His comments were branded shockingly sexist. But for feminists like myself, Moss's comments offend for a completely different reason: they annoy, because this is not even contemporary sexism.

Moss's sexism is of the 'babies and kittens' strand. It's same kind mocked in Harry Enfield's 'Women: Know your limits!' sketches, in which ladies are directed not to attempt to 'win' in a social situation; rather to let our "natural sweetness shine through".

As an octogenarian, we should cut Moss slack for seeming out of touch, but not everyone who holds similar views has that excuse.

Moss should update his brand of gender stereotyping – and fast. Because, like feminism, sexism doesn't like to stand still.

Misogynists must make every effort to keep up with the unequal gender relations of the day. Like Lady Gaga hearing a new Madonna single, New Sexism is peeved when Old Sexism rears its head.

Inequality today rarely involves being turned away from a job interview, because someone thinks you should be darning socks; it's a whole different smorgsabord.

It is, for example, the notable lack of appetite for positive discrimination in women's favour.

If you object to positive discrimination, you'll be concerned it's rife –in favour of men.

For example, with around 23% female judges in England and Wales, the UK is among the worst-performing in Europe for female representation in the judiciary.

And as around 50% of the country is female, this is a crisis – a crisis that repeats itself across rape reporting and conviction rates; sexual harassment; under-representation of women at the highest levels of the arts and sciences and the persistence of the pay-gap.

If today's inequalities aren't straightforward, neither are their solutions. Take the pay-gap. New research shows that female graduates consistently ask for lower salaries than their male counterparts, so we can't blame bosses.

But to teach young women to recognise their worth, like any cultural shift, requires a multi-pronged attack over time.

What is a woman's 'worth'? When Kate Middleton was photographed topless, even tabloids defended her right to privacy. But might we not also relate this symbolic violence to a wider 'rape culture'? Daily, we ingest the message the most interesting thing about any woman is what she looks like.

The group Object presents compelling evidence that mainstream media is increasingly saturated with images of sexual violence. So why are we debating trespassing laws? Stirling – any thoughts?

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