Last Tuesday a report revealed the extent of sexual assault against female surgeons; on Wednesday a poll showed that sexual harassment was contributing to girls’ declining happiness; at the weekend the Russell Brand revelations dominated the news cycle. On Sunday we heard how students are now offered consent training alongside climbing and debating clubs at freshers’ weeks as universities grapple with a rise in sexual violence on campuses.
So passed the week: a barrage of headlines – followed by a social media chorus of defenders, conspiracy theorists and victim shamers – revealing, yet again, the depths of society’s misogyny. And that was just the UK. Worldwide, in virtually every profession you can think of, institutions are rushing to respond to allegations that – as the title of the Brand documentary references – happened “in plain sight”, in a culture that enabled offenders.
As the campaigner Laura Bates says, there’s a collective tendency to assume that society gets progressively better, more equal; but every day brings another grim reminder that we’re living through an epidemic of misogyny. If it is hard for adults to process that reality, it is even worse for children. Commentators – rightly – point out how exposure to sexist abuse is crippling girls’ self-esteem. But let’s not forget that boys are also navigating their way through this cesspit.
The other day, my 13-year-old mentioned that Andrew Tate’s podcast had popped up on his Spotify feed. I was glad he told me – and relieved that he didn’t want to listen to it – but, in the rush to get out of the house for school/work, I didn’t dwell on that brief chat. Thinking about it later that day made me want to cry – and scream at a world where pushing back against the likes of Tate and his ilk is now part of everyday parenting: eat your broccoli, go to bed on time, and don’t get sucked into the worldview of an extremist TikTok star.
Of course I’m talking about Tate with my son, as are many parents, horrified at his influence. But these conversations need to go on outside the home too. Schools should be given the resources to address the damage Tate has wreaked – instead they’re being told to avoid the topic; men have to be involved in creating change, not looking on helplessly from the sidelines; governments need to do more than cringeworthy campaigns; social media platforms must be held to account not just here but in every place where the internet has allowed the rise of toxicity.
Isabel Choat, commissioning editor, Global Development