We need to reach our young now to stamp out old attitudes

This article was published in the Western Mail on 9th December 2022

WHILE it can be irritating – especially as a politician in a devolved legislature which is not covered nearly enough in the British media – to see news of US politics with little bearing on our nation, events there surrounding the restrictions on abortion has made me think about women’s rights in this country.

Our society has come a long way in the last century in this regard, from voting rights to equal pay to being elected prime minister, but there will be cases where it feels we are going backwards.

The case of Sarah Everard last year, who was kidnapped by a police officer, Wayne Couzens, abusing his position of authority in order to rape and kill her was a story that sickened us all – not only because we saw someone in a trusted profession behave with such cruelty and malice, but that a grown man that had been capable enough to enter the police service in the 21st century thought he had the right to do that to another person.

It speaks of an abhorrent attitude in our age that women are lesser beings. Was this not meant to be a thing of the past as we have become more enlightened about the unalienable rights of human beings?

More recently, we saw Andrew Tate banned from Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube – in addition to being thrown off Twitter a few years ago. The former Big Brother contestant and kickboxer had become a social media personality, but yet was promoting views that denigrate women, treating them as objects to be controlled and owned. That rise in misogyny, fueled by ‘influencers’ like Tate and left unchallenged by platforms like TikTok, I argue, would be more likely to lead to more cases like Wayne Couzens’, not fewer.

A simple Google search would bring up several reports alleging misogynistic language and behaviour. I agree with the views of domestic abuse charities that this is extreme misogyny with the potential to radicalise men and boys to commit harm offline.

This is all the more credible when it is considered that Tate was one of TikTok’s most famous personalities – videos of him on the platform have been watched 11.6 billion times. To me, this man is a toxic influence among the generations that are newest to the workplace and the one that will follow them. It equally shows why this government is right to bring in the Online Harms Bill. We need to tackle social media platforms that don’t want to silence such ‘influencers’ as Tate because those platforms benefit from sharing of his content.

While moves to ban him from social media have finally occurred, his videos are already widespread. And he won’t be the only such person out there. And, I fear many of his followers may now have this outlook on women already woven into their being.

I do not believe there is a partisan way to approach this troubling aspect of our society. While the new curriculum in Wales has been criticised from some quarters over its relationship education programme, I hope it will work in a positive way to address how women are treated and perceived, and I am pleased that the Welsh Government seem to be going in this direction.

It is not just about getting young boys to counter sexism when they see it later in life, but also for young girls to challenge it, not just among men but, within themselves and their female peers.

Indeed, a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, found in a series of experiments that participants processed images of men and women in very different ways.

When presented with images of men, perceivers tended to rely more on “global” cognitive processing, the mental method in which a person is perceived as a whole. Meanwhile, images of women were more often the subject of “local” cognitive processing, or the objectifying perception of something as an assemblage of its various parts.

This is why we need to reach our young people now – stamp out this attitude before it takes over how their very brains work.

Ultimately, as any parent will know, the home environment will largely be the most significant influence on a child’s life and view of the world. As when it comes to homework, children need to hear from those they love and trust most of the value of putting the hard graft in.

It is the same when it comes to behaviour towards women. If children see misogynistic language or action at home, whether that be exhibited from men or women, then it becomes increasingly permissible. This can not only be replicated in younger generations, but it can metastasise into the crimes our society abhors the most.

Some might ask why a man is writing an article about women’s rights. I will simply say that if a man is incapable of doing so, then we are in more trouble than we think.

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