Saturday, July 11

AK Souffle: Sexism

- April 16, 2018


I’m working this week with a bunch of very bright young people from Salzburg. They’re here to learn English, although they are already shamefully fluent, and I am talking to them about magazines. It’s great fun and I love reading what they are writing, so many very different views from a country not so far away but soon to be distanced by the lunacy that is Brexit.

One of the students has written a review of her favourite novel, Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. It’s a book that I too love, but I was shaken awake by her noting the awful sexism within the story.

It’s years since I read it, probably 45, so my memory of the book is shrouded in the mists of time – but so is how we perceive sexism. At the time of writing I suspect that for the great many sexism was not an issue. At my time of reading sexism was definitely becoming an important issue, feminism was finally on the rise and being taken seriously, quite rightly so.

We are so aware of sexism now that there really is little excuse – surely we rarely encounter it?

So what do you say to someone who is struggling with sexism in classic period fiction? Of course it was happening and of course it was wrong. Was Hemingway interested, was it a key thread to his story, was he trying to highlight the social injustice of sexism? I suspect not, or at least not consciously.

We are so aware of sexism now that there really is little excuse – surely we rarely encounter it?

Well sadly we do. A friend recently told me about a night she spent out clubbing with friends, the sort of night I hasten to add that I no longer can endure.

By 5am she was tiring and waiting for her friends to leave the club and go home. They were still happy on the dance floor so she waited patiently and whilst doing so a young guy approached here and ‘hit on her’, as I believe the young people say. He was rather insistent that she should go home with him. She was not in the least interested in him – especially as she is gay. She expressed her disinterest and eventually, somewhat in despair and to some extent anger, told him that she was a lesbian. I really don’t think that any of us in such a situation should have to use our sexuality as a reason for not being interested in going to bed, for this was clearly his prime motivation – this was no excuse for her to decline the offer.

But what came next was even more remarkable. His response so bizarre that one might be forgiven for thinking that this was an alien. What did he say? “So you won’t come home with me because I am a man? Well that’s sexist!”

It defies belief really that anyone in 2018 can be so bloody wrong minded.

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