UN rapporteur Rashida Manjoo framed her comments about the UK’s supposedly sexist culture in a bizarre way. It’s true that some elements of the media do over-sexualise girls. The Daily Mail website is one offender. It also seems entirely appropriate to flag Yarl’s Wood as a cause for concern. But her conclusion seems both unearned and counterproductive:
She added: “Have I seen this level of sexist culture in other countries? It hasn’t been so in-your-face in other countries.
“I haven’t seen that so pervasively in other countries. I’m sure it exists but it wasn’t so much and so pervasive. I’m not sure what gives rise to a more visible presence of sexist portrayals of women and girls in this country in particular.
The part-time professor in public law at the University of Cape Town raised fears that sexual bullying and harassment in schools was “routine”.
I am sure there is some harassment in schools, but girls consistently outperform boys in their GCSEs – by contrast with the many countries around the world where girls are much less likely than boys to complete their education. And it seems odd that an academic from South Africa should see sexual violence as a particularly British problem.
According to one recent survey the UK was the 18th best place to be a woman, and Manjoo’s report, her observations about the areas for improvement, would have been more credible if she hadn’t magnified the country’s failings in such a perverse way. She has apparently visited India – which is one of the very worst countries to be a woman – and Jordan, where a woman’s testimony was recently deemed invalid because she wasn’t veiled.
Although girls and women are sometimes commodified, boys and men are not free from similar pressures. And although an overly sexualized culture may be suboptimal, there are far worse problems associated with repressing and controlling girls’ sexuality.