Four girls, aged 16 and 17, sit in our front room. They are both angry and feeling powerless. They describe how when they are out and about it is routine for them to be the object of wolf whistles and passing male drivers winding down their windows and making suggestive comments. For them, and for their friends, this has become a normal part of growing into womanhood. It makes them angry but they feel powerless to stop it.
Would those who behave in this way be so comfortable if it was their sixteen year old daughter who was being the object of this unwanted attention?
Many older women report it has always been this way and some have implied that modern women should not be making such a fuss about it all. And some men blame the feminists for being kill joys and moan that soon men will not feel safe asking a woman out on a date for fear of being accused of inappropriate behaviour. But since when has inappropriate touching, wolf whistles and suggestive comments been essentials in asking a girl out?
Rightly some point out that in all of this men can be the victims too and that is undoubtedly true but overwhelmingly it is women who suffer from this everyday sexism. Of course those who endure such behaviours should be encouraged to speak up and break the silence but never underestimate how much harder that can be than it sounds. So often such behaviours are about the inappropriate use of power. Even with the best whilst blower policy, people still feel inhibited from making a fuss or making a complaint. Only when those in power remember, and demonstrate, that they are called to act as servants not masters might this changed
And the sexism that encourages such behaviours is all-pervasive. The same newspapers that have outraged headlines about “sexpests” on the same page will have a scantily clad young woman to entertain its readers. It is there in advertising and is common at promotion events. The latest ATP Finals tennis draw had female models deciding groupings by revealing letters hidden under their clothing. Whilst this later event has been condemned so much sexism passes unnoticed and uncommitted upon. It has simple become engrained in the fibres of society so we think that this is just the way that it is.
Whilst an increasing number of women are making it to the top of their professions, this must not delude us into thinking that equality has been achieved. For women discrimination, patronising and glass ceilings are very much facts of life. Bizzarly the very success of some woman can make the inequalities that other endure more hidden.
Similarly for people of colour, because some have achieved more high-profile roles, we think racial discrimination is a thing of the past. However recent reports on the criminal justice system and on entrance to Oxbridge show racism is alive and well and hate crimes are on the increase.
And again whilst we may have taken paralympians to our hearts, people with disabilities still report discrimination and face barriers of all sorts to their full participation in the wider society.
Despite equalities legislation, equality remain illusive and discrimination is an everyday reality. In recent years some have wanted to tempt us into thinking here in the West equality has been achieved. We have been so busy wagging our fingers at other cultures and societies that we have forgotten how far we have still to travel.
It seems such a simple thing to ask that we each learn to treat the other with respect and honour but seemingly this is still the hardest lesson for human beings to learn. The stories currently filling the media are just one more reminder that we still have far to travel on the long walk to equality.