From Tate tantrums to Barbie blessings, 2023 has seen a reinvigoration of a cultural conversation about mainstream misogyny.

It’s neither necessarily a conversation that teacher training prepares us for, nor one that the teacher workload (more than 40% of EIS members regularly work more than an extra full day a week) offers space to fully consider. But the reality is that teachers and lecturers are everyday witnesses to the consequences of mainstream misogyny, which has disproportionate and significant impacts on women and girls’ health and wellbeing both at work and in education.

As over 80% of the teacher workforce and over 60% of college staff are women, misogyny is a union issue, an EIS issue, and an issue that, whether we like it or not, affects us all.

Empowering teachers and lecturers to have productive conversations with students and colleagues about misogyny can improve both our working conditions and students’ learning conditions.

The name of the game

Misogyny, or sexism, is most commonly described as contempt for or prejudice against women, but it goes far beyond individual behaviours and attitudes and is often not explicit or overt.

The term applies to groups, societies and whole cultures. It is evident both in higher rates of sexual assault and violence against women, and in the gender pay gap. Misogyny cannot be separated from other forms of inequality, such as racism, ableism, homophobia or transphobia, which all rely on power and control to justify differential and inferior treatment of one group compared to another.

Misogyny, in itself, is not currently illegal, but it both fosters and is intrinsically part of a culture that makes disproportionate rates of violence against women and girls possible

And misogyny can be so insidious, that we might just miss it altogether. Though appearing at times as “just a bit of banter”, some jokes can reinforce harmful ideas and stereotypes about men and women, which make other, much more serious matters possible. This relationship is sometimes explained visually through a pyramid shape.

At the foundation, you’ll find societal attitudes and beliefs, for example, showing up in sexist jokes, victim blaming, and stereotyping that enable a normalisation of ideas about the inferiority of women, that ‘proper’ men are big and strong. This foundation, the cultural undercurrent, permits the second layer of the pyramid to flourish – degradation.

Degradation may involve microaggressions, cat-calling, leering, gatekeeping, or similar. Women are at higher risk of experiencing these behaviours due to the normalisation of sexist attitudes – and disabled women and women of colour are at even higher risk due to intersecting negative attitudes in society relating to them.

The next layer may include harassment, threats and verbal abuse – behaviours designed to put women in ‘their place’ and keep the status quote – with the penultimate layer showing up in high rates of physical abuse and sexual violence, which disproportionately affects women and girls and contributes to a culture of fear. At the top of the pyramid is femicide.

Misogyny, in itself, is not currently illegal, but it both fosters and is intrinsically part of a culture that makes disproportionate rates of violence against women and girls possible – without misogyny, the pyramid may fall.

Worldwide, the World Health Organisation indicate about 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner or non-partner in their lifetime. Currently in Scotland, of all the sexual assault reported to Police Scotland in 2022-23 86% of victims were women, with sexual crimes accounting for 5% of all recorded crime. 37% of these crimes related to a victim under the age of 18.

Altogether now

It is a fact that women and girls are disproportionately affected by gender-based violence, but violence is of course never okay – no matter who the victim is. Oftentimes, the same misogynistic attitudes that allow abuse of power against women and girls, play out when men and boys are the victims too. Rigid stereotypes and attitudes about men and boys are also contributing factors to poor mental health outcomes, with devastating risks associated.

Working with men and boys is absolutely essential to tackling misogyny. Being free from misogyny allows young people to grow up to be who they want to be.

An opportunity in 16 days

16 Days of Action Against Gender Based Violence is an international campaign running every year from 25th November to 10th December. From Tate to Barbie, what opportunities exist today to engage students in critical conversations related to misogyny?

The EIS is soon launching the first episode of our new podcast series ‘Still We Rise’ which considers how teachers and lecturers can challenge the rise of far-right rhetoric in educational establishments, through the equality agenda. In our soon to be released first episode, we explore misogyny in further depth. This article is inspired by our conversations with Dan Guiness from Beyond Equality, Laura Wylie from Rape Crisis Scotland and Hannah Lafferty, a teacher based in Edinburgh.