London Mayor Boris Johnson recently came out with the golden nugget of knowledge that women go to university to find a man. At first I thought it was some kind of mistake but after a little looking around realised that those words had actually come out of Mr Johnson’s mouth.
At a press conference he joked that women had to go to university because “they’ve got to find men to marry”. The Mayor of London is often making inappropriate jokes and I understand if people were not to take the comment seriously, but it dismissive ‘jokes’ like this that make my blood boil.
I went to university and did not go to find a man. The possibility of finding a man was never something that even entered my mind. I wanted to go to university to learn, to get a degree and to have that experience. I wanted to go to university to study something I love, to delve into the subject deeper than I had at A Levels and GCSE and to inspire me.
I did not go to find a man. It implies a woman only goes into higher education to get hitched. It implies that women are not capable of furthering their education because they want to but instead because they have to find a man. It implies that fulfilment comes from being in a relationship rather than by doing things that you want to do. It implies, yet again, that women cannot be women without a man by their side.
A person like Boris Johnson, a public figure, need to watch their words. They are far more powerful than people often realise and this power doesn’t diminish in any way because the words spoken were a ‘joke’.
Once when I was in a club at university with my girlfriends, I headed to the toilets by myself. As I came back to meet my group, a boy groped me. I turned around and told him to get off. He told me I was sexy and asked if I wanted to go home with him. I pushed him away and told him to F*@% off. He called me a slag, told me I was frigid and then said he was ‘joking’. As if, because it was a joke, it forgives everything.
I see people be rude to each other, offensive in a way that crosses the line and when the other party is hurt, the word ‘joke’ and ‘banter’ is thrown around like it’s a soother. A cure that will heal all wrong-doings. It is like this, through the ‘jokes’ and the ‘banter’ that we take a small step back for every step forward.
Sexism is still a huge part of our lives, especially as women. They may be small acts of sexism that were all part of a ‘joke’ or ‘messing around’ but they accumulate to a wider thinking. They make that person, who is the target of your jokes, uncomfortable, angry, fearful or upset or all of those things. They dismiss a woman as a human being and Boris Johnson’s own ‘joke’ adds a little more fuel to that incessant fire.
Finding a man is not the ultimate task. Marriage is not what defines a woman. We can be fulfilled, happy, successful and confident without a ring on our finger and a man by our side. This has all been said before, it is essentially old news with a fresh coat of paint and yet, it continues to happen. Sexism is still prevalent – and sometimes, often, dismissed. It is still an issue for plenty of women in the UK and millions of women across the world. It is still a problem which is why jokes like Boris Johnson’s will continue being part of that problem. A joke is not an excuse to be dismissive towards half the population. A joke does not validate sexism. It is rude, it is derogatory and it is part of a continuing, long-standing problem.