Charlotte Proudman kicked up a storm with LinkedIn sexism allegation: Is social media turning men into boors?

Hasan Suroor September 14, 2015 13:02:59 IST
Charlotte Proudman kicked up a storm with LinkedIn sexism allegation: Is social media turning men into boors?

“I especially don't want men coming up to me and asking if sexism still exists. It's like, I'm seriously gonna barf a McDonald's salad on the next person to do (prove) that.” --- American feminist and singer Kathleen Hanna

Until last week, nobody had heard of Charlotte Proudman outside her close circle of friends and professional colleagues. But, suddenly,her name is in every British newspaper; and her face staring out of weekend features pages.

Overnight, the 27-year-old London barrister, has become a poster girl for a new generation of no-nonsense independent women who hold no prisoners when it comes to tackling sexism. And, thereby, hangs a tale. But, first, a little diversion to get a hang of where this tale comes from. Or, rather, where Proudman and her battle against sexism comes from.

So, here it goes.

Let’s go back a few years when men got away with cheesy chat-up lines with, at best, a bemused smile; and, at worst, a dirty look.

Charlotte Proudman kicked up a storm with LinkedIn sexism allegation Is social media turning men into boors

Charlotte Proudman. Image courtesy: Proudman's Twitter handle

That was before internet fundamentally changed the rules of social interaction allowing men to become bolder and coarser in their approach to women they meet in the cyberspace. Good old-fashioned innocent wooing has since gone out the window. Replaced by loutishness and vulgarity. “Respectable” men, hiding behind the cloak of anonymity that internet offers, have turned into predators.

On their part, women, sensing danger at every turn, have become hyper- sensitive to any hint of misogyny. This, combined with a new political correctness that requires everyone to be “on-message’’ 24/7, has made it all very unpleasant. And ugly. It's all daggers drawn at dawn; public naming and shaming; demands for apology; threats of suing.

And that’s where Proudman’s story comes from: a plucky young woman who took on a cyber sex pest. Not just any pest but a high-profile solicitor and a senior partner in a leading London law firm.

Alexander Carter-Silk, twice her age, married with two children including a daughter, the same age as Proudman, sent her a leery message on spotting her profile picture on the professional networking site LinkedIn.

"I appreciate that this is probably horrendously politically incorrect but that is a stunning picture!!!!

"You definitely win the prize for the best LinkedIn picture I have even seen.

"Always interest [sic] to understant [sic] people's skills and how we might work together."

Proudman, who describes herself as a "fearless feminist", replied that she found his message “offensive’’, and his behaviour “unacceptable and misogynistic”.

"Unacceptable and misogynistic behaviour. Think twice before sending another woman (half your age) such a sexist message," she wrote seeking a public apology failing which she threatened she would complain to his bosses.

And she didn’t stop at that. She took screenshots of their exchange and posted it on Twitter. And, phew, it went viral making her an overnight celebrity, and the biggest media story of the week. But not all publicity has been good with some accusing her of being a "man-hating feminazi".

Proudman told London Evening Standard that she may not have reacted the way she did if the culprit were an ordinary member of the public. What infuriated her was that here was a distinguished member of her own legal fraternity -- someone who was expected to uphold the law — behaving in such a shameless fashion with a junior fellow lawyer. The man was guilty of “professional misconduct”, she charged.

"There are serious professional misconduct issues, as a legal professional he is required to uphold the law, and that includes the Sex Discrimination Act and the Eqaulity Act .I'm on there (Linked-in) for business purposes and I thought he may be interested in my skills and experience as opposed to my body.I've received many messages based on my physical appearance, but this one was from a senior partner."

Since posting the message, Proudman has been inundated with supportive messages from other women who say they have received similar unwanted advances on LinkedIn.

Mandeer Kataria tweeted: "I changed my LinkedIn profile photo to an uglier one so I'd get fewer creepy men adding/messaging me."

Another woman, Clare Bates, wrote: "Met with a guy through LinkedIn on the pretext of start up support, asked if I used it as a dating site & if I had a boyfriend."And another said: "My colleague has received sexualised messages from three different men on LinkedIn. It's not OKCupid!"

Carter-Silk claims his comments were misinterpreted.

"Most people post pretty unprofessional pictures on Linked in, my comment was aimed at the professional quality of the presentation on linked in which I was unfortunately misinterpreted,” he said apologising for causing any offence but refusing to retract his remark."

It has since emerged that he has form when it comes to commenting on women's appearance. Reacting to a photograph of his own grown-up daughter, Ellie, a fitness trainer he wrote:"While I should not encourage lascivious comments about my daughter…Yeee gods, she is hot!”

It is telling how the debate has divided opinion along gender lines with men generally of the view that the lady is protesting too much.

"What kind of a world do we live in when a man can’t give a lady a compliment. Get a life. No more briefs4 you," tweeted one lawyer.

To put it in perspective, though, some women too believe that Proudman over-reacted arguing that there are less confrontational ways of dealing with sexists. Such as “a gentle chiding with a twinkle in my eye,’’ a female solicitor Ruth Boulton wrote to The Times.

Proudman insists she did the right thing.

"The only way we're going to end sexism within our generation is if we name them publicly, if we call out sexism, and if there are consequences, so be it.”

Ultimately, however, it's not about one woman's story. The fundamental issue is the scale of covert sexism, and growing tribe of closet sexists. Rather than decreasing , with more open intermingling of the sexes, laddishness and misogyny are actually increasing and taking uglier forms. And cyberspace is where they’ve found a new home.

Meanwhile, a collateral damage of all this has been that it has killed the simple joy of spontaneous communication between men and women. And we need to talk about it.

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