Lifting the lid
Posted on January 24, 2013
On Tuesday night I took part in the Fabian Women’s Network event Lifting the Lid: Challenging the Sexualisation of Women in Popular Culture. Diane Abbott gave the keynote speech, where she said lots of things I agreed with and then some things I disagreed with, but I’ll cover that in more detail in a separate post.
Anyway, here’s what I said in my bit:
“As most of you are probably aware, thanks to the submissions from feminist organisations such as Object! and the End Violence against Women coalition, last year’s Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press help put a spotlight on the tabloids, highlighting how the Sun and similar red-top newspapers demean women by the way they choose to represent us: as objects for men’s sexual gratification, rather than as sentient beings with minds and brains of our own
As you may also be aware, in 1986 the then Labour MP Clare Short started a campaign against Page Three, but in the face of a sustained and hateful onslaught against her and her supporters, initiated and led by the Sun newspaper, it was a campaign that sadly failed.
But we live in different times now, and even though for those of us who have been campaigning on these issues for years it often feels like a case of one step forwards and another four back, thanks to the feminist activism of the past 30 years and more, people are far more aware of the insidious and damaging effect of hyper-sexualised media on young women and on society as a whole.
In fact by last Sunday, a Change.org petition calling on the editor, Dominic Mohan, to “take the bare boobs out of the Sun”, had reached over 63,000 signatures, and the petition is still open so that number is set to grow.
But Page three is just one small part of all this. The abuse and humiliation of women is sold to us daily as mainstream media entertainment in a laddish misogynist culture that not only objectifies and degrades women, but which demeans us all.
Everywhere we look we are assailed with images of women as sexual objects, and vilified if we fail to meet the increasingly extreme ‘beauty’ standard. From advertising airlines to men’s deodorant, from “ten years younger” and “extreme makeover” to the latest trend in vaginal rejuvenation –the Barbie - where women are paying to have their entire inner labia removed to meet the so-called aesthetics of our pornified culture, our bodies sell and our looks define us.
I said before that we live in different times now, but sadly some things never show any sign of changing. As the latest statistics show, somewhere between 60,000 and 95,000 people are estimated to be raped each year, and yet still the conviction rate for rape and other crimes of sexual violence remain stubbornly low, with only 1,070 rapists being convicted in a year.
But is it any wonder survivors are still being denied justice, when both public opinion and the legislative system continues to judge women not by the crimes committed against us, but by what we were wearing at the time of our assault, how much we’d had to drink, or the numbers of sexual partners we’ve had in our lives.
Rape culture is endemic in the UK, and yet our media continues to reinforce negative attitudes about rape survivors, and to prop up sexism and misogyny by contributing to a blame culture that holds women responsible for the crimes of rape and sexual violence committed against them.
Meanwhile the same journalists who fill the Daily Mail’s sidebar of shame with pictures of female celebrities in states of undress, upskirt pap shots and lascivious commentary on teenage and pre-teen girls, explode in mock outrage as Savile’s previously unreported paedophilia is exposed, reassuring us that his crimes are from another time and place entirely, and no one could possibly get away with that now.
Oh and by the way, here’s yet another photo of six year old Suri Cruise, and my word, isn’t she growing up fast….
I wonder how long it will be before someone creates a countdown clock for Suri reaching the age of consent, as they did with Charlotte Church……
There are so many examples of the sexualisation of women and girls, and I’m sure you’ll be hearing plenty more of them from our other speakers tonight. Suffice to say the challenges are many, and we have much to do, but hopefully this evening will help highlight these issues, help grow the anger, and persuade more to join in campaigning against this pernicious porn- fuelled culture.