27 February 2010
I saw this and nearly choked on my cereal this morning.
A French campaign to discourage young people from smoking shows male and female teenagers kneeling in front of a man, as if being forced to have oral sex. The caption reads: "Smoking is to be a slave to tobacco."
The leader of the project, Marco de la Fuente, says:
“Oral sex is the perfect symbol of submission."
This advert is wrong and damaging. Oral sex is not submission. But being forced to do it is.
Sexual abuse – which is where one person has control of the other and exploits him or her sexually is a serious issue that should not be trivialised.
This image, which is aimed at young men and women, reinforces the message that sex abuse is a normal part of sex and is acceptable behaviour – and perhaps even cool and exciting, just like smoking.
It also ignites and promotes social acceptability of the desire of men to dominate and degrade young women (and men) and to treat them as sex objects, not people. Men may also read into young people's smoking a desire to be sexually subservient. In a culture in which sexual violence against women is widespread, and becoming increasingly ‘normalised’ (see this University of Bristol study), this type of imagery will serve only to propagate abusive behaviour.
Over here in the UK, we’ve has a better week – at least our government has the right idea. A new Home Office Report concludes that children are being exposed to an increasing amount of sexualised material in the media. It's the top story on the Number 10 website today, and coincides with the release of a charter from human rights organisation OBJECT, which challenges the objectification of women and girls in the media.
The author of the government's report, Dr Linda Papadopoulos, a clinical psychologist at London Metropolitan University, is quoted in a Guardian article.
She suggests that there is a link between increasing sexualisation and violence, and calls for tougher regulation of sexual imagery – that lads’ magazines (which feature almost-naked women accompanied by demeaning, aggressive and sexually explicit comments) be sold only to over-16s and that there should be more restrictions on airing of music videos that feature sexual posing.
"It is a drip, drip effect," she says. "Look at porn stars, and look how an average girl now looks. It's seeped into every day: fake breasts, fuck-me shoes... We are hypersexualising girls, telling them that their desirability relies on being desired. They want to please at any cost."
21 February 2010
There’s been a deluge of comments in response to my last post. Thanks everyone for taking part in the debate. I would like to request that, in future, you comment on this blog instead of on facebook – so I can keep the debate in one place.
In the meantime, I’m celebrating my birthday weekend! Happy Birthday Delilah!
In honour of Delilah’s birthday, I have been reflecting on some famous Delilahs (in addition to the bible reference of course).
First, the inspiration for this blog. It came from two places: first, the poem by Carol Ann Duffy in her book ‘The World’s Wife’, in which she looks at famous men throughout history from the point of view of the man’s wife or partner. Her poem ‘Delilah’ tells the story of the passionate but fraught relationship between Delilah and Samson. Delilah is in love with Samson but he has difficulty feeling and expressing his emotions; he asks Delilah to cut his hair because he thinks that this will turn him into someone who can be loving and caring.
My second inspiration was the book by Elizabeth Wurtzel called ‘Bitch’. This is a feminist’s tome; brilliantly written, tackling the hypocrisy of society which, on one hand, expects to be women to be beautiful and capable but, on the other, hates, fears and judges them when they are.
Since I started the blog, I discovered a further literary link with Delilah. Martin Amis, the well-known British author, has a daughter called Delilah, who is a year older than me.
“I’ve been a passionate feminist since the mid-80s,” Amis states in a recent interview in the Guardian. So I hope that that his quote about the talented and outstanding author Maggie Gee; that she is the "only female author of his generation that he would bother to read"; has been taken out of context (or perhaps it was said in irony?).
Moving on to music, Saint-Saens wrote a grand opera called Samson and Delilah, first performed in 1877. In popular music, Regina Spektor – Russian-born American singer-songwriter – sings a beautiful ballad called 'Samson'. ‘Delilah’ is the name of a song by Queen, about the cat that Freddie Mercury loves, and Bob Dylan's song, ‘Tombstone Blues’, refers to Delilah:
“The geometry of innocence flesh on the bone
Causes Galileo's math book to get thrown
At Delilah who sits worthlessly alone
But the tears on her cheeks are from laughter.”
There are others - Grateful Dead, PJ Harvey, for example. Let me know if I have missed any notable ones.
Finally, from literature and music to alcohol. Ordering a ‘Delilah’ at the bar will get you either:
½ oz. cointreau + 1½ oz. gin + juice of ½ lemon, or
1½ oz. gin + ½ oz. triple sec + juice of ½ lemon
On that note, I’m off to drink one. Cheers!
16 February 2010
In comments to my blog posts, I’ve heard so much about choice. Don’t take away the women’s freedom of choice to work in the sex industry! my critics say. Maybe some women want to be objectified! Well, in response, here’s a little post on choice.
It’s interesting – of all the people who disagree with me and choose to use the choice argument, not one would themselves actually choose to be a:
b) page three girl
They all say to me: “Well, I wouldn't do it, but I'm sure there are women who do.”
Where are and who are these women you speak of?
The likes of Belle de Jour have propagated the myth that prostitution is a common aspiration and a glamorous 'career choice'. But would anyone be happy if their sister/daughter/girlfriend were to 'choose' to do it?
Would you all give up your nice lawfully-regulated office jobs where abuse is not acceptable to work in a brothel or seedy strip club where abuse is rife (if you are not convinced by this, look again at the statistics on my blog post)?
What woman would want to subject themselves to this invasion of integrity and humiliation unless:
a) it was really the last resort (there was nothing else available to them and the alternative was poverty or abuse)
b) they were deluded by false promises of glamour and fame, which is very rarely achieved?
On the issue of humiliation, I was lucky enough on the tube today to catch a gem of conversation from a stranger (a woman) who was happily looking at page three in the Sun. For those of you who are familiar with this daily specimen of pornography, you will know that the Sun adds an ironic touch of erudition to the photo in the form of a current affairs speech bubble attached to these half-naked girls.
The woman on the tube said:
“I love these, they’re so funny. Look, who is it today? What’s she saying? Oh I can’t believe it, something about the recession. You know what…I think these statements are made up. She so didn’t say that about the recession. I don’t think she would be able to understand a statement like that – there are too many complicated words!”
This is misogyny at its worst. This woman ridicules and condescends the page three girl, and – I will be so bold as to conclude – uses her as a scapegoat for her own insecurities and hatred. Instead of acknowledging that the page three girl may have lacked opportunities for education, is vulnerable and needs our help and support, she does the opposite. She attacks the girl for her (assumed) low intellect – assumed on the basis that she is a working as a page three girl.
So to all my critics – do you still claim that you respect page three girls and that they have an equal status in society?
Or are you just like the woman on the tube? Hypocritical and dishonest to yourselves; reluctant to encourage change, because the frisson of superiority you feel when you see and condescend these women is just too much to give up.
14 February 2010
Happy Valentines Day! I’m in a good mood because I received a mystery Valentine’s card – so no one can ever say that feminists aren’t wanted…
Feminists (who can be men or women) are very appealing to the opposite sex because they aspire to self-respect, self-confidence and value everybody equally.
Feminists can even laugh at themselves!
Would you believe it: one of the criticisms thrown towards one of the women who commented in response to one of the blog posts was that ‘feminists have no sense of humour’.
So I’ve decided to make this blog post lighthearted to demonstrate how much fun we are.
One of my heroes is Tim Minchin (pictured), a very talented Australian comedian, singer and poet.
He has a song called ‘Confessions’, which I saw him perform live at Hammersmith Apollo in London last October.
Check it out on YouTube here.
This song, along with all his others, is an insightful and hilarious reflection on the hypocrisies of society.
It’s also a clever take on sexist attitudes, feminists who sometimes get it wrong and the foibles of human nature. All in one!
13 February 2010
It’s been a busy week. My last blog post on strippers sparked a debate that is still going on. Thanks for all your comments on this blog, taking the debate into the wider arena involving your friends and colleagues, and filling my facebook page with thoughts and responses.
I love a debate and this is exactly what we need. We need to talk about feminism and its issues and then we can come to some realistic conclusions.
We can even talk about what feminism really is. That it’s not some man-hating, bra-burning attitude, but simply a desire to encourage society to respect women and encourage women to respect themselves. If we can underpin this value in society, then we’d be making progress.
We’re getting there. The week ended with a victory for lap dancing clubs licensing laws; the result of a brave two-year fight by the organisations Fawcett and Object.
Under new licensing laws, clubs will be called ‘sexual entertainment venues’ and will all have to apply for a fresh licence. To date, most lap dancing clubs have been placed in the same category as cafés and bars, so buying a woman was equivalent to buying a cup of tea.
Now, local councils in England and Wales will be able to ban clubs from opening near schools or in quiet neighbourhoods.
This is a triumph for human rights and a triumph against a £2.1bn industry – which has reportedly doubled in size since 2004.
One former lap dancer says: “[This law] finally endorses the obvious fact that a woman for sale is a person for a sale – not a hot drink in a paper cup.”
It represents acknowledgement of the harm associated with lap dancing for the women in the clubs and for society in general.
It respects the rights of local residents not to be exposed to the violence that often accompanies lap dancing clubs.
It respects the rights of the women who work there, who are often treated with little dignity.
And it respects the rights of women generally. It is a step away from the increasing acceptance that ‘sex object culture’ is normal, that women are objects to be used and abused, and the fear of violence, intimidation and disrespect that all women face as a result.
08 February 2010
Sexist adverts make me angry. They are damaging because they propagate misogynist stereotypes; that women are sex objects or devoid of brains - or both.
I think, often, the intentions of the advert-makers are mindless. As ever, sexism is an insidious disease, affecting people without their being aware.
The result is that people see the adverts and their own (subconscious) prejudices are reinforced. And so on.
So it’s up to us to stop it.
A recent offender on TV is the Twingo Advert.
A beautiful girl is with her mother in a car and they pass an billboard featuring the girl as a stripper in a seedy club. The girl is initially concerned and then the mother smiles. This is the worst part – that the mother approves, a though this is an achievement. “You didn’t tell me you got a job,” the mother says. The slogan is: We live in modern times. This is depressing in itself because it implies that ‘modern’ equals ‘female objectification and degradation’, which they are trying to pass off as ‘liberty’. A common fallacy. Most women who work as strippers are of course hardly free, and 'modern' should mean equal rights and respect of women. We are going backwards.
You can write to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to log a complaint.
A few years ago, I wrote to ASA to complain about an advert for South West England holidays, which I saw on the tube and in the newspaper. It featured a couple; the man was having fun being active and muddy on a mountain bike, and his girlfriend shied away from the strenuous events and pampered herself with beauty treatment – apparently that was ‘her kind of mud’. I objected to the inference that women are less adventurous and dynamic and prefer to beautify themselves instead of going out and doing things in the world.
I did receive a reply – but it was a polite ‘no, we’re not going to do anything about it’.
Although I did notice that, after this, ‘Visit South West’ adverts got better and the next one featured a girl water skiing while her boyfriend sat in the pub.
The more complaints that ASA get, the more people may take notice. And the more that more people may realise that women are not second-class citizens, that their brains are just as good as men’s and they don’t have to limit their aspirations to dancing naked on a stage or lying down to prettify themselves while their boyfriends go out and have all the fun - and have all the influence.
If enough people realise this – if enough people keep shouting out – then things will eventually change.
05 February 2010
Recognition of female fiction writers is welcoming. It’s been harsh for centuries. Throughout history, women have had to write under male pseudonyms to get noticed and published – the Brontës, George Eliot and all those women who used initials in place of their first names.
Virginia Woolf famously spoke and wrote about the struggle of a woman in a male-dominated literary world, in which the only way she could write was to be independent (very rare in those days) and have a ‘Room of one’s own’.
Recently, even, publishers told J. K. Rowling that little boys wouldn’t take her books seriously if they knew she was a ‘Joanna’. Freelance writers now are criticised less, hassled less and asked for fewer revisions if they pretend that they are male, as reported in a blog post by Salon.com.
So any boost or accolade for women is a celebration.
The latest literary longlist is somewhat unusual. It’s for a prize that wasn’t given forty years ago.
The Man Booker Prize, awarded to what a panel of judges decide to be the best new book each year, skipped 1970 due to a change in the rules. So all the novels published that year never had a chance to compete.
Now, there is a longlist of 22 authors for consideration for a shortlist of six, which will be announced in March. And 9 out of 22 – that’s 40 per cent – are novels by women.
So even it was more difficult for women in 1970, they seem to be getting almost the same amount of recognition now.
Or are they?
An article in the current issue of Mslexia, the magazine for women who write, deftly answers this question, and explains why it’s a loud and unhappy ‘no’.
Despite women's winning prizes. Despite last year’s Booker prize shortlist consisting of half women and its overall winner being Hilary Mantel.
The answer is no, because there is a dark undercurrent to this supposed progress in equal recognition; a subtle ‘cultural femocide’, as the article describes it.
And this is it. In book reviews in newspapers and magazines, male names outnumber females at least two to one. This is consistent, and has been consistent, across all publications – and often the ratio for women is even worse.
So although women are winning the prizes, they are not getting the coverage, the exposure and the respect. And – in the end – this matters more.
The reasons for low acknowledgment of female authors are as in many other aspects of sexist society; inbuilt misogyny, for a start. Literary reviewers receive 400 or more books a week for consideration, so their selection is very important. They are probably not conscious of their bias, but “there are still outdated perceptions of male superiority”, says an arts journalist quoted in the article.
Also, there aren’t enough female reviewers. The result is topsy turvy – the reviewers’ choices do not reflect the reader market. Women and girls generally buy and read books by both sexes. Men – when they read novels at all – will typically stick to books by their sex.
Why should we care? Fewer column inches sends out the message that men are more worthy of reading than women, which in turn reinforces the discrepancy and discrimination against women. As well as lowering people’s opinion of female writers, it affects the confidence of women, who may be discouraged to aim for the same heights as men.
It’s always difficult to change the culture. The fight will have to start with women themselves. We need more female reviewers. This is a competitive (and male-skewed in itself) career choice as any – but women will have to try.
Radio 3 presenter Bidisha, quoted in the Mslexia article, says: “What we need more of is a consciousness-raising, unity and solidarity among women – and a willingness to fight. Otherwise nothing will change.”
And we do need change. We need more space on the page. Only then may we win the space in people’s minds; and the space that we deserve.
01 February 2010
Some people ask me: why care about the objectification of women? What harm does it do? Why does it matter that women are portrayed as sexual objects instead of people, and that society rewards women for having desirable bodies?
The reasons are this: if a woman is viewed as an object rather than a person, she is treated as such. This can lead to intimidation and violent behaviour by men who are acting out of their own selfishness (as they would when they use a thing rather than a person) instead of putting respect for women first.
There is another, more subtle, consequence. Not only do women get treated as objects – they feel like objects too. And the effect of this is far less obvious, less considered and less talked about. As women grow up and are continuously objectified, their confidence wanes or fails to develop to the extent of men’s, and they start to feel (and act) like objects even before they have been objectified.
In other words, in any situation in which a woman feels she may be viewed by men – from walking down the street to interacting in the work environment – she may, without realising it, act differently.
This repressed behaviour becomes ingrained in a woman’s personality so that she is permanently stifled and may not achieve as much, or make as much of an impact in life, as she is capable of.
This effect has been elegantly demonstrated in a research study in the academic journal Psychological Science called ‘Interacting Like a Body: Objectification Can Lead Women to Narrow Their Presence in Social Interactions' by T Saguy et al.
The researchers tested the hypothesis that women’s behaviour changes as a result of the perception that their bodies are being watched by men.
The study group, 207 men and women, were randomly assigned with a situation that determined how they interact with partners. There were three set-ups: on one the participants believed there was a video camera which was filming them from the neck down, in another they believed that the camera was filming only the participant’s face and, in the third, only the voice.
Then the participants were given two minutes to introduce themselves, and they were under the impression that their partners were watching the footage.
The women – when they believed they were talking with women – talked as much as men. But if they thought they were talking with men, the time they talked for dropped – and even more so when they thought men were looking them as well as listening to them. And even more when they thought that men were looking at more of their bodies.
The men’s talking time was not affected by whom they thought they were talking to.
The authors conclude that, when objectified, women try not only to appear as good objects, but also to behave like ones. This may hinder their performance in mixed-sex contexts, including job interviews, work meetings, or classroom interactions.
They say: “Because an object does not possess a rich personality, women may narrow their social presence by spending less time talking when objectified in social interactions.”
This is a chilling conclusion, and one that chimes well with reality. Women are paid less (see my previous post) and there are fewer women in high-flying jobs.
That this effect is largely subconscious is worrying still; women are likely to not be performing as well as men partly because of a lifetime of objectification, and they are not even aware of it.
Awareness is key. Knowing that the effect is there can help us to overcome it. Women can make extra efforts to work on their confidence, not let men intimidate them and to speak up in public.
The fight to reduce objectification (for example, pornography and prostitution) in our culture is crucial – but the catalyst will be a mass of women building the courage to not only be as confident as men, but to be confident enough to stop allowing the presence of men to stop them speaking.