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Equality groups make case against sexism in UK media

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Heather Kennedy
WVoN co-editor 

In oral evidence presented today, leading UK equality groups called upon the Leveson Inquiry to address inaccurate, prejudicial and demeaning media portrayals of women.

The inquiry, which began hearings in November last year, was commissioned by the government to investigate the culture, practices and ethics of the UK media.

Speaking today, representatives from Eaves, the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Equality Now and Object argued that media bias condones violence against women and girls, reduces women to a sum of body parts and is corrosive to gender equality and human rights.

In a series of recommendations, representatives urged that the Press Complaints Commission be replaced with a stronger body that could hear from groups as well as individuals, and would have stronger powers when complaints were upheld.

Anna Van Heeswijk of Object drew attention to The Sun newspaper’s “page three” – which shows “glamour models” in poses considered by many to be pornographic.

She called for the rules banning inappropriate and explicit material from the public realm to be extended to cover this kind of material.

“If we are serious about wanting a socially responsible press, recommendations must address the persistent portrayal of women as sex objects in the UK ‘page three’ tabloids,” Van Heeswijk said.

Representatives also called for journalists to receive training on the myths and realities which surround violence against women, and the culture of victim-blaming.

They highlighted failures to report accurately on sexual violence, prostitution, rape and crimes against ethnic minority women.

One example cited was the headline, “Orgy in the Park”, used to describe a gang rape.

“These are not matters of taste and decency. Poor reporting on all forms of violence against women, but particularly on rape and sexual violence, has an impact on individual women,” said Heather Harvey of Eaves.

“It can deter victims from reporting crimes and gives a message to perpetrators that you are likely to get away with it.”

Jacqui Hunt of Equality Now added: “Good journalism strives for balance and diversity, yet women are rarely represented as leaders, experts or decision-makers, rather they are frequently objectified, stereotyped, trivialised and demeaned.”

  1. Besides the point that the press, advertising and most music videos portray violence against women as acceptable and normal, we should consider what message that sends to girls and women. If you ponder the effect of growing up in a society that continuously confronts you with those pictures and underlying meaning, it becomes acceptable and even expected behaviour. Naomi Wolf explains this in great detail in her book “The beauty myth” which, while being some years old, is still very much relevant.

    • Totally agree with you Petra. I think that Object and the other women’s groups that gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry widely campaign against the way violence against women, and the sexualisation of women as it is portrayed in the media, advertising, music videos etc influences women and girls’ perceptions of themselves and each other. Altogether, the reporting of VAWG – often juxtaposed with pictures of naked or semi naked women – sends out a very warped and dangerous message to girls, women and indeed men. Although I would never excuse a man’s violence against women (or any form of sexist behaviour) on the ground that he has been influenced by what he sees and reads in the media. Men have free choice to act and behave in ways that are respectful of women.

  2. vicki wharton says:

    I would add that having spent 20 years working in PR using the media to change public attitudes towards smoking and drink/driving, there is very clear and consistent evidence of the way the media effects social mores. Men understand their behaviour within a social context, and a media that consistently focuses on the victim of violence’s behaviour leaves men with little requirement to self awareness or self regulation and pushes them towards a viewpoint that violence is justified when used towards women to control and maintain male superiority and priviledge.

    • Perhaps we should spend more money on campaigns to change public attitude towards sexual violence, it is as deadly as drinking or smoking.

      • vicki wharton says:

        It is certainly a public health issue … can’t imagine how many men drink because they are confused about why they hit the person they are supposed to love or women taking tranqs to dull the pain of being hit by the person that’s meant to love them the most.

  3. Yes we should Petra, but unfortunately, even if there was the political will to tackle gender based violence, the public spending cuts mean that some very good projects delivering preventative work, including awareness raising in schools, have been axed. Its very short sighted and the risk is there will be even less public awareness of the causes and consequences of VAWG

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