Join the discussion about women, the media and social media
A recent spate of online spats has shown how quickly discussions involving women can become personal – and sometimes hateful and vitriolic.
We’ve seen abuse hurled at freelance journalist Samantha Brick after the Daily Mail published her article claiming other women hated her because she was so beautiful.
Whether you like her politics or not, Conservative MP Louise Mensch being called a “Tory whore” is just another case in which the Twittersphere, like most online comment pages, has become a forum for mockery and sexist insults to abound.
Female bloggers and writers recently spoke out about the torrent of sexist abuse they receive when they post. A few weeks ago, TV historian Mary Beard took critic A.A. Gill to task for saying she was too ugly for television.
This focus on a woman’s appearance was cited by City University’s director of broadcasting Lis Howell as a reason why women were so reluctant to sign up to take part in TV discussions when they were invited.
Howell is currently conducting research into women’s participation on TV and radio as part of Broadcast magazine’s Expert Women Campaign, which encourages broadcasters to ensure that at least 30 per cent of interviewees are women.
Of course, as Howell pointed out, concern that they will have to endure insulting remarks about their appearance doesn’t explain why so few women appear on radio programmes like BBC Radio 4’s Today, or why, when they do appear, they are usually speaking as case studies or as victims.
When the Independent released its Twitter 100 on 1 March this year, only 18 of those featured were women. The majority of those were celebrities or fashion writers.
If the Independent’s list is to be believed, social media is recreating the cliché that women’s interests equals niche interests.
Women can speak authoritatively on childcare or schools, for example, but it’s much more rare for them to be considered authoritative voices on issues that are not personal to them, like world affairs or the economy.
In an attempt to explain the lack of women among the “titans of Twitter,” the Independent’s Laura Davis sparked further debate when she suggested that perhaps women are just not very good at supporting one another.
There are plenty who disagree with her, but a lot of questions remain about women in both the mainstream media and social media. Are women de-selecting themselves or are the selection processes themselves at fault?
Are there practical steps women – and men – can take to help themselves and others break through to have their voices heard and taken seriously, not just on so-called women’s issues?
The real debate hasn’t even begun.
For those of you who want to discuss this hot topic further, a Words of Colour debate is taking place at London’s Free Word Centre at 6.30 pm on 30 May.
Lis Howell, BBC Persian’s Sanam Dolatshahi and prominent bloggers Minna Salami and Hana Riaz will take part.