On the Representation of Women in the Media

Last Sunday I went to the Feminist Solidarity Festival in Hackney Downs, London, which was organised by the Fourth Wave Feminist group. I wasn’t sure what to expect but when I got there the sun was shining, people were spread out over the grass having picnics, and 3 gazebos had been set up for the speakers – including myself. Yes, I agreed to talk at the festival. It’s been a while since I did any kind of public speaking so I was incredibly nervous, but all in all it went really well and I even did a Q&A at the end.

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I also recorded a video from my talk. I spoke about female representation within the media, particularly with regards to women’s magazines, fashion imagery, and advertising. It was my first time public speaking for a while so please excuse the shaky voice at the beginning! The low angle is because I didn’t bring a tripod and actually just balanced the camera on my bag, but the audio is very clear so it shouldn’t really matter.

Enjoy!

At the end of my talk I touched upon the subject of media-critical education within schools. This is something that I have been thinking about more and more, because everyday it seems to become increasingly important. We are living in a digital age where young people – including pre-teens and children – have access to everything via the internet. This is at once both a good thing and a bad thing. I have no problem with children having access to educational resources online, or having the opportunity to develop their interests early by going onto specialist sites. But when young boys are getting their sex education from violent and misogynistic pornography, and young girls are seeing images of unattainable beauty expectations that they believe they must aspire to copy, this accessibility turns into a liability and a danger. And it isn’t just the internet that is perpetuating these things. It’s television, movies, music, music videos, magazines, and advertising. It is within all of the media that we consume on a daily basis.

I believe that our current curriculum is outdated. It poses a danger to the wellbeing and development of children. Sex education classes need to tackle the subject of consent and abuse, and healthy relationships. PSHE (personal, social, health and economic education) needs to be modernised. And children and young adults need the opportunity to be informed and educated about media representation, and what it actually means in relation to the real world. Because if we don’t, we are just going to end up with an increase in eating disorders, depression, violence, rape, plastic surgery, body shame, bullying, suicide, and more.

Following on from this, I am going to be doing a couple of things. I am not only going to be contacting my local council but also the Department for Education, and specifically MP Nicky Morgan, who is the Secretary of State for Education as well as the Minister for Women and Equalities. And, as well as this, I am going to be contacting local schools about setting up workshops and talks for the children and young adults that are under their responsibility. And, of course, I’m going to continue producing my body-positive, feminist-friendly magazine, Parallel.

If media representations aren’t going to get any better, then young people need to be taught to look at the media in a critical way, instead of feeling pressured to use this imagery as instructions for their life. And if the curriculum and education of these young people isn’t going to change any time soon, the least we can do is help to change their perceptions and understanding of the media.

If you have any questions or are interested in getting involved, please email me at sophieejourno@gmail.com.

Edit: I received a question regarding my talk that I thought was really interesting, so I have included it, and my answer, below.

Question: Regarding your talk, do you think that adverts not using disabled people, older people etc is necessarily a “media” problem? I know it’s kind of a chicken-egg thing, but (unfortunately) many people will view those groups as lesser, so advertisers aren’t going to use them to advertise their products (it would ‘lessen’ those brands) (I appreciate that it is perhaps the media itself that has created that view, I just wanted your take on what steps to resolve that are). Is just publishing pictures of those groups, using them to advertise products etc enough to change peoples minds? Obviously the media has a lot of power but these perceptions have been drilled into people so they aren’t going to change overnight. Also, do you think the issues you talked about are a case of purely educating our children better in this matters, or do you think further legislation is required?

Answer: I think that the media has created this idea that using these people will not sell their products, but the problem is that they won’t try it out. For example, there is the myth that having black women on the front of a magazine cover “won’t sell”, so magazines like Vogue and others do not use black cover models. However, this has been proven to be wrong by magazines who have actually bothered to test it out – for example ID and Dazed magazine both recently had black cover models, and the magazines sold the same amount as other issues.

It’s more of a case of advertisers wanting to use the “ideal” image so that people buy their product in order to become that “ideal”. But when you consider the percentage of people who are not able-bodied, thin, or white, that makes less sense. How can a disabled person “aspire” to be able-bodied? Why would that advert appeal to them at all, when it doesn’t speak to them or represent them?

Representing people who do not meet the ideal, perfect image will not change people’s perceptions overnight but it will certainly destroy some of the negative connotations that come with being disabled, fat, dark-skinned etc.

At the moment I think education is one of the most important things, because the media clearly isn’t going to be changing any time soon. It’s been like this for a long time and will probably get worse before something terrible happens that people rebel against, thereby forcing change. So educating children is something that can hopefully help them to understand that images in the media are not the be-all and end-all. You can live a happy and healthy life even if you don’t adhere to these ideals. In an ideal world, legislation changes and new guidelines and regulations would be the solution, but how long is it going to be until that happens? In the meantime we need to help young people with self-perception and their understanding of these images.

I also got a couple of photos of the other speakers at the Feminist Solidarity Fest, which you can see below.

Rabina Khan, who spoke about the impact of austerity on women throughout London, and the rights of Muslim women.

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Shabana Kausar, who spoke about violence against women and the impacts of this on wider society, and what we can do to prevent or end this.

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Siana Bangura, the founder of No Fly on the Wall, which discusses intersectional feminism. Siana spoke about the Black Lives Matter movement, being a black feminist in the UK, as well as performing some of her poetry.

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Shagufta Iqbal, who performed some of her spoken word poetry. Her work explores gender, race, and culture.

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The Great Men Value Women workshop, which aimed to tackle the subject of masculinity and equality.

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