Ten years ago, I was crammed in the back of a small car with my sister and her friend, driving to Punchestown race course to see our favourite rapper live in concert. During the drive down, we blasted the Marshall Mathers LP with the windows open, rapping along to all that vitriol. In my defence, he was super-talented. A further excuse is that I was 15. Eminem was rebellious because he used curse words and his CDs had parental advisory stickers. I won’t lie – his music was a vehicle for my teen angst. We knew that his lyrics were a bit off. Like he wasn’t serious about murdering those women right? He...he...that stuff was unreal. We didn’t read into it.
A few days ago on Twitter I noticed a phrase that was starting to crop up. It was the hashtag “Inspiring Women”. People were tweeting the names and histories of women who inspired them. Some of the women were overtly feminist, while others were leaders or pioneers in their particular field. I started to wonder who I could pinpoint as my own feminist inspiration. There was no clear key moment when I began to identify as feminist. I thought maybe it stemmed from my interest in the music of Destiny's Child in my younger years. I enjoyed their lyrics espousing female financial and emotional empowerment. Looking back on it now it seems hard to argue the relevance of these things to a 12 year old living in a pink and white bedroom lovingly furnished by their parents. But I felt that I could identify with the songs anyway, and their image of female friendship and fun.
Oops it happened again?
At least 80,000 people killed. Children detained and tortured. Civilian populations targeted. Bread queues bombed. Rape as a weapon of war…
Each of these snippets is enough to make the blood boil. Unless we’ve heard them before… unless we’re warned that accompanying reports may be ‘unverified’… unless we’re too concerned with our own insular issues… unless these atrocities happen in one of those places where women wear hijabs and deaths are approximate numbers, devoid of names or faces.
Life - A Poem by Jean Cross
If you can have your friend sit in your kitchen
with troubles piled, not knowing what to do
and ease her cares and help her just by listening
and know that she would do the same for you
If you can lend your voice to joy and laughter
and sing and dance to some old blissful song
but keep your wits when facing a disaster
and know when something's right and something's wrong.
It is absolutely incongruous to champion TV3's late-night 'chatline' ads as signs of a new, sexually liberated era. By Clara Fischer.
Last week, Fine Gael TD Derek Keating called for the banning of late night adverts, shown on TV3, for what he described as “sexual entertainment services”. There appears to be some dispute about the exact nature of these advertisements, with ComReg purportedly calling the ads “chatline” or “partyline” services, rather than “sexual entertainment services”. Judging by the scantily clad women starring in these particular spots, though, that seems rather odd. Do women always chat and hold parties in their underwear? As a woman, this is news to me.
I Could Have Been a Rocket Scientist: The Tyranny of Thin - Guest Post by Alyson Staunton
Cross-posted from Ms Spats's Sartorial Dispatches, 24th April 2012
Ms Spats has been preoccupied with her weight since she was eleven years of age, and estimates that she thinks about food and the width of her hips at least ten times a day. If you allow for at least 60 seconds per thought that means that she has effectively wasted 73,000 minutes of her life which works out at about 50.69 days, or at least a month and a half .
These are some of the diets that Ms Spats has been on, and the effects of same: The cabbage diet (,unattractively fragrant) the cigarette and diet coke diet (surprisingly giddy), the wine and chocolate diet (very good fun, at least in the short term), the bread and water diet (she fantasised she was in the female version of The Count of Monte Cristo), the no carb diet (bad breath making), the calorie counting diet (excellent for increasing numeracy skills), the pining diet (headwrecking), the pizza diet (calories consumed at one sitting, at the end of the day - nauseating ), the caffeine pill diet (palpitations), the raw food diet (very expensive) , the fruit diet (gassy), the liquid diet (either fruit juice, slimfast or water sugar and lemon), the body confounding diet-(where you over consume one day, underconsume the next, in an attempt to trick the body into continuing to lose weight); The South Beach Diet ( Atkins less cholesterol with a garnish of fruit) and plain old starvation.
We owe it to both young women and men to change media messages which repeatedly reinforce harmful norms of masculinity and femininity. By Clara Fischer.
With the drama of the Oscars over for another year, it might be time for reflection on the messages the film industry, and particularly Hollywood, is conveying on a near-global scale. Messages in film? But surely the entertainment industry is simply about that: entertainment? Not so: research shows that what might seem like light-hearted comedy or action-packed drama, is in fact increasingly gendered – that is, it portrays women and men in pointedly stereotypical ways. Worryingly, this phenomenon is having extremely negative effects on women and girls. A recent report by the American Psychological Association cited impaired cognitive ability, depression, low self-esteem and eating disorders as consequences of the sexualisation of women and ever-younger girls through the media.
Cross-posted from The Irish Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2012
OPINION: The exclusion of women from current affairs threatens democracy, writes CLARA FISCHER
LISTENING TO any of the Republic’s major current affairs radio programmes, one could be forgiven for thinking that women, by and large, are not interested in the news or have nothing interesting to say on the serious topics of our turbulent political times – nothing, at least, that cannot be said better by a man.
Male voices dominate the airwaves, be it as presenters or commentators, a fact many of us suspected but didn’t have proof of until now. The National Women’s Council recently published its submission to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. It set out its recommendations in a consultation document for the “draft code on fairness, impartiality and accountability in news and current affairs”.
This contained research showing that women’s voices accounted for fewer than a quarter of all panellists, presenters and newsreaders in current affairs radio shows aired by the main stations of the State.
The phenomenon of the extensive exclusion of women in the media is not limited, though, to the airwaves. Print media and television programmes regularly reinforce the impression that women are, or should, be non- contributors and that the hard business of politics and current affairs is better left to our male counterparts.
While this regrettable state of affairs is undoubtedly informed by sexist norms of femininity and masculinity (how many times have we seen the token woman invited on to a panel as the “soft” voice on traditionally “feminine” topics?), it also reflects the reality that the majority of top media jobs are held by men.
That is not to say that male editors deliberately exclude women or that only women placed in top posts can empower other women, but rather to assert that women can bring with them different perspectives that are easily marginalised in male-dominated systems.
In the formal political sphere, we have admitted as much by introducing legislation mandating for a minimum of women candidates in general elections. Should we follow suit in the media?
This very question has sparked considerable debate in Germany, where a group of high-profile women journalists have sent an open letter to the editors and publishers of the country’s main media outlets. The ProQuote campaign cited the fact that only 2 per cent of all newspaper editors-in-chief are women, while just three of the 12 public broadcasting directors of Germany are women.
The letter called for the introduction of a 30 per cent quota in all top editor positions, to be achieved over the next five years – a measure already instituted by the financial paper, Das Handelsblatt. Since its inception in February, the campaign has gained significant traction and a sizeable number of men have joined the ranks.
Whether such a proposal would meet with similar support here may be questioned. However, the dire need for a redressing of the even more extreme gender imbalance prevalent in the Irish media is indisputable.
The reasons for this are manifold: women’s exclusion, particularly from current affairs programming, results in a skewed debate, where only men’s life experiences come to bear upon the issues in question.
Additionally, the overwhelming presence of men as contributors and presenters, but also as editors and publishers, is agenda-setting. The very issues discussed reflect men’s priorities.
The lack of women’s voices in the media render women, more generally, invisible in our societies, which further feeds into exclusion in virtually all top-tier positions – be it in politics, business or the Civil Service.
The omission of women from serious debate also has a negative impact upon younger women and girls, who are implicitly told that politics and affairs of the State are not properly their concern.
Most importantly though, denying women the chance to partake in public debate undermines our right, as members of this society, to influence political discourse, and thereby to influence political decision-making.
If recent history has taught us anything, surely it is that the capacity to influence political decision-making should not be concentrated in the hands of those few who are unrepresentative of the wider populace and who have always had greater arsenals of power.
Indeed, women’s exclusion from political debate in the media is mirrored by our relative incapacity to influence political decision-making more generally.
Is it conceivable that the now infamous golf game Brian Cowen shared with Seán FitzPatrick could just as easily have been shared with a woman?
Access to political power has always been limited for women, be it via the traditionally male- exclusive golf course or the exclusionary culture of party politics. If our democracy is to benefit from the “fairness, impartiality and accountability” sought by the BAI, it is time to reform the political decision-making structures of Ireland, including the media.
Clara Fischer is a co-ordinator of the Irish Feminist Network and holds a PhD in feminist and political theory.
Twilight and the X Case
Usually, when feminists talk about Twilight it’s not in a good way. But is there a favourable comparison between these films and modern Ireland?
***SPOILER ALERT*** In the latest instalment of the Twilight series, Breaking Dawn: Part 1, Bella and Edward marry and go on honeymoon. Despite Jacob’s confidence that it won’t be a “real honeymoon”, they do have sex and Bella becomes pregnant. Unfortunately, the foetus is half human/half vampire, an unprecedented conception that nobody quite knows what to make of. Enter the superstitious Brazilian woman who feels Bella’s stomach and predicts ‘morte’, death. The foetus constitutes ‘a risk to the life of the pregnant woman’, making Bella a woman to whom the X case legislation (for which we are currently campaigning in Ireland) would apply.
Never mind, ‘Carlisle will get that thing out’, says Edward. He takes charge, accelerating their journey back to his doctor father. Meanwhile, Bella is soliciting support for the decision she has already made independently. Their family are shocked and appalled by her refusal to have an abortion. Rosalie, her new sister-in-law, is the only one to stand by Bella. Having long craved a child, we assume she is sympathetic to Bella’s feelings. Or is she hoping Bella will die, leaving her the baby? There’s no love lost between them after all.
As for the abortion debate, there isn’t much of it. Of course, the foetus isn’t necessarily human, but nevertheless, in the worst case scenario it would be 100% vampire. Then, it would presumably become part of Carlisle’s vegetarian vampire family. These vampires are seen to have a right to life equal to humans’ in the Twilight series. The abortion question in Breaking Dawn: part 1 is definitely understated, especially considering the film is based on a book written by a devout Mormon in a country with one of the most vocal and militant “pro-life” lobbies in the world.
While Twilight’s only hint of an abortion debate is disagreement over terminology, ‘baby’, ‘foetus’ or ‘thing’, the real conflict is between Bella and others who believe they know what’s best for her. Rosalie is supportive even if it’s for the wrong reasons, but everyone else continually tries to manipulate Bella into having an abortion. They ignore both her intuition, ‘everything’s going to be ok’ and her affirmation, ‘it’s not [Carlisle’s] decision, it’s not any of yours’.
The forces seeking to make the pregnant woman’s decision for her can be seen as patriarchal, from the over-protective husband Edward to the medically informed head of household, Carlisle. Does any of this sound familiar?
Of course, Bella’s situation is the opposite of that which Irish women seeking life-saving abortions find themselves in. Much as these women would like to receive life-saving medical treatment, patriarchal forces deny them this right. 20 years since the landmark Supreme Court ruling on the X case, governments led by 4 successive male Irish Taoisigh have failed to implement the legislation that would give Irish women the choice.
Bella’s physical deterioration throughout Breaking Dawn: part 1 is heart-breaking. She becomes taut and bone-thin, constantly winces and struggles to move around. She is dying. While Bella’s nearest and dearest are appalled that she won’t have an abortion, viewers support her because they instinctively feel that it’s her decision. She has the right to choose to die. Meanwhile, we are appalled that real Irish women in Bella’s situation have no choice but to die.
Thus, we reach the crux of the current Action on X campaign: women must be empowered to make their own choices. This does not mean, and this should be a comfort to anti-abortionists, that if your pregnancy is a danger to your life you have to have an abortion. In fact, as a feminist, I am as appalled by that idea as I am by the current lack of access to that option. It means rather that Action on X is fighting for your right to make your own choices regarding your own body. This is where the term ‘pro-choice’ comes from. As a move consistent with supporting Bella’s right to die in the process of child-bearing, we must support Irish women’s right to choose life. We must legislate for the X case as soon as possible.
To join the campaign for life-saving abortion in Ireland, check out the Action on X Facebook page: www.facebook.com/actiononx2012
Having lived in Ireland for over a year now, I should know better than to let anything Kevin Myers writes get to me. Yet I felt the need to speak out about Myers’ piece in Friday’s Irish Independent (‘What is Going On Amongst the Female Sex that so Many of its Members are Prepared to Undergo Cosmetic Surgery?’). In it, Myers uses scant anecdotal evidence to paint all women as looks-driven, celebrity-obsessed bimbos who take pleasure in mutilating our bodies to look beautiful.
There are several points that are grossly misinterpreted here. First of all, Myers attributes the behaviours of a handful of women to the entire female gender. He also takes the huge leap of equating highlighted hair and bikini waxes with excessive cosmetic surgery (dubbing the face-lift obsessed socialite Jocelyn Wildenstein a female role model made me spit out my coffee). Most egregiously though, Myers blames this pressure to look perennially youthful, slim, and sexually available squarely on ‘the feminist movement’.
While I wholeheartedly agree that the pressure on women to look perfect has resulted in distressing attitudes and behaviours, Myers’ charge that this was prompted by feminism is laughable. Women wouldn’t be getting boob jobs if society didn’t make us feel inadequate in the bodies we’re born with. The truth is that practically from birth, we are exposed to television, print, and Internet images that demonstrate how women should look, act, and dress. The media conglomerates that control this information are out to sell products, which they do by pigeonholing both genders, glorifying celebrities, and sowing self-doubt with the help of heavily Photoshopped images. Through all this exposure we are taught that a woman’s appearance is inseparable from her worth as a human being, regardless of what other accomplishments she has achieved. Those who don’t conform to the 21st century standard of female beauty (which is itself increasingly influenced by the mainstream porn industry) are made to feel worthless. Maybe the reason women like Brooke Shields and Melanie Griffth appear ‘so botoxed and collagened that they resembled the sewn-on faces of blow-up sex-dolls’ is because society’s attitude toward women over 40 is so derisive. Not so for Hollywood’s leading men.
The media fuels the fire by publishing re-touched photos and turning comments on a woman’s cellulite into ‘news’. Indeed one of Myers’ prime targets is the women’s magazine industry which is admittedly a primary arbiter of such content. But as someone who spent two years working at a pretty prominent fashion magazine, I can tell you that just because a woman is writing an article or editing a section doesn’t mean that she’s ultimately making the decisions on content. In my case that was left to my direct bosses, two men, whose own orders came from the CEO of the publishing company, a 60-something white male who let us all know in no uncertain terms what the magazine’s ‘message’ was to be. Any deviation would risk alienating advertisers and losing revenue. Therefore, Myers’ assertion that fashion magazines are ‘produced entirely by women’, and therefore we are the ones perpetuating beauty myths and eating disorders is false.
However, I’m determined to look on the bright side and be grateful that these issues are being discussed publicly; because identifying the problem is the only way we’re ever going to solve it. Happily, women’s representation in the media happens to be the very topic of the film ‘Miss Representation’, which the IFN is screening on February 22nd and March 11th. ‘Miss Representation’ articulates how media conglomerates, with the ultimate goal of making money, decide how women are represented in contemporary society. They get away with it by telling audiences that they are only providing what the public demands, thereby both guilting viewers into thinking that they are to blame, and creating the illusion that what they are seeing on TV is a reflection of reality.
It’s hard for women to win these days. If we don’t conform to society’s ideas about how we should present ourselves, we are overlooked and under-valued. The ones that do play the game are called bimbos. Try to look good and be successful at the same time and we’re accused of trying to have it all and then whining about it. Maybe, instead of pointing fingers like Kevin Myers we should concentrate on fixing the underlying problem. After all, at the heart of it, don’t we both agree that plastic surgery, eating disorders, and society’s obsession with dubious celebrity role models are a problem? Let’s change that then. As journalists, we can start by no longer picking women apart for their choices of clothing, hairstyles, and reading material, and stick to covering some actual news.
We welcome submissions to the blog, subject to editorial review, please contact us if you're interested. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the IFN.