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The past month has bought an unprecedented wave of exposure of the extent of sexual assault and harassment in our society. We have a real opportunity to change attitudes, to challenge behaviour and to make the lives of women and girls safer. So, why is so much of our media hell bent on reinforcing the very status quo that keeps us in danger?
The Harvey Weinstein revelations; the ensuing #MeToo tidal wave; and the subsequent unearthing of allegations in numerous areas of our society were something truly extraordinary to behold. A real opportunity has finally arisen for us to examine our society and to look at the power structures which allow, among other things, the abuse of women to proliferate.
This is a chance to shine a light on what has been happening, to re-balance the burden of proof, to stop rewarding men who have chosen to act as predators with greater power and to make women’s lives safer. The lengths with which women currently have to go to ensure their own safety (and it doesn’t ensure it anyway) are extensive and result in an emotional burden most men could not comprehend.
We are forced to consider everything – from what route we take home to what public transport we risk using, from what we chose to wear to whether we exercise our desire to have a dance on a night out in the sure and certain knowledge it is likely to lead to a casual sexual assault..
Our lifetimes, from pre-puberty onwards are littered with these incidents. Our daily routines are peppered with vain and hopeless adjustments to try and avoid repeat occurrences. Its exhausting. It wears us down and for lots of us, LOTS of us, it ultimately culminates in a far more damaging and traumatic experience that we are likely never to fully recover from.
Even if we are lucky enough to avoid the worst outcome however, we live in constant fear. The twentieth incident of street harassment may end, like all the others, with the same flush of embarrassment and wave of anger, but it might also be a prelude to us being followed and raped this time. I have numerous friends who are survivors of serious sexual assault, so please forgive me my caution and fear.
#MeToo presents an opportunity to change the dynamics, to open the stinking, unwashed, rancid curtain on what women have been dealing with in workplaces, bars, on our streets and in our homes for a millennia.
This is a chance to halt the ignorance that allows a man unapologetic about his assaults from becoming president.
A chance to finally point the finger firmly at perpetrators, pouring the scorn and disgust on them that they deserve. We can and must change the institution in which our laws and benefits are decided, from a hot bed of misogyny and abuse, that surely affects the way women are valued and protected; to one that ensures women’s voices are heard and their welfare and safety fully considered across the board.
To achieve that change we rely on the commentators of our society to accept this long awaited readjustment and to change their response. Our media doesn’t just reflect our society, it informs, shapes and reinforces it’s values. We need them to listen to, promote and represent women, to tell the truth of our abuse with respect and concern, to stop paying lip service in disgust at our bruises, whilst continuing to present us as the sexual fodder that sells their newspapers.
The constant belittling of women at the hands of the press serves only to perpetuate us not being taken seriously. If we are presented as sexual play things why are you so surprised when we are treated that way? If the news women make in our society is ignored, our coverage reduced to wardrobe malfunctions and “nip slips”, why do you pretend you don’t understand why we don’t speak up when we are physically mistreated. You have presented us as nothing but decorative and ridiculous.
Of course sadly our press aren’t so far grasping this opportunity to change the lives of more than fifty percent of our society for the better, instead they are giving column inches to every hateful misogynist and ignoramus willing to comment on the subject.
Be it in print media, radio or television, our commentators have a responsibility to deliver a message that keeps us safe, or at the very least we should expect them them not to reinforce one that places us in greater danger. Organisations with experience and knowledge of sexual assault, who have worked with survivors and perpetrators have laid out clear guidance on how to responsibly report violence against women and yet despite the now inescapable truth of the scale of the problem, these are consistently ignored.
Instead this onslaught of news revealing the extent of the systemic control, coercion and abuse of women is presented as nothing more than a “witch hunt” of innocent men; a “smutty story” designed to distract from the complexities of Brexit.
This real opportunity to educate about consent and respectful interaction is ignored in favour of reinforcement of the notion of “grey areas.” Consensual workplace affairs are conflated with non-consensual and sometimes criminal, uninvited sexual touching of colleagues and junior staff, by those in a clear position of power. Where there should be an effort made to ensure sexual assault is NEVER presented as titillation, we see salacious details placed, either ignorantly or quite deliberately, next to sexualised and objectifying images of other women.
Day after day as these truths are revealed many us are not at all shocked. Instead we are sad, but more than anything we are enraged at how this is being presented on so many platforms. Enraged because we know that every perpetrator is having their attitude reinforced. Enraged because any survivors are silenced by a press keen to bully and abuse those who have bravely chosen to do so already whilst simultaneously chastising those who have kept quiet for so long. Enraged because we have no redress, nowhere to report this. Enraged because press regulation bodies such as IPSO will not hear the complaints of groups representing women or minorities, despite clear evidence of endemic sexism, racism and Islamophobia.
At No More Page 3 we have a reputation for asking nicely and it is a tactic that won us at least one important victory. At the moment those in possession of power, with the enthusiastic support of much of our media, are keen to reinforce the message that the issue of violence against women is not important and that we should all “pipe down” so they can move on with more important things. They are wrong, every new story of assault, harassment and abuse reinforces how wrong they are, and we are asking, not so nicely this time, for this to stop.
by Lisa Clarke, No More Page 3
No More Page 3 are the women’s campaign for ongoing press reform. You can follow us @NoMorePage3
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