Why we need feminism: women deserve respect
Opinion: It is not okay that young women feel insecure in their own bodies, because of unrealistic media portrayals of women
‘It is notable that while the Irish women’s rugby team were winning the Six Nations a year ago, mainstream media in Ireland often focused on what the wives and girlfriends of the male rugby players were wearing.’ Above, the RBS Women’s Six Nations Championship, Parabiago, Milan. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
When the National Women’s Council of Ireland asked me to speak at its event on why we still need feminism, I jumped at the chance. For me, it is very obvious that we still need feminism because on a daily basis various sections of the media in Ireland reduce women to the sum total of their appearance, or a combination of their body parts. This has a huge impact on young girls – who suffer from body insecurity as a result. Yet the issue in Ireland is bigger than that. When women succeed, their success is often ignored. This leaves young girls not only concerned about their appearance, but also wondering what they have to do to be appreciated for their minds.
In Ireland, it is understood in theory that gender equality is a good thing, but we often fail to acknowledge that the continuous and everyday sexual objectification of women in the media is a huge barrier to achieving this. This is what the No More Page 3 campaign is about in the UK – taking women in their pants off the pages of a national newspaper. Although since August 2013, there are no longer boobs on Page 3 of the Sun in Ireland, negative portrayals of women in the media still exist. Sexualised images of women are still common in Irish newspapers.
We need to talk about the oversexualisation of women in the media, because it has a very real and very negative impact on women, and on men too. The UN Commission on the Elimination and Prevention of all Forms of Violence Against Women and Girls 3, signed by the Irish Government in March 2013, was unequivocal in its findings that the media play a vital role in forming attitudes towards women, and should refrain from “presenting them as inferior beings and exploiting them as sexual objects and commodities”.
InferiorSo while we don’t have boobs in Irish newspapers, Ireland definitely needs to discuss the fact that women are regularly still presented as inferior and are often still exploited as sexual objects in the media.
It is notable that while the Irish women’s rugby team were winning the Six Nations a year ago, mainstream media in Ireland often focused on what the wives and girlfriends of the male rugby players were wearing. According to the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation in the UK, it’s estimated the media coverage of women’s sports there is about 5 per cent of total sports coverage.
Lucy-Anne Holmes, the founder of No More Page Three, was prompted to begin the campaign after discovering that following a particularly good day for team GB at the London 2012 Olympics, the Page 3 image was still the largest image of a woman in the Sun newspaper, larger than the image of Jessica Ennis winning her gold medal.
Young girls are only presented with one kind of body, the size zero kind. They don’t see sports stars or even women politicians, or women world leaders as often as they see models. Irish teenagers suffer high levels of mental stress because of body image issues. Girls in particular have problems with how they perceive their body. A survey in 2011 found that Irish teenagers are more sensitive to concerns over body image than in other countries. The media and celebrities were found to be a significant factor impacting the way young people perceive themselves. These are issues that young women raise with The Y Factor, the National Women’s Council of Ireland’s youth initiative, on a weekly basis.
InsecuritiesThe portrayal of women in Irish media causes body insecurities and can leave young girls assuming that no matter what they achieve, it matters less than the success of their brother. Yet there are wider problems associated with this.
There is a link between discrimination in the media and violence against women that we are hesitant to discuss. In Ireland 52 per cent of women avoid certain areas for fear of being assaulted. We are not saying that any man who looks at half-naked pictures of women is a potential rapist, but that we need to look at how the everyday commodification of women’s bodies by the media can impact the way young people are socialised.
Effortless access to pornographic materials and the general objectification of women distort the views of young men in respect to their attitude toward women and girls. The constant reference to how a successful woman looks sends the message that, whatever a woman achieves, her primary use is to serve a man sexually. This is not a message we want young women, or young men, to pick up from a newspaper or a magazine.
We still need feminism, because with great power comes great responsibility. It is not OK that young women feel insecure in their bodies because of unrealistic media portrayals of women.
We need to ensure that all parts of the media are responsible for promoting the many contributions of women to Irish society.
This means not focusing on what a politician is wearing, but what she is saying. This means showing women’s rugby matches, and giving just as must coverage to all women’s sports. This means not referring to a woman as somebody else’s wife. This means not judging a woman’s success by her husband and children, while judging a man’s success by how much money he makes. This means representing women as the incredible individuals they are, which shouldn’t be too much to ask, should it?
Angela Towers is the spokesperson for No More Page Three. She is addressing the agm of National Women’s Council of Ireland tomorrow.