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

‘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

Thu, Jun 5, 2014, 00:01

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”.

Inferior

So 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.

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