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Misogyny: Alive and Well in Modern Media?

The 21st century is considered a liberal age in which the majority of ungrounded prejudices have been eradicated and humanity reigns. However, for every colourblind, genderless and tolerant news item put out by today’s mass media, there’s another exposing the very much ongoing narrow-mindedness of contemporary society.

Women in particular have remarked on their continued misrepresentation and arguable mistreatment in various forms of modern media, with many undeniably dated views on women being expressed – explicitly or otherwise – by designers, musicians and social media users alike. We’ve called out for contributions, and have heard back from some of the most passionate and informed social users out there, to see where they stand on the debate. Is misogyny alive and well today?

Social Media and Sexism

#twittersilence is the hashtag on everyone’s lips lately. The short-lived twitter silence movement – in which women ‘spoke out’ against violent online chauvinism by declaring their silence – resulted in inevitable widespread controversy.

We took this hot debate to some of our favourite bloggers, asking where they stand on the twitter silence polemic – and whether they think misogyny is still a part of contemporary culture –and here’s what they had to say:

Amanda Egan

Twitter silence tended to focus more on misogynistic threats and abuse but I feel that the topic is much broader.  There are also women trolling, bullying and stalking on Twitter, blogs and chat rooms and I think that social media is now ripe with cowardly 'anons' making others' lives a misery.  Twitter silence wasn't for me because I see that as giving in to these bullies - giving them the voice while we keep quiet.

Herein lies the controversy. While being reminiscent of some wartime women’s suffrage movements in essence, this active silence can only be described as a hindrance to true equality for women. If we respond to misogyny in a way which even remotely appears to condone the comments, we’re taking a big backward step rather than speaking out against oppression.

Kip Hakes

I was never a fan of the idea of the #twittersilence, whilst the stance seems quite noble, a silent protest at the abuse people face on Twitter, ultimately the words 'silence' and 'abuse' shouldn't be used together. Interestingly Caroline Criado-Perez was never silent about the abuse she received, she spoke out and hopefully those who threatened her with violence and rape will be brought to justice. Those suffering any kind of abuse, from misogynistic taunts, to physical violence should never be protested for with silence, the victims need help to find their voice, and stand up to their abusers. When abuse is happening, silence is NEVER the answer.

Although the hashtag itself may have seen a tidal backlash, it’s undeniable that social media provides an invaluable communication outlet – which, perhaps, is why the notion of silence seems so out of place in this generation.

Jacqui Shankly

I believe that the Twitter Silence was a positive way to prompt a debate about the most appropriate ways to express our support for women experiencing on-line abuse, and to ensure that the issue is taken seriously.  Even the fact that many used the hashtag to raise their voices against online oppression, meant that their voices were heard a little bit clearer on that day. Misogyny, sexism and sexual oppression are still rife in our culture.  The arrival of social media has been a mixed blessing on this front.  It allows people to post vicious sexually aggressive material, with no sanctions or consequences, and this ‘normalises’ the behaviour.  We are told, ‘there is nothing we can do’, ‘we just have to put up with it’.  And in the past, we may have done.

But social media also means that we CAN do something about it, we know we are not alone. We can see that there is still a fight to be had, and we can find other like- minded individuals to join together with, to galvanise us, and we can have a real and powerful effect.

As an example, recently, Amazon sold a T-shirt with the phrase “calm down and rape a lot”.  In the past, I may have fired off a letter or made a phone call that would have ended absolutely nowhere.  NOW, through the power of Twitter and Facebook, I, and every other individual that found it offensive could share it with our on-line friends, and stand together.  It made the news.  Excuses were not accepted.  The T-shirt was pulled, and the company involved were forced to take the unpleasant financial consequences of their actions. They won’t be doing that again.

We need to find a way to ensure that ‘trolls’ experience unpleasant consequences, and the Twitter Silence was a great way to get that discussion going.

Women’s Representation in Film

It’s perhaps arguable that any manner of prejudice can be found in all forms of media if you look hard enough. The abstract and readily interpretable nature of film means that any number of deeper meanings and subtexts can be observed and are difficult to disprove. However, there are often film representations so blatant in their offence that it’s difficult to argue mere carelessness. Female representation in film has been regarded as sexist and discriminatory since early cinema, and unfortunately this phenomenon is one considered very much ongoing. Certain genres are believed the main perpetrators of these misogynies and falsehoods – with particular reference to superhero movies, in which you’re all but guaranteed to meet a helpless, misguided female in search of the almost exclusively male hero.

Latest instalment in the Superman franchise, Man of Steel, provoked some controversy upon its theatrical release, with the lovely Lois Lane woefully ill-equipped to the point of utter uselessness. While previous Lanes served as archetypes of the feisty, empowered working woman, Man of Steel sees the character looking to omnipotent holographic men for guidance, unable to function adequately alone.

Media Objectification

The greatest gender issue faced by women – which regrettably appears relevant even today – is that of being viewed and treated as lesser creatures, or even as a kind of property, by those with sexist tendencies. When views like this are thrown around so easily, it’s hard to determine whether they’re being said in jest or are the product of ignorance.

Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines is a hypnotic, devastatingly cheeky track, spending weeks on the top spot and selling in excess of a million copies in the UK alone. The official video, however, has received mixed feedback to say the least. The uncensored version features a veritable harem of utterly naked women wandering around, filling space and just generally being there, while Thicke engages in some of the least subliminal hashtagging we’ve seen in quite some time. With Digital Spy stating that the subject can be “crass and chauvinistic” in the wrong hands, it’s difficult to know whether Thicke’s intention is to objectify, or whether the implications crossed his mind at all.

The Female Consumer

The ways in which retailers treat their customers, and particularly the degree of respect shown, are primary indicators of the brand’s concerns and values. Unfortunately, conclusions can often be drawn indicating an entire lack of respect for the consumer, suggesting that customers are valued significantly lower than brand image. This is, of course, an issue applicable to both genders – but with 91% of women dissatisfied with their appearance, and 80% being made to feel insecure by the media’s representation of women, it’s evident that fashion designers and marketers are making insufficient effort to encourage a natural, healthy body image.

Exhibit A: Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries recently expressed his view of the ideal consumer, stating that he has no interest in “fat” customers, as they lack the cool factor he hopes his brand has cultivated thus far and will continue to cultivate. This prioritisation of superficial values over consumer respect demonstrates a notable regression for the fashion industry. If a woman’s worth is founded solely on physical factors, is she not little better than a mannequin used to prop up the season’s hottest trends?

Rosie Mullender (Deputy Features Editor, COSMOPOLITAN)

Everyday sexism is a real problem for women, and something we should all work together to stamp out. It's not okay for a woman to be touched or insulted in the street simply because she's a woman, nor is it okay when newspapers publish articles implying that (for example) working women are responsible for the downfall of society, or that those who dress provocatively somehow encourage sexual assault.

Misogyny is everywhere. But misandry is prevalent, too - and how many people have even heard that word? It's quite popular these days to portray men in advertising and on TV as simpletons, unable to think above the waistband of their boxers or to chip in with the housework. Which is just as exhausting in its way as music videos which feature women grinding grimly beside packs of leering men.

The problem with the Twitter silence, despite its good intentions, is that it turned women against women - some of whom accused each other of not being 'proper' feminists. The endless arguing which went on also put others, both male and female, off the notion of feminism altogether.

Feminism isn't a dirty word. What we're looking for is equality - not for women to be better than men, or for some women to be better than other women, but acceptance that everyone deserves the same level of respect, whatever their gender.