A quote in the IPPR report about which I wrote in a recent blog caught my eye in particular. Describing how she felt about her equality with me, a 19 year old woman from Manchester said the following:
“It went from empowering women to women are just items again. It’s gotten even worse, because women are just portrayed as if they’re just a piece of meat: it’s dead, it’s cold. We’re not even human beings …it’s just, equality’s just gone well out the window …I’ve been on a date, right, and the guy was trying to practically maul me – just because he’d bought me something to eat, he thought he had the right, do you know what I mean?”
The authors of the report – Great Expectations: Exploring the Promises of Gender Equality – devote an entire chapter to exploring the presentation of women in our cultural life, ie the representations of women that we see around us in mainstream media. They do this, of course, because how women are represented in the media will naturally either reinforce or challenge who we expect women to be. At its best, it will encourage us all to defy traditional and restrictive expectations of women; at its worst, it will trap women into believing that there is a specific cultural norm to which they should adhere, or which they should strive to attain.
As the report points out, the situation is complex – the concept of what it means to be a woman has indeed changed remarkably, and this change has been particularly noticeable since the latter third of the twentieth century. This does not mean, however, that the change has been as empowering for women as the rhetoric around this change would suggest. An analysis of the evidence in fact suggests – just as the 19 year old woman from Manchester notes – that “Over the past few decades, the passive wife, mother and hostess has been replaced across mainstream cultural forums by a more assertive and sexually empowered woman, in control of her own choices. While she can ostensibly be anything she wants, however, critics have noted that her choices appear to be narrowly centred on shopping, self-improvement, marriage and babies.” Girls and women today are subjected, constantly, to a “narrow, unrealistic and sexualised vision of what it is to be a woman”.
Take a moment today to look around you and see how women are portrayed in the media. Pause for a moment to ask yourself if they really have the choices so ostensibly on offer to them, or if their choices are paralysed by critical expectations of their appearance, behaviour and thoughts. As the authors of the report point out, we are fooling ourselves if we think our work on gender equality is done. We have a lot more to do, and every day matters.
Do something today to make a difference. Share your thoughts with someone else. Let us ensure that the national – and international – debate is a loud one.