Feminists in the media

// 7 March 2012

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sexist jeans label

I was pleased to see our very own Holly Combe quoted in the Daily Mail today, injecting some much-needed thoughtful feminist analysis into its hate-filled pages. I particularly like Holly’s comment because she neatly avoids falling into the trap so often set up by mainstream journalists, where a relatively minor issue is picked up on and used to “prove” that feminists spend all our time getting our knickers in a twist about what any right-thinking individual would term “harmless fun”.

In this case, the Mail has picked up on Monday’s Twitter discussion surrounding the above label found in a pair of men’s trousers. The label includes the usual washing instructions, followed by the delightful “Or give it to your women – it’s her job”. This is obviously sexist and I personally find it mildly annoying, but according to the Mail it caused “outrage” and “sparked fury”. Cue outraged, furious feminist spokeswoman, right? Well, no. Holly’s comment is astute and proportionate to the crime, while drawing attention to the wider issues of which this label is a symptom:

It would be effectively ironic and “just a joke” if it weren’t for the fact that all too many women do still find that domestic tasks are still considered their job, regardless of the employment status of both partners. Instead, I think it’s a case of the usual double irony, where we have to pretend something is ironic when the undercurrent of the joke actually serves to put us in our place and persuade us not to offer any critique if we want to be seen to “have a sense of humour”.

It’s good that the mainstream media is seeking feminist opinions, and I’m personally happy to take any opportunity to get a bit of feminist analysis out there. It’s usually fairly easy to take a small instance of sexism and use it to illustrate a wider problem. However, the kind of issues we’re asked to comment on do reveal a very patronising attitude to feminism and, in some cases, an apparent desire to keep us in our place by portraying us as uptight, irrational killjoys. This is often accompanied by attempts to get us to judge and attack other women.

Examples of issues that I and other F-Word writers have been asked to comment on include:

Can you vajazzle and be a feminist?

Is it sexist to call a woman “love” or “dear”?

Does Katie Price let women down?

Should women take their husband’s name when they get married?

Is Rihanna a feminist icon?

Who should pay the bill on a date?

Is stripping an acceptable career choice?

Usually, we’re expected to be angry and outraged by these “hot” topics. And while some of them are interesting enough to merit discussion, what really outrages me is the fact that two women are killed every week in the UK by their partners or ex-partners, that disabled women will be forced even further into poverty and isolation by the government’s Welfare Reform Bill, that unemployed women are being used as slave labour by greedy corporations under the Tories’ workfare schemes, and that rapists are allowed to walk free while the girls and women they abuse are blamed for their actions. Yet apparently these are not the kind of things feminists can be called to quote on.

It just goes to prove that we can’t rely on the mainstream media to get feminist issues into the wider domain, and grassroots activism and self-publishing initiatives (like The F-Word, if I do say so myself) are incredibly important.

Comments From You

sianandcrookedrib // Posted 7 March 2012 at 10:47 am

I totally agree.

The week of the riots i was asked by the BBC to do a phone in on whether it was sexist for Olympic Beach Volleyball players to wear QR codes on their bikini bottoms. I turned it round to be about representation of women in sport but I then had my quotes taken out of context to make it look like i was a humourless anti-bums feminist!

Other hot topics – can women have it all? does diablo cody prove that women are equal in film? what do i think of a swingers club?

And then when i do get the chance to talk about violence against women and girls, the presenter spent most the time having a go at me for being ‘alarmist’ and questioning my (very rigorous) stats.

nicky clark // Posted 7 March 2012 at 10:54 am

Excellent points raised by this blog. This initiative is important. Love the F word. Nik x

joanne matthews // Posted 7 March 2012 at 12:02 pm

Yes, the mainstream media pick up on sometimes ‘frivolous’ topics and the ‘unsexy’ topics of injustice in rape cases, sexual harassment, violence against women are not in the media so much.

Sometimes the context of the newspaper or article suits the content. And also these topics do matter and have interesting discussions surrounding them – and they are connected to the serious issues that affect women.

However, saying this, a friend commented recently on some of my tweets, saying that feminism appeared too angry and put up a wall to those ‘outside’ it. I asked why and he picked he only picked out two examples. I guess people who are not engaged in feminist discussion and only see what is in the mass media – comments about clothing labels etc – are caught off guard if they hear read feminists talking about serious or violent issues with their own language, rather than with the language of the daily mail or whatever…

Jolene Tan // Posted 7 March 2012 at 1:23 pm

This x10,000.

Jennifer // Posted 7 March 2012 at 1:29 pm

i love the f-word and think this blog has real value to my daily life and understanding of where i stand in the world. I would just like to say thank you and keep up the great work :D j

Hannah M // Posted 7 March 2012 at 2:36 pm

Excellent post and so important at the moment, with all the familiar debates around IWD coming up. As I have highlighted in the past, I have been interviewed by a magazine journalist about feminism and every single question involved trying to get me to pass judgement on other women, or trying to get me to define what feminists can or can’t do.

“Can you be a feminist if you like fashion?”

“Can you be a feminist and a stay-at-home mum?”

It never changes and I’ve already been hearing of incidents in the past few weeks where women have been pressed for comments on Katie Price, makeup, etc as part of pieces on feminism. It’s BEYOND tedious now.

Luke // Posted 14 March 2012 at 2:47 am

I must say, as a once ardent feminist (and a bloke) I have found feminism steadily more and more irritating, but this is for theoretical reasons and hypocrisy (i wrote an article about it in the oxford student, name is luke buckley if you’re interested), and yes, i’m sorry to say, the whole idea of femininity as female empowerment via exaggerated and male defined sexual presentation (i’m with Levy on this one) drives me up the wall. BUT I absolutely agree with this article. I mean, it’s not an outrage, but it still shows the casually sexist attitudes that are pervasive in our society, and I think it’s quite sad if nothing else. What annoys me is everyone thinks it’s a bit of a joke. And it just perpetuates this reductionist ideology that feminism is nit picking, when the real issues of the day, such as the horrifically unequal impact of this government’s savage cuts on women, and the most vulnerable women such as single mothers (as if they didn’t have a hard enough time already), are ignored.

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