Friday, 25 November 2011

How the representation of women is a form of violence against women: Part 1

This is part of a paper I delivered in the 'Representation as Violence' panel at the Gendered Violence conference organised by UWE. I haven't included the first part of the paper that discussed rise of feminist activism and the reps project results as they have been written about elsewhere on the blog, here:
and here:

Part 1: Cultural Femicide

So what? So, most of the films in the cinema are directed by men. Most of the books
in awards shortlists are written by men. So what if most the winners of the Mercury
prize are men, outnumbering women by more than 2 to 1, or that the majority of
artists performing at Glastonbury in 2010 are men (71% in fact). So what if only 7%
of BAFTA winning screenwriters are women. So what?

Well, what these numbers tell us is that men's culture, men's stories and men's lives
are being told, they are the default. They are the norm and any alternative version,
such as women's stories or women's culture, is considered 'other' or 'specialist'.
Women, despite being 51% of the population, are not mainstream.

And I believe that this sidelining of women, this invisibility of women is a form
of violence. Because it is cultural femicide. It sends the message that women’s
experiences and women’s lives do not count, that we do not deserve to be seen or
heard. It tells us that we are ‘other’ and as a result the voices and lives of women
become othered.

The impact of this othering can be seen all around us. An interesting example that
I came across last month was the release in the UK of the iPhone 4S, and Siri.
For those of you who don’t know, Siri is the PA function on the iPhone, which talks
and responds to the phone owner via voice recognition. In the USA, Siri has a
woman’s voice, because market researchers found that consumers in the US like
the supportive and nurturing sound of a woman’s voice. But in the UK, Siri is a
man. Why? Because research found that in the UK, consumers respond best to an
authoritative voice. In the UK, authority is male. And why is this? Well, just look
around us. The current cabinet has more millionaires in it than women. The number
of women in board positions on the FTSE 100 list still remains pitifully low, barely
above 13%. The result of this lack of women in authority, this lack of women in
decision-making positions, has big implications. It means women’s voices are not
heard and that the impact of decisions on women is not considered. We just have to
look at the devastating effect of the coalition’s emergency budget on women to see
how true this is.

This silencing, this ignoring, this cultural femicide is a form of violence. It tells us that
women don’t matter. And, of course, the result of this silencing of women can result
in actual physical and sexual violence. One of the issues of the coalition cuts has
been the decimation of domestic violence support services, at a time when in 2010
rates of domestic violence increased by 25%. 90% of the victims and survivors of
intimate partner violence are women. The lack of women in decision making roles,
caused by the invisibility and dismissal of women as citizens of the world, is creating
a situation where decisions can be made that cause great harm to women, whilst
those decision makers avoid being held to account. We know that the vast majority
of domestic violence incidents are unreported. In a culture that silences women’s
voices, can we still be surprised at this?

The lack of representation of women in the media also leads to the furthering of
negative stereotypes about women and men. A recent online row between numerous
feminists and the comedy show Mock the Week revealed the scarcity of women
comics on TV panel shows. In its 5 year history, 18 out of 637 guests have been
women, and it is the comedy TV panel show that is least likely to feature women.
The invisibility of women on this show and shows like it perpetuates negative
stereotypes about women not being funny, and re-enforces a cycle that excludes
women from an industry. Now think about how often you hear or see women on other
TV shows – from University Challenge to Newsnight to CBeebies. Glastonbury. The
Oscars. Where are the women? Why are we not being seen or heard? And how
is this cultural silence preventing the next generation from taking their place in the
industries that currently unofficially exclude them? This exclusion, this refusal to
welcome women on equal terms in our cultural landscape maintains a status quo
that others and silences women. It upholds negative stereotypes that deny women
equality of opportunity. This is cultural femicide and this is violence.

I hope that has explained why as a feminist activist, I believe that the invisibility of
women in our cultural landscape is a form of violence against women and girls. I will
now try to explore how the ways in which women are represented as objects for male
consumption is also a form of violence, as well as a cause of violence against women
and girls. prejudice-behind-digital-voices research/hosb1011/

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