Is it time for the media to take responsibility for feeding fascism?

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The media loves a little political or social upheaval. In the wake of the disastrous result of the EU referendum, newspapers across the country have been relishing the chaos, as they churn out headline after headline, each more sensationalist than the last. The pound at its lowest value in 30 years! Racism and hate crime have gone up 500%! The numerous lies of the Leave campaign leave voters reeling! Xenophobia sweeps across the country!

Yet, something about their seeming outrage at the miserable state of affairs we are in leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Perhaps it is their positioning of themselves as objective observers, just as shocked as anyone by the horrific unfolding of events, when in so many cases, they helped to create the very climate that they are now reporting on? I have yet to find a mainstream media outlet that has acknowledged its own role in shaping public opinion in the lead up to the referendum, or in helping to fan the flames of racial intolerance.

Of course, the two worst offenders that spring to mind are The Sun and the Daily Mail, rather frighteningly, two of the biggest papers in the UK in terms of circulation. With headlines such as, “4000 foreign murderers and rapists we can’t throw out…and, yes, you can blame human rights again”; “Warning on UK Muslim ghettos” and “Migrants: How many more can we take?” from the Daily Mail, and The Sun’s equally pernicious headlines: “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for Jihadis” (a report that was described as hugely misleading and irresponsible), “Halt the asylum tide now”, “Draw a red line on immigration, Mr Cameron…We’re seeing red”, and “Where the Brex was won: Streets full of Polish shops, kids not speaking English…but Union Jacks now flying high again”, it is not difficult to see what role these papers have played in the public’s misconceptions on immigration, and the fueling of racial tension. For all that, in a move of rank hypocrisy and a glaring lack of self-awareness, The Sun had the audacity to call for racial tolerance after Brexit, sparking sharp criticism from James O’ Brien, among others.

Blame cannot be solely confined to these two papers, however. Even the supposedly impartial BBC has a lot to answer for in terms of contributing to the sorry state of affairs the UK is in. Right now, an open letter to the BBC is circulating, in which its nearly 200 signatories condemn the BBC’s decision to allow a fascist, complete with a swastika tattoo, airtime to espouse his beliefs unchallenged.

Even before the referendum, the BBC had been receiving complaints about its lack of partiality in political coverage. Last year, for instance, it decided to furnish UKIP with three party broadcasts a year, while giving the Green Party none at all, despite the fact that both parties had one elected MP each. Nigel Farage has appeared numerous times on Question Time, with much of the debate centering around UKIP and their policies whenever he or one of his MPs appears.

While UKIP receives (as reported in The New Statesman) “historically unprecedented levels of coverage for a minor party”, more progressive views are given short shrift. The aforementioned left-wing Green Party famously struggles to gain media coverage despite its growing membership and support, and was even excluded from election debates, leading MP Caroline Lucas to seek legal action. Even Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, currently in the spotlight due to the attempted coup within the party, has not enjoyed much publicity for his speeches or opinions.

The rise of dangerous politicians with outrageous soundbites, such as the UK’s Nigel Farage or Donald Trump in the US, raises some troubling issues which the media cannot ignore. In the age of clickbait social media, it is easy to see why ignorant political figures who spew offensive rhetoric at every turn get far more than their fair share of airtime — not only do they attract far-right supporters, delighted that their views are being spread on mainstream media, they attract an absolute avalanche of ‘outrage clicks’ and ‘outrage shares’ as well. Certainly more clicks and shares than nice, do-gooders like the Green Party or Jeremy Corbyn can whip up. Although the vast majority of those shares are done through a frame of ridicule or disgust, what has become increasingly clear over the past few months (years?) is that, for politicians at least, bad publicity is far preferable to no publicity at all.

Media outlets have to come to terms with the uncomfortable truth that, far from being mere reporters reflecting the public’s fears over immigration and intolerance of foreigners, they may be responsible for feeding that sentiment themselves. In a study by Murphy and Devine (2016), evidence was found suggesting that the relationship between media coverage and party support was one way, with media coverage driving party support, but not the other way around. A rather concerning line in the paper reads, “Additionally, qualitative investigation of the dynamics suggests that in at least two key periods of stagnating or declining support for UKIP, media coverage increased and was followed by increases in public support.”

Perhaps something for editors and broadcasters to bear in mind the next time they decide to give voice to extremist views.

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Who Owns Our Bodies?

Source: whoneedsfeminism.tumblr.com

Source: whoneedsfeminism.tumblr.com

Who owns your body? Well, you do, of course. But if you’re a woman, I’m afraid society doesn’t quite see it that way.

Earlier this week, Angelina Jolie made headlines when she disclosed her decision to undergo a preventative double mastectomy, to reduce her risk of breast cancer from 87% to less than 5%. While many were supportive of her choice and courage, hordes of outraged men (and some women) took to Twitter and Facebook to mock and condemn her for it. Among them were comments expressing sympathy for Brad (“Poor Brad”), jeering at Brad (“Serves him right for leaving Jennifer Aniston”), sadness for themselves that Angelina’s breasts had been removed (“There is no God”, “The best thing about her is gone”), as well as downright commands that she reverse the procedure (“Please put the boobs back on your chest”).

Here’s a small selection, credit to @isawfireworks on Twitter:

TwitterScreenshot

Let’s think about that for a little bit. Here is a woman, who is a world-famous actor, director and screenwriter, with Golden Globe and Academy awards to her name. Not only does she have a great career and a loving family, she is a UNHCR ambassador, and has invested her time and effort in bringing humanitarian aid around the world. But apparently, none of that matters. The greatest thing about her, that she should never let go of, no matter what the cost to her health, are her breasts.

We’ll come back to this later, but for now, let’s move on to another incident that ignited social media in the UK this week. UKIP, a far-right political party, has always been associated with offensive views, and yesterday saw them the butt of many a joke as it was revealed that one of their biggest donors believed that women wearing trousers were being deliberately hostile towards men. In fact, he believed this so deeply that he wrote an entire book about it, entitled ‘Women in Trousers: A Rear View’.

Here are some priceless quotes:

“Women have big bottoms, they are meant to have big bottoms. Countless women who would look lovely in dresses or skirts are embarrassingly unattractive in trousers.”

“Walk along any street and you see women using trousers like a uniform every single day. This is hostile behaviour. They are deliberately dressing in a way that is opposite to what men would like. It is behaviour that flies against common sense, and also flies against the normal human desire to please.”

Fortunately, his remarks were met with hilarity and ridicule, but as pointed out in the blog HerbsandHags, his comments are merely an extreme example of what many men truly feel — that they have a right to be pleased by the female body. Any, and every, female body.

And that is what links the incident of the hostile trousers with the backlash against Angelina Jolie. It stems from the idea that women’s bodies are public property, in particular, men’s property, and thus everything that a woman chooses to do with it is viewed as a way of pleasing them, or as an affront to them. It is for this reason that strange men on the Internet feel entitled to chastise Angelina Jolie for prioritizing her health over their right to ogle her breasts, and it is for this reason that whenever a woman is unhappy about her weight, random men think it a great comfort to her to proclaim, “It’s fine, I prefer larger women.” Because, didn’t you know, women’s bodies exist primarily for male pleasure.

The unspoken notion that it is not women, but men, who possess the rights to our bodies, is a dangerous one. Today, I was dismayed to find out that three men in Sweden had been cleared of rape charges, despite the horrific nature of what they had done, and the fact that they clearly had not had consent. (Read more about the case here. TW.) The judge’s verdict? “People involved in sexual activities do things naturally to each other’s body in a spontaneous way, without asking for consent.”

You see, when we are not considered to be the legitimate owners of our bodies, then our decisions regarding them become unimportant. Thus, the Swedish woman’s desire to not have something done to her body was seen as less valid than the rapists’ desire to carry it out; Angelina Jolie’s desire to have surgery was seen as less valid than men’s desire to leer at her breasts; and women’s desire to wear what they like is seen as less valid than men’s opinions on what they should be wearing. These vary in severity and the horror of their consequences, but it is the same pernicious mentality that underlies them all.

Who owns our bodies? We do. And it’s time the world knew that.