Representation

This morning before I logged into my Twitter account I took some time to look at the tweets featured on the log-in page. Many of them have pictures associated with them and it was these that caught my attention. Each page has six or eight featured posts, I had to scroll down a couple of times before I found any pictures including a woman… and then there were three – one of a model in a tiny swimsuit, one of three models in underwear on horseback and one of a ‘celebrity’ in her bra. I continued scrolling and the first fully-dressed woman I found was the queen, followed by Angela Merkel. By the time I reached them, I had seem pictures of men in suits, men in sweatshirts, men in casual wear, men in sports kit, men in uniforms… but no men in their underwear. I had seen male politicians, sports stars, pop stars, ‘celebrities’ and male members of the public, but the first women I encountered were there for their bodies to be lusted after. The first woman who I might admire because of her brain (rather than looks or birth) – Angela Merkel.

Of course once I had logged into Twitter, my feed contained pictures and tweets from all sorts of women – scientists, farmers, business owners, crafters… you name it… and not a single one flashing her underwear. Of course that’s a reflection of the people I choose to connect with, but it clearly demonstrates that the public face of Twitter in no way reflects life as I experience it.

DSCF0810

Here’s a picture from a course I taught – there’s men, there’s women

And it’s not just “shallow” social media that is guilty of not reflecting real life. Think about the last film you watched. Were there more men or women in it? Was there a full range of characters of both genders? Was there a full range of ages of both genders? I’m guessing that in most cases the answer is no. There’s been a big hoo-ha recently about the absence of racial diversity in Hollywood, as reflected in the Oscars. Women are not missing in this sense, but they are remarkably poorly represented in films in general, and when they are there, they are often in the form of minimally developed characters. The now classic way to assess a film (or any other work of fiction) is to apply the Bechdel Test – have you heard of it? Basically it asks whether a work features at least two named women who talk to each other about something other than a man. Not a lot to ask from a film you’d think. but you’d be surprised how often works of fiction fail this test. Now I’m not saying that passing the Bechdel test makes a movie good, representative of life or even that it provides good female role models. Indeed, it’s not relevant to all films – for example a film sent in the WWI trenches –  but it’s shocking to realise that so much of the entertainment out there does not pass. For example, The Bechel Test Movie List web site contains a database of 6341 movies and of these 3654 (57.6%) pass the test; so 43.4% fail. And it’s not exactly demanding is it? Good grief Legally Blonde passes simply because a couple of women talk about their dogs in a scene or two and Alien passes only because Ripley and Lambert have a brief conversation about the alien.

 

And, do you know, I’m fed up with this? Don’t want to watch rom coms just to see women portrayed on screen. Hell, I don’t want to watch rom coms at all in general – they are often peopled by shallow and clichéd characters irrespective of gender. I want to be able to watch a film with an even mix of women and men… I want some of the women to be over 35 and not to look like models, I want some of the women to be over 50 but not to be crones or grannies and I want the women to be scientists and commanders and goodies and baddies and have depth to their characters and not just be submissive or victims …

Perhaps it’s fantasy, but it would make me a darn sight less irritated. And it would make me feel that we were providing girls and young women with positive role models and opening their eyes to the wealth of options that they have in their lives.

For the time being we’ll just have to keep writing our blogs and Tweets and sharing our stories and ensuring that women, in all of their glory and complexity, have a voice at least in some spheres of society.

Men!

Drilling Holes in Palletgate - that'll teach it!

A manly activity?

As you probably know, I’m a woman… I have a gender-neutral title (Dr) and first name (Jan) and this does quite often lead to people being surprised about my gender, but I really am female. I like the fact that I’m ambiguous in this way – although it can be annoying when people assume that the ‘Dr’ in our house is Mr Snail and so I must be Mrs Snail. I know that more than half of my readers here are female and that is probably because of some of the subjects I write about (more women than men knit and crochet) but not all… I suspect that gardening is practiced by the two genders equally and all my posts about reducing consumption and leading a ‘greener’ life are intended to be applicable to anyone.

When it comes to gender, we are often exposed to stereotypes, especially in the media, who would have you believe that only men like engines and all women are avid followers of fashion… despite all evidence to the contrary. A shining example of the perpetuation of such nonsense was the ‘make-up free selfie’ craze on social media last year – where women were encouraged (by whom? I ask myself) to post a picture of themselves without make-up, when the real fact is that many women, like me, simply never wear make-up or only wear it very occasionally. So every picture you can find of me (and many of my friends) on social media shows a person without make-up… what you see is what you get. But we are led to believe that this is not true. By whom and to what end I cannot say for sure, but you have to guess that marketing is implicated somewhere.

I was inspired to write this post because of an article I read yesterday about images of women in social media. The author’s contention was that “The broader message to women couldn’t be clearer: SeXXXy images are appropriate, but images of women’s bodies doing normal women body things are not”. Up to a point, this is true, but it was the following statement that really got me thinking:

It’s men that social media giants are “protecting” – men who have grown up on sanitized and sexualized images of female bodies. Men who have been taught to believe by pop culture, advertising and beyond that women’s bodies are there for them. And if they have to see a woman that is anything other than thin, hairless and ready for sex – well, bring out the smelling salts. (Jessica Valenti, The Guardian 30 March 2015)

And what I thought was… men are not all that stupid. At least the men I hang out with aren’t. OK, hormone-fueled adolescents may fit into this model and heterosexual men may well enjoy this imagery, but that is not the way that women should perceive men. In fact, this sort of imagery plays to commercial interests much more than to “men”… encouraging all of us to fit into specific stereotypes that can only be achieved by spending money on clothes, gadgets, make-up or whatever.

But men are a diverse bunch, you know*? There are men who are power-hungry and domineering, but there are also men who are kind and gentle. There are men who use their greater physical strength to intimidate and subjugate, but there are also men who use this to dig the garden, carry the heavy sacks of bird seed and lift the washing machine when the anti-vibration feet need repositioning. Men account for about half the world’s population, so there is bound to be a bit of diversity and it seems unfair to place them all in the same category. Don’t get me wrong, I accept that there are traits that are more likely to be exhibited by men than by women, but that does not mean that all men are the same.

It certainly concerns me that the political system in the UK is so adversarial and this is the result of it having been designed by power-hungry men at a time when women had no input, but you can’t blame a whole gender for that. The individuals who were aggressive and sought power through might were the ones who came to dominate in the past and so the political and social structures that suit them that have become embedded in our country. We shouldn’t stand for it – democracy means it shouldn’t be the case any more, but the system is designed to be self-perpetuating. Women and men who are not comfortable with the adversarial nature of politics tend not to engage actively, because they are forced to operate in a system that is alien to them. And thus, the bullies and domineering individuals come to the fore and succeed in gaining power. It’s not about gender per se, it’s about whether you can work within the system.

So, let us not be duped by the media into regarding all men as potential rapists and all women as potential victims. Let us celebrate the diversity and strengths of all individuals, irrespective of gender. And let us find a way forward, collectively, in which all of us can contribute and have an equal voice and representation (in the media and in politics) without having those who want to make money out of us or gain power defining the right way to look and act.

-oOo-

* You may even be one yourself!

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