Media and misogyny – Webinar held with the hard left

About the event

Discrimination based on gender is rife in the mainstream media. How and why do the media continue to promote forms of popular sexism and misogyny? From the (mis)representation of gender to transphobia to inequality in the workplace and the gender pay gap – how do we deal with media misogyny?

Blurb for the event

It was held by the Media Reform Coalition with the support of the Canary and Skwawkbox, two ultra-left UK media outlets, and was one of several events run over the course of a week in their Media Democracy Festival. I signed up because on Twitter I saw that a gender identity activist was narked because they were worried that no men would be on the panel. Not to fear!, the Media Reform Coalition responded quickly, we’ve got one. Of course, transphobia was one of the topics to be discussed anyway. It was recorded the same week that Sarah Everard was murdered following a walk on Clapham Common. The recording of the event is below.

The panel (copied from the blurb)

Published author Sarah Banet-Weiser is a Professor and Head of Department in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics.

Juliet Jacques is a writer, filmmaker and academic based in London. Her next book, a volume of short stories entitled Variations, is published in June 2021. She hosts Suite (212) on Resonance 104.4fm and teaches at the Royal College of Art and elsewhere.

Samira Sawlani is a journalist, writer and analyst with a focus on East Africa. She has a weekly column in The Mail & Guardian’s ‘The Continent’ and her work has been published in a range of publications including Al Jazeera, The Guardian and African Arguments.

Henna Zamud is an inclusion practitioner, director of arts festival @barelit & researcher of internet coloniality at Goldsmiths, and the former editor of @WritersofColour. She created @p4rsingpolitics, a podcast on decolonising the internet launching in spring 2021.

Each panel member had ten or so minutes to address the audience.

Sarah Banet-Weiser

Banet-Weiser said that misogyny was a core element in racist oppressive movements and this included transphobia. She said that people who ‘identify as men’ are represented as rational and honest.

Banet-Weiser was concerned that misogyny was being expressed more often and was becoming more violent and used the examples of men being represented as being hurt by women’s new found status, a claim that men were no longer confident because women were too confident, especially when men lose jobs to women – which made it sound as if she was giving credence to those things.

In particular, female journalists had been subject to threats, including doxxing and rape threats. Trump was cited as someone who had called female journalists stupid. However, Banet-Weiser failed to mention the disgusting and sustained attacks that JK Rowling had faced, nor any of the attacks on female journalists writing about women’s rights in the trans debate. Which is convenient.

Powerful women were the target of misogyny, for example, Meghan Markle was called a liar by Piers Morgan. This, apparently, is misogyny. Powerful women are the target of hate, she said, but then failed to explain why female politicians and big celebrities shouldn’t be publicly scrutinised.  

Banet-Weiser said we should think about misogyny as ‘a structuring force,’ which is just pretty words as far as I’m concerned.

Most revealingly though she failed to even mention web porn at all, not even one glib mention of Pornhub, which has million of hits everyday and hosts filmed sexual violence against women and children, and has had literally dozens of legal cases bought against them.

Samira Sawlani

Sawlani really didn’t have much to say. She was also of the mind that Meghan Markle was a persecuted woman, especially because she was black.

Other fascinating insights included the media does not exist in vacuum and that women were presented either as vixens or viragos. Female politicians are judged on their outfits and Sawlani said no one does this about men, forgetting the huge number of articles and memes about Donald Trump’s hair and weight.

Samira also felt that the Sun’s Page 3 should have gone ages ago, which is funny because it was wound up five years ago at least. Given her distaste for Page 3, I also thought she might mention porn, but it appears none of the panel members considered porn to be a form of media.

She did mention ‘sex workers’ though and the fact that people weren’t making the connection between the media and real life.

Juliet Jacques 

Jacques was there to talk about his expertise in the field of the newly made-up subject of ‘transmisogyny’ and cited Julia Serano author of Whipping Girl – A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity – whose idea is to rebrand misogyny to merely mean ‘loathing of femininity’. Jacques claims that ‘trans misogynists’ focus on trans-identified men and non-binary people, but ignores trans-identified females. 

Of course, ‘transmisogyny’ is about opposing bodily autonomy and the freedom to make personal decisions. Jacques said that criticism of ‘hormone blockers’ for children was often cast in emotive terms (conveniently forgetting it is his side which exploit suicide). Jacques assured the audience that hormone blockers were properly regulated, required parental consent and were fully reversible. 

With regards to sports, Jacques believes that sexism and transphobia are interrelated, since feminists believe that women are inherently physically inferior to men and described the campaign to save women’s sports as a new found interest.  

Transphobia in the media went back as far as the existence of trans people (bit of a self own here) to the mid-20th Century, which basically meant that the media had covered ‘transition’ stories. Trans Media Watch had tried to rectify things when it gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, in which it framed use of previous names (‘dead names’) and old photos as harassment, all accepted, of course, by Leveson as ‘unacceptable’. Nevertheless Jacques claimed that the Leveson decision had had no effect and that things were ‘getting worse’.

There were many different types of ‘transmisogyny’ – for example the tabloids had written about the costs to the NHS of surgery – Trans Media Watch had apparently written an article to correct the figures (not found on their website).

Jacques’ main beef though was the issue that women were talking about the issue of criminality and prisons and deliberately framing ‘trans women’ as ‘deceptive’ and ‘inherently criminal’. Rather than focus on the evidence that hundreds of men have now exploited gender identity (see TransCrimeUK), Jacques chose to focus on the untrue tabloid story regarding murderer Ian Huntley identifying as transgender. Unfortunately for Jacques, there are men who have committed crimes of a similar nature to Huntley- see Martin Ponting.

Jacques then went for the trope that the treatment of transgender and non-binary people was just like the 80s for gay people which had led to section 28.

He was also unhappy with broadsheet coverage and that people were asking for a debate on the issues.

The broadsheet approach is slightly different. The Times run numerous anti-trans opinion pieces written by cisgender men and women. It’s a mixture of this kind of conservative opposition that just attacks on traditional gender roles that they see trans and non-binary people as literally embodying. And a certain strand of feminist position that expresses concern about male infiltration of women’s spaces and appropriation of bodies and these lines of transphobia have adopted a similar tactic to a lot of the Alt Right in the US, which is to embed themselves through constant insistence on being debated, you know so, so this insistence on debate doesn’t really answer this question about who is setting the terms, whether the terms are fair …

Juliet Jacques, from 32 minutes

Jacques really wanted to discuss jobs, health and housing for trans and non-binary people and not have a debate about whether gender identity was a real discrete thing. He felt that the worst example of the debate so far was Channel 4’s Genderquake, in which Cathy Newman was unashamedly biased in favour of the trans activists invited onto the programme, including some toe curling fawning over Caitlyn Jenner, so in a way he’s right.

Of course, what Jacques and everyone else had objected to, was that a woman had yelled Penis! repeatedly at Munroe Bergdorf. Only this didn’t happen – see this excellent piece which neatly summarises the whole debacle written by Olivia, falsely accused of this outburst. Jacques had been invited to take part in this ‘dinner party debate’ but declined.

Jacques felt one of the key tactics was to make out trans people and trans activists were two different things, stating any trans person who spoke out on trans issues was de facto an activist. Trump was accused of wanting to ‘mandate trans people out of existence’. Liz Truss had stopped Gender Recognition Act reform from going ahead and he alleged that she was planning to pass laws to keep ‘trans and non-binary people out of single sex spaces’ (female only spaces are already protected in law) and thus try to bar trans and non-binary people from public life. These laws weren’t passed but were ‘introduced as a threat’ to make the GRA reform eventually passed ‘look better than they otherwise were’ (what reforms were these? – so many lies!).

Mainstream media had let trans people down, Vogue, Netflix, Vice, etc, (seriously) and Jacques felt a better tactic would be to build up their own media firmly on the left and with younger people, including Gal Dem (for ‘marginalised genders’), New Socialist (‘we believe socialism challenges the family, and includes a movement away from transphobia’), and the Tribune (longstanding socialist rag). Jacques then contradicted himself in admitting that the Tribune had published pieces which were gender critical. Oh well.

Statements of editorial commitments were helpful, as were ‘cisgender’ allies, like Owen Jones and Ellie Mae O’Hagan, who had been attack dogs when necessary (an oblique reference perhaps to OJ dutifully attacking Suzanne Moore).

Trans and non-binary should be given space to write about other things, rather than just purely their gender identities. This might lead to a more nuanced debate and hopefully into editorial positions where they could change the terms of discussions about the thing that they hadn’t written about thus far. Cool idea.

Q&A 

The host, Henna Zamurd-Butt, said that one theme present in all the presentations was around the issue of tech (not really).  She felt that Twitter hadn’t dealt with misogyny and queer people on its platform – if it had been designed by women, this wouldn’t have happened (thereby writing off the idea that any female, or indeed queer, coders might be responsible). Facebook’s real name policy (news to me) was discriminatory against trans people and posed a risk to their survival.

Zamurd-Butt believes that deep fakes and revenge porn are the same thing. Again, no concerns were voiced about porn otherwise.

Question: If a woman choses to be in the public eye, where do we draw the line between disagreement and discrimination? 

Banet-Weiser – constant rape threats are not okay.  

Zamurd-Butt – Priti Patel’s politics are reprehensible but she should not been on the receiving end of racialised misogyny.

Sawlani – Diane Abott had complained that men don’t experience the same level of abuse and goes beyond disagreement when it gets onto her appearance (again forgetting that Trump was pilloried for his appearance).  Priti Patel was problematic and criticising her personal appearance meant that focus was not on her ‘very problematic policies’. (Which makes it sound like the abuse Patel receives is conveniently letting her off the hook. Nevermind, I’m sure Sawlani didn’t mean it like that.) 

Jacques – Demurely agreed with everything.

Question: Are women more successful if they collude with misogyny in the media?

Banet-Weiser – easy to assume women can’t be misogynist, they can.  Conservative women benefit from misogyny, she said. 

Women are often even strategically positioned as the voice, the misogynistic voice against all the women who are complaining about this, right? […] If it’s a media platform, like Piers Morgan’s platform, it makes sense to have a co-host who is engaged in polite banter but actually not challenge the deep misogyny, misogynistic expressions that he continually espouses.

Sarah Banet-Weiser, 46.30 minutes onwards

Sawlani felt it was due to internalised misogyny.  It’s the sisterhood and we have stick together, but also it can stop you calling out problematic women. Silence is complicity, and Susanna Reid was an example of this. We can’t excuse Reid when Piers Morgan has accused a woman of colour of lying about her mental health. Not only that, but Reid has her own Twitter account that she can speak out on! As far as Katie Hopkins was concerned, Sawlani doesn’t ‘know what to call that‘ and thinks that Hopkins has got away with more because she is a white woman.

Jacques said that media rewarded people from minorities, which for him includes ‘cis women’, who don’t challenge societal prejudice.  More whinging about Priti Patel.

Question:  What about misogyny directed at ordinary women – i.e. single mothers and sex workers?  Why were the murders of two black women ignored? 

Sawlani said that single mothers in soap operas put a particular portrayal which is negative and in turn affected the way society viewed single mothers. She failed to give a single example. She said that sex workers had been represented as ‘women without agency’ since biblical times (not really compatible with the story of Mary Magdalene, but who needs facts?), and were never just portrayed as ordinary women.  

In case of murders, some (i.e. white) women were more memorable than others (i.e. black women). Hilariously Sawlani decided to admit she couldn’t remember the names of the Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry and decided to blame this on the press coverage for Sarah Everard. Then she said she couldn’t remember the name of another black murder victim, Blessing Olusegun, who is actually suspected to have drowned. I wonder how she knew about any of these cases if they hadn’t been covered in the press then? Perhaps she couldn’t remember the names because she wasn’t really that interested? She knew she was coming on a webinar to discuss the same, there was nothing stopping her doing her research beforehand. This is just lazy.

Sawlani continued that the coverage of ‘trans women’ would appear on Twitter and not on the mainstream news – ‘something is wrong there’ – such is her faith in social media. Again no examples given.

Jacques was asked his opinion on what Sawlani had said and was keen to show he cared and had listened.

Um, I er again, pretty much agree with all of that and yeah you know the um the media campaign against single mothers has been consistent [long sigh] throughout my lifetime. Something I remember very strongly growing up in the 90s.

Juliet Jacques, 55.40 minutes

Banet-Weiser had the amazing insight that ‘white celebrities’ (i.e. rich people regardless of colour in fact) had much more power than ordinary women.   Like Sawlani, she had also not done her homework, deciding to state that the UN Women had recently said that 95% of UK women had experienced some sort of harassment, but she wasn’t really that sure. Despite this, she ploughed on, claiming the harassment was manifested in all sorts of ways, including housing and the ‘gender pay gap’.

In fact, the report states that over 70% of UK women have experienced public sexual harassment, not 95%, and on a word search of the document (which has a foreword from self-ID architect Maria Miller) ‘housing’ and the ‘gender pay gap’ score nil results. Whoops!

The host closed that it had been an amazing discussion – everything is so interconnected and interwoven!


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