Feminists in the media

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.

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