This event was organised to discuss what it means to be a feminist in the public sphere – both for individuals and for politicians and women who are in the public eye.
Everyday Victim Blaming made an excellent Storify of the event which you can find here
Round Table 1
The day kicked off with a panel of women discussing their feminism and how they navigate this with their jobs and private lives.
Lee Chalmers from the Women’s Equality Party spoke about her political career with the WEP and how the amount of press interest a woman receives directly correlates with the amount of internet trolling she gets. She used the example of Caroline Criado-Perez’s recent campaign to get a woman on a bank note, and the abuse she received as a result. Animosity towards women who express a public opinion is sadly nothing new – historian Mary Beard’s research shows that this aggression is deeply rooted in classical tradition, where public speaking was seen as a male domain.
Talat Yaqoob, director of Equate Scotland and Women 50:50, spoke from her perspective as a BME woman about the unique challenges that BME women face and her experiences with social media (great for cheap campaigning, not so good for reporting harassment). She also argued convincingly for the necessity of quotas. Common opponents to quotas often argue that hiring should be based on merit – as if men naturally have 65% more merit. We need to open doors for those people who have previously had doors closed to them. She also reminded us that if we wait for the ‘natural progression’ of equality, we will be waiting for the next 50 years, possibly more.
Emma Ritch, director at Engender, gave a painfully hilarious account of being named ‘Lying Feminist of the Month’ by MRAs – and how this ridiculous and laughable trolling can slip into an issue of public safety, where we do a ‘rapid risk assessment’ of the situation and how likely we are to be abused.She also spoke about the positive aspects of being a feminist online and how speaking out can connect you to some wonderful women!
Finally, Liz Ely, Zero Tolerance’s own Campaigns and Engagement Officer spoke about her personal feminism. The realities of men's violence against women are a powerful silencing tool, making it harder to be bold and outspoken as you grow up. We need to ensure we are supporting eachother and lifting up those who speak out.
Academic Panel 1
The first academic panel was a fascinating delve into the (often bizarre) world of the press and social media around both the Scottish Referendum and the EU Referendum. Fiona McKay of Strathclyde University presented some illuminating research on representations of gender in the press within the context of the Scottish referendum in 2014. Her research showed that women were criticised on their appearance and clothing at a much higher frequency than men – men’s clothing, appearance and manner is still seen as the standard, therefore when women appear in public it is seen as an aberration. Interestingly most of this inequality was found in the press, whereas Twitter did not demonstrate this same imbalance. This made us question why the press might be lagging behind.
Karen Ross, Professor of Gender and Media at Newcastle University, then presented her findings (so far) from studying Twitter around the general election. Some results were unsurprising – female MPs use Twitter much more to talk about ‘social (read non-political) issues’ such as food banks and poverty, whereas male MPs talked about economy and business. Male MPs took far more selfies. The overwhelming conclusion was that female politicians often use Twitter to ‘humanise’ themselves and also to regain a voice often denied to them by the media.
Academic Panel 2
The second academic panel included a discussion on women in the TV coverage surrounding the Scottish and EU referenda, presented by Marina Dekavalla and Alenka Jelen-Sanchez. Again unsurprisingly women are underrepresented on TV, even when accounting for gender disparity in these professions. BBC regulation guidelines state that no political side must be overrepresented, but dispiritingly there are no gender requirements. Women, shockingly, were only given 20% of airtime during the independence referendum.
It is vital that women are represented in media; this gives women opportunities to shape agenda, engage female voters and promote awareness of gender issues. Representation shows citizens what is their role in democracy, shows women that they are part of the debate.
Lauren Castillo Mateu presented her research on Institutional Feminism in Spanish culture. Public broadcasting in Spain is required to present narratives of womanhood beyond "the beautiful face" and Laura spoke about how this related to popular Spanish TV show 'Isabel'. It was a fascinating way to read change in both political systems and feminism in Spain.
Round Table 2
The second roundtable, and last discussion of the day, was titled ‘Writing & Speaking as a Feminist’.
Kirsty Strickland who won our 2015 Write Awards bursary and now writes for Women for Independence spoke about the fact that the male dominated media means that everything is seen through a male lens, making it impossible to truly represent a wide spectrum of points. It also creates a world where the male voice is the standard and a female voice is automatically dissent – explaining why women get the majority of online abuse. Women are under-utilised when only asked to speak on "women's issues" - this also flags up the huge problem of what is/isn't coded as "women's issues.
Claire Heuchan, who writes the Sister Outrider blog, and tweets under @ClaireShrugged, spoke about how black feminism has shaped her life and writing. She spoke about ‘imposter syndrome’ – something that affects women overwhelmingly and how she worked to overcome that feeling. Claire also spoke about how important it is that women of colour do not have their experiences ignored - as feminists we need to make sure we think about the concerns of all women.
Kirstein Rummery, Co-Director of the Centre for Gender & Feminist Studies at the University of Stirling, was the final speaker of the day. Her talk focused on the gender imbalance in academia and her experience with internet trolling. While we can laugh off trolls, their effect is still sinister and silencing and unfortunately women are still seen as responsible for not inciting harrassement. Kirstein also spoke about the importance of owning your expertise - when the call comes for an expert you should feel entitled to speak!
Key points we talked about during the day
During Women, Media and Politics we were shown a huge amount of depressing statistics and commentary regarding women in the media and politics. Women are still underrepresented, talked over and objectified. Despite this, it was wonderful to attend an event where well qualified women stood up to talk about their personal, professional and political experiences without fear of push back. There were so many inspiring women speaking and attending the event, with a variety of backgrounds. And of course the Glasgow Women’s Library was instrumental in making this such a welcoming, inspiring place to hold such an event.
Important points that we will take away