Did Leveson adequately cover sexism in media?


4:16 pm - November 30th 2012

by Sunny Hundal    


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A wide coalition of women’s groups were among those who lobbied Lord Justice Leveson to address sexism in the media.

In September they submitted a letter to the inquiry and the Prime Minister arguing that newspapers ‘sexualised violent crimes against women’ and helped to ‘normalise rape’.

In a report, the coalition of groups said:

We found numerous instances of violence against women coming across as sexual and titillating.

We call this ‘rape culture’ because this reporting of violence against women and girls not only trivialises the abuse, but it further contributes to an increasingly conducive context for rape and sexual abuse to take place with impunity.

The submission to Leveson was from the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Eaves, Equality Now and Object.

So how did Lord Justice Leveson respond? He certainly acknowledged their concerns, stating that the tabloid press often failed to show consistent respect for the dignity and equality of women generally.

Of greater potential concern to the inquiry is the degree to which the images may reflect a wider cultural failure to treat women with dignity and respect and/or a practice which, intentionally or not, has the effect of demeaning and degrading women.

The report also endorsed their recommendation that the new watchdog should take complaints from representative women’s groups, and said that the new body should be able to intervene in discriminatory reporting and reflect equalities legislation.

EVAW have sent out a release today saying they were “delighted” that the Leveson report reflected their concerns and took on board their recommendation.

They added:

There is wide debate right now about #mediasexism and we believe we are in a watershed moment for instituting change in the way our press portrays women. Just ahead of the Leveson Report working with other women’s groups we published a two-week study of the prejudicial way the national press reports on women.

See the new online project #everydaymediadsexism, in partnership with everydaysexism, where people are sharing their experiences of media sexism.

The Leveson report also acknowledged that Muslims were not being treated fairly by the press. It stated that sections of the press “betray a tendency,” which it add is far from universal, to “portray Muslims in a negative light”.

Most of the press has of course ignored these points. The question now is whether anything comes out of these recommendations.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


I’m far from “delighted”. This sounds to me like fancy PR platitudes designed to “keep the women happy”.

“greater potential concern”? What does that even mean?

When push comes to shove… how exactly will women’s groups, along with this mythical “watchdog”, be able to coerce the Murdoch empire to give up on what’s essentially a cash cow?

a cash cow?

I wonder how a sexist metaphor like this is tolerated by the comment policy here.

From that link

Lord Leveson says there is evidence to show that the “Page 3 tabloid press often failed to show consistent respect for the dignity and equality of women generally, and that there was a tendency to sexualise and demean women”, in particular the Sport.

As the Sport is irreformable, I presume this is a call for it to be banned.

He agreed with the key recommendation of the women’s groups that “what is clearly required is that any such [new] regulator has the power to take complaints from representative women’s groups”.

What on earth are they?
Personally I’d go along with this view more.

The misogyny of the anti-Page 3 brigade.
The prudes trying to strip the tabloids of topless pics belittle women far more than any male reader could.

Did the Leveson report adequately cover media sexism ?

No. Neither did it cover the media’s complete failure to cover zero-hour contracts, or the media’s failure to connect mass immigration with increased social atomisation.

It’s terrible when a towering icon of righteousness (which we can all agree describes the good Lord) fails to address our particular hooby-horses.

“hobby”

Via OP: “In September they submitted a letter to the inquiry and the Prime Minister arguing that newspapers ‘sexualised violent crimes against women’ and helped to ‘normalise rape’.”

September which year, of course, has to be asked. One year is at the start of the inquiry and the other is towards the end.

Leveson was not asked to analyse reporting of sex crimes or media sexualisation. He made a brief comment upon them. A wise person may tell us more in the future.

I think sudoku is too hard too – yet Leveson barely mentions it.

It’s like it just wasn’t within the remit of the enquiry.

Obviously not defending the tabloid press but groups like Object are nothing but middle class feminists who dictate how working class women earn money and try to stop them from working in the sex industry because they dissaprove of it.

As predicted, the left wing authoritarians are unable to contain their excitement at the opportunity to curtail the prole’s disagreeable reading habits.

@2

a cash cow?

I wonder how a sexist metaphor like this is tolerated by the comment policy here.

Dunno, perhaps the moderators know about the growth-share matrix. The ‘cow’ in the metaphor ‘cash cow’ is a moo cow, by the way, that gets milked for all it’s worth.

Sorry, but wasn’t the whole Leveson thing started off because of the apalling way in which reporters hacked phones and promoted dodgy stories It was nothing to do with sexism or page 3. That was just the middle class femminist brigade trying to hijack things for their own ends – again – and failing dismally – again.

When will it finally sink in that most women have more pressing concerns – like paying the rent, finding childcare and actually getting the rights and benefits that they are supposedly guaranteed by law?

Ever noticed how so many concerns of the middle class feminist brigade are about stopping other women from working in jobs they deem “unsuitable”?

I’m certainly not middle class, and i have been offended by page three. It happened when i was working and someone who should have known better, showed it to some teenage boys with special needs i was supervising. They looked at it and then looked me saying, thats you.

I wish. Having said that, i was extremely embarrassed and upset as i was supposed to be in charge of these boys.

It may not be so important to Levenson and it may be thought of as a bit of harmless fun. But page three is offensive to many women whatever their class.

13. Richard Carey

@ 12 Lynne,

“But page three is offensive to many women whatever their class.”

Just because it offends, does that mean it should be prohibited by law? If so, can we ban Marxism, Brian Cox and Lady Gaga as well, all of which are offensive to me?

Bizarrely, The Sun has made page 3’s woman-hating nature transparent with the “news in briefs” rebrand. A paragraph appears next to the model giving her views on a topic of the day (all topless models are hard-liners on crime, it seems) and rounded off with a quote from Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson or the like. Whether or not the model has actually heard of Thomas Jefferson, the snickering sub-text of Page 3 is now “Poor airhead, she has no idea who he is.”

I think the left made a tactical mistake in politicising Page 3 in the 1980s. The Sun was forced to defend it as a key part of the brand. Dropping it now would look like too much of a retreat. I believe they would like to – given the circulation threat from the nipple-free Daily Mail. Rebekah Brooks actually argued that page 3 was hurting circulation when she was deputy editor, but left it alone when she got the top job. It’s noticeable that the Page Three model covers up on Saturdays, when more newspapers are brought into the family home. If the left had just kept quiet in the 80s, I think page 3 would have been left to wither on the vine and would now be just as much a cultural oddity as the George and Lynne cartoon.

13
I’m not suggesting it should be banned, but it doesn’t alter the fact that it’s sexist which is why the sun does not have naked pictures of men.

16. Shatterface

I wish. Having said that, i was extremely embarrassed and upset as i was supposed to be in charge of these boys.

Were you as upset as you would have been if someone had intercepted your missing daughter’s voicemail giving you the false hope she was still alive?

The reason tax payers were happy to throw money at this enquiry was that the behaviour of the press had been downright criminal, not merely ‘offensive’.

Why should we piss taxpayers money up the wall just to confirm that people who are offended by page 3 are still offended and those who are not are still not?

Did the enquiry cover class hate and antisemitism at The Guardian and the New Statesman? No, because it wasn’t Leveson’s job – however much we might like it to have been.

17. Derek Hattons Tailor

Most of the media I see puts women on an unassailable pedestal with the fetishisation of female employment, female consumption, female emotional intelligence and all round wonderfulness whereas men are all presented as emotionally retarded, feckless, drunk, wife beaters who deserve everything they get. Sexist yes, but not in the way the OP is arguing

@2 pjt

‘Cash cow’ isn’t a sexist metaphor. What makes you think it is?

19. Churm Rincewind

@ 15 Lynne

You’re right, the Sun does not carry photographs of semi-naked men. But there are many other magazines which do. Indeed, the Daily Mail used to carry a “Daily Male” feature which did exactly that.

So I’m not sure of your point here. Are you saying that all pictures of semi-naked attractive people are by their very nature sexist? Would you condemn (for example) Heat Magazine’s “Torso of the Week” as unacceptably sexist?

It does seem to be a matter of taste more than anything to me. Some people find ”sexy” pictures and ads in the media offensive – or would at least wish they weren’t there.
If topless pictures were phased out of newspapers, what then of Zoo and Nuts magazines? Should they be in polythene bags on the top shelf with the porn?
Should all porn be shipped out to dedicated sex shops? Maybe even Anne Summers should stop doing window displays and having 10 foot posters of models in lingerie on their shop fronts.

And then you have those trailers for the subscription porn channels on the Freeview box. With women writhing around half naked, urguing you to dial up the number and subscribe.
It’s just as well we didn’t have them when I was at school.
But should they be banned too? To bring us more in line more with countries in the Middle East perhaps?

21. Derek Hattons Tailor

@19 and 20 Some women – usually middle class mumsnet types with too much time and not enough sex on their hands – do indeed think that nuts and zoo should be treated as porn. They use a slightly confused argument that “involves children shouldn’t be able to see women in lingerie when buying sweets/its offensive to me/demeaning to women”. These are usually the same women that insist on a woman’s “right” to breast feed in public and no doubt avidly read, or used to “position of the month” type articles in Cosmopolitan (available anywhere with sex all over the front cover and the inside) and the like.
And there are loads of magazines (mens health etc.) with topless men all over them which they also don’t apparently object to. Funnily enough these tend to be read by middle class, salaried professional men, whereas nuts and zoo are read by white working class men with crap jobs and an (un)healthy interest in female breasts. Go figure what they are really objecting to.

@21

..shouldn’t be able to see women in lingerie when buying sweets/its offensive to me/demeaning to women”.

I think they are kind of demeaning to women, but what are we supposed to do about that? I find hijabs demeaning also, but I wouldn’t call for their ban, or even think they are really worth talking about. It’s just what you have in a modern society. You have to tolerate these things.
A pet hate of mine is guys showing too much of their underpants: sometimes the belt is below the whole of the buttocks, and it grates a bit. But as we don’t live in Istanbul or Cairo where such a thing would be considered grossly offensive, it’s best to just silently mock the person in your own head.
Maybe that’s what to do if you find that sexualised photos displayed in public offend.

@ 19 Curm Rincewind

Are you saying that all pictures of semi-naked attractive people are by their very nature sexist?

Ian Faith “They’re not going to release the album because they have decided that the cover is sexist”.

Nigel Tufnel “But so what? What’s wrong with being sexy”?

“but it further contributes to an increasingly conducive context for rape and sexual abuse to take place with impunity.”

Yeah, things are getting worse and worse for women aren’t they?

Oh wait no, it’s the opposite.

21

Have you got any references for the quotes you attribute to middle class mumsnet types or are you attempting some pseudo-Freudian analysis?

I would guess that most of the objection isn’t about naked bodies per se but the symbolism of the body language presented by page 3 models and compare to eg a Reuben’s bare breasted painting.

Q: Did Leveson adequately cover sexism in media?

If anyone thinks that 13 pages on women and minorities in a 2000-page report is ‘adequate’, then maybe.

On the other hand, Hundal makes no mention of the Leveson’s response to transgender groups (were they part of the 13 pages, I wonder?). Moreover, disabled groups were not allowed to submit oral evidence to Leveson, despite the evidence of the hostile reporting of disabled people (especially those claiming benefits or having to deal with Atos).

But then Leveson was not set up to address whether people found Page 3 offensive (and I’m not a fan), because that was not the biggest problem with either News International or the press in general which led to the inquiry being set up in the first place.

(Yes, I’m aware this could be classified as ‘whataboutery’, but it’s not as though ‘women’ and ‘minorities’ have the same issues, unless it is to do with how they are reported on – in which case why omit other groups like the disabled?)

PS: Will EVAW get to be one of the ‘representative’ women’s groups allowed to submit to a new press regulator? What if it’s the Women’s Institute or a sex workers’ rights group instead?

27. Chaise Guevara

@ redpesto

Good point – there’s no such thing as a single representative feminist stance, and the “objectification” issue is one of the bigger faultlines.

Personally, I don’t think regulation should be anywhere near Page 3 unless it’s in terms of putting an age restriction on the paper, ensuring certain images aren’t on the front cover, and so on.

I’m uncomfortable with the idea of a regulator taking its cues from political interest groups. In advertising, the generally good ASA sometimes has to ban adverts because they’re deemed to cause offence – one example was a picture of a man dressed as a priest kissing a woman dressed as a nun. The idea of the press being held to such restrictions is frightening.

At most, I think press regulation should cover systematic demographic misrepresentation. For example, if a certain paper is in the habit of putting murders committed by non-whites on the front page, while burying those committed by whites, perhaps it should be made to answer for its decisions. And I’m not even sure about that.

Derek Hattons Tailor Re comments 17 + 21:

Thank goodness there is someone out there who can see the hypocritical rot that this is.

steveb Re coment 25:

“I would guess that most of the objection isn’t about naked bodies per se but the symbolism of the body language presented by page 3 models and compare to eg a Reuben’s bare breasted painting.”

Surely you can see it’s not just the symbolism of the body language that differs between a Page 3 girl and a Rubens figure…….

Page 3 girl = big boobs + small hips + soppy smile (Girls Aloud)
Rubens figure = small boobs + huge backsides + enigmatic stare (Susan Boyle)

The Rubens figure looks like the woman next door whereas the Page 3 girl looks like her elder daughter, who used to babysit the kids. Mmmmm.

30. Chaise Guevara

@ 29 Kojak

Ignoring your autobiographical aside at the end there, I’d say you’re just describing different ideals of beauty through place and time.

Interestingly, there do seem to be certain constants that defeat such societal trends. Which is why most men will laugh in your face if you accuse them of wanting women to all be size-zero supermodels.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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