Thursday, 27 August 2009

Real Women - draft amendment

I've finally got around to reading the new Lib Dem policy paper Real Women today.

On the whole, I think it's pretty good stuff. It tackles issues that affect women, without making me as a man feel I'm engaged in a massive conspiracy against the entire female population. It proposes lots of sensible, practical ways in which to enable women to improve their own lives.

But there are flaws in the motion that Lib Dem federal conference will be discussing next month when we get together in Bournemouth. There are parts of it which assume that some of the problems it seeks to address can be solved by state regulation, rather than through cultural change, which I think is a wrong-headed approach.

In particular, I'm thinking of the proposals relating to how women are portrayed in the media. These are either utterly impractical and unenforceable (eg the proposals governing how pictures can be modified) or involve the sort of petty state regulation that Lib Dems should be opposing. The proposals on lessons on body-image involve the sort of centralised control of education that I thought we were against. And the idea to introduce 'name blanking' for job applications is just silly bureaucratic nonsense.

That's why I've drafted this amendment, which I'm seeking support for. It's only a draft at the moment, so this may not be quite the final version, but if you're a Lib Dem federal conference voting rep and wish to support it, email me at bernardsalmon[at]cix.co.uk (replace the [at] with an @). I'll need your name, Lib Dem membership number and your local party.

This is the amendment:

Delete sections 3 and 4 (lines 39-52) and replace with:

3. Proposals to challenge the often narrow portrayal of gender roles within the media, but recognising that this can best be done through a process of cultural change rather than by regulation by the state.


4. Proposals to empower young girls (and boys) to challenge conformity and to decrease their chances of developing eating disorders by encouraging schools and local authorities to develop age-appropriate lessons on body-image and media literacy as part of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) in schools.


Delete section 6(d) (lines 65-66).

These are the relevant sections of the motion as they currently stand:

3. Proposals to challenge the narrow and overly sexualised aesthetic presented in the media and popular culture by:

a) Requiring OFCOM and the ASA to mainstream gender equality into their regulation of the media.
b) Requiring all advertisements to declare the extent to which digital retouching technology has been used to create overly perfected and unrealistic images of women (and men).

4. Proposals to allow young girls (and boys) the space to challenge conformity and to decrease their chances of developing eating disorders by:

a) Banning the use of digital retouching technology in advertisements aimed at under 16s, which creates overly perfected and unrealistic images of women (and men); we would work with industry professionals to ensure that legislation was appropriately worded to reflect these aims.
b) Providing age-appropriate lessons on body-image and media literacy as part of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) in schools.

6. Plans to tackle discrimination at work and in pay by:
d) Introducing a 'name blanking' policy so that job applicants apply with National Insurance numbers.

28 comments:

Jennie said...

I'm with you on the body image stuff, but I do think that the name-blanking is important - not just for sex discrimination, but race discrimination too. It's easy to implement, and I'm not really sure what your issue with it is?

Bernard Salmon said...

Jennie, my issue with the name blanking thing is that it won't make a blind bit of difference whether women get jobs or not. I suspect most employers will tend to realise whether or not someone is female when it gets to the interview stage. If they are determined not to appoint a woman, that'll be the case whether names are given or not.
Besides, it would be very difficult to remove all gender information from job applications. For instance, I grew up in Folkestone, where a significant proportion of the population went to Folkestone School for Girls. Are those people to be prevented from mentioning the name of their school on their application in case an employer manages to work out that they might possibly be female?

Jo Christie-Smith said...

Bernard,

You mention that these problems can be solved through a cultural change - how do you propose that happens?

It's just that leaving it to a 'cultural change' seems a bit woolly to me and rather difficult to put into a policy framework.

Jennie said...

I seem to recall seeing research that says you are dead wrong on that, because people get rejected subconsciously at the applicagtion stage before they ever get to interview, but my google fu is failing me. Let me get back to you?

Bernard Salmon said...

Jo, if you think that the idea of cultural change is too woolly, can you therefore give me your take on how the (ungrammatical) idea of 'mainstreaming' gender equality into media regulation would actually work in practice without being unduly proscriptive and damaging freedom of expression or, at the other extreme, being rather woolly itself. This is not something that the state can or should be getting involved in.

Jo Christie-Smith said...

Oh, come now Bernard, you haven't even attempted to answer my question to you!

How do we achieve cultural change, Bernard, without actually doing something to make it happen?

My assumption is that because you've mentioned that cultural change should take place that you would prefer *some change* rather than for it to remain on the same trajectory. So, how do you propose to bring it about?

'Cos without setting out some way of actually achieving that cultural change, what you're actually suggesting, it seems to me, is that we do nothing.

Bernard Salmon said...

Jo, cultural change encompasses all sorts of things, from Anna Ford complaining about the sexism of BBC bosses to education about the causes and effects of anorexia, to take just two examples. It is not a process which can be or should be controlled by state regulation or legislation. You wish to put the whole issue into a 'policy framework', to use your earlier phrase, when the subjects involved are far too complex for that.
Now, how about you answer my question: what is your take on how the 'mainstreaming' of gender equality into media regulation can be achieved without being either too proscriptive or too woolly?

JaneWatkinson said...

Just wondered how do you propose to change cultural attitudes? They are so engrained, it wont be easy. Surely by regulation of the way females are portrayed we would be able to change the cultural attitudes?

Jane

Bernard Salmon said...

Jane, I do not believe that such regulation can be both effective and liberal. The only way that cultural attitudes will change is the way they always have - by people taking up issues, educating, campaigning and protesting. Legislation and regulation is not the answer.

JaneWatkinson said...

I can see where you are coming from, but I think that in terms of advertising, as we are often talking about big companies, it will take more force than just people campaigning. So state is not the preferably way, but we have to be realistic and realise that some times the state is needed to help spur on changes, such as cultural ones.

Jane

Jo Christie-Smith said...

Well, I don't feel I have to answer your question Bernard..as I've not stated where I stand, or come up with an amendment. No, I'm more interested in your amendment and how it would actually work.

I'm keen to get to the bottom of how you engender cultural change by doing nothing, which is what your amendment amounts to.

I see that you don't like the policy and you've outlined why you don't like it and that's your prerogative, of course. I am just puzzled by your amendment as it's not a policy, it's just a desire for something to change without actually explaining how that change might come about.

I'm very glad that Wilberforce didn't leave it to a nebulous desire for cultural change when he abolished slavery!!

Bernard Salmon said...

Jane, big companies tend to be quite susceptible to the way they appear in the media - if enough people are complaining about the way a particular firm portrays women and thereby damaging the firm's brand image, they're quite likely to change their tune. And these days, with all the new media tools at our disposal, it's far easier than ever to get support for specific campaigns and get companies to change.
And can I ask a question of you and Jo, and any other people who uspport your view that state regulation is the best way of handling this issue: what specific portrayals of women would you like to see banned, or what portrayals of women that don't currently exist would you like to see? And how do you define that in legislation so that it's more than just someone's preference as to what they like and dislike?

Bernard Salmon said...

Jo, I am not saying do nothing - I agree there are issues to be addressed relating to body image, but I don't see how they can be effectively tackled in a liberal way through legislation.
And your slavery comparison is way off: slavery can basically be boiled down into a simple issue: should it exist or not. That is something which can be easily legislated. 'Mainstreaming' of gender equality in media regulation can not be treated in that way.
And isn't comparing the portrayal of women in the media with the slave trade just slightly over the top?

JaneWatkinson said...

Sorry, but your views around big companies misses the point. We have to change the cultural attitude first, to have enough people to complain about a certain film, for example. People grow up in a world where we see these types of attitudes towards women as 'normal', so we need to do something about it.

I would like women not to be portrayed all the time as sex objects. As quite frankly, that is what often happens. Women are always airbrushed up, and often have comsetic surgery and so portray these unrealistic images of what women should look like. With regulation we would help beat these unrepresentative issues, and cut back on the pressure on women. After all, the campaign is called 'Real Women'. Or if that fails, you could just balance it out so that the same happens to men :p

Bernard Salmon said...

Jane, I think you're the one who's missing the point. You keep saying that regulation is needed without saying how that could operate in practice. And you also say you don't want women to be portrayed as sex objects all the time. Is it OK therefore for women to be portrayed as sex objects some of the time? And how do you define in legislation whether a woman is being portrayed as a sex object? And who decides? And what sanctions should be in place for those who infringe the regulation? And is it just portrayal of women as sex objects, or should we also object to images of women subject to domestic drudgery? Maybe we shouldn't allow images of married women, as that reinforces the idea of their dependence on men? Do you not see what a minefield this whole thing is?
As to your point about putting pressure on big companies, you start by expressing your own views and trying to persuade others. If others do likewise, companies will respond, sooner or later. But if you think regulation offers some kind of instant fix or shortcut, you're very much mistaken.

JaneWatkinson said...

Regulation would work in practice by providing a clear outline of how not to portray women, aka, how not to portray them as sex objects that are submissive to men.

By me saying all of the time, i thought it was clear, i was advocating for women to never be shown in that way. I think there, you are being a little picky.

Well i think women themselves would be a good start. Get a range of different people from different age groups, occupations etc etc and start to construct a view of what constitutes the exposure of women. There can be also intellectual debates feeded into discussions that take place, which could be an eye opner for some women and men, who have never viewed certain things in that way.

Well domestic issus relate to sexual issues anyway, but the real women campaign in terms of advertising is more about how women look like and the pressures around that. In terms of childcare and other dometic issues, that document sets out some useful policies to overcome the problems faced with that too.

Bernard Salmon said...

Jane, your last response may be many things, but one thing it certainly isn't is 'a clear outline'. I doubt that such a thing can be achieved through regulation.
As to your point about never portraying women as sex objects, I have a simple question: should the film Pretty Woman be banned?

JaneWatkinson said...

Well I feel it is an attempt at providing a clear outline. I am not going to say that i alone writing a blog comment can provide a clear outline, but with many people putting together it is achievable.

As for Pretty Women, well that is again missing what i am saying. I would not say films like that need to be banned. Films being banned would be in the extreme. What i would say is that there needs to be care in future with how women are portrayed in films so that unrelistic expectations are not promoted. To say i would ban films like that from what i have said is wrong.

Bernard Salmon said...

And again, who decides whether sufficient care has been taken of the way women are portrayed in a film and whether expectations are unrealistic?
As to your point about not wanting films to be banned, you said: 'I was advocating for women to never be shown in that way'. That sounds like a ban to me.

JaneWatkinson said...

Well as I said in a previous comment, that would take time to do. But, it could be achieved by a representative group of people talking about the ways in which women are portrayed, and what needs to be attended to so that the cultural values and attitudes towards women are changed for the better.

Well I am happy to clarify that I did not mean an easy ban. I ideally wish that women would not be shown in that way, but realistically, this will take time, and I don't think will ever be achieved. I think a big thing that we need to tackle to help address concerns around how women are portrayed is also the porn industry, as this just promotes unrealistic expectations and pressures onto women.

Bernard Salmon said...

But, it could be achieved by a representative group of people talking about the ways in which women are portrayed, and what needs to be attended to so that the cultural values and attitudes towards women are changed for the better.

And just how 'representative' would such a group be? Opinion pollsters generally need about 1,000 to be confident they've got a representative sample. Is it really practical to have a group of a thousand people sitting in judgement on every film, every ad, every portrayal of women in whatever media?
And even so, how on earth would they decide whether a particular portrayal was of a woman as a sex object, or just of a sexy woman? Or whether a particular actress or model is promoting impossibly unrealistic expectations through the way she looks or just a touch of glamour? It just seems like a recipe for arbitrary censorship to me.

JaneWatkinson said...

We can have a massive campaign to achieve it with well over 1,000 people. You could have a website where people just leave their views on what needs to be done, stuff like that. It doesn't have to be just like sit down and talk about it, there are loads of ways that you can get a set of representative views about things like this.

This can then be used to produce guidelines for film makers etc. There are guidelines already, so it can be just integrated there. I mean if women are portrayed in unrealistic ways, as some films and stuff depend on this, well I know it is unrealistic to think it will all go. But what we could do instead is have a way of clearly communicating to the audience that this is unrealistic or something along those lines. There just needs to be activation to change peoples minds.

There are clear ways to spot if it is unrealistic or not. I mean fake breasts and plastic surgery are a given. But wearing make-up I don't think is a problem. Just things like that. But I can see your reservation around how this would be implemented. This is why it will be so hard to ever achieve true equality.

Bernard Salmon said...

There are clear ways to spot if it is unrealistic or not. I mean fake breasts and plastic surgery are a given.

So how are people meant to spot whether an actress has had a nose job or not? This is all just unrealistic nonsense.

JaneWatkinson said...

The fact you ignore the majority of my comment, says to me you have little to counteract it with.

I think that would be something that would be hard to tell. However, it is the obvious adjustments that are the problem. Surgery that just screams fake is what needs to be addressed.

Bernard Salmon said...

Jane, The reason I didn't comment in detail on the vast majority of your comment is that it's largely repeating ground we've already covered. I think I've already provided adequate reasons to be immensely sceptical of the idea that 'mainstreaming' of gender equality into media regulation is something that can be done easily, effectively and liberally. It's sheer fantasy to think that this is something that can be easily addressed through regulation or legislation.
I could also add that your argument might give some people the impression you think women are such fragile creatures that they can't campaign or protest against their portrayal in the media, but need the state to step in and do it for them.

JaneWatkinson said...

Ok, fair enough.

That's silly. I am not saying women cannot campaign themselves. Am I not a woman campaigning at the moment for the state to help? Yes! I think the state can help assist the process, as it is a massive change that needs to take place.You can't just hope that people's ideas change naturally, ideas and values change through processes.

Bernard Salmon said...

Jane, I admire your faith in the beneficial and efficient nature of state regulation. As a liberal, it's not one I share.

JaneWatkinson said...

Haha, fair enough. I guess we will have to agree to disagree.

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