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Sexual Violence in Advertising

Author:

By Elli Wilson

Trigger Warning

Another day, another dozen stories about violence against women and girls. Often complete with sensationalised headline and a hyper-sexualised photo of an objectified female body. The forms this violence takes are myriad – sexual harassment, rape, sexual assault, FGM, childhood sexual abuse, ‘honour’ crimes – but it is all rooted in a deep societal misogyny that people are loathe to confront on an individual and an institutional level. For myself, and countless others, these stories are not just statistics or isolated incidents that can be forgotten by turning the page and shrugging off the uncomfortable thoughts that they provoke. This is our lived experience. It’s the guy groping you in a club, or harassing you when you dare to go out and be a woman in public. It’s the boyfriend who doesn’t think no means no, and the pupils at your school who shove their hands down your tights and then laugh.

And then suddenly it’s the advert making a joke of the sexual violence that you have suffered. Whether it is the coffee company using groping to sell their product or the female model surrounded by men in what looks suspiciously like a ‘fashionable’ gang rape, for a survivor of sexual violence, it is repulsive to see it used as a tool to maximise profit. This is capitalist misogyny at its extreme; women’s bodies are used to sell products and so is their abuse. This is what rape culture looks like and it has got to stop.

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Abuse Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum: Rotherham Is Not About Race

Author:

By Elli Wilson

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Alexis Jay’s report on the abuse of over 1400 children over a 16 year period in Rotherham, and the “collective” failings of the police, social care and the local authority makes for tragic, uncomfortable reading. Unfortunately, whilst the scale and extent of the victims’ suffering and the authorities’ failures were certainly shocking, they did not surprise me. Britain today is still a deeply prejudiced country in which sexism and classism run deep, social services are underfunded and overstretched and young, underprivileged victims are likely to be dismissed as ‘unreliable’ or even complicit in their own abuse. In such conditions, it is hardly astonishing that vulnerable children and young people are abused and then failed by those meant to help and protect them.

With so much public anger and disgust over what happened in Rotherham, there would seem to be no better time than the present to start a national conversation about what causes rape and sexual abuse and how it can be prevented. However, in a depressingly predictable state of affairs, much of the coverage of the horrific abuse has focused on the fact that the perpetrators were predominantly British Pakistani and most of the known victims were white working-class girls.

In reality, perpetrators of sexual crimes in Britain are predominantly white. The only trait that almost all perpetrators of rape and sexual abuse share is their maleness. Sexual violence is not a crime committed by one ethnicity against another; it is a crime of male violence against women and children. Alongside class, gender is the overriding factor in the Rotherham abuse case, as with all other incidents of sexual violence.

By focusing on the ethnicity of the perpetrators in Rotherham, there is a danger that the threat of rape and sexual abuse will be othered and obscured. It is far easier and more comforting to think that such horrifying crimes are only a problem for certain sections of society, than to face the fact that in 21st century Britain children – primarily girls – are abused and exploited across all socio-economic groups and by men of all races. This is not a problem that we can safely categorise as belonging to one section of society whilst shaking our heads disapprovingly; the causes are deeply rooted in our attitudes and our establishment.

This is not to deny that different communities have different challenges in the fight to tackle abuse. For instance, Ruzwana Bashir eloquently described the culture of shame that can make it difficult for British Asian victims of abuse to seek help and justice. However, it is not as if survivors from all backgrounds don’t encounter disbelief and victim blaming attitudes. This is precisely the problem with the media’s fixation with ethnicity in relation to systemic sexual abuse; it hides the fact that the factors which contributed to the Rotherham scandal are not specific to a certain sub-culture but rather permeate all levels of society.

The scale of the abuse in Rotherham unmasks the toxic misogyny and classism that intersect to create an environment in which underprivileged girls can be raped, and then held in contempt by those meant to help them. Whilst the details of the Rotherham scandal may be particularly shocking it is important to remember that such abuse does not exist in a vacuum. If we do not engage in serious work to change attitudes of the public and those in power, and to end misogyny and victim blaming, then many other girls will be the damage of society’s collective failure.

Orange Is the New Black – could it start a new trend?

Author:

By Alice Koski

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Orange is the New Black is my new obsession. Hilarious, dramatic and centred on women who are dealing with real, hard-hitting issues – what’s not to like?

If you haven’t heard about Orange is the New Black (or OITNB for short), let me fill you in. Original to Netflix, OITNB is a show which first aired in 2013 and is now two seasons strong. It’s been a huge hit with both viewers and critics and season three is currently in the works. Set in a women’s prison, the show follows its main character Piper (played by Taylor Schilling) along with many others as they serve their sentences with each other. It’s fascinating, hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking to see how the characters deal with the different issues, from addiction and loneliness to tampons and chickens (watch to find out!).

But the thing that strikes me most about Orange is the New Black is that it’s one of the only popular shows out there that represents a truly diverse range of women and portrays each of them as complex individuals. Frustratingly, a lot of mainstream television fails to do this: women are often typecast into narrow roles beside their male counterparts, such as The Girlfriend or The Love Interest. This categorising of women sends out a message that there is nothing more to these female characters than the one-sided personas they are presented with. Furthermore, mainstream television often fails to properly represent minority groups such as LGBTQ+ women and women of colour, which again presents audiences with false ideas about what women are like and how they should be.

However, I believe that every woman who watches Orange is the New Black will be able to relate to at least one of the characters. The diversity of the cast is unparalleled – there are white women, black women, hispanic women, asian women; there are women of all shapes and sizes; there are gay, straight, bisexual and transgender women (Laverne Cox is brilliant); there are old and young women. Writer for the show Lauren Morelli has written that ‘Casting the show was thrilling. The array of skin color and the range of bodies were unlike anything I’d seen on television before… it felt important to be telling stories about women who are largely ignored in the mainstream media.’ It is not just OITNB’s inclusion of these different types of women that is appealing, however, but its portrayal of them as complex individuals. Although these women are criminals, the audience is shown that this is and not the be-all and end-all of who they are. OITNB digs deeper than surface level by revealing the characters’ pasts, complexities and vulnerabilities. No, they’re not perfect role models, but they’re real and they’re complex, and they are not limited to being The Love Interest or The Girlfriend. This is something we need more of, not just in television, but throughout the media.

Unlike most media that is about or aimed at women, OITNB does not rely on glamour and style to pull in viewers. The actresses’ make up is minimal and everyone wears the same unflattering prison uniforms. Of course, make up and styling is not inherently a bad thing, but it’s refreshing to see a show that isn’t obsessed with appearance. Kate Mulgrew, who plays Red, says ‘I think women get tired of the standards that Hollywood continues to impose. On our beauty, on how we should look, on how we should behave, on what is sexually desirable, on what it is that men want. Finally, this is a series about us, and people dig it.’ I think she’s hit the nail on the head. Unlike a lot of today’s media, Orange is the New Black does not set out to make its viewers feel inferior. At the heart of the show’s success is, I think, it’s raw and realistic portrayal of women. And quite frankly, I think it’s almost a criminal offence that the world has gone without it for so long.

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