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Our protest, not your product

Author:
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By Kaylen Forsyth

These are exhausting times for activists. In the past six months alone, with Trump’s repressive policies causing global outrage, there has been plenty of injustice to challenge. Vast numbers taking to the streets, and to other platforms like social media, reflect the broader courage of a society unwilling to just accept things as they are.

Such strength in the face of adversity is nothing new. For years an array of people from all different nations have been raising their voices when others have wished for their silence. And there has often been a price to pay for this bravery. During the Black Lives Matter protests, the news was inundated with reports of police brutality and unnecessary arrests. This all culminates into a simple fact I’m sure everyone can agree on – the resilience and endurance of activists should not be undermined in any way.

But this is exactly what Pepsi have done. Their new advertisement uses the setting of an American protest as a marketing ploy. And it’s not the first time a billion dollar corporation has exploited literal blood, sweat and tears for their own capitalistic gains. Coca Cola used the anger surrounding the Vietnam War to sell their produce back in 1971. It seems the top 10% take no issue in exploiting the struggles of those without silver-spoon privilege. This, of course, comes as no surprise.

Pepsi’s advertisement features Kendall Jenner striding out into the midst of a mainstream-friendly protest. After high-fiving and fist-bumping a diverse range of people (who don’t seem all too concerned with their cause), she hands a police officer a can of Pepsi. He smiles, satisfied, and everybody on the scene bursts into cheers. There is no ill will in sight. Everyone is ecstatic and social inequality is forgotten. Who cares what they were protesting about in the first place? Who cares that Trump will harm the U.S. even further in the next four years and other countries along with it? Who cares that the death toll is only rising in a chemical weapons attack in Syria? Who cares that we seem to be going backwards in terms of social progression? Who cares that politics is falling apart on a global scale? So long as the Pepsi is all right… the white man is happy … and the wealthy can keep rolling in the cash.

Of course this was not the message the advertisement attempted to portray. The intention, according to the company, was given in a defensive quote released by Pepsi: “This is a global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that’s an important message to convey.”

Whether the intent was decent or not, the fact still remains, Pepsi hijacked the resistance movement with no other motivation than commodifying it. Worse – they did it through the Trojan horse of an inconceivably privileged model, and the entire two and a half minutes is as apolitical as possible. There is no sign calling for equal rights or an end to discrimination. Phrases like “join the conversation” serve the purpose of being as vague as possible. Pepsi is desperate not to alienate.

Overall the advertisement just screams privilege and out-of-touch. A white person encouraging “bold” interactions with police officers, in a country where people of colour are murdered by them on a regular basis. That’s uncomfortable. Not only this, appropriating activism for the purpose of marketing is in itself despicable.

The most recent statement released highlights the pressures to pull the ad: “Clearly, we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are pulling the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”

The only hope is that corporations think twice in future when they consider exploiting such serious matters.

My Body My Rights

Author:

By Chloe Hutchinson

amnestycampaign

It should be a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. It is a deeply personal decision that she should be able to make irrespective of the opinions of the government or the Church. Unfortunately, this right, which many of us take for granted, is not given in many parts of the world, including to our neighbours across the sea in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Whilst it is part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland has a devolved government that has control over many things, including reproductive rights of its citizens. This means that Northern Ireland is not included in the 1967 Abortion Act meaning that it still follows the laws in the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act – passed in the Victorian era! It is illegal for both women to administer, and for others (like doctors) to supply, drugs with the intent to cause an abortion. Breaking this law – as stated in the 2013 Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act – is punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment.

Even though it is a criminal offence to have, or aid, in an abortion or causing a miscarriage, this law is rarely enforced. In fact in March 2013 the Alliance for Choice published an open letter signed by 100 men and women admitting to obtaining or taking abortion pills which are illegal in the region. None have been arrested. This just shows how outdated this law is and how public opinion (and to some extent government opinion) is behind more progressive reform.

One of the most problematic parts of Irish abortion legislation is the 1983 Constitutional Amendment, which actually takes the law backwards from 1861 rather than forward. It states that the right to life of the unborn child and the mother are to be treated as equal by law. This reduces the woman to no more than a vessel.

Under current legislation, last updated in 2013, abortion is only legal in two cases: 1) when there is a real and substantial risk to the woman’s life through both physical complications and the threat of suicide (but not in cases where the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest) and 2) when she can afford to travel to England where the operation is carried out (and it is in accordance with our laws). In 2012 around 4,000 Irish women travelled to England to have an abortion, 124 of whom were under the age of 18. Furthermore post-abortion care is provided for by the state in Ireland. This is hypocrisy and essentially says that abortion is acceptable if you are rich thus reinforcing the class gap. Women with money travel, women without money have children.

Whilst economic barriers are in place for many of these women, all of them face the cultural and social stigma surrounding abortion. It carries a very heavy stigma and many live in fear of discrimination and exclusion from neighbours, work colleagues, friends and even family that may discover that a woman has had an abortion. Religion is incredibly important in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland where 84% and 43% of the population is Catholic. The link between the state and the Church is a key reason for the pro-life policies even when the public are calling for pro-choice.

Just because it is legal to have an abortion does not mean that anyone has to have one. It merely gives the opportunity to women who want to. The decision is incredibly personal and affects the individual more than anyone else, therefore their choice should be the most important factor to take into account. It is the choice of the individual, not of the Church.

In gaining access to an abortion on the grounds that her pregnancy is a real and substantial risk to her life (whatever that actually means), women are forced to share their decision again and again, perhaps with up to 7 GPs and doctors. Obviously this takes time; surely action should be taken as quickly as possible when there is a significant risk to life?

This lack of access to free, safe and legal abortions often forces women to take horrific action into their own hands in desperate attempts to cause a miscarriage. Starvation, throwing themselves down the stairs, coat hangers – just some of the things that are tried.

In 1992 a 14 year old, who had been raped by her neighbour, was prevented from travelling to Britain for an abortion after the family asked if the DNA could be used in the trial against her rapist. In 2012, a miscarrying woman was refused a potentially lifesaving abortion because “Ireland is a Catholic country.”

I think we can agree that these laws are outdated, in fact almost medieval! But what can we do?

  1. Continue to campaign for comprehensive, factually correct sex and relationship education across the whole of the UK, not just for England.
  2. Put pressure on your local MP to bring it up in Westminster – whilst the policy is not made in Westminster their influence can have an outstanding impact, especially as there is a public consultation ongoing at the moment until the 17th January 2015
  3. Educate yourselves and others about current legislation and options available – share information.
  4. Get involved in Amnesty International’s “My Body My Rights” campaign – #MyBodyMyRights
  5. Directly support organisations like the Abortion Support Network through donations or volunteering (if possible).

Authors note:

This blog post was inspired by the phenomenal talk on the “My Body My Rights” campaign at Amnesty International Student Conference at the start of this month.

 

 

Cheering at What Cost?

Author:

Guest Blog by Molly Nash

Football is one of our favorite national past times. Whether it’s Friday night under the lights, Sunday afternoon at a tailgate, or Monday evening curled up next to the fireplace, football defines autumn for many Americans. And you can’t have football without cheerleaders. While little boys grow up dreaming of playing in the NFL, young girls idolize the beautiful smiles, sculpted bodies, and feminine curls that outwardly define the women on the sidelines. Cheering in the NFL is the ultimate pipe dream for millions of girls involved in the sport. Whether you find cheerleading a credible aspiration or not (in reality, it is a pretty demanding combination of gymnastics and dance), you’ll be astonished to know that NFL cheerleaders are routinely paid below minimum wage, if compensated at all. While their male counterparts on the football field are racking up millions, cheerleaders are literally sidelined by the $1,000-2,500 they take home at the end of each season.

This has been the case for decades, but Lacy T, an Oakland Raiders’ cheerleader, is finally bringing change to the crisp autumn air with the lawsuit she filed against the team last January, citing a take home pay of less than minimum wage for the hours she worked. The $1,250 salary initially agreed upon in her contract in no way covered the hours she spent on the field, in practice, or at press events. Furthermore, she was required to maintain nearly perfect hair (dyed and styled with 1.5 inch diameter curls at a team mandated salon!), painted toes and nails, bronzed skin, make up, tights, and a body weight of no more than four pounds over 103 lbs, at all times and on her own dime. The team paid for none of this and her salary, which she received at the end of the season, hardly covered the beauty regime, much less the hours she worked.

cheerleaders

Interestingly enough, this is pretty much the status quo for NFL cheerleaders. Teams throughout the league have maintained these practices by framing cheerleading as a sisterhood going back generations; women on the team, it seems, should be privileged just to be included. Cheerleaders are repeatedly reminded that they are dispensable and that thousands of girls will line up to take their place. In a strikingly cult-like manner, cheerleaders remain silent and loyal to the team. Needless to say, Lacy’s lawsuit rattled the Raiders and the entire industry. ESPN wrote a lengthy article about it, entitled ‘Just Cheer, Baby,’ and news media such as The Guardian and The LA Times have followed the case.

Still, the Raiders are doing everything in their power to combat the lawsuit and have shown no signs of remorse. This begs the question: How does such wage inequality still exists in our so-called  ‘post feminist’ society. Oh, that’s right.  We’re not there yet.  Because if we were, it would not be acceptable for a whole industry of women to be paid below minimum wage. Especially when they bring in millions of dollars for the teams they cheer for.

What do we tell young girls who dream of cheering professionally? Did someone say to little Lacy, “Keep at it, and after years of practices, private coaches, competitions, and workouts, you’ll grow up to earn less than a hundredth of what the professional football players make?”  Probably not. And while this crazy disparity in salary doesn’t exist in most careers, the young Lacys of the world need to know that women still only make 77 cents for each dollar earned by men. If they knew this, maybe more Lacys would file suit and maybe more of her ‘sisters’ would stand with her.

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