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Neopronouns and clickbait

Author:
clickbait

By Pip Williams

Content note: transphobia

An article from notoriously poorly-edited and sensationalist student news outlet The Tab somehow wormed its way onto my Facebook timeline yesterday. The article was titled “Oxford University students allegedly told to use ‘ze’, not ‘he or she’ to stop transgender discrimination”, and, unsurprisingly, the comments were a transphobic mess.

In recent weeks, The Tab has taken to sharing content centring around non-binary trans identities. A video by non-binary activist and Newcastle University Student Union Marginalised Genders Officer Saffron Kershaw-Mee garnered comparisons to cancer and paedophilia, prompting them to pen a follow-up article to a similarly unsympathetic response.

The Tab isn’t the only news outlet to capitalise on transgender identities for outrage-inducing clickbait. In July, national newspaper The Telegraph published an article titled “Boarding school teachers told to address transgender pupils as ‘zie’ in guidance on gender neutral terminology”. Whilst I was unable to source the official guidance from the Boarding Schools Association, LGBT+ news outlet PinkNews spoke with Alex Thompson, deputy chief executive of the BSA, to ascertain that the guidance had been provided at the request of teachers.

In conversation with PinkNews, Thompson explains how teachers felt “in the dark” when addressing pupils with gender identities unfamiliar to them. Far from instructing staff to use ‘zie’, the guidance provided the pronouns as an example of a neopronoun likely to be unfamiliar to staff. Neopronouns such as ‘zie’ are modern personal pronouns used in place of gendered pronouns such as ‘she’ or the widely used gender-neutral ‘they’. Many have been developed through discussion in online trans and genderqueer communities. Lists of neopronouns (such as this one) are one of the most widely available resources explaining their use. As such, it’s unlikely that the average cisgender schoolteacher would be aware of their existence. The aim of including ‘zie’ in the BSA guidance was, therefore, to demonstrate its use, ensuring staff would feel comfortable employing it if requested by a student – certainly not to say that everyone should be addressed with neopronouns, ‘zie’ or otherwise!

As with the Oxford University case reported by The Tab, The Telegraph chose to insinuate forced usage of neopronouns for all students. In the age of the internet, we all know how clickbait works. These false insinuations were intended to generate outrage, clicks, and advertising revenue – at the expense of trans people’s dignity and respect, and as we can see, this is an all-too-common theme.

I believe that The Tab’s article has been either amended, or deleted and republished without comment, since the release of Oxford University SU’s statement on the use of gender neutral pronouns proved several points incorrect. The statement outlines how “There is [a] possibility that our work and remit has been confused with the work of the wider University, whose Trans Policy and guidance does include a mention of neopronouns (pronoun sets like ‘ze/hir’, ‘ey/em/eirs’).” Again we see guidance on the usage of neopronouns in the context of trans equality exaggerated to the point of compulsory blanket usage.

The Tab article states – in a convoluted fashion – that “Claims were allegedly made in a leaflet given out by the SU says [sic] that deliberately using the wrong pronoun for a transgender person is an offence under the university’s code of behaviour”. Whilst we have established that the leaflets in question probably did not exist – at least not in any association with the Oxford University SU – this is a pretty standard anti-harassment guideline to promote trans equality in the student body. Sensationalising it in the news doesn’t change that most universities do (and should!) enshrine protection for trans students in their code of conduct.

I would also like to briefly touch on how the Telegraph’s headline stated that staff were “told to address transgender pupils as ‘zie’”. Whilst neither the BSA nor Oxford University SU were demanding the blanket use of neopronouns, it’s worth noting why this is a harmful concept in itself, particularly in the case of transgender students. For binary transgender individuals (i.e. trans men or women), using a neopronoun such as ‘zie’ in place of the gendered pronouns (e.g. she or he) they have requested is as much misgendering them as using the incorrect gendered pronoun. Whilst I would encourage people to use neutral pronouns on initially meeting someone (‘they’ is most common), it is important to be open to correction and respect people’s correct pronouns.

Work Experience at The Sun

Author:

folded-newspapers

The author of this piece has asked to be kept anonymous.

It was 8.55am and I was relieved to have arrived at reception with five minutes to spare. I felt feelings of excitement and trepidation; with budding aspirations to be a writer and journalist, securing work experience at the biggest read family newspaper in the country was a massive deal – especially as my previous journalistic endeavours had remained in my local Essex Chronicle. As I smoothed out my newly pressed trouser suit and pinned back my flyaway hairs, I felt the image of professionalism, ready to start my first day of work. The receptionist assured me that a Reporter was on his way to collect me. With that I waited.

Until 10.07am

‘Hello love, sorry for keeping… my Christ, aren’t you a pretty little thing? Can I offer you a drink?’ Considering the fact that I had already had four lattes to pass the time, I thanked him and declined.

As we got into the lift, a series of standard questions ensued. He seemed surprised that I wanted a degree from King’s College London: ‘I doubt a Russell Group university would offer a hairdressing degree,’ but I was quick to correct him that English Literature was my chosen subject. Of course, he didn’t mean it (or that’s what he assured me); I should learn to have a sense of humour rather than being so sensitive, he said.

It was when I admitted that I was born and raised in Essex that his eyes returned to their previous, opportunistic readiness: ‘Wheyyyyy we have an Essex gal in the office? Shame, I expected you to be caked in fake tan and eye lashes. You don’t even sound like you’re from Essex! Regardless, you will fit in perfectly on the Showbiz desk. Rewrite this Cheryl Cole interview in Heat if you will. Make it seem as if we did the interview. Thanks love.’

Simultaneously flustered and disheartened at my position, I asked if I could tour the other departments – a choice that did little to salvage my enthusiasm. Sport seemed full of boisterous footy fans, the News Desk yielded such basic grammar that my own sixteen-year-old intelligence felt insulted and finally… we came to Page 3.

I could not believe my eyes at the room of ‘journalists’ enlarging, shaping, and photo-shopping the topless glamour model photos to portray a picture of sexuality and seduction. I remember thinking for a split second how unusual it was that I could not hear more vulgar, derogatory comments being made about the images – I suppose that if your job was to airbrush and edit a woman’s naked body every day, all day, the novelty wears off in time.

Needless to say, my judgement had been made too soon. Sure enough, a voice hollered: ‘Her tits are bigger than melons’ and ‘Who hired her? Her face looks like a horse. Can we edit out her face?’ My fears had been confirmed.

‘Whose that?’ questioned one of the reporters, turning to me. ‘Just the work experience girl,’ replied my mentor, ‘She’s from Essex you know.’ Why my birthplace was of such amusement continued to baffle me. ‘Wheyyyyy an Essex girl!’ was the unsurprising response as he persisted: ‘Well, I hope you enjoy your time. When you decide it’s time to get a boob job then don’t forget to contact us… just joking love! Got to have some work banter to pass the time in the office!’

BANTER. A JOKE. Of course it was. I should learn to get a sense of humour right? It’s only harmless! That’s when I went to the loo and cried.

It was then and there that it dawned on me. Until that point I had been a naïve sixteen year old believing that sexism was a thing of the past. I now had experienced first-hand that the media is dictated for and consumed by men. We breed a culture that thrives on propelling the view that women are commodities for male entertainment. It was no wonder that The Sun was one of the most widely read newspapers in the country – it was certainly not relying on its grammar or news coverage, but its vulgar headlines and naked women. Why is an image equivalent to those found in ‘lad mags’ available at child’s-eye level? An image that feeds our young boys that this is women’s purpose: to be a man’s play-thing and object. An image that feeds our young girls false ideologies that sex sells and is a wise move if one wants to be successful in a culture of patriarchal hierarchy. As I contemplated these harsh truths, I wanted to shout at my colleagues that these pornographic, derogatory images are not harmless, nor are they just ‘banter’. I wanted to answer back to the room of misogynistic men that I did have a sense of humour, but there is quite frankly nothing hilarious about the exploitation of my gender. These images compound on real women’s wellbeing, safety, behaviour and education. I wanted to question why these ideologies were still prevalent in the 21st Century. I wanted to say all of this, but felt powerless to do so at the age I was.

I finished my work experience in silence and walked out the door vowing never to return. Five years on, nothing has changed: The Sun continues to be produced with the Page 3 image. This is the first time I have spoken about my experience, in hope that someone will listen. If a naked woman’s body can be used as such a vital component to media consumption, it is about time that a woman’s voice should become the vital component to stamp out media sexism. That’s why I am shouting back and supporting the @NoMorePage3 campaign. Its #TimeForChange don’t you think?

 

To read PBG’s statement of support for the No More Page 3 campaign, click here.

To sign the No More Page 3 petition, click here.

We Support No More Page 3

Author:

We support No More Page 3. As an organisation that seeks to empower young women through writing and activism, we feel that Page 3 undermines all the incredible work that young women are doing. We live in a society where young women’s voices have been left to fight for space in a corner on the Internet, but young women’s bodies are readily available for consumption every day in a newspaper. Page 3 has made each of us – at some point – feel uncomfortable, disrespected and powerless. We want women to be represented for what they do rather than what they look like. We want to live in a society where young women’s words hold more importance than the shape and size of our breasts. 

Page 3 is an unnecessary part of The Sun that does little to increase sales (if anything it decreases them) as well as causing many people, including myself, to feel uncomfortable. What does it add to the newspaper? Surely it cannot be considered to be news? And the amount of occasions where it is blatantly out of place such as after headlines about child abuse or rape! It is wrong and must go. – Chloe, 18

A newspaper is widely considered a household item, part of everyday life. Therefore, Page 3 makes naked women seem like part of everyday life, too. As a result, it becomes ingrained into people from a young age that this is normal and expected; women bare their breasts for men, and that is the end of it. This is hugely damaging in many ways- for example, it can lead to pressure if a woman doesn’t want to do what a man wants, and it gives a false image on both sides as to what the female body should and should not look like. These negativities should not be such an accepted part of life. It’s time to move on- it’s time to get rid of Page 3. – Becky, 17

Seeing women presented as sexual objects alongside men presented as politicians, high achievers and world leaders has a massive effect on how society sees women, particularly young girls, who begin to believe a woman’s only purpose is as a sexual object. Page 3 perpetuates this belief and is also hugely detrimental to the self-esteem of girls and young women. Page 3 is an archaic practice that is holding back our society from erasing sexism. – Amy, 16

The Sun is supposed to be a family newspaper. But no families I know buy it. Why? Because they don’t want their children to learn that sexualisation of a woman is normal. That women are just their bodies, simply objects. Page 3 is disgusting misogyny, and it doesn’t do much for The Sun’s sales anymore, so why have it? – Sophia, 17

I support NMP3 because the idea of women’s breasts being entertainment in a newspaper perpetuates the idea that women are there to entertain men. Glamour modelling has no place in a newspaper and quite simply, boobs aren’t news. – Jess, 16

I support NMP3 because every time I feel like society is making a little step further towards an England where women aren’t sexual objects, I’m reminded that Page 3 exists and all hope is lost. It’s shocking and like a sharp kick to the stomach. Whilst some may feel this ‘news’ is harmless, I can promise you, it isn’t. 1 in 5 women will experience some form of sexual violence In England and Wales, and I, as well as many others, believe that the day Page 3 doesn’t exist will be the day people will begin to view women more as human beings that deserve respect, not sexual toys to provoke and abuse. I support NMP3 because I don’t want to live in a world where people are so ready to critique a woman for presenting her body sexually in public, yet believe it’s okay when the Sun does the exact same thing for profit. If the exploitation of women’s breasts for profit is ‘just the way it is’ then I’m scared to be a woman, and that shouldn’t be okay. – Gemma, 18

The convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women dictates that states must ‘take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organisation or enterprise’. Factually speaking, the UK government partakes in this movement; a fact that seems almost laughable considering the complete lack of enforcement when it comes to women in the media. I wish to question as to why the shocking discrimination against women perpetuated by Page 3 continues to thrive and prosper on newspaper stands and shelves. Why is an image equivalent to those found in ‘lad mags’ available at child’s-eye level? If the government’s own research has shown a link between the portrayal of women as sex objects in the media and greater acceptance of sexual harassment and violence against women, why does the government refuse to ban Page 3? The answer, ashamedly, is that we live in a society where the media is written by men for men; a culture that propels and perpetuates the view that women are commodities for male consumption and entertainment. I contend that these pornographic, derogatory images are not harmless, nor are they just ‘banter’. They compound on real women’s wellbeing, safety, behavior and education. They are feeding our young boys that this is the purpose of women; this is how young women should be viewed, used, abused, exploited and treated. They are feeding our young girls the notion that sex sells and is the only solution to achieving success in a male-dominated world. Why are these ideologies still prevalent in 2014? If a naked woman’s body can be used as such a vital component to media consumption, it is about time that a woman’s voice can become the vital component to eradicate the former. – Olivia, 21

Please sign the petition: change.org/nomorepage3

For more information about the campaign, visit their website, nomorepage3.org

Breast Amnesia

Author:

By Jessica Hayden

photo

Breast Amnesia – forgetting that breasts are actually there to feed children and aren’t necessarily there solely for sexual pleasure…

How many of us suffer from this?

I recently read an article online about Ashley Clawson, a woman who was refused to breastfeed in Victoria Secret, a lingerie shop. My first reaction was wondering how I would respond if someone asked me if they could breastfeed in my hypothetical shop. I decided that the best solution would be to say yes, of course, and perhaps offer a more private area, purely for their comfort rather than my opinion on public breastfeeding. Then I considered why breastfeeding is encouraged to be such a private act whereas sexualising breasts is such a public act. You not only see women in their underwear in adverts and on the sides of buses, but breasts appear almost daily in your “family” newspaper. I started reading what other people thought and the response shocked me. The vast amount of replies were calling breastfeeding in public “wrong” and “embarrassing”. However, there was one woman’s response which left me completely baffled. She called breastfeeding in public “inappropriate”.

What kind of culture teaches that breastfeeding is inappropriate? How is it that our society has evolved in to one which calls a pair of sexualised breasts in a newspaper “tradition”, and vilifies anyone who dares protest against it (which has certainly been my experience when campaigning for No More Page Three, a campaign which seeks to remove glamour modelling from The Sun, a so-called “family newspaper” which has a page dedicated to sexualising women) yet dismisses a woman for having her breasts out in public in order to feed her child – which, let’s remember, is what her breasts are meant to do! Victoria Secret, far from celebrating women’s bodies, as they would so have you believe, have illuminated the cold misogyny which I have named “breast amnesia”.

If breast amnesia isn’t a sign of how our society is reducing women to being purely sexual beings, then I don’t know what is. It’s time we started discussing it.

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