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Guest blog from Ed Miliband: we must change how women are portrayed in our culture

(121 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 28-Jun-13 11:33:16

Last night, Ed Miliband gave a keynote speech about gender and equality in which he promised that a Labour government would ensure that children were given relationships education from the age of five - good news for Mumsnetters, who have been pushing for this for a while.

He also argued that our culture needs to change how it portrays women - and in today's guest blog, he expands on why he thinks the representation of women is in crisis - and why it matters.

"Our banknotes are about to change. Not a major political issue, you might think. But it does have one important effect. Winston Churchill is going to replace Elizabeth Fry on the £5 note. And that means that everyone who will appear on our banknotes - apart from the Queen, our Head of State - will be a man.

I am worried about what kind of signal that sends. I read this week that the people who make these decisions think it is OK that there will be no women on our banknotes, because Jane Austen is "quietly waiting in the wings" to appear on her own note one day. But 100 years on from the great struggle to give women the right to vote, women shouldn't be "waiting quietly in the wings" for anything, should they?

Why don't we have one of our great women scientists, like Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, and a suffragette like Emmeline Pankhurst on our banknotes already?

This is a small but important symbol of the kind of country we are. In fact, I think it reveals a crisis in the representation of women more generally in our society.

Of course, greater prominence is given to fantastic role models for women and girls today than was true in the past. People like Clare Balding, Doreen Lawrence, J.K. Rowling, Jocelyn Bell and Burnell. And it is not just these people who provide role models for the next generation. My kids will grow up with Dora the Explorer as much as my generation did with Dennis the Menace, and that matters. And this week we have been supporting Laura Robson just as much as Andy Murray at Wimbledon.

But we should not be fooling ourselves by denying the problems. It is not just the absence of women from our banknotes or the way men out-number women in the statues on our streets. There are problems in our everyday culture too.

Young people talk a lot today about the problems of a culture that is tolerant of increasingly sexualised images. They are especially worried about a culture that says that girls will only get on in life, if they live up to the crudest of stereotypes. A culture where pornographic images, some violent, are available to children at a click on a smartphone or a laptop.

In discussing this problem, one young woman, 15 years old, wrote in to the Everyday Sexism site recently. She said: "I wish people would think about what pressures they are putting on everyone, not just teenage girls ... I wish the people who had real power and control of the images and messages we get fed all day actually thought about what they did for once."

She was right. There are things that government can do about it, like safer default settings on our computers. But that young woman's point is different. She believes there is a responsibility on all of us to do what we can to counter these images and to provide a better example for the future.

So, for example, schools should offer proper relationship education at all stages to ensure all our children have a proper chance to understand what good loving relationships are about. And they should always encourage the aspirations of girls and boys.

And advertisers and magazines should change the way they act too. We all know there are still too many images in our advertising that reflect outdated ideas about the role of men and women, boys and girls. And it matters how people are seen. About the images we have of each other. It sets an example, especially for the next generation.

Women face all sorts of injustices in our society today, many of which go far beyond our culture. There are still far too few women MPs, too few women in our boardrooms, the Cabinet or in senior management positions. Women have suffered more than men during Britain's recent economic troubles too, with this government's cuts affecting them three times as hard as men.

We need to act on all of these. But as we do so we must not forget the importance of cultural representation too. Many of these issues cannot and should not be decided by parliament or politicians. But it is something we must all talk about, as citizens and, especially, as parents. This is something that a new wave of young women are campaigning on, and talking about. They are right to do so and we should listen to their voices - that means politicians, advertisers, business leaders, and newspaper editors.

We can only be One Nation if we have real equality between men and women."

woeface Fri 28-Jun-13 12:08:01

Well said. Good to see engagement with this issue - it's no good telling our daughters to reach for the stars if the world they see reflected around them reduces them to either 'hot plaything' or 'busy mum'.

AnnieLobeseder Fri 28-Jun-13 12:13:17

Very lovely words. And nice to hear from a leading male politician for a change. However, it's nothing that women, whether they identify as feminists or not, haven't been saying for a long time. So now we should pay attention because a man said it? And, um, what actual plans does he have to address any of these issues apart for saying that we should "talk about" them.

I've been talking about them for years. Not a lot has actually happened though, has it?

Fuzzysnout Fri 28-Jun-13 12:37:07

A great sentiment Ed. As you have already stated that you will not be reversing the cuts of the current government, how do you propose to redress the disproportionate effect of these cuts on women which so concerns you?

Yes Annie - completely agree. Really good stuff, but a small element of mansplaining ?! (for example, slight error from him to my thinking when he says "She was right" !! Does she think you're right too Milliband ? wink

But, hey, we feminists are a tricky lot. You're forgiven really - And well said.

milbracat Fri 28-Jun-13 12:48:36

I think it is disingenuous tosh - spouting what he feels women want to hear in order to buy their votes.

Tee2072 Fri 28-Jun-13 13:05:37

Well, thank god Ed said that. I never would have known otherwise...

Dackyduddles Fri 28-Jun-13 13:11:36

Wonderful. Well hopefully as a man has said something something will happen as sweet fanny Anne has happened and women have been banging on about it since suffrage started!

Stop talking Ed, start DOING!

OmNom Fri 28-Jun-13 13:15:59

Looks good to me. It's not a radfem manifesto but then I wouldn't have expected that from him. I get the impression he takes equalities stuff seriously, unlike the LibDems or the Tories.

I'd like to know, though, what he's going to do about promoting more women to both the Labour front bench and to his own personal team. I've heard it said that the group around him is pretty macho and that talented women like Polly Billington have been frozen out.

And yes - some policies would be nice (beyond the sex ed stuff - I hope that will be a manifesto commitment). Whatcha going to do about it Ed?

Tee2072 Fri 28-Jun-13 13:22:09

Yes, I am also getting a 'put your money where your mouth is' sort of vibe.

Talk is cheap.

Also? They need to get into power first...

VictorianDaddy Fri 28-Jun-13 13:23:28

milbracat has it spot on - this is hot air designed to hoover up a few votes from the naiive.

No politician can change the culture of a nation - especially not one so lacking in charisma...

The only place that happens is in the sort of authoritarian state we wouldnt really want.

JessieXL Fri 28-Jun-13 13:24:54

Can Miliband outline, say, three practical changes he will commit Labour to making and which will have a positive effect on women's representation?

Words are all well and good but I want to see some action.

woeface Fri 28-Jun-13 13:26:02

Agree with OmNom - think he takes equalities stuff more seriously (and understands them better) than most.

Accusing him of 'mansplaining' is unfair - he's setting out his party's thinking on the representation of women, and to do credibly so he has to demonstrate that he 'gets' the issues.

woeface Fri 28-Jun-13 13:27:46

gah 'to do so credibly'.

ksrwr Fri 28-Jun-13 13:29:15

what milbracat said

OmNom Fri 28-Jun-13 13:37:54

'No politician can change the culture of a nation - especially not one so lacking in charisma...'

i think there are quite a few politicians who've done exactly this aren't there? Thatcher for starters.

Agree Ed's not the most compelling personality, but personally I rather like his thoughtfulness. I'd take him over the superficial glad-handing of Blair and Cameron any time.

Tournesol Fri 28-Jun-13 13:41:39

I agree with the sentiment and am happy that equality is something Miliband cares about.

However I would like to see a policy to make nursery care cheaper and flexible or part time working promoted so that parents (and let's face it many mothers) are not pushed out of careers due to having a family. This is a policy I would vote for.

happyon Fri 28-Jun-13 13:43:33

Thanks for this and for supporting quotas within the Labour Party. Please keep this theme going. There are millions of decent people who really do care about gender equality.

More glad than ever that I voted for him in the leadership ballot.

woeface Fri 28-Jun-13 13:51:05

But Milbracat, it's not 'buying votes'; it's speaking to a group of prospective voters about issues that he knows they are concerned about, to demonstrate that his party also thinks those issues are important.

All politicians talk about what their party stands for to win voters over. If they weren't allowed to do so, they'd have to discuss their policies through the medium of mime or something. Maybe dance.

VictorianDaddy Fri 28-Jun-13 13:55:45

OmNom, perhaps I should have put 'no current (or recent) politician'.

Agree on Thatcher - though she was pretty brutal about it. I think those days are gone - for the past 20 years politics seems to have been getting progressively more wishy-washy, with no-one having the guts to do anything significant, in case it put them 2 inches left or right of dead centre.

And now we can't afford to do anything significant even if one of them had the nouse and willpower to push it through. I'm pretty certain the coalition Tories wouldn't be cutting hard if they didn't have to. They want to be popular just as much as anybody else.

We've gone off topic a bit. I think the point I'm making is, culture changes from the bottom up, not the top down. Even more so now we're all so much more interconnected.

VictorianDaddy Fri 28-Jun-13 14:06:47

woeface, YY to 'the medium of dance' grin

Suggest an online petition demanding the next election leadership debates must be held through the medium of dance.

And Nigel Farage must be allowed to join in grin

Biscuitsareme Fri 28-Jun-13 14:12:25

Victoriandad: I don't agree that culture only changes from the bottom up. Changes in legislation, even if not supported by a significant majority, do change the culture of a country as a whole. The changes to child benefit and other austerity measures are changing the way people think about the benefit system, for example. Changes in tuition fees has an effect on nrs of young people choosing to go to uni etc.

Anyway, about the blog:

The words are nice to hear; I'm curious about practical implementation, particularly keeping in mind the upper-class macho culture of national politics.

IMO the current and future austerity measures will have a detrimental effect of the quality of life & mental health of many, especially those with caring responsibilities (usually women). It's very hard to reverse such a trend.

Will be keeping an eye on Mr Milliband but am not holding my breath. Remember how we all thought Tony Blair would change the world for the better?

JuliaScurr Fri 28-Jun-13 14:22:22

love 'medium of mime'
fuzzy yy - cuts! Cuts Ed, cuts! No reversal, stay in spending limits? So what's the point?

TheFallenNinja Fri 28-Jun-13 14:25:02

Just more rubbish from a scumbag politician trying to get votes.

You could put The Hoobs on banknotes for all I care. Fix the economy, sort out crime and immigration and properly fund the NHS, education and defence. Stop pussyfooting around.

OmNom Fri 28-Jun-13 14:25:43

Actually though (and having just had a go at him) Blair did make big cultural changes I think, especially around gay rights. The transition from UK being a pretty brutal place for gay people to (almost) everyone happily accepting civil partnerships and gay adoption etc happened almost entirely under New Labour - and of course Tories (or the Notting Hill ones anyway) happily jumped on board when they saw how the wind was blowing.

Maybe big politicians can pick up on underlying trends, amplify them, turn them into tangible legislation and sort of mirror back to the population the incremental social changes that society is undergoing? And then we all look at each other and think 'oh yeah, it turns out most of us are on the same page.'

Slightly off-topic. But in summary, think it's unfair to have a go at Miliband for trying.

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