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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."

SunshineBossaNova Fri 28-Jun-13 21:11:12

Thanks Ed for coming on here.

KaseyM Fri 28-Jun-13 21:16:38

Queen, that annoys me too. People talk as if taking time out from our careers to raise children and the fall out in terms of money & status that goes with it is a personal choice, which yes it is. But it's also something of vital importance to the country!

woeface Fri 28-Jun-13 21:18:34

"That's just a start. The answer is not simply legislation, it is also about forcing a debate with those who wield huge influence on representation."

This. You can't legislate a culture. At least Ed M is prepared to mention the fact that this is an issue - for us now, and for our daughters in the future. I think that's worth something - don't see anyone else engaging with this <ironic quotation marks hand movement" issue.

Yes, I agree that early years education is of vital importance to raising the next generation - and brings a massive (x6 ?) return on investment due to improved job prospects (and therefore higher taxes paid) and lower criminality in the next generation. As childcare it also enables more women to work, improving life choices for women and families.
So, what's not to like ?!
If I was a politician I'd get behind improved early years education and childcare as a massive win/win opportunity for everyone smile
Look to Scandinavia to see what's going on there.
(eg recent Panorama programme)

Panonabike Fri 28-Jun-13 21:47:02

yes, I don;t see other political leaders even mentioning these issues in the media. Ed, keep the momentum and we might actually vote for you.

Tee2072 Fri 28-Jun-13 21:55:50

I'm impressed that Ed came back to answer the questions. Usually the blogs are posted and the writer is like the wind.

HelenMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 28-Jun-13 22:43:45


Wow, is that really Ed on here ?!
If so, thanks for coming on and joining us.
Liking your follow up post a lot.

Yes it is!

Panonabike Fri 28-Jun-13 22:48:08

But not at MNHQ, so no difficult biscuit question then, Helen? [phew]. grin

LackaDAISYcal Fri 28-Jun-13 23:39:57

The words are all well and good, but why not put your moeny where your mouth is and have 50% of your shadow cabinet posts filled by women? And have women in the prominent roles of treasury, health, education and defense?

OK, so your home secretary is a woman. However, I think that giving her the joint title of Minister for women and equalities lessens her role as shadow home secretary somewhat.

Before getting at others Mr Milliband, please get your own house in order.

Crumbledwalnuts Sat 29-Jun-13 00:34:14

This is a joke. Ninja YY

LackaDAISYcal Sat 29-Jun-13 01:04:08

"It starts with sex and relationship education in schools at all key stages, which actually teaches a truly equal story of women and men, their aspirations and what to expect from relationships"

Are you teaching this to the boys as well as the girls though? Telling them that the porn image of women that is being shoved down their throats is actually a very narrow view and that women are to be respected? It's one thing telling the girls they are equal, but another to actually get this information over to a bunch of boys who think that they have the upper hand in all aspects of their relationshiop based on what they see in popular culture, computer games and all to readily accessible computer based pornography

wonderingagain Sat 29-Jun-13 01:53:50

And what did our lovely labour government do to prevent the internet seeping undetected images into teenage girls homes, completely unrestricted with no guidance or guidelines, no parental advice, no research on the damage it was doing, no concern about the legality of pornography aimed at teenagers? All of this was on your watch Ed. Thanks to your complacency and lack of interest in childrens health and your obsession with freedom of speech teenage now refer to their friends as 'bitches'.

Ed you really have no idea. Feminism is about stuff you DO, not stuff you talk about. And topless young girls are still served up for breakfast in the newspaper.

An unrecognisable historical figure on a note is really going to make a lot of difference? Trafficked women are still being imprisoned for prostitution in this country. Sort out the law and order, the legal and the non-legal, the institutional abuse. Then get on with changing the effing banknote.

I really do despair, voted labour all my life (except last time) and am desperate to become a proper supporter again, but there's just too much inaction happening.

wonderingagain Sat 29-Jun-13 01:58:00

Oh and what happened to our heinous child rapist trafficking Pakistanis - they got 95 years between 8 of them. That's about 12 years each. Great. Sends out a great message to all the other trafficked children scared of fighting for their own justice because their abusers might get back out of prison too quickly.

If this is the best this country can do there is something very very seriously wrong with the justice system.

Crumbledwalnuts Sat 29-Jun-13 02:00:12

Labour did nothing. Anything they say now is PR, and that is it.

wonderingagain Sat 29-Jun-13 02:35:22

Nothing for what?

YoniMatopoeia Sat 29-Jun-13 06:35:43

Ed. If you are serious about this, can you pledge that the labour party will get behind, and formally support, the campaign to get rid of page 3?

That would be a nice start.

HenWithAttitude Sat 29-Jun-13 07:45:13

Well I could be churlish and say its just words to win a bunch of voters but's the right words so let's hear more and then follow them up.

zazara Sat 29-Jun-13 08:04:44

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

swallowedAfly Sat 29-Jun-13 10:10:03

agree but would like to see more specifics - like what would you do about judges who repeatedly and flagrantly are swayed by rape culture and apologetics and let people off or hand out piddling little sentences when they have sexually abused women and girls? to me that is a HUGE issue. it sends out more of a message than anything else if actually the attacking and abusing of females is seen as something serious that a) needs punishing loudly and b) they deserve to be protected from rather than having these men slapped on the wrist and dropped back in amongst us to do it again... and again generally.

swallowedAfly Sat 29-Jun-13 10:12:51

let's face it when tackling racism we had to face we needed to firmly tackle our institutions - mostly the judiciary. the same has to happen now for women and girls. every time i have to read an article about some violent, psychotic monster being excused because the child in question was 'clearly willing' or 'appeared older than her 11 years' or any of the other foul things that come out of these judges mouths i feel sicker and more aware that the country is being run by sick minded misogynists.

YoniMatopoeia Sat 29-Jun-13 10:17:01

Totally agree with SAF

swallowedAfly Sat 29-Jun-13 10:20:57

maybe you could also try excluding all 'previous' members of PIE from your party and all rape apologist twats who stick their heads above the parapet. that'd be a start.

YoniMatopoeia Sat 29-Jun-13 10:59:10


Panonabike Sat 29-Jun-13 11:24:55

Paedophile Information Exchange. It's scary what was seen as 'acceptable' in the 1970s.

SunshineBossaNova Sat 29-Jun-13 11:26:31

Paedophile Information Exchange

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