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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."

noobieteacher Tue 23-Jul-13 00:53:27

Ed, your passive on the fence attitude and your concern about what the papers say has astounded me. Dave has now stepped in with some guts about the issue and this is what you should have done. Although I still could never vote Tory, I hope you learn from this.

The censorship playingfield has changed beyond recognition and the game needs to be played with new rules.

noobieteacher Fri 19-Jul-13 11:49:42

I only just spotted Ed's response to all our comments, in particular this:

^The answer is not simply legislation, it is also about forcing a debate with those who wield huge influence on representation.

Unless we talk about these issues, we won't influence advertisers, newspaper editors and others who have such power in this area.^

Are you saying government has no power to restrict degrading images on the internet? This is a feeble excuse. Page 3 and Renault ads are the least of our worries. Exposing children to pornography is a form of child abuse (neglect) - are you going to continue to blame parents for that?

At the moment as the law stands, if it happened to your child, you could have your children taken into care.

We really don't need any more debate on this.

NancysNews Wed 17-Jul-13 17:18:53

After reading Zoe Williams excellent article in todays G2, I thought I would try and spend a little time promoting a SIMPLE BUT EFFECTIVE new campaign called ‘Turn The Sport Round’. A year or so ago I felt moved to ask our local shop – The Balcombe Stores – to please turn The Sport round so that the back sports page was the one on show, and not the disgusting explicit front page images of naked women bending over.

The women running it happily obliged and it has been turned round ever since. Those wanting to buy it can still see it is there, but others and more importantly the children who are at eye level no longer have to look at it when they come in for their comics and sweets which are right next to it.

If we all went into our local Newsagents, Supermarkets and garages and requested that they turn The Sport round we could really begin to get somewhere.

If people do not feel comfortable asking the newsagents to do this they could either say the following or print off a little leaflet with the following words and hand it in to on to them:


A new campaign has been started by concerned parents and others who are sick of seeing sexually explicit images on The Sport newspaper which is more often than not at children’s eye level, next to comics and sweets.

All local newsagents, supermarkets and garages are being asked if they would mind ‘Turning The Sport Round’. This way, those who want to buy the Sport can still see it in its usual place, but children and others do not have to look at these images.

Many thanks for your assistance in this matter!!

From many of your customers

Please use, post or promote this in anyway you see fit if you think its a good idea.

Kindest regards

Nancy Towers (mother of two girls 14 and 11)

Oh, and just in case you're still reading Ed how about doing something to improve maternity services, both on labour wards and especially on post-natal wards. It's such an important and brief time in a woman and family's life, but so important to get everyone off to a good start.

Can we please put the resources in so that every woman has someone to talk to and excellent all round care at least in the 24 hours after giving birth, and in labour too. Designated midwives, continuity of care, staff with enough time and training to listen. (And let's get rid of commercial pressures such as Bounty as well - see current MN campaign)

swallowedAfly Mon 01-Jul-13 17:41:00

and the last secondary school i taught in before running for the hills had the 'ladies' bringing in the cakes and organising the coffee fund etc whilst the men sat around making oafish jokes. so you'd have no joy there either.

swallowedAfly Mon 01-Jul-13 17:39:40

there's a lot of old school simpering to the male headteacher, who thinks he's hilarious spouting 'funny' stereotypes about boys and girls, by the female teachers at my school. there's also a lot of asking mum's to bake cakes, sending home last minute requests for costumes with recommendations we just sew an old sheet into a tunic and attach whatever to the hem and much general assumption mum's don't have jobs or lives and live to bake and sew. they really are the last people to be talking about gender equality.

Yes, I think the reality is we've got a long way to go before we reach anything like real equality.
I think young children's play is pretty much reflecting that reality as they see it !

musicalfamily Mon 01-Jul-13 10:27:43

sorry I meant my own above your post!! (you just beat me to it whilst I was posting ps!!)

How do you mean musical ? (which particular observations ?)

musicalfamily Mon 01-Jul-13 08:54:45

PS given the above observations I would be appalled to hear school give my children advice about equality, as I think they promote the opposite of what I want my children to pick up!

I think we should talk more with our teens about sex and relationships though in a positive way too, as they seem to be able to do in say the Netherlands. I think many countries have found that giving young people more knowledge and opportunity to talk about sex and relationships has actually resulted in young people choosing to become sexually active later and also to reduced teen pregnancies, and I'm sure also more healthy and positive adult relationships generally. We still seem to have both a much more negative message and a head in the sand - don't tell them anything and they won't find out ! - approach. It's not been working well !

As a small example when I stayed in a hostel in Amsterdam condoms were given out individually to everyone during check-in. I thought that actually gave a very positive life affirming message. There was no mention of whether or not you might be likely to need one.

musicalfamily Mon 01-Jul-13 08:53:08

I have been listening very carefully recently to my children, as I think their comments accurately and spontaneously reflect what they pick up in their environment, school in particular.

My 6 year old son asks why is always mums who help in school and not dads.

My 8 year old daughter was recently off sick and was asked 3 times in one day if she was happy to help mum around the house today

My 8 year old daughter and my 3 year old daughter were role playing and I overheard them both say "mum stays at home and dad goes out to work"

Bearing in mind I have always worked and my husband does more than me at home and with the children, I think society strongly influences children to see women firmly pigeon holed in a particular role. I wonder what this does to help women feel equal as they are growing up.

swallowedAfly Mon 01-Jul-13 07:44:13

actually i really don't want school giving my son 'relationship' education at every stage especially when governed by a state so intent on social engineering and heteronormativity.

i want students made clearly aware of the law with particular regard to what constitutes rape, domestic abuse, sexual harassment etc and that is more a citizenship than 'let's talk about love and respect'. I'd like them to be clearly challenged and if needs be punished when they sexually harass girls in school (as we know happens) and where stuff comes up organically in the classroom for teachers to challenge and deal with misogynistic attitudes, victim blaming and rape mythology.

i would then like them to see what they are told about the law and rights and responsibilities being upheld in society - by seeing that people who do these things are punished and disapproved of rather than let off by courts, courted by the media if they happen to be famous and rather than seeing endless victim blaming and misogyny out there. otherwise we know, and they will know, that it's a joke.

it doesn't need a new subject or to be made into a 'soft' skills issue - citizenship should be about what your responsibilities are, what the law is, what rights you have etc. i'd rather it was in that context given how serious it is rather than some touchy feely lame arse attempt at hearts and minds stuff.

Wuldric Mon 01-Jul-13 04:38:18

Did this OP actually chime with anyone?

Do I care about banknotes? Not particularly. I care more about cabbies offering me a free trip if I have sex with them.

Do I care about relationship education? Not very much at all. I'd far rather have equal pay and equal chances for promotion and to sit at tables which aren't 90% male.

What is Ed actually suggesting behind all the hyperbole? What is his routemap to equality? Routemap? There is no routemap. He's not going to change a chuffing thing.

libertarianj Mon 01-Jul-13 00:10:21

oh no! not the bloody porn filters crap from him as well and the sexualisation of society bull shit. Maybe he should give up politics and write for the Daily Mail instead.

poorbuthappy Sun 30-Jun-13 22:02:33

Tis awful to realise that 51% of the population in this country, can not vote for a party who considers them useful. But because no one does.

I seriously worry for my 3 girls growing up in this society.

wonderingagain Sun 30-Jun-13 18:33:19

I voted against the labour party for the first time at the last election too.

You had a lot of good women in the party and they all magically disappeared. If you don't put your egos in a box occasionally you will never get good women - women just don't do ego in that way and the party culture has got to change.

Marylou2 Sun 30-Jun-13 16:12:02

Pathetic,patronising vote grubbing. We weren't born yesterday Mr Milliband.

swallowedAfly Sun 30-Jun-13 15:59:28

poor bloody nigella - as if what happened wasn't awful enough without it being splattered all over the media.

i'm like you on who the hell to vote for. i actually think as a woman and as someone with a commitment to ethics and justice there is no one currently fit to represent the british people.

SauceForTheGander Sun 30-Jun-13 15:18:17

Thanks for coming on here.

We chatted in the park about a year ago. Our DCs were playing together my DD had stolen your DS's toys and I wanted to let you know then that I had no idea who to vote for any more. But it wasn't the right time so thank you for coming on to mumsnet so I get another chance.

I was a life long labour supporter until all in the in fighting and bickering put me off. We want to see politicians on the left motivated by social justice and I didn't get that from the last labour PM. That aside I can't vote Tory.

David Cameron laughed at Caroline Lucas when she raised the no more page 3 issue. He's refused to even consider the damage that is done to girls and women by over sexualised. I will never vote for him for this alone. My protest vote was going to go to the greens.

This is a fantastic chance for you and the Labour Party to show you are a party that insists on equality. Please let's have an intelligent debate about violence against women and how women are portrayed in the media and if there are links. Let's also stop ignoring the impact of internet porn on our society.

And well done for being the only leader to say that you would have intervened while Nigella Lawson was being assaulted. Clegg fudged and Cameron diminished.

I know it has been a bit of a tangent - I blame saf grin
- but maybe not that much of one as Ed and others did talk about the inclusion of women in our story of our history ?

A very important area regarding how our children grow up seeing themselves as girls and boys, women and men.

swallowedAfly Sun 30-Jun-13 14:10:56

gosh yes - that's a point. i wouldn't be here in all likelihood. how did i miss that?! grin

again sorry for tangent.

Yes, fortunately for him and me my DGP had just got himself apprenticed in the car industry when war (WW1) broke out when he was a very young man (maybe 18) So (perhaps surprisingly) he was obliged to fulfill that duty (can't imagine an apprenticeship being taken so seriously these days !)
When the apprenticeship ended he was able to join the Royal Flying Corps - again luckily for him the war ended a few weeks after he signed up and he survived - otherwise yes, I wouldn't have known him, and I might not even have been here ! sad

swallowedAfly Sun 30-Jun-13 13:12:23

yes to the diversity. not just the COs but also ppl like my granddad who were kept back for farming work and were treated horrendously for it by some people. i'm very glad he was or i may not have had him in my life growing up.

Thanks saf thanks

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