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Blog |  Feminists never buy the Sun (with apols to Billy Bragg*)

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Feminists never buy the Sun (with apols to Billy Bragg*)

Engender's Communications and Engagement Manager Alys Mumford writes for Gender Equal Media Scotland about the misogyny of the Sun's recent reporting on JK Rowling. Follow Engender on Twitter @EngenderScot.

You can contact Scotland's Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline on 0800 027 1234 or webchat with them at www.sdafmh.org.uk

The Sun is hardly renowned for its fair and respectful attitude towards women. From Page 3 to the countdowns towards young celebrities’ 16th birthdays, its desire for sales and clicks far outweighs any consideration for the impacts of sexism and misogyny.

Their latest front page to have, rightly, caused outrage features a quote from JK Rowling’s ex-partner, bragging about his abuse of her. Not only does this show a cynical exploitation of a ‘hot button topic’ (the interview follows a controversial piece by JK Rowling about her opinions on trans inclusion), but it amplifies the voice of an abuser in a way which will be very distressing to anyone who has experienced violence against women. It also plays directly into the well-worn tropes and myths around violence against women: a focus on physical violence, a centring of the perpetrator, a justification of abuse.

The Sun is read by over a million people a month, and many times that number will see the front page while shopping. This includes young people, potential jurors, police officers and social workers, politicians, men who abuse and women who are abused. All receiving the message that violence against women is a scandal first and foremost; something to be gawped over with a cup of coffee but not something to take too seriously, and something which can instantly be distorted from a personal story of trauma and survival into national news.

Every survivor must be able to speak out about her experiences at a time and in a manner of her choosing, without the fear that her private life and past trauma will be raked through and published for the sake of selling newspapers. The Sun’s ghoulish capitalisation on Rowling’s story show us that no amount of privilege, power or wealth can provide respite from victim shaming.

This is not about the content of her original post, but about the shameless behaviour of the Sun exploiting her words for a sensational, and almost salacious, headline. The very fact that they chose to run a story on just her disclosure of abuse, while entirely ignoring the arguments which form the bulk of the blog exposes the misogyny at the heart of their approach. I don't share many of the opinions Rowling expresses in her blog, but I recognise it as containing content, views, and questions about an important issue, rather than simply background noise to an attention-grabbing front page that offers a perpetrator a voice.

So what can we do?

The problem many of us face, is that we don’t buy the Sun, and so can feel pretty powerless when this type of thing happens. We may rant on Twitter, express outrage and grief to our friends, but then shrug and say ‘well it’s the Sun, what do you expect?’. But there are things you can do to challenge this kind of behaviour.

  1. Complain to the Sun

In response to the furore caused by their story, the Sun said they have a "long history of standing up for abused women". You can choose to take them at their word and get in touch with them, at editorialcomplaints@the-sun.co.uk letting them know why you think they’ve got it wrong. It’s a good idea to do this before complaining to IPSO (see 2).

  1. Complain to IPSO

IPSO (the Independent Press Standards Organisation) is the regulator of most of the UK’s newspapers and magazines. You can complain to them about stories in the press, but only if you feel in contravenes The Editors’ Code – a set of rules focused mainly on balancing the right to free speech and the rights of individuals. You can’t complain to them about something just because you think it is offensive or in bad taste.

In this case, I complained about the Sun’s front page on the basis of:

- Privacy (just because JK Rowling revealed she had experienced abuse, it doesn’t mean that newspapers should go delving into her past relationships)

- Intrusion into grief or shock (largely used to challenge the practice of ‘doorstepping’ families of victims of crime), I think this applies here relating to the impact the piece will have on both JK Rowling, and on other victim-survivors of domestic abuse.

3) Talk to people

Looking at social media can often make you feel like everyone is as outraged as you are, but there may well be people you know – friends, family, colleagues – who don’t get what the big deal is. Use the front page to start up a conversation about why you think it’s wrong. Check out our resources for journalists on reporting violence against women if you want to back up your discussions with examples of how the press could get it right.

You can contact Scotland's Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline on 0800 027 1234 or webchat with them at www.sdafmh.org.uk

*It's been brought to my attention that this is a pretty niche reference. Here's the original.

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