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The News As It Should Be

By Titilayo Farukuoye, Strathclyde Student Union

On the 22nd of March, during Women’s History Month, GEMS and the Strathclyde Student Union coordinated a workshop to coincide with Zero Tolerance’s Violence Unseen Exhibition. The workshop aimed to provide a forum to critically assess the representation of gender in the media, to take apart the news and reassemble it as it should be.

“Give her a name!”

“Who are they? What did they achieve? Women are not defined by their relationships to men.”

“Outfit?! Really? Who cares about clothes when people are suffering?”

“Women allege, men deny!”

“Stop sexualising our bodies!”

These are just some of the statements and questions raised by participants as they attended the workshop, which ran alongside Zero Tolerance’s Violence Unseen exhibition, and a panel discussion on the representation of violence against women in the media. During the seminar, news stories describing violence against women – like the murders of Claire and Charlotte Hart in 2016 and the murder of Melanie Clark in 2018 – were discussed, taken apart, analysed and re-written.

Aiming to dismantle harmful representations of gendered and sexual violence in the media, the collaboration between Gender Studies at Strathclyde and Strathclyde Students’ Union aimed to encourage the participants to become critical audiences able to challenge and reclaim sexist stories. The attendees demonstrated a range of perspectives, with some coming to the workshop more critical than others, but all recognised the urgent need for improvement in the media’s portrayal of gendered violence. Professor Karen Boyle (Strathclyde) then joined the discussion, highlighting the importance of being critical about what we read and see.

But what does it take to change the narrative around women, and the violence and sexualisation they experience, in the news media today? What are the implications of the perspective the media conveys to audiences? After all, isn’t our understanding of the world shaped by what we see every day, in person or print?

The workshop exposed what is an everyday reality for many: men being humanised despite the horrific abuse and acts of violence they commit, while women are blamed, victimised and questioned, continuously made responsible for the horrors they are exposed to. This is embedded in the common language used in this kind of reporting. For example, one contributor highlighted that the phrase “sex slave” is an oxymoron, as sex is not something which can happen when someone is enslaved. Non-consensual sex is rape, sexual assault and violence – not sex.

Although feminism is arguably more popular and public than ever, practices to achieve actual change are still predominantly dismissed. This is evident from the number of men attending the workshop (none), to the many situations where fellow women look for guilty behaviour or looks as reasons for rape and sexual abuse.

Cutting, gluing, re-writing and crossing out paragraphs dominated the workshop activity, as participants created their own news articles out of the tabloids and broadsheets provided. New headlines, stories centring women and marginalised groups like people of colour, children and people from economically less fortunate backgrounds emerged. Women were clothed and gender stereotypes and unnecessary interview questions were eradicated, hinting at the potential of the news to be as it should be.

In a world in which the media industry remains largely dominated by a white, male and middle-class elite, we need a dramatic re-think, acknowledging that unbiased news reporting is a myth. The workshop emphasised that we must consciously make ourselves aware of the misrepresentation that exists and educate journalists as well as our audiences, in and beyond traditional education settings. Only then can our own personal biases and oppressive perceptions be addressed, challenged and dismantled.

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