Thursday, December 29, 2011

BBC misogyny is so 2011

You would expect, wouldn't you, that a public service broadcaster with a deserved reputation for quality as the BBC has, would be very careful to make sure that it didn't discriminate against any one group of people.

Unfortunately not. This year, the Corporation has fired off one insult after another at women and seems to be enjoying it.

The Corporation is more than happy to put together all or mostly male panels to discuss the issues of the day. Question Time is the biggest offender, but other current affairs programmes are as bad. How often have I watched Politics Scotland and not seen one female voice on it?

And what does it matter? Well, actually it does. Take, for example, the offensive and appalling way in which Chairman of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee Ian Davidson treated SNP MP Eilidh Whiteford. I'd say that the women across parties that I spoke to were almost all on Eilidh Whiteford's side, as I was. The boys, however, were allowed to brush it all off as inconsequential.

I wrote earlier this year about my complaint to the Corporation over the way its reporters spoke about Miriam Gonzalez Durantez during our Conference this year. More than three months on and after a follow up, no response has been received.

To add insult to injury, the shortlist for BBC Sports Personality of the Year was 100% male, cos women just don't do sport do they?  I mean, I don't even know that much about sport and I managed to suggest a good few names. Our own Jo Swinson, along with some other MPs, protested and the BBC was sniffy in its response.  Apparently allowing a virtually all male cast of newspaper sports editors, along with lads' mags such as Nuts and Zoo is fine by them.

And then yesterday, not having learned anything, BBC Magazine publishes its faces of 2011 - the women. They couldn't even think of an actual woman for December, so they picked Edinburgh Zoo's new panda Tian Tian, or Sweetie. Now, heaven knows I love that panda. She is gorgeous and I'm looking forward to seeing her snuggly little face again next week. Her place in that list, though, is completely inappropriate. I accept the list is women who have made the news rather than achieved highly, but even so, being human should be a pre-requisite.

Why pick the panda when in December you could have had Mona Eltahawy, the fearless and feisty journalist who's been reporting on Egypt's troubles for much of the year. At the end of November, she was beaten and sexually assaulted by the security forces there, an experience she wrote movingly and angrily about in the Guardian.  The Times' Caitlin Moran, who recently won the Galaxy Book of the Year for her brilliant How to be a Woman,  could also have featured there.

In October, rather than pick a Spanish Duchess who got married, why not choose one of the Nobel Peace Prize winners, Tawakul Karman, who has put herself at great risk to champion the cause of women's rights in Yemen?

And why no mention for Elisabeth Sladen, the actress who played the character so many girls of my generation wanted to be: Sarah Jane Smith in Doctor Who?

You would also think that Angela Merkel would figure somewhere in that list. She is, after all, one of the key leaders in the Eurozone.

I was, however, pleased to see Gabrielle Giffords in the BBC's list. The Arizona Congresswoman's remarkable recovery after taking a bullet through the brain has been one of the most inspirational stories of the year. Sarah Burton, too, for designing Kate Middleton's wedding dress, showcased the Alexander MacQueen label to perfection and deserves her place.

But there's no place for either woman who wrote the stories behind two of the biggest films of the year, the final instalment of the Harry Potter series and Breaking Dawn Part 1.

Nor our excellent sporting champions like gymnast Tweddle, swimmer Rebecca Adlington or triathlete Chrissie Wellington.

But why does all this even matter anyway?

Sure, we have relatively decent rights for women in this country, but there are those who would limit maternity leave and employment protection given half a chance. We see from around the world what happens when we're not vigilant in advancing the feminist cause. Many of us were shocked to see Egyptian security forces viciously beat a female protestor the other week in footage. Well, that was nothing compared to what, according to yesterday's New York Times, they  had in store for some for other women.  It's pretty obvious that these women's rights were violated - but we need to get to the stage where the violations don't happen in the first place.

But that's Egypt, not even a democracy. Nothing to do with us. Let's have a look at the USA then. This is a place where women are arrested for murdering their babies if they miscarry.  And there seems to be even more pandering to the religious right than usual in the race to be the Republican Presidential candidate as Digby's Hullabaloo wrote yesterday. It made me feel a bit queasy to see a report in the Daily Fail about a young girl who chose not to have chemotherapy when she was pregnant and who died when her baby was a few days old. These are heartbreaking choices, but it worries me that women who make the other choice risk disapproval and public censure. The pressure on women in the Bible Belt of the USA in that circumstance must be immense and I wouldn't like to think that women were pressured into choosing certain death for themselves.

We need to be talking much more openly about things like the effect of the free availability of internet porn on the behaviour of young men and their expectations from a sexual relationship. The potential for the sexual and violent abuse of young girls is clear.

Many girls and women spend too much time obsessing over their size and shape because a misogynist, male dominated media implies that finding a life partner is all that matters, and you have no chance of doing that if you don't conform to what they say is beautiful.

It's about time women were given their rightful, equal place in BBC coverage. Their misogyny is so last year. Let's hope that 2012 is the year when they start to wake up to the realities of life.

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