This month’s Inspirational Interview is with Helen Mott – a feminist activist, campaigner and researcher who is also the co-ordinator of Bristol Fawcett. She talks to The Pixel Project about the sexualisation of young girls and women in UK society and the importance of getting good men to help stop violence against women. You can read part 1 of the interview here.
5. What attitudes underlie the seemingly relentless sexualisation of young girls and women in our society?
Women have become objects. Objectification of women is relentless because it is profitable. A woman’s body is subjected to market forces and is a hugely profitable commodity. Patriarchy still holds the purse strings of capitalism.
Young women need to feel they are more than just the sexual playthings of men. We need to give confidence to girls that they have skills and talent that can contribute to society in more ways than pleasing the sexual desires of men. We need to challenge the commercialised sexualisation of young women and the best way to do this is by empowering young women themselves.
6. In many patriarchal societies the media portrays being a man as synonymous with being “tough” and “violent”. What effect does this have on our young boys growing up? What links could it have with gender based violence?
The links are very clear unfortunately. I am a mother of four boys and it sickens me to see the way women and men are portrayed in films and the media. It’s a generalisation but widely true that men are the violent ones who are the subjects, and women are the stupid ones who are the objects.
When we watch Hollywood blockbusters at home we try to remember to apply the “Bechdel test”. This is a test which asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about a subject other than a man. Surprisingly few Hollywood films actually pass this test. We watched “Star Trek” and “Iron man” as a family just recently at home and when we saw an example of stereotyping; men being violent or women being objectified, we stopped the film and shouted at the TV “Sexism!” It was a fun game but also an important exercise.
We must teach our children to be critical observers of the world around them. They must challenge the narratives and messages that are being fed to them. The normalisation of sexism results in harmful representations of masculinity. I am particularly worried about pornography online and how the normalisation of aggressive, violent sexual relationships are not challenged. It needs to feature more prominently on the political agenda.
7. What role do you feel men and boys can play in ending violence against women and girls?
It is incumbent on all men to challenge violence. Men and boys need to recognise the positive role they can play in ending violence against women. Gender-based violence wouldn’t exist without perpetrators and most perpetrators are men. It saddens me that the majority of campaigners against VAWG are women.
Where are the men who do not commit violence against women? How do we reach them and encourage them to campaign against gender based violence? They have an extremely important role to play in ending this injustice. We need men to be positive role models and challenge the patriarchal parameters that have given them so much privilege. However, this does involve men giving up their power and this can be a complex, tricky business. Ultimately though, it comes back to education. Children need to learn about human rights and equality. If younger generations had the skills and knowledge to fight inequality and injustice, we would see systemic and systematic change.
8. In recent months in Britain, we have seen countless headlines of sexual attacks, in many different forms, on young girls. Famous public figures arrested for rape, gangs trafficking vulnerable teenage girls for sexual exploitation and a number of high profile cases of young girls raped and murdered by family members and friends they trusted.
How can we reach out to policy makers to alert them of the importance of the radical change needed in our society to protect women and girls at every level? What more could the government be doing to make society a fairer, safer place for the young girls growing up in it?
On one level, this comes back to one of the core mission’s of the Fawcett Society – to influence government and work at a strategic level. Nationwide, the coalition government have made substantial cuts to women’s services. However these cuts have not happened here in Bristol. We have strong and educated senior decision makers who are aware of the importance of these services for women.
We need to continue to raise awareness and campaign where the government fails in protecting women. Gender based violence, in all its ugly forms, cannot be ignored. How can the government ignore the plight of 50% of the population? We need to work strategically to influence government effectively. We need to reach out to our local MPs and ensure that Ministers are held to account on their promises. Safeguarding children and protecting women from violence needs to come from the top down. In Bristol, we work effectively at a strategic level and engage with key decision makers. We would encourage other women’s groups across the country to work in the same way and forge strong links and strategic partnerships.
9. How can we end violence against women for good?
Women will only be free from violence when we are equal to men. The ugliest symptom of inequality is gender based violence. Two women every week are killed by an intimate partner. Many forms of gender based violence are present in every society around the world. We can only reduce and end violence against women when women are recognised as human beings, not sex objects or commodities or the supporting act to the lives of men. We must challenge inequality and injustice at every level and at the earliest opportunity; this means in the family home and at school.