Media Blitz – On Grazia, the Mirror and representation

I doubt it’s escaped many of our regular readers hawklike attention that in the last ten days, we’ve been featured in both Grazia and the Daily Mirror. And lo, the big time doth hit us like a slap on both cheeks. I jest, I jest. Now, we’re not in the business of breeding pigs with wings here at HollabackLDN, so we don’t expect reasoned pro-feminist critique from a magazine that frequently dedicates hearty chunks to such daily conundrums as ‘Hmm, golly gosh, where are the best clinics to have one’s face injected with miracle strains of botulism?’ nor for that matter, would we be so foolish as to expect any kind of balanced opinion in a ‘news’paper that could not be more bursting with steaming effluent should I somehow find its pages worthy of wiping my ample rear end.

To be fair, the Grazia article could have been far worse, and we’re obviously grateful for the coverage. It told the story of  journalist Amy Molloy, as she resolves to directly engage with every person who harrasses her. For a week. Amy is shocked when her harassers immediately turn nasty at the suggestion of their being inappropriate – ‘Frigid bitch, why don’t you loosen up?‘ – but rather than questioning how presumed and ingrained these power dynamics must be to provoke such sudden outrage when prodded, she concludes that street harrassment is just a ‘downside of being a moderately attractive woman.

This is a crucial and dangerous assumption, because, as we keep on bloody saying, gender-based violence is about power not sex, or flirting, or your eyeshadow, or neckline.  Hadley is right on the money. Every women-identified person that doesn’t present within the framework of conventional beauty standards, yet still faces harassment every day can back this up. Molloy’s piece does accept some of the fundamental aspects of what Hollaback is about, and employs facts and figures to explore the issue, but her hinging of this piece around our campaign without contacting or consulting us meant that the core arguments got kinda lost.

While it’s a shame and a little embarrasing to have our global groundswell against the most daily manifestation of socialised sexism written off as little more than a bit of a curious overreaction,  far more disturbing are the responses from readers that encourage other women to ‘take it and smile, after all a smiling woman is a beautiful thing.’ Top Tips, right? Yowzer.

The second piece of coverage in the Delightful Daily Mirror, manages to make Grazia look like Spare Rib, such is its bewildered self-hatred, encapsulated by the catchy headline ‘When the Wolf-whistles stop it’ll be time to Die.’

Yep, because life without uninvited comment on your appearance from strangers would surely be a bleak and wasted existence, n’est-ce pas? My instinct is to hide under my (obvs) humourless feminist rock until this moronic diatribe fades into the ether, but this is so weird and messed up that it almost deserves a little unpacking.

“These men can then consider themselves well and truly named and shamed (although, presumably for both legal and practical reasons, without actually being named. And therefore not being particularly shamed that much either. Still, that’ll show ’em!)”

Biting rapier wit on display here, YOU GOT US GOOD! In reality, of course, the idea of ‘naming and shaming’ has never been suggested anywhere on any of our websites, because they are actually a place for people who have experienced harassment to share how THEIR experience made THEM feel, and that has little to do with some bizarre fantasy of vigilante justice.

“There are so many other injustices women have to fight that are much more worthy of starting a website over, rather than something ­harmless like this”

Except for the fact that street harassment is happening right now all across the city and going unchallenged, and that it’s so obviously a symptom of these larger systemic injustices, and the thin end of a thick wedge which has rape and murder at the other end, and is as such undeniably part of the continuum of gender-based violence. Except for the fact that women continually write to us daily saying they don’t feel safe, that they have been punched outside their front door, spat at and abused. Except for that.

“The day I walk past a building site in silence is the day I kill myself”

Seek help.

Okay, it was never going to be positive, was it? The Daily Mirror is one of a slew of newspapers so retrograde in their perspective as to still feature Page 3, so I’m possibly expecting a little much. [EDIT: Excuse my ignorance, apparently they no longer do – more fool me!] But there’s a deeper disquieting element to this article. Hudson goes on to conclude that we must take compliments from strangers because women find themselves unable to accept them from anyone else. She may indeed have hit upon something, but to me this has more to do with the daily torrent of out-of-reach beauty standards churned out across all media,  breeding terminal insecurity. Opinions like hers add only further darkness to a pretty starless horizon when we talk about self-acceptance. Indeed, loving and respecting yourself should make you more likely to defend your physicality against comments you didn’t ask for, not accept them regardless of tone or intent.

Personally what grinds my gears the most is that this piece, having been written by a woman, will represent for some a glorious green light, an invitation to go right ahead in harrasing whoever, whenever, because as Polly has now so helpfully whittled down, the choice is clear: wolf-whistles or invisibility, cat-calls or irrevelance, humiliation or death.

***

We’re being a bit slow and rubbish about updating the press section, but you can expect screencaps of all these soon. Also, let me say explicitly that we WILL make time to speak with, email or have any kind of dialogue with you if you’re a journalist considering covering HollabackLDN or any these issues. It’ll be better for everyone this way, we promise!

(Bryony)

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3 Responses

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  1. C says:

    No surprises there Daily Mirror, but Grazia….I guess you could say it’s a fashion and appearance-centric magazine, so obviously the outcome was going to feature some kind of reference to looks but I wouldn’t want to make uninformed assumptions..unlike the mag itself.

  2. Jen says:

    I understand that some women – for reasons unfathomable to myself – don’t mind catcalls, but The Mirror writer has chosen to deliberately misunderstand what the issue is here. She represents all street harassment as whistles or relatively harmless comments such as ‘Hey gorgeous’. Sorry to burst her bubble, but comments/actions like these are very much a minority in my experience of street harassment. “I’d fuck that”, “Suck my cock” and “Alright, bitch” have been infinitely more memorable and not comments I’d imagine even The Mirror would want to defend.

  3. chocciediva says:

    Hi I agree with what you have said Bryony and yes Grazia is far too looks obsessed( i prefer mags like Red and Psychologies) but it is thanks to Grazia that i found out that this website even existed.
    However i too was incensed by what Polly Hudson wrote in the Mirror and i texted them telling them so. She insinuates in her “article” (if you can call it that) that all the comments are complimentary. EM NO POLLY THEY ARE NOT. Walking around Braintree Essex i am more likely to get “oi you fat cow, go on a diet” rather than “hello gorgeous how are you”.
    The Mirror really did annoy me with this article but the reason i buy this paper and sometimes the Guardian too is because they are the only papers that dont demonize and discriminate against ill and disabled people by calling them benefit scroungers and they dont write articles that incite disability hatred. In fact these publications are extremely supportive of disabled people and the challenges and discrimination that they face on a daily basis. These issues particularly resonate with me as my husband is disabled. However that did not stop me being annoyed with Polly Hudson. I reckon if a mag like Psychologies ran an article on Hollaback you would probably get a much more accurate and unbiased view.
    Best wishes from Elizabeth.

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