9 Jun 2012

Remembering why the British media sucks

So, I have returned after a fabulous 3 months in Los Angeles spent interning for Ms. Magazine, and lordy do I miss the US already. Not the constant assaults on women's reproductive rights, the lack of Ribena or the people who say 'like' every other word, but definitely the fantastic feminists I worked with, the great people I met, the joy of being immersed in feminism every day and living in a country where a feminist press actually exists. 

Perhaps the existence of a British Ms., Bitch or even the less hard-line Bust wouldn't do a great deal to challenge the dominant media over here, which consists of tabloids, which aren't interested in women unless they're topless, and the delightful Daily Mail, which is only interested in women if it's to harangue them about daring to have careers, views, rights or lives outside the pursuit of men and childrearing. But still - it'd be a fucking start. It might mean there's actually someone on hand to pick up on shit like this Telegraph article, which I had the misfortune to run across today.

The online version is actually milder than the print version (which I only read because certain relatives of mine buy the weekend supplement, alright? I don't buy that shit. In fact, I don't buy anything - I've been an unpaid intern for 3 months) which bears the headline "Fast cars, loose women... how Cern physicists relax". What is effectively a non-story centres around the recent 'faction' novel by Francis Farley, a retired scientist, supposedly based upon his naughty after-hours experiences at a particle laboratory in Geneva. Methinks this should probably be in the literary section (as it purports to be about a novel), rather than filed under 'science news', but perhaps the science correspondent has started agitating for more "steamy" (his word, not mine - who actually ever uses the word 'steamy' in real life?) stories from his editors, and they threw him this bone in pity. 

Unfortunately, this piece isn't a story. It's about nothing at all, except the fact an old man has fictionalised a part of his life into a somewhat "racy" novel. Just because he worked at a place where groundbreaking scientific work was done, doesn't mean that him writing about it is automatically of public interest. Unless, the Telegraph seems to reason, you can throw in some suggestions of 'raunch' (another word seemingly confined to newspaper usage) and demeaning descriptions of women so retrograde you can't believe they would get past any editor aged under 70. Yes, the author is 91 and so could be excused a little sexism since he is clearly a different vintage from the rest of us. Does that mean The Telegraph should unquestioningly excuse his words "there were lots of little floozies about"? and reproduce them for the nation to read? What about its own, irony-free usage of the term "loose women" (twice in the print article) to describe the clearly morally degenerate females who (allegedly) participated in these naughty frolics with the male physicists (who are free of any blame for sexual immorality, naturally)?  

Francis Farley is quoted in the piece as saying "I was afraid people would be shocked by some of the sexy passages". Leaving aside the fact his definition of 'sexy' is likely to differ very heavily from mine, as I doubt I'd find his portrayal of 'little floozies' and their antics particularly erotic, I'd like to go out on a limb and say I'm not shocked that someone is trying to sell a book using sex. It's getting to be the oldest, tiredest trick of the increasingly uninspired media. I think I'd be more shocked if someone attempted to market their novel by, say, throwing in a free bag of potting compost with each purchase, or by promising that the book contains a female character who wants something other than men, babies and handbags. I suppose I'm also not that shocked that The Telegraph, a newspaper that masquerades as a 'respectable' broadsheet but regularly fails to hide its heavy leanings to the right, would try to get attention for such a non-story using such tired and sexist tactics. I just wish there were more resources in the British media for highlighting and challenging this shit.

But it'd be unfair not to give a shout-out to the UK ladies who are doing just that from the grassroots up, often with no support but their own feminist sistas, so I'll end with some link-y love and hope it brings more sexist-bullshit-spotters to the party.

The F Word UK
Kate Smurthwaite
Laurie Penny
Cath Elliott
Zoe Williams
Tanya Gold

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