Week Woman

A Pox on the Patriarchy

Open Letter to the Media: A Plea For Fact-Checking

Dear Media,

We’ve been in touch a bit over the past few weeks. And before I go any further, I want to thank you. I want to thank you for helping me spread my story Screen Shot 2013-08-25 at 12.21.48about the abuse I was receiving – on behalf of me, and of all women who’ve been through the same and had to suffer in silence. Who’ve been told to lock their accounts, not tweet controversial things, back off and shut up. Thank you for helping me shine a light into the dark corners of the misogyny that still pervades our society. It’s not been pretty and it’s not been pleasant. But it’s been necessary. And I really hope that the result of this will be a huge and desperately needed culture shift in the police and in social media platforms – and ultimately, a culture shift overall.

I also want to thank you for the way you treated me during those dark days. Some of you were not wonderful – turning up at my door at 10.15 on a Sunday night, getting aggressive and pushy when I didn’t want to do my tenth interview of the day, when I just didn’t want to relive it anymore. But on the whole, you were wonderful. Hugely caring and understanding, making sure I was looked after, making sure I was OK – and going out of your way to tell me you supported what I was doing.

But.

There has been a small point that has been niggling away at me a little bit. And that is your reporting of my campaign for banknotes, which started this whole episode off. Let’s take a little trip down memory lane, and visit the Change website, where my petition was hosted. Have a read of the petition text; have a read of the victory text. Does it say anywhere there that I campaigned for Jane Austen to be on the next tenner? No, it doesn’t. And the thing is, the deluge of rape threats wasn’t the first time we met media. We met quite a few times during the campaign itself, where it seemed quite easy to say “campaign for women on banknotes” rather than “campaign for Jane Austen on the tenner”. Where did it all go wrong?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Austen. I think she’s a great choice  – in fact, I even wrote about it. I am disappointed in the quotation the Bank chose for her, since it demonstrates a total lack of understanding about Austen’s work, and does nothing to dispel the sexist vision we have of her as the “Barbara Cartland” of the Regency era, simply because she wrote about women’s lives. But that’s an argument for another day – maybe for another petition (tho not fronted by me. I’m a bit petitioned out at the moment). And anyway, as you can see from this ramble, yes I am a Jane Austen fan-girl. This isn’t why I object to the lazy conflation of the outcome of the campaign with its aims. The reason I object, media, is because the campaign was about much more than getting a particular woman on a single banknote. The campaign was about the principle of female representation – and why this matters. It was about role models for women and young girls – and the impact their absence has. It was about the criteria we so unthinkingly use, for so many decisions, that shut out over half of the population – make no mistake, these criteria don’t just discriminate against women. It was about holding public institutions to account, and showing that ordinary people can object to failures to apply laws, such as the crucial Public Sector Equality Duty – which the government is currently doing its best to water down into insignificance – and that they can win.

This is why I object, media. By misrepresenting the campaign, you are not only misrepresenting me, you are doing a disservice to the battle we fought so hard for, on behalf of all women. The battle for women to have their achievements recognised on a par with men, so that young women growing up don’t have to think that they have to be a boy to be a spy, to be an astronaut – yes young children really do still think this. I think that’s an important battle – and I know you do too.

Best wishes,

Caroline

5 comments on “Open Letter to the Media: A Plea For Fact-Checking

  1. Brian Spurrell
    August 25, 2013

    Ben, I’m sure Sir Patrick was only being realistic when he said the first British astronaut would be male – and I’m sure he will have been delighted to be proved wrong. :)

  2. Legionseagle
    August 25, 2013

    My own bit of accidental erasure here, of course. June 1963, <a href="Colonel-Engineer Valentina Tereshkova. NOT an air hostess.

  3. Legionseagle
    August 25, 2013

    Actually, Ben, back in the 1960s the most adventurous thing a woman could hope to become was Commander (the admiralcy came later, in the 1970s) Grace Hopper.

    The problem women continue to experience and which the banknotes campaign highlighted is not challenging the view that women were capable of carrying out role X or Y; it was the fact that they had already done it and then been erased from history.

    Of course, Admiral Grace Hopper was herself only the latest in a long string of female admirals (for example, Queen Semiramis, Grace O’Malley, Ching Shih, Aetheflaeda of Mercia) and of female computer scientists and mathematicians.

  4. Ben
    August 25, 2013

    There was a lady who quoted a reply to a letter she wrote him back in the 1960s where he told her that being a girl was no inhibition to her becoming an astronomer at all. He had no issue with women himself. Back in those days though, the most adventurous thing a woman could hope to become was an air hostess.

  5. Brian Spurrell
    August 25, 2013

    Ha – I remember watching Patrick Moore on children’s TV in the 70s talking about the first British astronaut – “who will definitely be a boy I’m afraid”. Tell that to Helen Sharman who became the first Brit in space in 1991. Well done CCP and more power to your elbow.

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This entry was posted on August 25, 2013 by in Features and tagged , , , , , , , .
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