Media, Sexism, Beyonce, And, My, Letter, To, The, Observer, Gender and Sexuality, Music, Social Justice
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Media Sexism, Beyonce And My Letter To The Observer

From MTV to the mainstream print press, misrepresentation and objectification of women permeate our media more than you might think. Meanwhile, Beyonce is being held up as the new feminist icon. This is a sorry state of affairs indeed

Last night, for the first time in years, I made the mistake of flicking through Sky’s selection of music channels for about fifteen or twenty minutes. 

I was left with an overwhelming sense of multi-layered disgust. I felt violated, aroused, insulted, incensed, nauseous, sick . . . then suddenly just very bored and depressed. I wanted to take a stiff brush to my eyes and scrub off everything that they had just seen; I wanted to take out my brain and soak it in bleach until the stains were gone.

the line between music videos and soulless marketing seems to have become almost imperceptible; bands and brands are one and the same.

There was so much bling and bravado and so many steaming piles of mass-produced, vacuous, technicolour shit. No one seemed to have anything real to say; no one seemed to be trying to do anything different or interesting; the line between music videos and soulless marketing seems to have become almost imperceptible; bands and brands are one and the same.

But more than any of this, what really disturbed me was unprecedented amount of naked or very scantily clad female flesh being gyrated or rubbed all over or all around a variety of fully-clothed men whose lyrics never seemed to amount to much more than “you know you want it”. Or if it was women singing by themselves it was overwhelmingly something along the lines of “come touch my lady humps”, and there was no less nudity.

For the younger readers out there, this is probably nothing new and you might think I’m just an out of touch prude. But that is a big part of the problem as far as I can see it: sexism towards women, misrepresentation and the sexual objectification of women are all so inherent in today’s most consumed media forms that to even notice them shows you are not “down with the kids”.

But have no fear, we doubters are told, for out of this sorry state affairs steps the powerful new face and voice and body of feminism, Beyonce Knowles, showing all the sistahs out there that they can do it for themselves and be “independent women” etc etc.

What an ABSOLUTE load of bollocks.

Bey can drop that random snippet of the much smarter Chimamanda Adichie’s feminist manifesto wherever the hell she likes – I don’t buy it. That used to be called taking the credit for someone else’s work . . . back in the good old days; nowadays, as far as most people seem to be concerned, it makes Beyonce tantamount to Nelson Mandela.

I suppose that this speaks volumes about the lack of better female role model options in mainstream media. When sexually objectified women who are far more body than they are brain are all you have to chose from, I guess it makes sense to hold up the woman who at least seems to be the most adept and autonomous when it comes to managing her own objectification, using it towards her own ends and becoming unimaginably lucrative and revered in doing so.

Beyonce, for any of her manipulations, is still in some way working within, and thereby legitimizing, a system, discourse and media landscape that nourish themselves on patriarchal legacies and exceptionally limited and limiting views of and on women.

But that shouldn’t take away from the fact that Beyonce, for any of her manipulations, is still in some way working within, and thereby legitimizing, a system, discourse and media landscape that nourish themselves on patriarchal legacies and exceptionally limited and limiting views of and on women.

And sadly, these legacies and views permeate further than you might think. It’s not only MTV and the tabloids that are guilty. Just today, I sent a letter to The Observer to vent my anger over their treatment of women in a couple of articles in recent weeks. Here is a section of that letter:

“I would have assumed that the editors of The Observer would have taken issue with the following line in the article: ‘The film, produced by Laurie David, former wife of Seinfeld creator Larry David . . .’

Apparently not.

By the end of the article we know nothing more about Laurie David’s life and work before and beyond this film than who she was married to. Anyone who read this article will most likely remember her as much through the association to her ex-husband as through her own work. They may not even remember her name, but they will remember that her former husband directed Seinfeld. This is terribly wrong.

This is not a parochial complaint. The line I have quoted is demonstrative of a much wider problem. Nonetheless, some might argue that this one line is not representative of The Observer’s treatment of women more broadly. Well, I might have been willing to let it slide had I not read an article about George Clooney’s fiancee the week before that did not even mention her name in the headline, though obviously his name was included. She, for those that don’t remember, is called Amal Alamuddin and she is a prominent defense lawyer about to represent Gaddafi’s enforcer at the ICC.

Does this not make her and her case worthy of their own story? What is the relevance of her engagement to George Clooney to this story?It speaks volumes that I read this story last week and couldn’t remember her name without having to refer back to the article online just now. But I knew that she was George Clooney’s fiancee alright.’

So, by way of some kind of summary to this grumpy old man rant, it seems that the message we are all being given, by everything from MTV to supposedly “quality” papers who pride themselves on balance and fairness, is that women can exist or achieve only in relation to men. Either they must be dancing and gyrating on men, singing about or trying to allure men with their looks, suggestive lyrics and outfits, or can only be considered newsworthy enough if they are in some way connected to an important man. Sounds archaic when you say it like this doesn’t it?

All of this can only be detrimental, perhaps even leading, according to some studies, to increased instances of rape, sexual and domestic abuse. And it’s not only women that suffer. Men are being sold an unrealistic and unattainable ideal of what a woman should be or should be able to give them, and, in turn, are being pressurized to conform to what this said same hyper-sexualised ideal of a woman expects of them.

In the long run, there are no winners here apart from the media conglomerates and their advertisers. If something doesn’t change soon, the rest of us only stand to lose.

Last night I lost twenty minutes of my life that I can never get back. That’s already too much as far as I am concerned.