WOMEN THIS WEEK – 14/10-20/10

daisy coleman

Why Maryville is the new Steubenville, why The Times had to quietly change its Booker headline, why Hannah C. Price’s portraits look so uncomfortable and why the BBC thinks it’s giving a voice to the 3.5 billion. Quite a serious week – but then some weeks just are. 

1. CITY OF LOVE?

The portraits in photographer Hannah Price’s latest series are beautifully composed, but awkward to look at. In many, there seems to be a distance between photographer and subject, or a strange kind of vulnerability in the men (and they are always men) she photographs.

This is because the collection, City of Brotherly Love, turns Philadelphia’s motto on its head by photographing men moments after they have verbally harassed her in public. Some look defiant, others embarrassed, while a few seem more relaxed – Price explains in the video above that she would try and speak to the men and connect with them “on a human level” while taking their portrait, perhaps trying to overcome the very distance that allowed them to feel they could catcall her in the first place. She mentions that “urban areas” seem far more prone to harassment than other areas, and the portraits are a spellbinding exploration of what it is to be an individual in a city, called to account completely unexpectedly in an environment in which you expected to be anonymous.

2. #justice4daisy

maryville, missouri

If it weren’t for their respective dates, it would almost seem like what happened in Steubenville over the past year was being aped by the citizens of Maryville, Missouri. The ingredients are all the same: wealthy, sporty, older boys versus younger, silenced and terrified teenage girls. Rape. Phone recordings. A failure to prosecute despite (what seems like) conclusive evidence, including a video of what happened which made its way around the local high school, but somehow didn’t make its way into the hands of the prosecution. Anonymous’ intervention (with its announcement of #OpMaryville).

The world press have even done the victims the service of reliving their response to the Steubenville Case in all its bizarre, victim-blaming glory. The defence attorney who appeared on Fox News saying “I’m not saying she deserved to be raped, but she [left] her home at 1am in the morning and nobody forced her to drink,” for example.  The families of the alleged perpetrators being given a platform to complain about the way the “glare of publicity” is affecting their sons. But this time, Daisy Coleman, one of the two victims, has decided to take advantage of the media coverage, breaking her own silence and right to anonymity to come forward with her story and her identity.

While the decision must have been difficult, and is in some ways heartbreaking – you have to wonder whether she felt it was necessary, just so people would listen to her rather than the mothers of her alleged abusers or the ‘experts’ interviewed by national news networks – we can also hope that it was in some way cathartic. She had been silenced by an entire town, but now her story is being read all over the world – and, as she writes, at the end of her piece on xojane, “I not only survived, I didn’t give up.”

3. LIT BY CHICKS

the luminaries

On October 17th, The Times newspaper ran a piece on Booker winner Eleanor Catton titled Does Eleanor Catton’s Booker mean the death of chick-lit which also featured winning descriptions of the author such as “[she had] a pretty, user-friendly, Glee-like nerdiness” (hard to think of a creepier epithet than ‘user-friendly’…) Within a day, they had changed the online headline to ‘Eleanor Catton: My Booker triumph that was written in the stars’, but not before hundreds of people were left wondering whether the author had ever read a book by a woman before and why she was so seemingly surprised that a woman had won the Booker at all.

The Times’ Sunday counterpart also ran a front-page headline on a new Radio 4 Presenter this week which read ‘Putting the Phwoar into Radio 4′- perhaps they’re running some kind of gender norm throwback week?

4. SAVE THE WOMEN

100

And yet, however we may worry about mysteriously closed rape cases, misogyny in the literature world or street harassment, we can rest assured that the good old BBC has our back. This month, they are running something called “100 women”, through which, they boast, they want to “hear from half the world.”

This blogpost is late this week mainly because, try as I might to navigate the campaign’s homepage, the whole thing seems completely incomprehensible. Its mission statement reads like the introduction to a documentary on some kind of rarely seen, endangered animal whose habitat has recently been destroyed by an iceberg:

“Women around the world have achieved extraordinary things during the past century. But despite major steps forward in securing political, cultural and social rights, women everywhere face steep challenges compared to their male counterparts…So how can we tell this complex, nuanced story – the story of 3.5bn people in more than 200 countries? Can 3.5bn women beat the odds?”

They then go on to appeal for a “global network of correspondants” to report back on what “women” are up to. Women are silenced in lots of ways, but things aren’t so bad that we need special “correspondents” to venture into the realms of womanhood and report back, are we? There are 3.5 billion of us. We’re right here.

Soberingly, while they claim to be giving a voice to the unheard, the titles of the videos on their homepage follow a strange pattern in which any white, usually blonde women (Marilyn Monroe, Chelsea Clinton, Kate McCann) are named and anybody else is called “Syrian widow”, “Afghanistan woman”, or just “one woman.” White, already over-heard Western woman are being heard…more, and are interviewed for no reason in particular, while nameless women from the rest of the world are known only by the ‘HIV’ she has given to her children, the ‘abuse she escaped’ or her forced ‘migration’ –  used only as a news story to further emphasis the plight the BBC thinks they’re going to save us all from.

Answers on a postcard about what on earth this campaign is about – so far my only theory is that they’re playing along with The Times’ gender throwback week, with an added twist of colonialism.

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