The way we think and speak about women has never changed. We cannot simply behead women when they do something we do not like – Labour Article
It sounds funny, the headline. But, really, I don’t think I’m going too far with it. The natural stance for dealing with women in the public is to doubt their intentions and malign them at all costs.
Meghan Markle merely got married and pregnant. Yet she was vilified and torn apart by a press and public that believe they have some miraculous insight into her and her family’s private life. Her marriage is constantly dogged with people saying she stole away Prince Harry; that she controls him. Announcing the pregnancy of her third child, something that she couldn’t and shouldn’t have to hide was met with derision.
Britney Spears has shown how debilitating and traumatic it can be as a girl thrust into the public eye at a young age. She has had every element of her life controlled ever since then. We are told that whilst she is in the right frame of mind to go on tours and release music, her father simply can not relinquish his power over her. Even though she has gone to court to try and remove him from this conservatorship.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has simply dared to do her job in the best way she sees fit. But she doesn’t just receive the scrutiny that a member of the government should get from those with differences in opinion. Oh, no. First, people even tried to criticise her for having danced in a video for her university. Another member of the House thought it acceptable to call her a bitch to her face, in their work environment. And when her life was at risk from the insurrection at the Capitol, many people across the aisle didn’t even acknowledge the threat.
Women are not taken seriously. And this isn’t only on the men. Other women bring them down just as easily. Of course, we know that being in the public eye comes with cruelty from both the press and the public; many people, regardless of who they are have suffered horrendously from it. But the treatment of women is unforgivable. And it just gets worse if they come under any sort of minority category.
But we really should not be surprised because women throughout history have been treated in exactly the same way.
Every kid in the UK grows up learning about the Tudors. Henry VIII and his six wives, and his multitude of mistresses. And then the many bodies he left in his wake when he didn’t get his way. But when we see portrayals of Anne Boleyn she is nearly always painted as a woman who forced a man away from his wife.
Some authors like to take every piece of gossip that was spread about her at the time to discredit her and write a book about it (The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa Gregory if anyone’s wondering); that she wore yellow to celebrate Katherine’s death; that she was a witch; that she slept with her brother. The list goes on and on. And the fact that one cannot say no to a King is ignored, the fact that she spent her short time as Queen advocating for social and education reform is ignored. We only focus on her sex life and her death.
And then there is Juana la Loca (Crazy). Queen of Castille and Aragon. A Queen locked up whilst the men in her life ruled. Whilst it is likely that she did have some sort of mental illness, especially since she was a Hapsburg, her father and husband exaggerated and lied about her mental state in order to take power away from her and rule for themselves. Then, after the death of her husband, she was locked away by her father. When he died, her son continued her imprisonment until her death, even instructing those around her to avoid speaking to her. After all that, it isn’t surprising she didn’t have the best mental state. But I personally think the true madness lies in those willing to lock up their family for power.
Different contexts, different times, but the way we treat women is the same. We can’t behead them anymore but we can make their lives a living hell; criticising every action, blaming them for everything, taking away all their power if they don’t act in the way we want.
I don’t and won’t know any of these women personally. They are not saints and inevitably, as humans, do bad things. But they deserve fairer treatment. They deserve to be taken seriously and to be allowed to live their lives, just like most men in their positions would be able to. We can’t resurrect Juana or Anne, or the countless other victims of history but we can change the way we think and talk about women who are currently in the public eye.
Written by Junior Labour Writer, Freya Jhugroo
Point of Information
Women are held to a much higher standard – A Liberal Response
I think that Freya has perfectly highlighted the sad and unjust reality that, even in the 21st century, we still hold women to a much higher standard than men. No one can ever be perfect. Being fallible and making mistakes only makes us human. However, men often receive a ‘get out of jail free card’ that excuses them of their behaviour because ‘boys will be boys’. Women rarely seem to be that lucky.
We can take this argument even further back in history to look at the Virgin Mary; the ultimate impossible standard for womanhood. Thousands of years and a handful of feminist revolutions later and women still find themselves constricted by unattainable societal expectations.
Of course, I think it is important to stress the intersectional nature of this. Not all men necessarily hold such privilege. And not all women have the same amount of criticism levied against them. Needless to say, BAME men will definitely not enjoy the same ‘get out of jail free card’ that others are able to.
The very book that I am currently reading fits in nicely with this discussion. ‘Know My Name’, written by sexual assault survivor Chanel Miller, talks of how easily her rapist, Brock Turner, initially managed to get off lightly. All thanks to his race, class, and immense privilege. She found herself vilified by both the media and the public because she was in a dress, drunk, and a few years older than Brock. Apparently, to some, this means that she was ‘asking for it’.
Clearly, we need change. The question is, however, how can we bring about such necessary change? If this archaic narrative were easy to dismantle then it would have been done years ago.
I believe that responsibility largely rests with the media. It needs to stop framing women as villains when men are just as at fault. But, equally, responsibility also rests on us as individuals. We need to recognise this injustice and learn to rise above it through honest and open discussion. How can we expect things to ever change if we do not start actively seeking this change ourselves?
Change is certainly long overdue. But I worry that we will be waiting a long time before society beings to treat men and women equally, as human beings.
Written by Junior Liberal Writer, Beccy Reeves
Not convinced – A Conservative Response
I am really not convinced.
I’ll be honest, I think this is a very confusing article. It is a bit of a mishmash, pinpointing different, very real phenomena; including the press being despicable (Meghan, Britney, AOC, etc.), or political power struggles (Juana La Loca), and then automatically assuming that this has to be rooted in gender.
Jumble the above with a random anecdote about a megalomaniacal King, and you have a rather bizarre headline.
If you’re going to assert a global, historical conspiracy on this scale — that everyone, even women themselves, are out to get women — you’re going to have to do better than this, I’m afraid. Women are criticised, of course, but so is everyone else.
The relentless criticism in the press of Trump, Johnson, Corbyn, or Miliband, just to name the first few that come to mind, is never blamed on their being men. No, it is simply tabloids wanting clicks.
The instances where women seized political control; Queen Irene of Athens, (who had her own son’s eyes gouged out to secure the throne); or Queen Isabella of England (who usurped the throne of her husband and had him brutally murdered in captivity), are not seen as hallmarks of widespread oppression of men. No, it is simply the brutal nature of historical politics.
Also, just a quick note on the response from my Liberal colleague. The mix of, (1) the title: “women are held to a much higher standard” and (2) the metaphor: “get out of jail free” is laughably ironic.
Why? Because men get sent to prison more often, and for longer, compared to women committing the same crimes  . If there is any “get out of jail free” card enshrined in law, it certainly cannot be redeemed by men.
The above all just rings a bit hollow to me; the, now ritualistic, signalling of virtue, devoid of any real substance. Maybe there is a genuine issue, but this article has brought us no closer to it.
Written by Conservative Writer, Alexander Dennis
Hello, I’m Freya. I am going into my third year at Exeter, studying International Relations and Spanish. My main areas of interest are the environment, societal injustices and foreign affairs.
Hello, I’m Alexander Dennis, and I am going into my third undergraduate year at the University of Exeter. I study Politics & International Relations, with a possible year abroad hanging in the balance. My particular interest in politics really started in early 2016: yes, it was ‘Brexit’. I was at once intrigued, and confused, by something so critical. From that baptism, I have become somewhat addicted to political discussion, intrigued by issues ranging from drugs policy to taxation. So I followed my nose: I applied for a degree in the subject.