this is kind of an open letter. i haven't actually sent it. i just wanted to let my feelings out about the latest article on the BBC website featuring me. The end of the article said that Betfair had declined to respond to my comments. I felt that I actually wanted to respond to my comments, as I felt my comments didn't actually reflect what I said. So that's what I've done.
Dear BBC Bristol
Last week, I had a call from the your local radio station. Despite once telling me to ‘make sure you are available for when we need to speak to you’, I’ve never been adept at guessing which vital feminist news story you are going to pick up on, and want a feminist angle on. When you rang me last week, I racked my brains. Would it be the impact of the riots on women? The blaming of single mums maybe? Or an international issue? Something about our forthcoming workshop on the women in Afghanistan (4th September) or our forthcoming film night on female genital mutilation (5th September)? What could it be?
What it was, in fact, was about some beach volleyball players working with Betfair to have QR codes put on the backs of their bikini bottoms, which, when snapped on a smartphone would take the phone user to the Betfair website.
In all honesty, I couldn’t think of much to say about this issue. So I had a little think, and thought, well if I am going to say anything, I might as well make it about Bristol Feminist Network’s wider exploration of women’s representation in the media, including some excellent research done by one Fawcett member on the representation of women in sport.
I’m not stupid. I anticipated that the stance you were hoping I would take would be one of outrage. Outrage about bums, and bikini bottoms, and sexiness. Because that’s what us boring anti-sex anti-fun feminists get het up about, isn’t it. I know that I was phoned to give an angle of criticising the women, something I clearly was not going to do. Something I did not do. In fact, for the pre-recorded slot, I was asked the extraordinary question of whether I ‘blamed’ the women. Blamed them for what, I wondered? Living in a patriarchy that values their physical appearance more than their impressive sporting ability? I’m a feminist, I’m not in the habit of blaming and condemning women (or men for that matter). I’m more interested in tackling and exploring how patriarchy works, with the ultimate end to making it stop.
With my representation of women in the media angle firmly in my mind, I spoke about the bigger questions at stake. The ones about how we value women. The ones about whether women’s sport is taken seriously. Are these women seen as athletes, I mused, or are they seen as objects? In the live phone in, I asked whether we want to see sportswomen as advertising billboards. I said that we all know that athletes wear logos and sponsorship from all sorts of companies, and so it begged the question why were the QR codes on the womens’ bums. I talked about the lack of coverage of women’s sport in general, and how the BBC got a slapped wrist over its Wimbledon coverage which favoured matches played by conventionally attractive women players than those played by former champs. I did not criticise the women. I didn’t feel like I had criticised anything. I hoped I had raised some interesting points. Some ‘food for thought’. The interviewer told me at the end that I had been diplomatic. I thought I had been honest.
Later that day, I discovered that the story had gone on your website, with the headline ‘Volleyballers' bikini bottom ads criticised by feminist’. This understandably annoyed me. I felt it implied that I had got in touch with you, raising this issue, making a noise about this issue, standing at Horse Guards with placards to criticise the women’s team!! It also suggested that I had a problem with bikini bottoms and what women wear when they play sport. When, as described above, it was YOU who got in touch with me to ask my opinion on a story that your news team thought was worth making a fuss off. I hadn’t really ‘criticised’ anything so much as discussed how women are represented in sport.
My comment about how the women were being seen as advertising billboards was removed from the context of how advertising in sport works, making me sound like I was pretty ignorant. As it happens, I work in advertising. I know how it works. Although you mention that I raised concerns about whether women’s sport is taken seriously, by stripping this statement of its context, a reader of the article would be left with the impression that I was pro-actively criticising women volleyball players for creating a situation where women’s sport was disrespected, rather than asking whether we live in a culture that means women’s sport and athleticism is devalued.
Your actions have not been without repercussions. Since the story went online (which, by the way, I was not told it would be) I have received two nasty and rude emails having a go at me for being ‘out of touch’ and, to paraphrase, denying men the chance to ogle women in their bikinis.
If this was the first time we’d encountered issues with the way you represent the Bristol Feminist Network, then I’d probably let it go. Except it isn’t. In May 2010, you said that BFN and Bristol Fawcett were protesting the ‘sexiness’ of a Dita Von Teese performance (http://sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.com/2010/05/bbc-radio-bristols-reporting-of-dita.html) when we were arguing about the normalisation of sexual objectification. Earlier this year, my phone was cut off when I was talking on your breakfast show about the police safety warnings in the wake of Jo Yeates’ murder, followed by the snide comment that ‘perhaps she just didn’t want to answer the question’. This was not true, and as far as I know it was never clarified on the show that this wasn’t true. In fact, that whole live interview (the pre-recorded one was better) set us up as encouraging other women to take irresponsible risks with their safety. Rather than engaging with the idea that to stop male violence against women, we had to stop men being violent towards women, I ended up having to counter the ridiculous suggestion that we were telling women to take risks. Walking home in the dark after work should not be a risk. Earlier this month, I took part in a phone-in where I wasn’t made aware that I would be expected to respond to calls from the public. About housework. At a time when we only have four women in the cabinet.
Don’t get me wrong, we have had some wonderful experiences with you. Your TV coverage of the 2009 Reclaim the Night march was great (even if you did ask us to pretend to march!). A phone-in where I discussed the Andy Gray and Richard Keys incident was lively and interesting. A discussion on International Women’s Day about whether women could have it all was fun and respectful, even if the subject felt a tad outdated on a day when we recognise the global impact of gender inequality.
I want to work with you. I LOVE the BBC. Our positive experience of working with you shows how good it can be. I want to see you covering feminist stories that really matter. I want you to cover them with passion, interest and enthusiasm. I want to see you devote time to the work done in Bristol to tackle violence against women and girls. I want to hear debates about trafficking and the work done in Bristol to combat this. I want to hear discussion about how the objectification in the media impacts on gender discrimination – I want lively debate, I want to talk to you, I want to share with you the wonderful work happening in this city and I want to share with you the huge challenges we face.
But I don’t want to be set up as a bogeywoman who is against bikini bottoms. Because that isn’t who I am. And it isn’t what feminism is about.
It makes me sad that lately you have chosen to portray feminists and feminism in this negative way.
I hope we can continue to work together to raise the profile of the great feminism activism happening in this city. I hope that next time you call me (if you call me after this!) we can make a positive, exciting statement about what feminism in Bristol is today.
Loathe as i am to link to it, here it is http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-14502888