Abuse of Women in/by the Media – Leveson Inquiry submission


Lord Justice Leveson opened the hearings on 14 November 2011, saying: “The press provides an essential check on all aspects of public life. That is why any failure within the media affects all of us. At the heart of this Inquiry, therefore, may be one simple question: who guards the guardians?”

I call on the Leveson Inquiry to establish a monitor for the Abuse of Women in/by the Media and to create a platform for this type of journalism to stop as part of Module 4: Submissions on The Future Regime for the Press.

In July, London lit up with the opening ceremony of London 2012. During the event, the Suffragettes were wheeled out to show how far we had advanced as a society and how far we’d come as a western civilisation. Have we really?

There are some male dominated industries, journalism is one – and I have worked in film and television for over 25 years – I know all about the aside remarks about my arse, snide comments, stares at my breasts, sexual innuendo, put downs in meetings and judgement of my capability based on the fact that I have a vagina (yes, that word again). I have endured the whistles from builders, groping in nightclubs and pubs and the inevitable judgment on my appearance, comments on the length of my skirt, the tightness of my jeans/t-shirt etc.

Now as a General Manager for a film post production company, and having worked my way up the ranks, I still have to deal with the “don’t get emotional” comments when I need to manage a difficult situation at work. I call it when it happens, and I can change my work environment because I am the boss. This attitude, and the fact that men feel they can make comments like this, is perpetuated by the onslaught of soft porn and opinion-based ‘journalism’ we are bombarded with from the mainstream media today.

If you haven’t read them already, please feel free to review the links here from recent ‘stories’ about Kristen Stewart, Geri Halliwell, Page 3 Girls, and you will see that we have not evolved one iota – the Media continues to treat women as play things and mindless twits who allegedly hug teddy bears, seek spiritual support – or better still – just get their kit off and act like a porn star. These three examples took me all of two minutes to find on The Sun* online – and these are accessible to young women all over the world. Is that how you would like your daughter, niece, granddaughter, girlfriend, sister or wife portrayed. Or are you OK with the continued denigration of women on a daily basis? We have reduced women to objects (again) and technology has brought it onto the phones of our children – I strongly feel that more responsibility is needed from the Media and its regulators.

Now I know most men will say – “Love, if you don’t like it then don’t read it, you sensitive little thing.” With a patronising tone aimed at belittling any feeling of objectification these stories/publications have on women. And I know there are some women who would discount this opinion with “Don’t be a prude – you just need a f*&k/vodka/chocolate”.

Amazing women inspire me, it’s simple mathematics that there are no stories written about them in the media – those representations don’t interest the Editors, obviously, as they believe they won’t sell papers. The print industry is dying and they need to sensationalise and sexualise stories about women  to drive people to their websites.

We are supposedly in a modern western society where women have the right to choose what we study, where we work, where we live, whom we marry, what we wear, whom we date, what we eat and the life we live. There are other women in the world who do not have these freedoms and are still subjected to witch hunts, stoning, slavery, forced marriages and lives of abuse.

Through lack of responsibility, we continue to perpetuate a society that condones the abuse of women. This type of behaviour is certainly not allowed in the workplace and, after studying UK and Australian HR law; this behaviour regularly gets employers and perpetrators into a world of litigation. Yet we allow it every day in our press and media. Why is that?

The Australian press (Courier Mail, News Corp*) has made claims this weekend that women who seek truth and a loving way of life are gormless, mindless followers and that we don’t have the intelligence to choose how we live. The blatant approval of sexual abuse in the article is simply shocking. The author states that one of the healing techniques offered by female practitioners caused women “to not allow their partners to touch [their breasts] without permission”.

There in-lies a deep fracture in the Media and how it portrays women as a whole. Less concerning is the drivel of two men’s opinion thinly veiled as ‘journalism’ – more devastating is the impact of this tirade of derogatory and misogynistic attitude towards women by mainstream media.

The Australian Newspaper published a story on 31 August 2011 detailing the “Frightening’ rise in domestic violence in Australia. According to the NSPCC, states that “Including all costs, the total cost of domestic abuse for the state, employers and victims is estimated at around £16 billion per year.”

The Crown Prosecution Service (UK) released a transcript – Domestic Violence: the facts, the issues, the future – Speech by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC (posted 12 April 2011) – it states some chilling facts:

  • Nearly 1 million women experience at least one incident of domestic abuse each year
  • At least 750,000 children a year witness domestic violence
  • Two women are killed each week by their partner or ex-partner
  • 54 per cent of women victims of serious sexual assault were assaulted by their partner or ex-partner
  • Victims of domestic violence are more likely to experience repeat victimisation than victims of any other types of crime
  • 76 per cent of all DV incidents are repeat
  • Women experience an average of 35 incidents of domestic violence before reporting an incident to the police
  • 19 per cent of women have experienced stalking since the age of 16

These statistics are our sisters, daughters, nieces, granddaughters, wives, mothers and friends.

His closing statement is one for reflection; “The steps that we and our criminal justice partners are taking to tackle domestic violence risk limited success unless this complacency is tackled head on. A change in attitude is clearly needed.”

Where are we headed if all the rates of domestic violence, violence towards women are increasing?

The Leveson Inquiry has a responsibility to consider guidelines, recommendations and regulations on the Abuse of Women in/by the Media to ensure we arrest this momentum. We need to leave a foundation for our children and our future generations that respects women and shows that there is another, more caring way to treat women that will inevitably benefit men and our society as a whole.


Seriously. Enough with our complacent attitude towards the treatment of women in our society by the Media. We need to step up and take responsibility for the impact that the Media has on our attitude towards women.

I welcome any questions or for more information.

With thanks,

Sarah Cloutier
(address/number sent but withheld from this blog)

(*This is not solely about News Corporation, though they are the most overt in their representation of women in their publications so are an obvious ‘out’ for this type of journalism.)

25 thoughts on “Abuse of Women in/by the Media – Leveson Inquiry submission

  1. Well said Sarah, as you rightly say…
    “The Leveson Inquiry has a responsibility to consider guidelines, recommendations and regulations on the Abuse of Women in/by the Media to ensure we arrest this momentum. We need to leave a foundation for our children and our future generations that respects women and shows that there is another, more caring way to treat women that will inevitably benefit men and our society as a whole.”
    it is time to arrest this ill momentum.

  2. Thank you so much Sarah for putting into words what I have been struggling to say. It is extraordinary to see how little we have really progressed…We have an opportunity here to address this and have guidelines to ensure there is more responsibility in the media. Enough is enough.

  3. Hi Sarah
    What you have said is spot on, the treatment of women overall has not improved greatly since the time of the suffragettes as you have clearly pointed out. Thanks for expressing this so well.
    It’s time for true change.

    Lord Justice Leveson opened the hearings on 14 November 2011, saying: “The press provides an essential check on all aspects of public life. That is why any failure within the media affects all of us. At the heart of this Inquiry, therefore, may be one simple question: who guards the guardians?”

    Thank you Sarah, making the connection between the long questionable culture, practices and ethics of the media, as being exposed by the Phone Hacking scandal and irresponsible and damaging journalism seen in News Corp’s ‘Courier Mail’ reminds us all, men and women, that this is the responsibility of all of us to speak up about and put an end to.

  5. If an absolute perfect was possible in writing (or anything tangible for that matter) your letter would have carried that adjective with pride that beat Kilimanjaro. You have expressed on behalf of ALL women/humanity what has long been overdue with the eloquence that ought to serve as a true inspiration and a marker to anyone, and I mean ANYONE who is or ever attempts to work in journalism. What you did here IS true journalism.
    Thank you from the deepest of my being.
    Oh, and…… high five ;)))

  6. Reading through your letter and the associated articles giving examples of the abuse of women in the media I felt how such treatment of women is just something that I have excepted as normal, or allowed because that’s how it is, not recognising there is possibly another way that women deserve to be treated. I then felt that my acceptance of this treatment by society and the media towards me as a woman is because of a lack of self acceptance and self worth, feeling that after being treating in such a way for so long, then maybe this is all that I deserve. What you have started here Sarah is asking me to consider the possibility that I deserve better, deserve more and deserve the respect in full that any person deserves, man or women. So this petition not only has the opportunity to bring about change in the media or in the way that society considers women, but it is an opportunity for many women to heal their deep down lack of self worth and self loathing and recognise that we are equal, we don’t need to keep ourselves as less and instead can claim how amazing we are as glorious women and that we deserve to be treated or represented no less than this amazingness. Maybe the change in women’s attitudes and beliefs towards themselves is what will allow changes in the media and society to happen? and has this possibly been going on for so long because we allowed it, or possibly even asked for it, from our own lack of self worth? Thank you Sarah for claiming your worth and inspiring so many women to also do the same.

    • Thanks Danielle – I kept saying ‘absolutely’ all the way through your response – we have made the abnormal, normal and there’s a deep self loathing and self hatred as, more often than not, the harshness and meanness is women to women.

    • Danielle if you were shooting darts and I, or rather my issues, were a dartboard and at the heart of my issues was the abuse of women that I have accepted as normal – you would have shot me right there in that tiny speck, the very heart of the board – the bull’s eye!
      Whilst Sarah had ‘absolutely’ when reading your comment I had that + ‘oh my God, that was me’ I even had my hand over my mouth – like in disbelief and to prevent my mouth from opening wide in ‘disbelief’.
      Thank you for raising this Danielle.

    • This is so true Danielle. I realize also how much I have turned a blind eye to this underlying inequality, accepting it as ‘normal’ or simply allowing it as you say. This is a great opportunity for us all men and women to get honest about how we may have fostered or encouraged this separative behavior.

  7. Hi Sarah, Thank you so very much for expressing / speaking up so lovingly for woman / humanity everywhere. You are a beautiful inspiration for us all.

  8. I whole-heartedly agree with what you have written and all the comments and in particular what Danielle has written.

    One of the saddest things about the media’s portrayal of women is how few people are even aware of the enormous harm that is being perpetuated. What have we come to when we consider such abuse to be normal?

    At some point men and women have to stand up and say “no” to lies, no to abuse, no to slurs, denigration and innuendos, no to belittlement and misuse of power and “yes” to love, yes to truth, yes to responsibility, yes to the fact that there is another way.

    • I add my resounding no to all these no’s Nicola, powerfully said, and a further resounding yes to responsibility, care, understanding the ripple effect of media portrayal of women and our role in accepting this to date…
      Let’s make now this ‘point’ where we call for change and another way. Apathy no longer.

      • I too add my NO and my YES to the above that Nicola has so beautifully expressed – and the point she speaks of – that men and women have to stand up – it is NOW

  9. I am appalled by the journalism displayed in the links Sarah provides in this article (the Sun trio of stories). Can you imagine how it would look if we applied the jouranlistic style to our famous men – that is clearly evident in the article about Gerri Halliwell? Who would read/devour that? And the sheen of soft porn from the Page 3 girls article is enough to make me close the story without venturing any further.

    In a world where these stories are prominent in our newspapers, not to mention the plethora of magazines that deal daily, weekly or monthly in such disgraceful fodder, how desensitised have we collectively become to the objectification and degradation of women by our media? I know that until the recent media attention on this subject, passed via social media into my world, I too was oblivious – blithely accepting the stories without a second thought. My thanks also to Danielle who further takes the issue to the personal level, exposing our deep sense of self loathing and the acceptance that this may be all we are worth.

  10. Sarah, this is an amazing AND timely initiative, it has also given me pause to stop and wonder what subtle thing I let ‘slide’, thinking it’s no big deal, all the while unwittingly giving permission for the big deal to continue.

  11. Thank you Sarah for your clear and well written submission & Danielle for your response. I felt as I read both that I too had just ignored or brushed under the carpet what I was feeling about how women were portraid in the media. I must also say that I’d never really considered what the ramifications could be.

    I recall as a little girl watching my uncle reading a newspaper with a page 3 girl and me going behind him & covering his eyes. Even as a little girl I felt that there was something not right about this representation of women. Even to how our female leaders in politics and business are treated by the some sections of the media. There is a difference. There is comparison. How they present there stories, comments, opinions & articles creates division & such strong emotions that when you really start to look, they have no foundation or basis. Other than to generate money. Could that be called greed at any cost?

    Thank you for putting this “in my face” so that I can see what I have not been seing and now stand up & also say no, “no more” as Nicola beautifully wrote.

  12. Thank you Sarah. I appreciate very much what you have articulated and in giving me an opportunity through the petition to voice how I have always felt about the media’s portrayal of women. It is rotten to the core and I have more than gladly signed the petition.

    Thank you again.

  13. Thank you so much everyone for what is being finally exposed. I can feel how I have always felt the injustice and wrong in how women have always been protrayed in the media, but just put up with it in a giving up, this is just how it is attitude. Giving voice to this now stirs an amazing amount inside of claiming everything I felt yet had not had the self-worth to fully claim, as Danielle so wonderfully explains. In particular, Sarah, when you speak about the patronising comments that arise from when women do speak up – its our hormones etc – and I mean speaking up about the tiny details of our daily living which we are trying to claim not just the bigger picture stuff; I can feel how those comments felt as abusive as a physical slap as I submitted and immediately backed down. As I deepen my awareness of how I have accepted all of this I am exposing a deeper level of my lack of self-worth: I can so clearly feel the two intertwined. But not any more … enough is enough.

    • I too have been reflecting on moments where I have ‘submitted’ with the so called ‘lesser’ forms of control/domination of the cling of men over women in our societies. Uncomfortable but very revealing how this works to maintain the current social fabric and prevent true change for women. Highlights yet again the massive importance of and powerful potential in the media taking up this issue and responsibly committing to change, being prepared to lead by example to the nth degree of care, down to the words implied under the words that are actually written. As a possible first step lets finally see an end to the awful and very overt sexualisation/objectification of women, as though their/our only valid worth is in the visual stimulus we bring to men. If this continues everyone misses out, women continue to consider themselves less and men miss out on whats under ‘skin deep’ surface, the amazing, warmth, loveliness and grace of a woman just being her-tender-self.

  14. There are laws against abuse against women, but what is really hard to nail is how this lack of self worth silently advocated in the media – the insidious portrayal of women in media supports the lack of self worth that puts these women in the abusive situation in the first place. My point is, the abuse is clear to see as wrong but the underlying deeply programmed self worth issues from the subliminal messages go unnoticed. Which is the lesser evil? We uphold the fact we live in a society where there are laws to stop the violation of women and champion we have moved on from the days of being burnt at the stake. But does the witch-hunt still continue under a different guise?

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