For the fifth episode of We Belong Podcast, we go to the UK to meet Gena-mour Barrett, a journalist and Editorial Creative Manager at Netflix UK, where she curates the Netflix IX interview series.
As a freelancer, Gena-mour has bylines at Elle, The Guardian, Refinery 29 and BBC Newsbeat. She was listed as one of 2019’s 30 Under 30 for Media and Marketing in Europe by Forbes and was a recipient of the 2018 Roxane Gay fellowship for a woman of colour writing fiction with Jack Jones Literary Arts.
In our conversation with Gena-mour, we dive into her personal story, her childhood in South London and her passion for writing.
We also discuss humour and satire in the media, representation and diversity in the entertainment industry and, of course, her views on Brexit!
We Belong is the podcast that gives a voice to the New Daughters of Europe. Yasmine Ouirhrane, appointed expert by the European Union and the African Union, hosts this series of conversations with young women who represent the diversity of Europe. She talks to women who are breaking stereotypes, navigating multiple identities, and challenging the conventional wisdom of what it means to belong.
As an advocate for social and gender justice in Europe, Yasmine Ouirhrane was awarded Young European of the Year 2019 by the Schwarzkopf Foundation. She was also named EDD Young Leader by the European Commission and is an expert on Peace & Security at the AU-EU Youth Cooperation Hub. She is an award-winning fellow at Women Deliver and a member of the Gender Innovation Agora at UN Women.
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After spending a weekend in bed with flu and catching up on TV, I have an aching sensation (which incidentally doesn’t come from my infected sinuses).
Sex on screen continues to be misogynistic, violent and completely unrealistic.
As young girls we are told to be good. While the definition of good varies from society to society, there seem to be some common traits: if you were born a girl, you should wait for the right man, dress appropriately, not be easy.
But when it comes to sex, mainstream TV teaches us the exact opposite: we should always be ready, willing and, of course, we should never say no. On TV, sex is both the preferred weapon and ultimate punishment, and there seems to be very little in between.
Mainstream TV-makers tend to portray women who have sex in three ways: (1) as manipulators, using sex to advance their agenda; (2) as props, used by the male characters to express their masculinity or to say an intense goodbye before taking off to war (or some other kind of heroic activity); and (3) as a victim of violence.
Needless to say, in all these scenarios, the women involved are beautiful, slim and perfectly groomed – including, to my horror, the penniless sex workers in 19th century Paris.
Women are not the only ones whose sexual lives are gravely oversimplified on screen.
The unfair representations of masculinity – including sexual performance, needs and emotions – are undoubtedly hurting those who do not see themselves as ever-eager, macho sex machines who fear even the idea of monogamy. Not to mention other groups, such as the trans* community or people with disabilities, whose sexual lives are often altogether omitted in popular culture.
It is well established that the representation of social relations is a powerful tool in media, which can have a strong impact on normalisation of behaviour and norms. For instance, it has been argued that the increased presence of LGBTQ+ characters on TV is positively influencing the coming-out and self-realisation in the community.
Other studies show less positively, that media portrayals of rom-com relationships can normalise stalking. So, in absence of other portrayals of sexual encounters, are we doomed to learn our sexuality from what we see on TV screens?
I know, in theory, that the characters and scenes we see in films, ads or TV series are there only for entertainment and not to be taken too seriously. But in practice, I often feel conflicted.
I am angry to see that unrealistic stereotypes about such an important part of human lives continue to be reproduced on TV, and I refuse to replicate them in my own relationships. But, years of media influence had an impact on my idea of what constitutes perfect sex, and I often find it difficult to completely reject the influence of over-sexualised images of women that we all know so well from pop-culture.
I am neither the good girl society wanted me to grow into, nor the women I see on TV. And I’m trying to find my way to be okay with that.
There is little we can do about the decades of unrealistic and misogynistic sex on TV reels, which has undoubtedly influenced generations of viewers. But we can inspire the future. Let’s talk about sex. Let’s talk about it openly, without fear or shame. Let’s talk about our contradictions, misunderstandings and repressed needs. Let’s laugh together at the endless imagination of TV makers coming up with ever-new ideas on how to reproduce old stereotypes.
Sex is a spectrum, full shades, and we should all be encouraged to find our own way in navigating our own sexuality. After all, reality is much more colourful than TV.
You may have heard Jameela Jamil’s name recently. Maybe you’re already one of the 145,000 followers of @i_weigh, her Instagram post turned social media movement currently sweeping the internet.
In Britain, where the actress, tv presenter, radio presenter, activist and writer is from, she’s been on screens, in magazines, on podcasts and on the radio talking about why and how she wants to change the conversation around how we, as people, define our worth. And it seems that maybe, just maybe, what she’s doing might be working. Things might actually be changing.
It all started in response to a post on her Instagram feed. Jamil saw an image of the Kardashian family, each of whom had their weight in kilograms written over their body. The caption invited followers to comment on the Kardashians’ weight and compare to their own. Scrolling through the thousands of comments underneath from despairing, self-hating young women, Jamil was enraged and incredulous, and decided to post a photo documenting her own ‘weight’:
Jameela Jamil didn’t ask anyone to do anything. She posted the photo simply because she was annoyed and fed up. It turns out that thousands of other people were annoyed and fed up too.
So many people sent Jamil their own version of her photo that she had to create a whole Instagram account to showcase them all. Women, and some men, have sent photos of themselves with all of the things they value and love about themselves written over the top. It is, in Jamil’s words, a “museum of self-love”, a place where people can “feel valuable and see how amazing we are, and look beyond the flesh on our bones.”
The speed with which Jamil’s photo has grown into a full-blown body positivity movement is a testament to the intensity of our collective dissatisfaction with the toxicity that surrounds us and dictates how we view ourselves.
Nobody wants to feel awful about their body. Nobody wants to hate themselves.
Nobody wants to see magazine page after tv advert after billboard after Instagram post of female bodies that look nothing like those of any of the human women we know in real life. Nobody wants to feel self-disgust when they eat a chocolate biscuit. Nobody wants to hear a friend say that they’ve already eaten lunch and know that they’re lying.
We don’t want the narrative we’re being served, and yet it has become impossible to reject or avoid. Young people – young women in particular – grow up marinating in toxicity until it has seeped so deeply into our bones and hearts that it can no longer be washed off.
But now there’s Jameela Jamil. She’s appeared like a big breath of air, holding nothing back, refusing to be airbrushed, shouting and swearing and shining her light on the injustice of how women women continue to be represented, valued and treated in our society: “it’s so upsetting, it feels like such a betrayal against women. I will not be part of it and I will not stop calling it out when I see it.”
What she’s offering is a wake up call to the media and to all of us consuming it. What she’s saying is that this is not ok, it’s damaging all of us, and it has to change. What she’s already proven is how many people are ready and desperate for the change.
This year, the theme of International Women’s Day was #PressforProgress. The inclusion of diverse voices in the press is integral to an active and dynamic society. However, according to a recent report published by Myanmar Women’s Journalist Society, only 16% of voices in Myanmar news belong to women. Additionally, women are rarely sourced as ‘experts’ on a topic, and “female representation in Myanmar media is one of the lowest in Asia”.
The media matters because it has the ability to harm a girl’s confidence and self-perception, and to work against her best interests. It matters, too, because strong representation and diverse knowledge creation have the ability to play a positive role in a girl’s life. Media can influence a girl’s aspirations. It can influence her decisions and her behaviors around health, education, sex and work. Media can create opportunities to lift the needs and rights of girls to a higher status in their communities, and even in the public policy sphere.
However, challenges to access and control of media limit the potential benefits to the well-being of girls in Myanmar. Over the past few years, we have been experimenting and learning alongside girls to determine how to address these challenges and create opportunities for positive change.
We’d like to share two Girl Determined media-related initiatives putting girls in control of media analysis and creation.
One of the featured stories in our recent by-girls-for-girls magazine, ‘Pollinator’, came from an interview with female Myanmar journalist, Khin Su Kyi. She spoke about the massive gap in representation of girls and women in media, both on and off screen. While there are a few recognizable women’s faces regularly seen, namely Nobel-Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, most girls and women are portrayed on screen in limited roles such as domestic housewives, mothers, or daughters.
According to Khin Su Kyi’s analysis, women in leadership roles are almost always depicted in the media in a singular, specific way – conservative, donning a well-tailored local sarong-set, in the appearance of an ethnic-majority Bamar, and as a practitioner of Buddhism. This singular depiction does not provide an aspirational role model for girls from different backgrounds, with varying ideas of who they are and who they want to be. This representation tells girls, “if you don’t look like, speak like, and carry yourself this way, you shouldn’t aim to lead.”
The journalist encouraged girls from all walks of life to participate in media as producers, directors, journalists, or artists, which will in time inspire more girls to get involved and take on leadership roles. We love Khin Su Kyi’s analysis and encouragement, and we are working to provide pathways for girls to develop their understanding of media and representation, as well as to create opportunities for girls to engage in media creation.
Girls’ Leadership and Media Advocacy Summer Camp
Fifty girls from across the country recently gathered together near the top of a small mountain to enjoy the cool breeze and discuss media – particularly the representation of girls and how it impacts each of us. They talked about the myriad ways that media enters daily life, even in remote villages and camps for the internally-displaced; and how girls can start to use media channels in their communities to raise their concerns, challenges and perspectives, and to enhance their status.
The ‘Pollinator’ Magazine
The team has now completed two issues of ‘Pollinator,’ with the third in the works. The magazine process puts control into the hands of adolescent girls and legitimizes their voices and perspectives in print. Over several months, the girl media team has worked closely with a local creative agency to develop the step-by-step process for content creation and layout design. Thanks especially to the grounded, thorough and insightful work of Bridge, we now have an amazing game which the girl media team plays to guide them through production, editing, reviewing, layout and the publication of each issue.
The result is an eye-catching, scrapbook-style magazine that represents the perspectives and ideas of the girls and young women involved. Having grown up with periods of intense media censorship and limited media access in general, this is the first time that girls in our programs have had the chance to be media creators. The process really gives girls the tools to succeed, and because it is not technical and almost fully ‘analog’, girls from across the country can participate. There are opportunities to write stories, commentary and poetry, as well as to feed directly into layout and design. It allows girls from across the country to spread their ideas.
Every girl has a voice and she must decide how she wants to use it. It is up the rest of us to amplify her voice, and to listen.
On January 21 2017, advocates for policies regarding human rights and women’s rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, reproductive rights, environmental protections, LGBTQ rights, racial equality and freedom of religion marched around the world. Many marchers protested the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump and his anti-women, anti-immigration, anti-environmental protection, anti-Islamic and other offensive rhetoric. The Washington Post reported that the Women’s March was likely the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history with over 400 planned marches in the U.S alone. Over 60 sister marches took place worldwide from Mexico City to Amsterdam to Durban. The march embodied the collective power of individuals standing up for women and standing up for what they believe in.
2. International Women’s Day x A Day Without Women
March 8th 2017 marked International Women’s Day and ‘A Day Without Women’. The goal of A Day Without Women was to “recognize the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system–while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity.” Women took the day off from paid and unpaid labor, avoided shopping for one day (with the exception of small, women- and minority-owned businesses), and wore red in solidarity. Women worldwide participated (including Girls’ Globe blogger Bita).
3. Wonder Woman
Last summer, Wonder Woman hit theatres and ignited necessary debate regarding women and their media portrayal. Wonder Woman is a female heroine who saves the world, yet does so half-naked. As a white woman with impossible proportions, her large-breasts and sexy outfit play into a toxic narrative that can disempower young girls. The conversation surrounding the portrayal of a female heroine is essential to improving the representation and treatment of women in the media and beyond. Yet, earning over $800 million, Wonder Woman is the highest-grossing live-action film directed by a woman. As the reviews of the movie came out, essential debates emerged on what makes a ‘feminist film’ and whether Wonder Woman was a feminist icon or a feminist failure. Regardless of your opinion, these healthy conversations encourage critical thinking and ultimately move towards equality for women.
4. Electing Women to Office
Hillary Clinton’s loss of the 2016 U.S. election was a watershed moment for women as it bore the Women’s March and new political organization throughout the world. In the 2017 elections, women, LGBTQ candidates and candidates of color made history. In Virginia, Danica Roem became the state’s first transgender lawmaker and beat the incumbent lawmaker who drafted a ‘bathroom bill’ to stop transgender people from using the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity. Voters in Charlotte, NC elected their first African-American woman to mayor – Vi Lyles. Other historically unrepresented groups gained key positions of power, too. In Helena, MN elected progressive candidate Wilmot Collins – a refugee from Liberia – to mayor. Outside the U.S., an indigenous woman ran for office in Mexico for the first time, representing the voices of minorities and historically oppressed and underrepresented groups.
In October 2017, #MeToo went viral across social media to decry widespread sexual harassment and assault. The hashtag gained momentum as The New York Times reported that more than a dozen women accused Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexually harassing, assaulting or raping them. Following the Weinstein accusation, dozens of other powerful men from U.S. Congressman to actors to media producers faced accusations of sexual misconduct. While the accusations and response have been mixed, these men were predominantly white and always powerful. Time Magazine selected The Silence Breakers for their 2017 Person of the Year award amidst these events. #MeToo represents a long pattern of women facing harassment and job insecurity in the workplace. Hopefully, in light of these events, workplace culture will change and women will get the respect they deserve.
What were YOUR feminist highlights of 2017? Please feel free to leave a comment and let us know!