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Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can also hurt me: The media’s damaging contribution

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me”.

This is something I heard countless times growing up. It taught me not to take every opinion or hurtful comment to heart - sometimes it is better to brush it off. But there is a time to consider the lasting impact of our words.

Journalists are trusted messengers in the media. We rely on them to answer our questions

and relay the facts back to us. However, giving a few individuals this platform, can lead to

their biases merging with our way of thinking, intentionally or not. Seemingly innocent

comments and dismissive tones can amalgamate to desensitise society, on a wide scale,

to rape culture and violence against women and girls.

The inspiration for this article was an uncomfortable interaction between Our Streets Now’s campaigner Jess Leigh, and BBC Radio London host Eddie Nestor. This situation

consolidates how a presenter can frame a discussion on sexual violence in a dismissive and undermining way.

Jess has been advocating for the end of public street harassment (PSH) for the past 5 years, and has spoken about the topic publicly a number of times, including on her own Tedx Talk.

She admitted via Instagram that she doubted whether her feelings about the interview were valid. She felt that she was “overreacting”, until listening to the interview back and realising that the interviewer’s choice of words and tone of voice were demeaning, dismissive and aggressive. The reason she felt that she was overreacting was because of how the questions were framed. In her words, “he [the interviewer] made me feel small”.

© Matt Round Photography/TEDxExeter 2019

Unfortunately, this criticism of journalists and people in the media is not new. Reporters’ misogyny has, historically, produced some of the most iconic feminist quotes. Most notably, Rihanna’s no-nonsense shutdown when asked what she’s looking for in a man:

I’m not looking for a man. Let’s start there”.

Or, back in 1996, Cher put an interviewer in her place after she was told she sounds “mean and bitter” for stating that “a man is not a necessity”, but a dessert; a luxury you can live without. She said,

My mom once said to me, ‘one day, you should settle down and marry a rich man.’ And I said, ‘Mom, I am a rich man.’”

Or even further back, in 1982, (and my personal favourite) Eartha Kitt’s astonishment was clear as day, when she was asked

If a man came into your life, wouldn’t you want to compromise?

She replies,

A man comes into my life, and I have to compromise? You must think about that one again.” “I fall in love with myself, and I want someone to share it with me. I want someone to share me, with me.”

Truly, words to live by.

As inspirational and empowering as these responses are, women shouldn’t even be in the position where they still need to call out misogyny and sexism. Not in the 1980s, and certainly not in 2021.

It is time to put the responsibility onto media networks to ensure they are not giving individuals with harmful and regressive mindsets a platform.

We’re calling for you to be conscious of the words you use and the impact they may have on those around you. Your voice is powerful, so please use it wisely. Call out others when you hear them perpetrating rape culture, and listen and believe victims.

Changing the media’s approach to conversations about women’s safety will, in turn, change society’s view, too.

Hi, I’m Lily and I’m new to Our Streets Now’s blog team! I grew up in London and I’m starting at Queen’s University Belfast this year, to study PPE. I hope that I can help to grow OSN’s blog and shed light on the reality of PSH and violence against women and girls. To me, the best way to encourage change is by educating others, and hopefully we can use this platform to amplify the voices of those with a story to share.

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In consequence, altering how the media covers discussions regarding women's safety will alter societal perceptions as well.

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