Snapshots of law, gender and sexuality news from the past couple of weeks.
“It’s grim, I’ve got to say”: the future of LGBTQ+ rights following the US presidential election
Holly Khambatta-Higgins, University of Manchester
On Wednesday 8th November, it was announced that Donald Trump will be the next President Elect of the United States of America. The result followed a long election campaign which saw the Republican Party proposing its most ‘homophobic party platform in years’. With January bringing the introduction of a Republican President, congress and house, the prospect of what this means for the future of LGBTQ+ rights is being extensively debated, with a growing consensus that the election outcome is ‘grim’.
The election has brought in its wake a great sense of panic, fear and uncertainty from the LGBTQ+ community, which has been both fuelled and captured by numerous media outlets. During his campaign, President Elect Trump made multiple public statements regarding legislation that would directly affect the LGBTQ+ community. This included his pledge to sign the Republican ‘first Amendment Defence Act’ which would in theory, protect an individual’s right to discriminate against members of the LGBTQ+ community, due to the individual’s religious and moral beliefs.
It is not just the President Elect who has warranted concern from the LGBTQ+ community; it is reported that the vice president Mike Pence could pose an equal (if not greater) threat. Mike Pence has been particularly open about his opposition to same sex marriage. However his views extend further than this; it is reported that Pence is in support of conversion therapy, a treatment that aims to ‘correct’ homosexuality, and has proposed that this should be financially supported by relocating the funding that is currently being used to treat HIV and AIDS. In addition to Pence, Trump’s transition team contains a plethora of anti-LGBTQ+ politicians, including Ben Carson who has reportedly likened homosexuality to bestiality and paedophilia.
Throughout his time in office, it is also clear that the President Elect will have the duty of appointing at least one Supreme Court justice; a role which will determine America’s legal landscape for many years to come. Trump has previously stated that he wishes to appoint judges “very much in the mold of Justice Scalia” who is well known for his anti-LGBTQ+ legal stance and numerous homophobic comments. There was initial panic that legalisation of same sex marriage, which was legalised in 2015 (as a result of the Obergefell v Hodges case), could be repealed as a result of an increasingly conservative supreme court. This distress does appear to have decreased. This follows an interview with President Elect Trump who stated that: “it was already settled. It’s law. It was settled in the supreme court. I mean it’s done”. The Supreme Court discussion, however, reaches further than just marriage equality, with PinkNews fearing that renewed discriminatory legal attention will now be placed on the Trans movement.
In an article, published by the Guardian, members of the Trans community share their fear and anger following the election result. The concern for Trans individuals is not just that of equality but physical and practical resources. Reports that the Republican Party plan to ‘amend’, if not repeal, the Affordable Care Act (2010) poses a great threat to the health and wellbeing of Trans people. Many are reliant upon The Affordable Care Act or ‘Obama Care’ to support them throughout their transition, as it helps them to cover the costs of surgery and hormone treatments.
Despite this, however, there is a great increase in media outlets who are claiming that President Elect Trump poses no threat to the LGBTQ+ community, with some stating that he is the most LGBTQ+ friendly republican of all time. Following the Orlando shooting earlier this year, Trump was awarded the title of ‘ally’ for claiming that he would protect LGBT people from radical Islam. In contrast, the Telegraph accused Trump of using the Gay community to scaremonger and push his own agenda against ‘Islamic terror’. As President Elect Trump finalises the members of his transition team, there are beliefs that he will be appointing Richard Grenell, an openly gay man, to the role of ‘United States Ambassador’. This decision has been regarded as a break to the glass ceiling, as it would be the first openly gay man at a cabinet level position.
The legal implications of the US election are undeniably important. However, the effects of the result run a lot deeper than simply legislation. The sociological impact of President Elect Trump can already be observed as reports emerge that hate crimes have rapidly increased in number. The announcement of the result saw the physical and verbal assault of a gay man in Santa Monica. This was reported just days after a Transgender woman had her car sprayed with the word ‘Trump’ and set on fire. The election result, to many, means more than just politics; it is a personal attack on their identity and demonstrates the intolerance and unacceptance that is still prevalent within America. The election night also brought with it the sad news of multiple transgender teens who had committed suicide following the result. Suicide hotlines, such as the Trevor Project, saw the number of calls increase by 250% on the night of November 8th. The emotional impact on those who do not feel accepted or protected, under their incoming government, has been clearly visible over the last week.
The next two months, leading to the presidential inauguration, will undoubtedly involve on-going speculation and uncertainty. Until Donald Trump begins his presidency, the legal implications for the LGBTQ+ community cannot truly be known. What can be said, however, is that a presidential campaign, which has been fuelled so heavily by intolerance and hate, has already done some work to undo the previous progress which has been made on LGBTQ+ rights. The only closing statement that can therefore be offered is the predictable but important sentiment that the LGBTQ+ community must work together, now more than ever, in order to protect their rights, their identity and themselves.
Bono announced as Glamour ‘Woman of the Year’
Bryony Moore, University of Manchester
For over a decade Glamour Magazine has honoured extraordinary women from a variety of fields including entertainment, science and politics by bestowing on them the title of Glamour’s ‘Woman of the Year’. Focusing the spotlight on the efforts of women, the awards recognise outstanding achievements or contributions made to society by women. However in recent years the awards have not been without controversy. In 2015 the inclusion of transgender woman Caitlyn Jenner caused outrage amongst certain communities, many feeling Jenner had not spent enough time as a woman to deserve the accolade. The incident even led to the husband of a 9/11 hero returning her posthumous woman of the year award, calling Jenner’s inclusion ‘a slap in the face.’ This year Glamour Magazine have bestowed the title of ‘Woman of the Year’ on Bono, frontman of the Irish rock band U2, a move which has proved just as, if not more contentious.
Bono received the accolade for his work spearheading the campaign ‘Poverty is Sexist’: a campaign which aims to bring to light the reality that poverty disproportionality affects women. When explaining why Bono was to be commended Cindi Leive, editor-in-chief of Glamour Magazine told the associated press, ‘The idea that a man who could select any cause in the world to call his own, or no cause at all, is choosing to work, and not just for one night or at a special event, but consistently — day after day and month after month — on behalf of women is incredibly cool and absolutely deserves applause.’ However some people, such as Elizabeth Daley a contributor to the Advocate, believe this reinforces the opinion that men need to be commended for their contributions to the feminist cause. A man does not need to be praised for deigning to get off his high horse and help us lowly women achieve something as fundamental as gender equality. Daley also believes that recognising Bono’s efforts wastes an opportunity to elevate the work women such as Angelina Jolie has been doing for over two decades to promote the same cause. As Marianne Taylor writer for the Scottish Herald put it, ‘women all across the developing world have been banging on about this issue for years but it has only taken one rich white bloke in his fifties to mansplain it to the world for people to pay attention.’
When the list of honourees was announced earlier this month women immediately took to twitter to air their frustrations. Twitter User @ljconnorjouro tweeted, ‘Doesn’t making Bono one of Glamour Magazines ‘Women of the Year’ undermine the whole point of the accolade?’ and @StephEPeat tweeted, ‘Bono has been named Glamour’s woman of the year. To be fair with only 3.7b women it must be tough to find a worthy one.’ Despite being only 147 characters long, these satirical tweets perfectly sum up what Radhika Sanghani described in the Telegraph as ‘the uncomfortable feeling that no woman was up to the job.’ As Lieve admits herself, ‘men get a lot of awards and aren’t exactly hurting in the celebration and honours department,’ so why did Glamour feel the need to create another such honour?
Some see the Bono incident as one in a long line of publicity stunts pulled by Glamour Magazine to draw attention to an award which otherwise the vast majority of the population would pay no regard. Elle Hunt, writing for the Guardian believes that ‘Glamour stand to gain much more from even outraged coverage of the honorary title than Bono does by receiving it. In fact Glamour are likely well aware that if they bestowed their honours on a more worthy recipient, most of us would be unaware the title exists at all.’ Similar criticisms were levelled at Glamour’s appointment of newly transitioned Caitlyn Jenner as ‘Woman of the Year 2015’, with many feeling she had not spent enough time as a woman to earn the title and that the magazine was using this as a way to boost the awards profile. However, in this instance I disagree. Glamour Magazine, by honouring Jenner was delivering an important message of inclusivity to transgender women and showing their commitment to transgender rights and to Jenner’s identity. However I believe, as does Daley, that by honouring Bono, whether to garner publicity or not, their message of gender equality has been diluted problematically.
There are many more criticisms that can and have been made about Glamour’s decision to honour Bono as ‘Woman of the Year’ and I could go on and on. However the final point I will make is that maybe the real issue here is not that a man has been named ‘Woman of the Year’, but rather it is the significance feminists have given to the issue. Ella Whelan in The Spectator believes that our response to this news is evidence of ‘the shallow and depressing descent of feminism into a preoccupation with appearance – who’s won what award – rather than a serious political movement to win women’s liberation.’ And besides, since when did Glamour Magazine become the go-to source for women’s worth?
Appointment of Wonder Woman as UN Ambassador sparks controversy
Bridget Sanders, Newcastle University
On Friday 21st October, Wonder Woman was announced as the UN’s new Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls. However, this ‘decision was not without controversy, sparking outrage among both UN members and women’s rights advocates across the world.’ (BBC) The reasons for this outrage are largely twofold; the overtly sexualised image of the comic book (The Guardian) character and the fact she is a comic book character and not a ‘real woman’. Not only have people been voicing their opinions over social media but the announcement has also inspired a number of silent protests by UN staff. The most recognisable images of Wonder Woman show an attractive young white woman scantily dressed in an outfit that accentuates her tiny waist. For many, this is does not represent female empowerment but is instead an unrealistic and unrelatable role model for most women. In the UN’s defence ‘Stephane Dujarric, a UN spokesperson for the secretary-general, said earlier this week “in order to reach young people, in order to reach audiences outside of this building, we need to be creative and have creative partnerships”.’ (BBC)
Albeit, on first glance, Wonder Woman does not appear to be the ideal candidate for the UN’s Honorary Ambassador, it can be argued that once one possesses more information on the character their minds may be swayed. Greg Rucka, the creator of Wonder Woman has confirmed in The Guardian that the superhero is in fact queer and has ‘obviously’ been involved in romantic relationships with women. (The Guardian) This confirmation is one that has been celebrated on social media. But is this enough to deflect from her pin-up girl appearance with which most people are familiar?
Even without the admission that the superhero is in fact queer, Diane Nelson, the president of DC Entertainment, argues that “her ability to operate alone and be her own independent person but also to work right alongside with the same strength and same abilities as some of the strongest male super heroes [I think] is a testament to her character and kind of ties back again to the UN designation and this idea of gender equality.” (BBC)
Wonder Woman is not the first fictional character to be appointed as a UN Ambassador; Winnie the Pooh was an ambassador for the International Day of Friendship (1998), Tinker Bell was made the honorary ambassador of Green (2009) and an Angry Birds character was chosen as ambassador for the International Day of Happiness (2016). Nonetheless, unlike Wonder Woman, these fictional characters do not represent a particularly oppressed group who are largely under-represented in public life. As such, a real woman would be a preferential candidate for UN Ambassador to better represent and empower women.
Generation Celebrity: Is the rise in celebrity culture negatively affecting women?
Chloe Fumagalli, University of Manchester
In recent weeks, there have been several reports that fake modelling agencies have been contacting young girls and deceiving them into sending indecent images of themselves after promises of a modelling career. Hiding behind legitimate modelling companies, these individuals have been found to promise young girls both career prospects and financial rewards, when in fact they hold no link to those companies. Although some girls have uncovered the deception in time, there is a significant risk of younger, more vulnerable women being drawn in by these false claims.
Arguably this dangerous environment has resulted in part from the growing influence of celebrity culture in our society. Images of beautiful, rich and famous individuals bombard us on a daily basis and now more than ever there is an unprecedented pressure on increasingly young women to adopt a similar image and lifestyle, in which modelling is considered the first step to fame. This raises questions about the influence of celebrity culture over young people, it’s harmful effects, and how we can reverse these negative impacts and prevent the “loss of childhood” in a society with around the clock exposure to unattainable, overtly sexualised and instantly accessible media role models.
Today, celebrity culture is commonly used as a way in which young people forge their identities, their aspirations, their mannerisms and their friendship groups. Celebrities form the topic of discussion across all forms of media, bringing people together over common interests in ‘who’ rather than ‘what’. Although many would argue this sharing of common interests and values is a good thing, there is a need to focus carefully on the frequency and volume of the celebrity content we are exposed to and to ask questions about whether the type of image portrayed by celebrities can have an adverse effect on youth culture.
In a study conducted by Huston and Wright at the University of Kansas, the only thing that kids spend more time doing than watching TV shows is sleeping which draws our attention to the constant exposure of young people to celebrity figures. With the partnership of TV, the internet and mobile phones this content is readily accessible at any time and is as such likely to be one of the main agents responsible for instilling norms and values upon society. Albert Banduras’ study into childhood imitation indicates that children and adolescents who are routinely exposed to violence through popular media such as video and magazine are more likely to imitate violent actions and portray violent mannerisms in everyday life. Using this model, it could be argued that the same effect is to be found when hyper-sexualisation, self-absorption or an emphasis on appearance as the basis for self-worth is the main contributing element.
It was argued in the Papadopoulos report (2010) that the content of celebrity culture can be alarming in its effects on women and girls. This report considered the sexual representation of gender in contemporary culture, and the commodification of the female body within the media and its impact on family life and society. It also highlighted the issue of the influence of hyper-masculinization upon young males. It found that the sexualisation of young female celebrities in music videos and images as well as the content of lyrics often alludes to the idea of women as sexual objects and can be harmful to young girls who view these music celebrities as role models, and in turn strive to achieve similar goals, whatever the cost.
In a survey conducted as part of the Bailey report (2011), it was found that 74% of people believe celebrity culture is having a negative effect on young people, the most significant form of harm being the perception of body image and appearance by both males and females. In his report, Reg Bailey illustrates the damaging effects of an openly sexualised society, and the ease with which this content can be accessed by young people.
Psychologists have shown that girls who are routinely exposed to magazines and social media are more likely to be self-critical and therefore adjust their appearance in accordance with celebrity imagery. In 2014, reality TV star Millie Mackintosh and her husband were challenged by social media for a comment on Instagram describing her as a ‘thinspiration’. This was criticised for sending out the message to young girls that a thin body type is particularly desirable, which in the light of her many fans and followers was said to cause many females to become less confident in their own bodies and was leading to the objectification of this body type by men. In addition, these ideals can result in the development of mental and behavioural disorders among young people, such as eating disorders and anxiety which arise from societal pressures surrounding body image.
One of the issues concentrated on in the Bailey report was the idea that such early subjection to adult sexual or pornographic content has resulted in the loss of childhood for the younger generation as the exposure to graphic and sexualised material creates the need for younger people to ‘grow up’ and grow out of the stage of childhood innocence. For example, the success of the Kardashian and Jenner family, who are relatively young and have careers rooted in the release of a sex tape may put pressure on young women to aspire to more sexualised lives.
Another serious effect of celebrity culture is the glamorisation of bad and harmful behaviour such as drug taking, risky sexual activity, and binge drinking which are increasingly considered to be acceptable. This is despite the impact of these activities being far more likely to be adverse for a regular individual than a celebrity (for example celebrities that commit drug offences are far less likely to be convicted of a crime when compared to a young black teenager committing the same crime). These risky lifestyle choices are often portrayed in music videos, magazines, reality TV and in interviews describing wild nights with few consequences, thus normalizing activities which would be considered damaging if removed from their celebrity context. These stories are often more appealing to young people than ‘hard news’ and by focusing media attention on these stories, young people are more likely to imitate such behaviour, under the guise of being ‘cool’ or ‘interesting’.
Alternatively, some still claim that the effect of celebrity culture is not as detrimental as it seems and that young people are active agents that do not simply imitate all behaviour but use celebrity culture to gain an understanding of the world around them. Moreover, the media is not saturated purely with negative behaviour; some celebrities serve as genuinely positive role models for individuals. Some feminists would argue that what we view as the ‘sexualisation’ of female celebrities is actually a form of empowerment and symbol of bodily integrity rather than the objectification of women.
These arguments do not seem justifiable in light of the evidence. There is no denying the need to protect women from the damaging environments that arise from celebrity culture and the increasing opportunities for their victimisation. Given the influence of celebrity culture, and absorption of that culture by young people through the media, something must change to limit the harmful effects of this relationship. Currently, it is impossible to control access to such material, although age restrictions have been recommended as a way to restrict the viewing of explicit music videos. One alternative solution may instead be to encourage celebrities to become more positive role models.