Real Women and Real Cultural Change

I'm down in Bournemouth for the conference and have just spent the morning perfecting a speech in the Real Women Policy Debate this afternoon.

It looks like it's going to be a debate over subscribed with speakers and there's at least 3 amendments and a separate vote!

Here are links to the policy paper itself and conference extra which has the amendment 2 to I speaking against.

I'm definitely in favour of the motion, and hoping to speak against Amendment 2 in particular - so here is my speech, just in case I don't get to give it!


I am delighted to support this innovative and practical policy paper, because it re affirms our commitment to freedom, choice and true liberal values.

But Amendment Two would undermine that commitment.

If we pass this amendment, we’ll be saying :

‘We see there’s a problem with media images, body image and eating disorders but we don’t want to do anything about it, except to cross our fingers and hope that the problem will go away all by itself’.

What sort of policy is that?

Let’s be clear: images of women are manipulated in advertising in order to make more sales and revenue for large corporations.

Where that harms people, liberals must take positive action.

Time and time again over the past decade, research has shown that from as early as age 5 young girls feel under pressure to be slim and have a perfect body.

The publication Under ten and Under Pressure’ , put out by the Girl Guides Association – that bastion of radical feminism! - found that Girls Between Seven and Ten Believe being Slim and Pretty Makes you Clever, Happy and Popular’

In research by Field et al in 1999, nearly 2 in 3 of 500 girls aged between 9 and 17 agreed with the statement “pictures of women in magazines influence what you think is the perfect shape”

And 1 in 2 of the girls agreed that “Pictures of women in magazines make you want to lose weight.

The policy paper addresses this harm in a thoroughly liberal way, by providing consumers with information on how much images have been digitally manipulated; so that people can know how real or fake they are.

We’ve supported this kind of consumer empowerment before.

To help mitigate the harm of climate change we have laws requiring manufacturers to provide us with information about how energy efficient their fridges are.

Yes, the issues are complicated but now there is a simple set of categories.

So we are all empowered to make an informed choice about energy efficiency.

Yes, the process of airbrushing may also be complex.

Yet, it is entirely possible to come up with some useful guidelines.

Commonsense would ensure that what was being regulated was the manipulation of body images, not the benign change of lighting or removal of shadows.

And, just as the labelling of fridges has changed the behaviour of fridge manufacturers, so the labelling of digitally manipulated images will change the behaviour of advertisers.

What we’re talking about here is cultural change ; changing behaviours.

One reason digital manipulation works is that we don’t always know when it's been done.

If we make sure that advertisers are open and honest about it, what company will want to admit that the only way it can sell it’s products is by using fake pictures?

But if you don’t require advertisers to provide the information in the first place, you don’t get the cultural change we need.

They will have no incentive to change.

As advertising drives the profitability of magazines, newspapers and television, where they go, editorial will follow.

We didn’t cross our fingers and hope for cultural change when it came to energy efficiency of fridges, why should we do it about the well-being and self-esteem of young women and girls?

Conference, this is a liberal approach to achieving cultural change!

Yes, if a five year old is reading Cosmo then she will see digitally manipulated photos.

but if her parents choose to protect her, they will know where the safe places are.

So, Cosmo Girl, aimed directly at the teen market should help young women feel good about themselves; they shouldn’t decide they’re fat at the age of 12!

Conference, let’s make a real difference to young girls and women’s lives:

Support the motion and reject amendment two.

It's equality not growth that makes the difference..

I went to an excellent garden party at Hackney Liberal Democrats yesterday afternoon where I learnt that there is solid data that supports the notion that unequal societies are worse for everybody, whether the Lib Dems narrative does or doesn't support that and not to attempt to drive in London on a Sunday. Ever.

Geoffrey J Payne (as opposed to Geoff Payne) is very good at putting together the most interesting speaking events and he had invited Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett, the author of 'the Spirit Level: Why more equal societies almost always do better' and my husband*, Neil Stockley, on the extent to which the Lib Dems current narrative is one of equality. Neil will be putting what he had to say about our narrative (the upshot being our narrative is not really one of equality, even though our policies support one) on his blog in the next few days.

If you haven't had a look a The Spirit Level yet, I thoroughly recommend you do you can buy it here (via the Lib Dem affinty scheme) or here: especially if you're of the persuasion that it's growth that counts and that as long as those at the top are continuing to get wealthier it will improve things for everybody (i.e. especially if you are a Tory).

It doesn't.

In fact key things that I took from the talk were:

  1. Once you get past a certain amount of wealth (ie. where the richest, most developed countries already are) increased growth makes no difference to overall well being (life expectancy, imprisonment rates etc, etc).
  2. That increased equality means greater well being, not just for the poorest in society but for the richest. So the rich in more equal societies are better off (or rather, have increased levels of well being) than the rich in less equal societies, even though they may not have as much money or purchasing power as the rich in more unequal societies.
  3. The UK is doing really badly and massive increased expenditure hasn't made that much difference.
  4. So is New Zealand...

Don't just take my word for it - go and have a look at the Equality Trust and look at the stats - they're compelling, to say the least.

*novelty value of saying or writing 'my husband' has yet to wear off; perhaps it never will!!

What's it going to be, Gordon? Yes or No?

Sky News has started a campaign for a leadership debate come the General Election. Something never before done on UK TV.

Cameron jumped right in and said yes. Why wouldn't he? He comes over quite well on TV and certainly belies (I think) what most of the Tory parliamentary party are like. I think, because even though he tries to act like he's not, he really is awfully posh and he needs to take care that he doesn't come across as too pompous.

Nick, agreed on Sky News Sunrise programme this morning that he would. Again, why not - Nick is after becoming an increasingly polished media performer? And whilst it is prefectly possible to be a Liberal Democrat and pompous, Nick is definitely not! He's great (can you tell I'm a fan) - he just needs to make sure that he talks in stories rather than lists of policies.

And Gordon, he'll probably hide behind the lack of precedence in his attempts to avoid it. Because, let's face it; he's going to be rubbish! It's a shame because when he's really smiling, he has a lovely smile: but he's no good at putting it on and it just turns out like a grimace. What's really going to undo him is that he's a numbers man and in defensive mode he's just going to deafen us all with statistics and we will probably stop listening even before he's opened his mouth.

As Mark says on Lib Dem Voice - there's nothing to stop Sky going ahead even if Gordon Brown doesn't take part, but I think, in the end, even though he has nothing to gain from taking part in a TV debate, Labour still has quite a lot to lose by being the ones that refuse to play. And as for it being bad for democracy: pah! If that's the case, then TV is bad for democracy! It's true not all talented TV performers would make good leaders but good leaders need to be able to communicate with voters over the medium of the age; which is still, for most people of voting age the TV.

And yes, takling of TV, I'm on SkyNews.Com this evening; on the 'buzz' along with Jonathan Isaby from Conservative Home and a Labour bod (will say who, when I know) discussing the pros and cons!

Well, done Sky for just doing it!

Back to Home Back to Top Jo Christie-Smith. Theme ligneous by Bloggerized by Chica Blogger.