‘From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge’.

That was the overriding message of International Women’s Day 2021, an annual worldwide movement for the advocation of women’s rights.

Whether you’re challenging the notion that feminism is a fight against masculinity, or the gender stereotypes that say women can’t fulfil certain roles, or perhaps the barriers put up against safe spaces to speak out and be heard — it’s crucial that we continue to challenge existing wrongs.

A gendered kind of inequality

According to the International Women’s Day website, ‘a challenged world is an alert world’. By being alert, we can recognise the issues that need to be eradicated. We can take responsibility and accountability for our actions, and we can become better champions for women’s rights and the fight against gender inequality.

Gender inequality continues to be a prominent issue in modern-day society. The argument that we no longer need to advocate for women’s rights is erroneous. The evidence is clear. Nearly 40,000 girls are wed daily before they are 18. Over 80 per cent of 12–16-year-old American schoolgirls experience sexual harassment. One in five women encounters online abuse or harassment.

Amnesty International reported that over half of the women who experienced online abuse or harassment said that it was ‘sexist or misogynistic, with a worrying 27% saying it threatened sexual or physical assault’.

Morgan on Meghan

In a society where the internet is a prevailing aspect of life, we need to challenge the media that exploits and targets women. Online exploitation is often highly sexualised and perpetuates the normalisation of gendered cyberhate.

Feminist theory suggests that males use violence, online and off, as a tool for overpowering women. This is an idea that was recently evidenced through the ‘dangerous and vile’ reactions to Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah Winfrey.

The deeply personal interview disclosed a number of shocking revelations. One of these being that Meghan had considered taking her own life after joining the Royal Family. She admitted that this had become ‘a real and frightening and constant thought’, owing to the racial scrutiny she suffered from certain Royal members.

The media’s response to these revelations was largely supportive. People took to social media to express their solidarity by sharing resources and educating others about the dangers of feeling low.

However, former ITV presenter Piers Morgan has come under notable criticism for his destructive comments. ‘I don’t believe a word she said’, was Morgan’s response to Meghan’s explosive confession.

Legitimate concerns were raised about Morgan’s dismissal of Meghan’s claims as something that might send the wrong message to other suicidal women struggling to cope and afraid to speak out. Acting as an insensitive online troll proved fatal to Morgan’s career on ITV.

A repetitive pattern of harassment

The Office for National Statistics recently reported the highest annual rate of female suicides in the UK since 2004. This is yet more evidence that we should be encouraging dialogue and increasing support for women, instead of dismissing their stress calls.

The UK tabloid press have been labelled as ‘toxic’ on numerous occasions, and have a long and complicated relationship with the Royal Family.

An article by BuzzFeed highlighted the belittling conduct towards Meghan Markle. A comparison between a series of articles written by the Daily Mail showed a stark contrast in the use of language used to present Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton.

Whilst Kate Middleton was described as ‘tenderly’ cradling her pregnancy bump, a snide comment inquired why  Meghan Markle couldn’t ‘keep her hands off the bump’. Two women. Very different treatment.

This raises questions as to whether it’s morally acceptable for powerful institutions, such as the media, to continue using aggression to demean and overpower women — which is nothing short of sexism. A similarly insensitive pattern of harassment through aggressive headlines has been linked to the death of Caroline Flack.

It’s been a year since Flack committed suicide. The media has learnt nothing.

I choose to challenge the media’s dangerous aggression towards women. Will you do the same?

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