Archives for posts with tag: media

eggGoogle, the lazy way’s person to start a blog post. But if you search “damages children” it gives you a pretty good idea of how prevalent is the idea that many things ‘damage’ children.

Parental separation, child care, attachment parenting, leaving babies to cry, never leaving babies to cry, too many after school activities, not enough stimulation, free range parenting , working mothers, stay at home mothers, tiger mothers, hang on where are the fathers here? Geez it’s not surprising that young people today are the horrors they’re portrayed as with so much stuff ‘damaging’ them.

The nature of this damage is often unclear. Stuff is bandied about regarding ‘self esteem’ or ‘stress hormones’ but a lot of time what ‘damage’ spells is: ‘Mothers this is your fault, why have you perpetuated/not stopped this damage that is happening to your children RIGHT NOW’.

Parental guilt is journalistic catnip, and is yet another thing constantly thrust at parents, most often mothers, until they start believing it because we all feel guilty sometimes don’t we? About how little time we spend with our kids? About how we’re buying their love with material goods? About how our relationship with their other parent didn’t work out?

I’ve never seen, though, anyone talk of another way of looking at this – of understanding and accepting  that we probably won’t bring up our children to reach their maximum possible potential. This is really what media talk of ‘damaging children’ amounts to – all those working mums, or attachment parents or single parents or just somewhat flakey parents are not ruining their children’s lives. The Media and The Internet and Advertising are not going to rot their brains. Because kids are resilient. Humans are resilient. If we weren’t, we’d all be in a state of mental fugue by the time we were 12. We can cope with the fact that Mummy often said she was busy, or Dad shouted sometimes or once Mummy didn’t give us a cuddle once when we were feeling sad, all other things being basically OK.

And yes, the way we parent will most likely have some negative impacts on our children. We may bring up kids to be too averse to conflict, or bad at taking criticism, or too uncompromising or with a short temper. But you know what? Despite that they will most likely still enjoy friendships, satisfying and lasting relationships, educational achievements and decent jobs. Your mum and dad do fuck you up. But only slightly.

Middle class parents are portrayed as agonising over the slightest decision: ‘What if seven is too late to start classes in Mandarin?  He’ll end up cleaning toilets for a living and HATING me’, ‘If I don’t do a good princess castle cake for her birthday no one will be her friend and I’ll have ruined her entire childhood’.  The flip-side implication being, I feel, that those parents who can’t stretch to the cost of cello lessons are assumed immune to this sort of thing because they ‘don’t care about education’ and think good parenting consists of shouting lots at their numerous uncouth offspring and keeping them quiet with expensive gadgets bought with the immense wealth of benefit payments.

Classism aside (mostly as that’s a whole other post) I feel if you are worrying, even a little bit, about whether you’re doing the right thing, you are probably doing the right-enough thing. If you find parenting hard and the decisions a bit worrisome, that’s fine. If you’re being crushed by guilt that your every decision could send their future lives into a swan dive, I’d say ‘Calm down, you’re only their parent’.

The media likes to present research on profound neglect, such as the heartbreaking lack of care suffered by Romanian orphans, as though it is some kind of continuum on which your children may be found if you’re not careful. If, for example, you go to work before a certain age, or don’t constantly hold in-depth conversations with them or don’t have a family meal every day. Not only is this insulting to the genuine sufferings of the appallingly neglected, it’s also insulting to humans’ general ability to be the parents that their kids need them to be in the vast majority of cases.

It also rankles with me that privileged parents are encouraged to cluck over minutiae when plenty of children endure experiences rather more testing than not being selected for the school debating team – persistent poverty, imprisoned parents, being a carer to a family member, childhood illness – and nonetheless come through with flying ‘being a sorted human being’ colours.

A lot of parents need to forgive themselves more, stop looking into the crystal ball of doom and appreciate that, actually, their kids, right now, are basically OK and are very likely going to stay that way. So don’t start saving up for a psychiatrist just yet, and if they do need one later, swallow your pride and accept it might not be all about you.


ImageI think I hate Hollister. Not that this will overly concern that particular brand – after all, their buggy-unfriendly, loud, dark stores are expressly designed to say ‘Oi! Sod off!’ to the likes of me. I’m almost surprised it lets me on its website.

Sour grapes? Embittered at my lost youth and now that some places are too young for me?

Not really. What really sticks in the craw is that Hollister is going out of its way to be alienating for those older than its core market, while peddling the most pedestrian of conformity.

Navy and taupe and grey. Preppy sportswear. Chart music.

The message: ‘Rebel against your parents by conforming with big brands and mass market pop!’

I’m steeling myself for the fact that being a parent now means a constant battle on some level between consumerism and you for your kids’ hearts and minds. It’s scarily easy for some marketing type in his or her Soho office to know more about what your kids like than you do, especially in an environment where kids’ media choices are more and more personalised, and increasingly easy to receive without parental mediation. It’s not so much porn and violence I’m worried about as the drip-drip of precision-marketed material aimed at tuning kids into what marketers want them to be into.

Does this mean I’ll be battening down the hatches, banning media and banishing brands from my children’s lives? No. It does mean that I will make it my business to understand what they’re into, to watch what they watch (or as much as I can bear) make sure I listen to their music and read some of their media (if I can find out what it is, given it probably won’t be off a shelf in WH Smiths). Nor do I plan to tell them if I disapprove – God, if that isn’t stoking a fire for adolescent fuck-you-ness, what is? But if they’re into something I feel unhappy about – be it music with violent messages or TV programmes that purport to tell girls to be themselves and live their dreams but are actually telling them not to be smarter than boys and to make themselves pretty – I want to talk to them about what they like about it so hopefully I can open some discussion about the messages from it that make me uncomfortable. And yes, I can hear the laughter of parents with older kids reading this and thinking ‘Yeah, and you’ll be lucky to get anything beyond a “Dunno” or “I’s’alright” out of them. Discussion – LOL!’

But I still feel it’s worth a try, and that certainly there’s nothing to be gained from rolling eyes and going ‘Oh God! Why are you watching this crap again?!’ – because that’s really put generations of kids off being into something and not at all been the subject of countless unnecessary arguments.

Like Hollister, but in a different way, modern pop seems to have this generation-gap/conformism mismatch. You get music that sounds squarely aimed at the under 12s, but which comes with Parental Advisory stickers. You get cheery pop accompanied by a video of a woman in a latex bikini dry-humping a Cruise missile.  There’s this constant low-level-outrage drone behind a lot of pop that’s become so boring as to be not worth commenting on, but I suppose it might still catch the imagination of kids who haven’t seen it all before.

I’m someone who isn’t especially bothered by innuendo in music – it seems obvious to me that either a kid won’t know what it means, or if they do know what it means, then it’s not the song’s fault. I’ll confess that until I was in my early teens I thought all those lines about ‘Doing it all night long’ and ‘Getting down’ were about dancing. Admirably quaint, I know. But pop songs and imagery still send out strong messages about things like how much clothing a girl might be expected to wear on a night out and What Makes a Bloke a Real Man. And it doesn’t distress me because it’s oh-so-rebellious or impure and I can’t take its freakyness, but because behind it beats the pulse of mass marketing, stereotyped and unhealthy gender roles, materialism and shallowness.

Oh, and don’t forget hypocrisy – dollybirds who portray getting their kit off as empowerment, which maybe it is with a million downloads behind you, but maybe not for the majority of women involved with the ‘getting-your-kit-off’ trade. Men who make their money off glamourising violence and objectifying women, but spout platitudes about ‘Yeah, there’s too much hate in the world, we should all love one another more’ to make up for it.

This, to me, is the world represented by brands like Hollister – selling back a sanitised, marketing-approved vision of youth that’s actually all about not changing anything and slotting neatly into the groove assigned to your social cohort.

Mark Easton wrote interestingly on the BBC website about that old chestnut ‘kids today’, noting that there does seem to be less rebellion in the air. But at the same time, some things do speak very well of da yoof – drinking, drug use and smoking are falling significantly among young people. I don’t know if this is really a reaction to anything so much as a cycle of fashion, and getting hammered has become boring and kids have realised that smoking is expensive and unpleasant. And the kids would be absolutely right about all of the above. A strong suggestion is that, with social media replacing hanging out at the bus stop, and giving a forum for chatting, flirting and, unfortunately,  bitching and bullying too, far less need for the social fuels of booze and drugs.

The internet does make kids more vulnerable to targeted marketing, but at the same time gives opportunities for some bright sparks to create alternative voices for young people, for example Rookie from the very talented Tavi Gevinson – a magazine by and for teenage girls who want to explore feminism as well as fashion, with articles on everything from girls who box to ‘How to look like you weren’t just crying in 5 minutes’.

It’s not about ersatz rebellion, it’s not about following a brand or affecting a particular style – it’s about girls expressing themselves; articulately, geekishly, individually, funnily.

In other words, generally the things advertisers don’t want young people to be – exploring, questioning, creative. Then they might buy less stuff and generally be more immune to messages that tell them they need to be more like everyone else than anyone else. Kids by nature are exploring, questioning and creative, and not dumb – we need to give them credit for that so that their bullshit detectors are ready for those who want to sell them someone’s conformist ideals and motivations and call it their youth.

vote1281305_52700450I’ve wanted the Tories to be better, I really have, but the time to give up seems to have come.

I’ve always hung back from the subtle rhetoric of  ‘All Tories are utter scumbags who deserve to be tortured slowly, then killed’. Why? Because I know that isn’t true – my parents are Tories, were local councillors for many years, and very active ones at that. Both of them despise and reject prejudice in all its forms, support the idea of drug legalisation and more rights and better treatment for immigrants and other views unpopular with the Daily Mail, but they are actually Tories. They have not always toed the party line and don’t much like it at the moment, and I’ve never wanted to believe that they believed in something wrong at its base. And I still don’t think Conservatism has to be wrong at its base, but what’s going on now is wrong by any definition.

The stereotypes of Tories are interesting. Growing up, I’d be asked if my parents were terribly strict. No, they’re about the most liberal parents I know. When I told people they were local counsellors, active in social services, health and education committees and other voluntary bodies, I’d get the response ‘Labour, then?’ as though Tories ought to be on Baby Killing and Dog Kicking committees.

I have difficulty on a number of levels with rabid Tory-hatred, not least that it makes simplistic reductions, which  discourage rational debate about politics. People believe the Tories are irredeemable, socially unacceptable, and will remain so whatever they do or say, and so it doesn’t really encourage the Tories to be better than they are. There are decent Tories out there, and it would be better to at least listen to them and let them come to the forefront of the party than to drive them all out of town with flaming torches.

I used to snort, and still do to some extent at people saying things such as ‘The Tories hate poor and disabled people and want them to die.’ But, by God, they’re sure as hell acting as though they do.

One thing that is really disappointing is that Iain Duncan Smith and the Social Justice Unit started off sounding as though they actually had a decent approach to the benefits system – before election, of course. The concept of ‘tapering off’ benefits so that rather than losing a host of them on taking up a job, more benefit could be retained while working  (let’s not forget how many benefit claimants are people employed in low-income jobs), seemed to be a positive way of helping people into work, rather than punishing people for the difficulty of finding jobs they can sustain themselves on. Obviously, I am no economist, maybe I’m totally off bat, but it sounded like a good idea to me.

This idea appears to have vanished utterly – presumably due the expense of implementing, and largely due to the media’s sustained campaign against benefit claimants. Yes, even though welfare is far from being the cause of the UK’s economic situation, the Tories knew that they would have wide backing from the media if they pursued this as a way of improving the state of Britain’s economy. So they took it and ran with it.

The resulting situation is disgusting. Not to mention illogical and expensive. And unless they burn themselves to the ground and entirely rebuild themselves as something else, this time I don’t think I can forgive the Conservative Party. Laugh away, say you knew it for years, but I wanted them to be worth my vote, I wanted there to be forward thinking, caring people to take the reins and make it a party worth supporting.

I wanted them to show they didn’t have to be the Nasty Party, but they’ve gone, put a smiley face on it and horrendously victimised the most vulnerable members of society without making efforts to go after the people and organisations who could cough up enough money to make an economic difference and still have enough phlegm to buy yachts with. And there’s going to be further economic and human disaster when housing benefit cuts bite, with low-income people becoming  unable to afford to live in places like London. Or to live anywhere safe and habitable.

I’m on benefits myself. I was made redundant four months ago, so I’m enjoying the fun and jollity of the JSA right now. If I remain unemployed for much longer, I probably (and quite rightly, in my case) lose entitlement to JSA and I’m somewhat relieved given everything I hear. We can manage without it, though things will be tight, but at least I can’t be threatened and cajoled at every turn. I’m distressed by the thought of the countless people for whom cessation of benefits is terrifying – people who are understandably wondering how they will live, how they will feed their children, with nothing.

The government’s line appears to be that ‘they’ll just have to manage on a bit less’, when they have no concept of what it is to be on a low income – hell, I don’t even have much of a concept of it, but I can see it is pushing people’s lives into a state of emergency.

Is the answer revolution, as the usual corners are muttering? Probably not. But social media is beginning to flex its muscle in terms of shaming or withdrawing custom from those who don’t pay tax or use ‘workfare’ free labour to replace paid jobs – the last few weeks have given several examples of effective people power fuelled by Twitter and Facebook.

And I still believe it is incumbent upon us to vote. The Coalition presumably decided to focus on welfare because they knew it would ‘play well with the voters’ and voters these days are more likely to be the sort of people who look down on those taking welfare. If voters were people with whom this kind of thing didn’t go down well, they may not have taken that decision. Staying silent at the polls is not helpful, but if everyone, or even a significant chunk of everyone, who is ‘not the kind of person who votes’ voted in the next election, that would scare the living shit out of every politician far more than any protest.

I can’t say it’s been a pleasure, Conservative Party, I can’t say it’s been anything at all. I gave you the benefit of the doubt for as long as I could, but if you’re cutting benefits, then so am I. I would say this is written more in sorrow than in anger, but screw it, I am seriously angry.

ImageAs with everything, it starts young. It’s all ‘little rascals’ for your sons, but ‘perfect princess’ for your daughters. No pressure, like.

Perfection appears to be a feminine attribute – who knew? Would be nice to think it were so, to think it’s empowering, but in fact it’s the opposite.

It seems to be the case that women beat themselves up about things a lot more than guys do. Blokes are happier to muddle through and get shit done, while women, it seems, agonise over the minutiae (‘What did it mean when she said “fine”? Was that “fine” or, you know, “fine”? Oh God!’). Women notably initiate divorces far more than men, and I wonder how many blokes a demand for divorce has hit utterly out of the blue when they believed, reasonably or not, that everything was just dandy.

So the girls are expected to get it all right, dammit, as perfection is one of our attributes. A bit like God, but more hormonal.

The perfection bug is especially notable around weddings. When I got married one of the associated clichés that especially pissed me off, among many – don’t get me started on ‘Every woman has dreamed of her wedding day since she was a little girl’ – was the old ‘Every bride wants her day to be perfect’.

Well, for a start it wasn’t my day – it was a day for me, and my husband and our families and our friends. Additionally, I had no expectations of it being perfect, that would be deranged.  As it was, in the end it was a mixture of triumph, slight disarray and absolutely torrential, apocalyptic rain.

But naturally, we’re supposed to be bridezillas, tearing limbs and crushing buses when the napkins turn out to be ‘Brightest Azure’ and not ‘Vibrant Turquoise’ as requested. In our case, it was my husband who had far more of an idea of what sort of wedding he wanted than I did myself, and despite my hesitation on the practicality of our scenario (barn, countryside, 200 miles from home and seriously pushing their seating capacity) I decided it would be churlish not to go along with things when it wasn’t as though I had a better idea myself. Fortunately, one thing we totally agreed on was that ‘perfection’ was not part of the plan.

It’s not just weddings – we always read about ‘perfect’ homes, men, little black dresses, children, lipstick, dates, holidays. But material aimed at men doesn’t seem to have anything like the same emphasis on perfection. Blokes are laid back, blokes can improvise and go with the flow, we are lead to believe.

So the flipside can be that women are seen as unreasonable, unrealistic and not to be taken seriously because we have a lower threshold for coping with the messiness of life – which is funny, because we’re usually the ones cleaning it up, too.

ImageThose men, eh? Always trying to upstage one another with sexier outfits. Always getting into catfights, and, my God! The jealousy, they just can’t be happy for one another. They may be sweetness and light on the surface, but really they’re at each other’s throats – don’t let that ‘brotherhood’ act fool you.

No, I haven’t heard about that either. The concept of female rivalry seems to be one of the most insidious accusations and weapons in the media to undermine high profile women. The underlying message, as with so many things is ‘Don’t take women seriously. They’re all hormonal and irrational and will only do silly things if you give them an inch.’ Yet I have seldom seen it challenged.

Where did it come from as an idea? Why don’t we hear about football players who used to be in the same club bitching about who gets the best table at an award ceremony and how they ‘don’t speak to one another’ anymore. The other month Grazia had a headline about how, shock horror, J-Lo and Victoria Beckham haven’t had a cosy chat lately. My God! Obviously they can’t stand the sight of each other, there must be something up. It’s not as though they’re people who were moving in the same circles for a while and one of them moved away. When a female celebrity says of another ‘We haven’t talked for a while, but I wish her well’, it’s reported as though it’s some sort of chilly, hissed brush-off, not the comment of someone in reference to a person who is effectively a former work colleague. Apparently in the female celebrity world,  if you’re not BFFs, then surely you’re deadly enemies, stalking one another through the press to make sure the other woman is not getting thinner/younger looking/more popular than you.

It’s a no-win situation for high profile women, of course – the more they go on record claiming there’s no rift between them, the more insinuating headlines you see about them insisting there’s ‘no rift’ between them.

This attitude sneaks down to the more prosaic world of normal women too – the press delights in stories about research that allegedly proves that female bosses don’t like to promote other women, that women in the workplace look down on other women for being fat, or thin, or ugly, or pretty. In fact, when you think about it, there’s an awful lot of reported analysis of what women do in the workplace compared to that about men, as though it’s still some sort of marvellous novelty that women have jobs.

I think that just about every major TV series than involves a largely female cast attracts stories of how the women concerned fight at photo shoots, bicker over dresses or are ‘furious’ that one actor earns more than them. You don’t see headlines like that for mostly male series. The message is that if you get enough women in one place, you’ve got a fight on your hands. What seems to be being said here, again, is that women can’t cope with status – men are natural leaders and gracefully accept the ‘top dog’, but women can’t deal with it and must take part in a neverending and graceless struggle for dominance.

In the X-Factor and its ilk, there’s a lot of talk about what the judges say – usually the male judges. But if there are two young women on the panel, well, then it’s a week-by-week scoreboard of who has ‘won’ the essential female struggle of being the best dressed, with reporting that suggests it’s platform stilettos at dawn for these two ladies, and no mistake. (See articles like this, ad infinitum) Note that it doesn’t happen if one of the women is older – she’s an old hag and out of the running, effectively, even if she’s Darcy Bussell.

I find it difficult to imagine that women are somehow so much more competitive with one another than men are. In fact I suspect it is about the same between genders, but whereas it’s socially and historically acceptable between me, if it’s women being competitive with each other, it’s shallow, jealous and destructive. Men, though, are healthily competitive, it’s in their nature and it helps them get through life and contribute. And if men traditionally achieve through competing, therefore women are supposed to achieve through being collaborative and all getting along, but not doing anything, y’know, world changing.

The media’s catfighting (or passive aggressive) women are unattractively taking on male traits in a big, bad world that their little ladybrains can’t cope with it would appear. The media will allow us our little triumphs in life, but it makes sure to keep successful women’s dignity in check.

We are permitted to be sympathetic about certain things – animals are probably top of the list, this being England, followed by little children, sick and disabled children and old people and disabled adults unless they’ve got some awkward condition we don’t understand and surely means they’re just milking the benefits system when they should be working.

At the bottom of the sympathy list are people with mental illness, offenders, drug addicts and sex workers. Which makes one reflect on how often three or all of these blend together to create a perfect smoothie of the underserving, as far as the media is concerned.

Yes, you can be sure of being told who you should be gunning for in life, and who we should be gunning towards (particularly if you’re armed, paranoid and have gypsies on your land). But then there’s the problem cases.

We’re to be sympathetic towards the girl who was raped by a stranger holding a knife to her throat, but to withhold it, at least somewhat, toward the one who claims a friend or partner forced himself on her sexually.

And people have to behave the right way when they’re facing a crisis in order to deserve our sympathy. Joanne Lees fell foul of the press for not being sufficiently tearful and for having the temerity to have a somewhat spiky personality rather than being a weeping victim. Kate McCann – not her husband, note – was thrown under suspicion for not visibly collapsing under the weight of grief. And now it’s being supposed that a photograph of the woman allegedly raped by Julian Assange standing with him and smiling 48 hours after the attack was said to have taken place could surely undermine the whole case. This notwithstanding of plentiful written evidence of victims finding they have to keep up a smiling face in the presence of their attacker for some time afterwards, because it’s someone they must needs relate to and they are still processing their experience and how they’re supposed to respond to it.

But it’s not how rape victims are ‘supposed’ to behave – the ‘good rape victim’ gets jumped on by armed man in an alleyway, while sober and not wearing anything revealing, and dutifully goes to the police straight away and presents them with all the forensic evidence so that there can’t be any ambiguity. She doesn’t, for example, wash herself thoroughly afterwards in a state of horrified shock – as many victims of rape do – or have her wish not have sex overruled by a friend or partner.

The Assange case has been an interesting one for the press. On the one side, it must be a fit-up –  they’re obviously pursuing him because of Wikileaks! On the other, he’s a pretty dreadful person – he must have done it! Of course, while you wouldn’t often see countries going to so much trouble to extradite someone for the sort of rape that some people like to call ‘not real/legitimate/rape’, that doesn’t mean he didn’t do it. Nor does the fact that he’s a bit of a git mean that he did. So the media’s thrashing around in a bit of a state, not sure who to expect us to side with here. Perhaps worst for the liberal end – ‘Possible rape victim! Ambiguous circumstances! Freedom of speech! Bit of a git! Oh dear!’

But when it comes to the black and white of who we have sympathy for, the game can be played both ways. In 2008 the press immediately sided with a tearful Karen Matthews appealing for the return of her lost daughter, Shannon. So their fury (to coin a phrase beloved of the tabloids) was redoubled at ‘Britain’s Worst Mum’ ‘Evil Karen Matthews’ when the rather flimsy and ludicrous plot was revealed. Matthews and her co-conspiritors may have been dim, but even she knew how to play the media sympathy card. The devastated mum stance will do wonders for media exposure and support – who could be unsympathetic to that?

Emotional fascism is a favourite stand of the tabloid media – ‘You must feel as we tell you to feel or you are Not One of Us’. I’ll never forget the time my mother and I were at a supermarket checkout in 2002 when the announcement came that there was to be a minute’s silence in memory of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. That was the first I’d heard of it, I could only assume it was because the ‘Sun Said’ we should have one (I later found out I was right). But what to do? Would we be looked at askance if we failed to join in and mourn ‘appropriately’ for these girls who, while their fate was of course awful, really meant nothing to us? Who we couldn’t see any more reason to be silent for than for many other tragic events occurring all around the world?

In the end we kept talking, albeit in an undertone. No one looked askance at us. But we were both left furious at this presumption upon our feelings.

Media sentimentality is good at shutting out debate, and hiding the real issues. The murder of James Bulger is a classic case – Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were presented as two ‘devil children’. This idea of an appallingly unfortunate association between two soulless freaks of nature hid the actually more frightening truth that the behaviour of these boys was no more than emotional ignorance at its worst. They decided, as children do, to see ‘what happens if…?’  but for various reasons they lacked the empathy and understanding to see how horrifically wrong it was, or to understand the consequences. In many ways it’s frighteningly easy for something like this to happen if children are neglected and emotionally stunted as it appears those boys were. But far easier to believe pages of drooling prose about ‘evil demon boys’ than to consider the effects of childhood neglect in a frequently violent world. Trying to understand them, in the eyes of the tabloid media, would be like trying to excuse them, and anyway, there was nothing to understand. They weren’t people – they were purely ciphers of evil.

A favourite tabloid trick, I noticed, especially when someone is accused of a crime against children, is to put a close-up shot of their eyes on the front page, with a headline a la ‘EYES OF EVIL’ and you can almost hear Britain tutting over its tea ‘Oooh, yes, evil eyes – you can tell, can’t you?’ Sometimes it happens they are right and the person is found guilty. Other times, such as the murder of Jo Yeates,  the media finds a conveniently eccentric contact, in this case landlord Christopher Jeffries, and get maximum mileage from making them sound as outlandish and creepy as possible.  You’ve got to alienate the person you want to be your killer from the public, and everyone likes to play amateur detective and demonstrate why this weirdo must have done it. He liked strange, avant-garde films, don’t you know?

I’m glad to say that Jeffries received substantial damages from a couple of papers in the aftermath, but it may not make up for the harm done to him – no one’s going to read the apologies and corrections after all.

And there’s the rub – when the media turns us against the wrong person, it’s the wrong that’s the headline, and the apology that’s shoved into a corner. It’s hard to imagine what it must be like to live in the aftermath of being portrayed as a threat to society. It’s difficult to conceive the frustration of someone in the media spotlight who finds their behaviour and motives picked apart because they are not someone who slots neatly into media expectations. But saying sorry isn’t the media’s job and it doesn’t get readers reading and Twitter buzzing. Telling us who to love and hate, though, is always a winner and has a great ally in the internet where we can amplify it all for them.

Not only can falsely supposed villains not move away from their media infamy, but the media doesn’t want victims to move away from a life lived in a vale of tears. Infamously, in 2009 the Scottish Express scraped the barrel  by carrying a horrified and unbelievably sanctimonious front page about survivors of the Dunblane nursery massacre, claiming that these teenagers were having the temerity to, well, be teenagers and get drunk, post photos of themselves online flipping the bird and so forth. Because they were victims of tragedy, it was supposed they must live their life as pure and innocent monuments of grief.

Whether you’re an ‘innocent tot’, a ‘weeping victim’, an ‘ASBO yob’ or ‘creepy old man’ the press has a preserving jar of public sympathy or hatred ready for you, you lucky things, and a readership always eager to fill it.

Victorian doctors just loved hysteria, basically the idea that we women can’t help our giddy little heads from getting all muddled by those pressures with which gentlemen are better equipped to cope. Medical authorities no longer accept this diagnosis, you’ll be pleased to hear – at least they don’t around my way. It was a nice little money-spinner in the days when doctors charged; your patient wouldn’t die of it, but treatment could still continue for pretty much as long as the doctor said it needed to.

People still seem to be making money out of this idea of women living on the edge, though, paranoid and overwhelmed over the troubles of everyday life. Take your average questionnaire in a women’s magazine, for example:

‘You weigh yourself and find you have put of 3lbs since last weeks, do you:

a)      Scream and throw your scales out of the window
b)      Eat nothing for three days
c)       Stay at home and not go out for the next 3 months
d)      Kill your boyfriend

‘You find a message on your boyfriend’s phone from a woman who you’ve never heard of, do you:

a)      Dump your boyfriend
b)      Kill your boyfriend
c)       Track the woman down, kill her, then kill your boyfriend
d)      Nuke everything from orbit’

I guess that giving options such as ‘Shrug your shoulders’ or ‘I’d expect there’s some totally normal reason for this so I’d not be in the least worried’ wouldn’t make for compelling journalism.

When you look at media aimed at men and women, one massive difference is that blokes are supposed to laugh everything off – hey, you gotta laugh. But women are expected to take everything deadly seriously and as having life-changing import – hey, you can’t let anyone make a fool out of you, sister. Your man is always on the lookout for a better offer, your bodyweight is always a few pounds away from FAT, that bitch at the next desk is after your boss’s job. It’s a mean world out there, girls.

And we can’t even relax on holiday or enjoy the run up to it, as apparently we should be going on a crash diet and strenuous exercise programme to look good in our bikinis, getting everything waxed and plucked, having salon appointments to prep our skin and have fake tan applied and then buying our perfect wardrobe to impress around the pool. I never realised holidays were such hard work.

We have the rest of the year to be convinced that we look like crap as well.  ‘We’ve all had “fat” days!’ magazines chirp chummily, ‘We’ve all had times when we’ve pulled out of a night out because we think we look awful’ they say, in sisterly communion.

That this seems to be thought of as normal, and not signs of seriously unhealthy thinking, perturbs me to say the least. It tells women not to worry that they hate the way they look, or that they think they’re fat because they put on 2lb last week, as everyone does it, so it’s fine. Have you noticed that women often talk about ‘getting fat’ when they talk about putting any weight on at all, even if they look exactly the same and are still the same clothes size? Even though everyone’s weight fluctuates a bit really and it’s perfectly natural. The press doesn’t quite use this language, but it’s there by implication – especially when magazines confidently crow on cover straplines about the precise amounts of weight that high profile women have lost or gained. And this is obviously all totally accurate information, of course.

We’re supposed to feel reassured that Cheryl hates her thighs, or that Blake Lively, or one of those other glossy American girls with interchangeable surnames and first names  has fat days, whereas all that says to me is that even with all their resources and training and diet of the week, these women still don’t even like their bodies. So what hope is there for a vulnerable 14-year-old girl whose classmate has just called her fat, even though she practically vanishes sideways on, when she reads this sort of thing on a regular basis?

Speaking of vanishing sideways on, I remember, about  10 years ago, Geri Halliwell ‘flaunting her toned yoga body’, as the press would have it. Looking as though she were incapable of actually breathing in, every picture of Halliwell seemed to radiate this rictus grin of ‘Look at me! Look at how well I have done in eliminating all fat from my body! I’m happy, I really am, lalalalala!’ It was all strikingly uncomfortable viewing. Halliwell has since gone on to claim that actually, she was not all that happy at the time.

Let’s face it, we are lucky not to live in a time and place where our every womanly malady is put down to overloading our little lady brains with stuff like reading or over-enthusiastic croquet. But the media does pretty well out of selling us back the modern version – that womanhood is defined by our inability to cope sanely with our bodies, our relationships and our lives in general. Hysterical. But not very funny.