Women in Media: The use of prostitution and violence against women as an exciting storyline in film


Last night, a lively discussion took place following a performance of ‘Madame Geneva’ at the Lyric Theatre Belfast.


Guest speakers: Julia Paul & Dr Sian Barber hail from QUB. Sian Barber researches and lectures on depictions of violence against women in film & TV and how it is interpreted by audience. She feels the current trend portrays violence against women (The Fall, Broachchurch, Pretty Little Liars), where women are hunted, attacked or murdered. She suggests we need to look at how this is represented, maintaining that quite often, even corpses of murdered women are beautiful, and that we must ensure it is not done simply to arouse.


Julia Paul suggested we should look at the bigger picture – the representation of women across the board, in the news and media. Women must not be add-ons to the leading man.


It was also expressed that women themselves need to speak up more; not only to call out sexism, but to put themselves forward for opportunities, to be unafraid of self-promoting, and to be actively engaging in media.

The conversation turned to the portrayal of the male saviour in the depiction of violence against woman on TV & film – narratives are often told from a man’s point of view – that the violence somehow only becomes relevant when it impacts on the man (e.g Taken). The idea seems to suggest that everything is ok when the man saves the day, but in real life, rape is forever, and damage is long-lasting. Some non-eroticising examples of the use of violence were offered – the recent production, Three Girls, and This Is England. The danger of being unrealistic with violence and murder is that it becomes fetishized. One audience member suggested that it was dangerous to view women as a homogenous group because we then exclude women of colour, transgendered women and more.


Julia and Sian also suggested that what is shown in media is a reflection of how women are viewed in life in general. In a patriarchal system, women are portrayed as victims, and men are portrayed as perpetrators. One audience member suggested that in most cases, men actually are perpetrators of violence and rape.


Jo Egan added that when researching Madame Geneva, the testimonies focused on diseased and immoral women and how they seduced and corrupted mebn. One audience member said that reflected the current abortion debate, that men are making decisions about women’s bodies, and the debate is actually about a woman’s sexuality; when we are living in a society were men can get away with rape.


One question asked that TV & film encourages victim blaming and slut-shaming in its representation? “Was she drunk? What was she wearing? But wasn’t he her boyfriend?”. There was a suggestion to call this out when this is seen, to push forward the idea that these things should never be part of the debate.


One audience member suggested follow-up debates to TV & film programmes outside of ‘Call this number if you have been affected’, something that allows the impact of the programme to continue and the issues to be debated online.

Final Comment: one audience member suggested that as women working in media, in TV, in film, in theatre, we have to power to make the change. It is in our hands to show real women, authentic lives. We might not be where we want to be but we have accomplished significant in-roads and awareness has been raised. Women can support and celebrate other women.


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