In 1983, sociologist Diana Meehan analysed images of women on television. She suggested that representations on TV cast ‘good’ women as submissive, sensitive and domesticated while ‘bad’ women are rebellious, independent and selfish.
Through her analysis, Meehan identified common stereotypes of women as depicted on TV. These included ‘the harpy’, who is aggressive and single; and ‘the bitch’, who is a sneak, a cheat and manipulative, and ‘the witch’, who has extra power but is subordinated to men. Other stereotypes include the ‘good wife’, the ‘victim’, the ‘courtesan’ and the ‘matriarch’. Three decades later we still encounter such stereotypes in various forms of communication.
Which takes me to an article penned by Daphne Caruana Galizia in The Malta Independent (September 10). She wrote that the other side of the coin of advances in gay rights is the reality of what she saw as the real victims in Maltese society, straight women: the ones who are ‘bullied, harassed, ill-treated, patronised, pimped out or beaten up by straight men’. Little did Caruana Galizia know that she would herself be a victim, this time of a most cowardly act of bombing which robbed her life.
Caruana Galizia, who was often labelled as the ‘witch from Bidnija’ also frequently wrote about certain politicians who parade their wives as if they were some form of voiceless yet fashionable trophy.
Luckily, some female activists are deconstructing this narrative through brave initiatives such as Occupy Justice, which, incidentally was itself bullied by the caveman discourse of the likes of Tony Zarb.
True, Malta has advanced in certain policy initiatives related to gender equality. But let us not kid ourselves: we remain a European laggard in this field.
In this regard, a recent initiative organised at the University of Malta was almost prophetic in its choice of subject. ‘Women’, was organised by the Humanities, Medicine and Science (HUMS) programme, and it left much food for thought and action.
The seminar’s chair Clare Vassallo dedicated it Caruana Galizia, who had just been murdered a few days before. Indeed, the event was characterised by an eerie feel due to this macabre happening, but I could also sense a feeling of resolve among those present: a resolve to combat prejudice against women.
As Vassallo put it, Caruana Galizia started a whole new type of investigative journalism in Malta, and despite the insults, she remained fearless until the very end.
Vassallo also spoke of Virginia Woolf, who once observed that despite the richness of literature written by women, this was often obscured in patriarchal societies, where men wrote about women and where brave authors like Woolf herself had to overcome various hurdles to make it to the public sphere.
Another speaker, Edwina Portanier Brejza illuminated the audience with a host of examples of female inventors in the world of science, while Christine Galea discussed the Catholic narrative of equality of complimentary roles, something which perhaps deserves more debate in a world of increased diversity and fluidity.
Other speakers included Anthony Frendo, Charlene Vella and Charles Savona Ventura, the latter discussing what he calls the ‘five shades of purple’ in gender.
Of particular interest was the talk by Maria Theuma from the Department of English. She discussed the ‘cyborg’ theory of celebrated sociologist Donna Haraway. The latter had once proposed that our bodies are increasingly immersed with technologies in fields such as medicine and communication. While this can lead to dystopian futures in terms of ethical considerations, it can also serve as a source of liberation and self-creation.
And this self-creation can be applied in the fields of politics and activism. Caruana Galizia’s creative use of the blog was a case in point. Her articles were uploaded at all times of the day, and the whole country was hooked.
What made things even more interesting was that her blogs were shared in the social media and included tonnes of feedback. Many seemed to trust her more than the authorities when they provided her with information about corruption, bad governance and abuse of power. Everyone could become a co-author with Caruana Galizia, who articulated the information with her powerful pen.
It is now our duty, women and men, to ensure that Caruana Galizia’s writings live.