Sexism & gender stereotyping explained by 5 popular Facebook memes

23 Jul

Facebook memes typically feature a witty expression or phrase written in two parts, typed over a photograph or image that supports the impact of the punchline. The first meme I ever saw was this popular spin-off from the Lion King, in which Mufasa explains to Simba what lies beyond the light, at the ‘shadowy place’. Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 17.00.16

Memes have become so widespread that you can create your own meme on a number of meme-generator sites. So instead of the above meme reading ‘The South’, you could insert anything you like, from ‘MacDonalds’, to ‘Malia’.

At best, a meme is a witty quip about some aspect of modern life. But most of the time, people use memes as a way to quickly justify and validate bad decisions or cheap shots at other individuals and groups. For example, the ‘People of Wal Mart’ page has over 25,000 likes on Facebook and is full of memes, but when you think about it, the page is a seriously creepy collection of photos taken of people unawares in order to make fun of their appearance.

There’s something about memes that have social media users hypnotised. Whether it’s the typeface or the supporting image or a combination of the two, memes seem to make hurtful statements acceptable and imbue flimsy observations of daily life with substance. In many cases, if you heard a stranger utter the same words out loud in a restaurant, you’d feel inclined to move tables.

When it comes to gender, sexuality, dating and modern relationships, memes tend to promulgate the gender binary, lock women into double standards, portray all men as chauvinists and relationships as some kind of unhealthy fated fairytale.

There are a select number of popular memes that I keep seeing again and again over Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that really grind my gears because they romanticise harmful and polarising messages about gender. Without further ado, here are 5 popular Facebook memes that have crept all over the Internet and done exactly that: Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 16.03.10

I also like the idea,

That someone, somewhere, had just broken up with their partner and made this meme to justify their dating status.

I’m sure many people all over the world ‘like’ the idea of soulmates but this meme promulgates the fantasy that modern relationships are like Disney films. In reality, there may well be one person you can spend your life with, but it takes hard work, co-operation, sacrifice, patience, acceptance, humility, negotiation and maturity to make a life-long relationship work with anyone. This meme typifies everything that is wrong with expectations of modern dating, thanks to happy-go-lucky sitcoms and chick-flicks. Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 16.02.22

If a guy sleeps with ten women, he’s a stud. If a woman does the same, she’s a slut. This is one of the most tired double standards in the history of sexism that’s yawning so hard its jaw hurts. But this meme expresses the prejudice through a viral image, which re-inflamed the toothache like never before. A woman is not a territorial conquest. She is a human being.

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I’d much rather be understood than loved, thanks mate

I’ve seen so many women and girls re-post this meme on social media sites. I’m not sure if it’s suggesting that women are so complex that it’s easier to just love them, or that women are simply not worthy of human understanding, but either way, it traps women in a binary. The fact that the quote originates from Oscar Wilde does nothing for me. Literary prowess aside, Wilde lived in a time when women’s status was entrenched within economic, political and social barriers that do not exist now, so the fact that the quote has been re-generated via memes in a modern context is completely anachronistic.

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I like to think of myself as a kind of straightforward, reasonable person who means what I say, but the Internet has other ideas. Apparently, because I am a woman, my vocabulary is imbued with double-meanings that send warning signals to men everywhere. I am so truly complex and manipulative, that men have created memes to help other men figure out what I might mean. Huh, who knew? Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 16.03.37

I saw this meme on Instagram and felt how much of the nation felt while watching Nick Griffin on Question Time- there are so many aspects of it that incense me that I don’t know where to begin. The concept of ‘gentleman’ and ‘lady’ teeter upon archaic, chivalric expectations of behaviour based purely upon gender. I would much rather that somebody held the door open for me because it is polite, not because I’m a woman. If society, meme-users or a man believes that it is his entitlement to ‘smack my ass’ when I have walked through that door because I am ‘his’, then they’ll be met swiftly with a door to the face. Some gent.

10 basic facts you should know about feminism

19 Jul

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The original Buzzfeed article that exploded over social media

            Buzzfeed recently released a post called ’14 Women Say Why They Don’t Need Feminism’. The article was a photo compilation of various women sympathetic to the ‘Women Against Feminism’ camp, holding up signs explaining why they’ve shunned the women’s rights movement.

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Just a selection of the hundreds of women who back ‘Women Against Feminism’

The reasons varied from ‘I don’t need feminism because I respect all humans, not just one gender’, to ‘I don’t need feminism because I am not a victim’. Every explanation portrayed feminism as an outdated, irrational, man-hating monstrosity that promotes entitlements and supremacy over liberty and equality. The article promulgated an ugly and unforgiving stereotype of feminism that feminists everywhere have worked tirelessly to refute for decades. 

Thankfully, the article was met with a stream of retorts over Twitter, explaining how these ‘women against feminism’ have dreadfully misconceived ideas about what it means to be a feminist. American actress, writer and singer Molly Ringwald was re-tweeted 853 times when she wrote,

‘This “women against feminism” trend perplexes me. Feminism is not female chauvinism, it is equality. Pretty simple concept.’ Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 14.18.27

In a later tweet, Ringwald highlighted the irony of the ‘Women Against Feminism’ motion: the perplexing fact that the majority of this anti-Feminist polemic rests squarely upon the bricks and mortar of feminist values. 

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A sample of a ‘Women Against Feminism’ selfie

Feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of gender equality. Women declaring that they refute feminism because they don’t hate men, or because they are not victims, or because they support equality, are therefore feminists themselves. Women Against Feminism is promoting the same principles that feminists have been shouting about for hundreds of years- it’s just a damn shame that the stereotype of 21st-century feminism is causing them to shout about it from a separate soapbox. 

Feminism’s grossly distorted public image must be reconciled with its straightforward, clean-cut principles. In order to fight for a future in which women and men are treated equally, we must first fight for a world in which the word ‘feminism’ is treated positively. 

In an attempt to undo some of the damage caused by ‘Women Against Feminism’, here are ten basic facts that everyone should know about feminism:

  • Feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social and economic equality to men. 
  • Female emancipation does not thrive on male emasculation. Feminists do not seek to demonize or disadvantage men on the road to empowerment, only to achieve the same level of equality as men.
  • Not all feminists agree with each other. There are liberal feminists and conservative feminists. Pro-sex feminists and anti-porn feminists. Pro-choice feminists and, you guessed it, pro-life feminists. If you hear a feminist promoting a particular cause or argument, it doesn’t mean the rest of us automatically fall in line.
  • Feminists stand against the subordination of women. This means that we oppose any individual, group, organisation or movement that supports female inferiority. We do not confront those individuals, groups, organisations or movements without reason, but because they stand up for the destructive ideas that obstruct the path to our goals.
  • If a man believes that women and men deserve to be equal, he is a feminist.
  • Some women give feminism a bad name. They throw the word around recklessly as a justification to demonize men. Feminists hate this just as much as men do. 
  • Feminists come in all shapes and sizes, ethnicities and creeds, occupations and ages.
  • Feminist history began hundreds of years ago. It was not born in the 1970s. 
  • Feminists can be feminine. We don’t have to emulate masculinity in order to prove our worth.
  • If you ‘don’t need feminism’ because you see yourself as having achieved equality, that’s great. But other women all over the world are mentally, physically, socially, economically and culturally subordinated every day, so don’t chastise other women for carrying on the fight. 
    Repping my Chimera (women's self-defence) t-shirt in Yosemite National Park

    Repping my Chimera (women’s self-defence) t-shirt in Yosemite National Park ‘It’s not the woman in the fight, it’s the fight in the woman’

Top 10 tips for starting a blog

18 Jul

I launched puravidastudent in September 2012 and had no idea how to run a blog. Most ‘how-to’ guides were full of technical jargon I didn’t understand, so my publicity plan consisted of nagging my Facebook friends to read my posts every week. Thankfully, over the years I’ve learned more professional tricks of the trade, from where to find likeminded bloggers, brushing up my blog presentation, how to gain followers and improving my writing style. Since my very first trepidatious post, ‘Let the Blogging Commence’, I’ve gained 1,327 followers, over 17,000 hits, have been voted by Cision as the number one student lifestyle blog in the UK and as South Carolina’s best student columnist 2013. Here’s my top 10 (jargon-free) tips for getting a blog up and running:

Pick a specialisation

The first thing to do before setting up a blog is to think about purpose. If you pick a specialisation, like food, travel, fashion or student life, you’re more likely to grab people’s attention. People would rather read well-informed, in-depth information about a specific topic rather than general ramblings about your daily life that reads like a diary entry. It’s all well and good naming your blog ‘Theworldaccordingto[yourname]” but you’re relying on the fact that people will already know you and subscribe to your personality. The second specialisation tip is to think ahead- don’t name your blog ‘AdventuresinThailand’ if you’re only going to Thailand for a month and want to blog for the long-term.

My blog focus is student life (with a trans-Atlantic twist)

My blog focus is student life (with a trans-Atlantic twist)

Choosing the name

When it comes to blog names, the shorter the better. Try picking something that people will remember off the top of their heads and that will take up less characters in tweets. It’s also great to have an intriguing story behind the name, perhaps inspired by a particular memory, book, holiday or person that will help people to remember your blog.

Décor

If you’re using a blog platform like WordPress or Tumblr, you’ll have endless options to choose from when it comes to blog themes, layouts and backgrounds. Try to optimise your blog brand by choosing a theme that compliments your strengths- if you’re going to set up a photo journal, choose a layout that allows you to post large pictures. If you’re blogging about food, choose a theme that allows you to write recipe lists alongside cooking methods.

Post regularly

Not everything you write will appeal to everyone, so make sure you post regularly enough to draw readers back before they lose interest. Make sure you write at least once a week to keep your site reverberating around the blog-o-sphere.

Tweet, tweet and tweet some more

Twitter is like oxygen for blogs. Once you’ve written a post, tweet about it and tag other likeminded bloggers and blogging websites to help maximise publicity. Here are some great examples of people to link in and interact with:
For general blogging: @WorldOfBloggers, @FemaleBloggerRT, @BritBloggers

For travel writing: @BckpckerDiaries, @VergeMagazine @trekamerica

For study abroad blogs: @TheAbroadGuide, @StudyingAbroad, @GoAbroad

For fashion, beauty and lifestyle: @inthefrow @fashbeautylife @FbloggersUK

Sign up on Bloglovin’

Bloglovin’ is a website that allows bloggers all over the world to connect and share their posts without having to use search engines to find each other. It’s a free and effective way to streamline the expansion of your blogging footprint. Once you’re signed up, you’ll have a profile pretty similar to a Facebook timeline that features all of the posts and blogs you’ve liked, as well as your interests. The great thing is that you can connect with other bloggers by liking other individual posts that come up on your feed, without having to visit their individual sites. Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 14.13.09

Publish at the right time of day

It sounds crazy, but the time of day that a blog post goes live really can affect the level of publicity it gains. Let’s say you’re polishing off a blog post at 11 ‘o’clock at night and want to just get it posted. Chances are, you’ll wake up to find it hasn’t generated much activity because it’s at the bottom of people’s news feeds and Twitter streams by the time they wake up the next day. I’ve found that the optimum posting time is first thing in the morning, when people log into social media sites and read updates on the way to work. Think about it- readers are less likely to click on your blog at the end of a busy day when their brains are full of clutter, so make the most of their early-morning clarity. Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 12.32.51

Confidence is key: don’t apologise

Many bloggers start their posts with ‘I’m sorry I haven’t blogged in weeks but…’ or ‘Sorry to spam your page but could you take a read…’ This personally puts me off reading a blog, like handing out birthday invitations and saying, ‘I’m sorry, my party is going to be rubbish but do you want to come?’ If you start a blog by apologising that you haven’t blogged for ages, readers will think that your blog is something you tend to before bed every now and then rather than a high-quality, well thought-through website. When generating an audience for your blog, have the confidence to assume that everybody wants to read it- if you’re not confident about your blog, who will be?

Take two days to write, edit & publish

As tempting as it is to publish a blog as soon as you’ve finished it, try sleeping on it and editing your work the next morning. There’ve been countless times that I’ve come back to a blog after a good night’s sleep and spotted tons of errors I wouldn’t have noticed the previous evening. Let’s face it, if you want to build an audience, they’re more likely to come back if the first blog they read is a polished, high-quality piece of writing.

Branch out

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The Guardian have featured two of my blogs

Once you’re an established blogger with a loyal group of followers and an impressive category of posts, start to branch out. Whether it’s getting your blog featured on a website, or writing an article or two for another blog or magazine, there are endless ways to get your writing seen. Play to your strengths- if your blog is about student life, contact your university to see if they will post a link to your blog on their website. If your blog is about travelling, get in touch with a travel company before you go away to see if they will publish your travel writing on return. Some great examples that have worked for me are Guardian Students and @VergeMagazine.

10 lifestyle habits I’ve picked up while studying abroad in the US

18 Jul

This blog has also been featured on The Guardian’s Blogging Students website, and can be found here: http://www.theguardian.com/education/mortarboard/2014/jul/17/10-american-habits-studying-abroad-students

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My blog on The Guardian website

As university friends studying business, finance and law started gaining seriously impressive internships and ‘year in industry’ placements in September 2012, I decided that, as an English and History student, there had to be some way to boost my CV and become more employable.

I shopped around, scanning the university website for opportunities to fit the bill. Four months later I’d completed my application to study abroad in the states, and it turned out to be the best decision of my life.

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A dozen chicken wings, listed on the menu as a ‘starter’

So for the past year I’ve abandoned my familiar Leeds student lifestyle for an exchange year at the University of South Carolina. I swapped nightclubs for frat parties, my small student house for American dorms, Yorkshire Tea for sweet tea, fish and chips for Southern fried chicken and afternoons at the pub for afternoons on a sun lounger at the outdoor pool.

Many of my study abroad friends who ventured to foreign language countries were sceptical about the degree to which social customs would be different in America. But from the moment I touched down in Columbia, South Carolina, I knew I had an eye-opening adventure ahead of me.

Here are ten lifestyle habits that I’ve picked up since being on exchange in the Appalachian South:

Tipping

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Eating out with friends in San Francisco’s Little Italy

In the US, service staff members earn their keep largely through tips, so visiting a restaurant or bar without leaving a tip is considered hugely disrespectful. Thanks to this American social custom, I’ve returned to the UK much more willing to give away those extra few pounds at the end of my meal.

Using weekends to travel

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Rockclimbing in Alabama

With America’s endless travelling opportunities just waiting to be explored, I used the weekdays to study hard, and the weekends to pack my bags and tick some more states off my to-see list.

Being OK with driving insanely long hours

When I did pack my bags for the weekend, I had to mentally prepare myself for the long car journey ahead. As Americans don’t have the same level of public transport resources as British students do, they’re much more accustomed to driving long hours across the interstate to get to where they want to be.

Planning my social life around sports games

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Watching Clowney and the Gamecocks at Williams-Brice stadium

If ever I didn’t travel at the weekend, I’d be watching live sports. The university football team played in a stadium just short of Wembley’s capacity, and with free tickets for students, the weekly dose of American football was considered an unmissable social event.

Choosing comfort over style

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A classic day-to-day choice

The go-to daily attire in the intense South Carolinian heat and humidity was a nonchalant Nike Shorts (‘Norts’) and baggy t-shirt combination. It was also immediately apparent that checked shirts (or ‘flannel shirts’) are readily accepted at any social occasion. If in doubt, flannel out.

Embracing team spirit

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Cuddles with Cocky

When I first arrived in the US I felt a typical British reluctance towards American patriotism and team spirit. By the end of my year I’d become swept away in the fun, sporting team colours to classes and queuing for photos with the university mascot.

Expressing happiness with the word ‘blessed’

Perhaps it was because I studied in the Bible belt, or because Americans embrace upbeatisms more readily than we Brits do, but I heard locals express happiness with the word ‘blessed’ on a daily basis. I even saw a car license plate that read ‘Bless3d’. Since returning to England I’ve caught myself using the word on several occasions.

Solving any remotely difficult situation by grabbing frozen yoghurt

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Fro-yo

Forget grabbing a coffee or putting the kettle on as ways to unwind at the end of the day. The nearest frozen yoghurt café was a regular haunt for students looking for a midweek treat.

Speaking up in lectures

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English classes at USC

As class participation often counts for large percentages of final grades in American institutions, over the past year I’ve become a lot more vocal about my thoughts during classes. I’m looking forward to seeing how my renewed, Americanised verbal skills will fit back in to British lectures and seminars in my final year.

Going with the flow

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Halfway through the 8-hour Bright Angel Trail, grand Canyon, AZ

This probably says more about the overall experience of being an international exchange student rather than American social customs, but since studying abroad in America I’ve become a pro at going with the flow. The study abroad experience can be pretty unpredictable at times, so rather than worrying about trying to have a plan for everything, my new favourite phrase is ‘Let’s play it by ear’.

What reverse culture shock really feels like

15 Jul

Every exchange student will have a different study abroad experience. At my pre-departure meeting in Leeds I was presented with a graph that plotted the supposed emotional stages an exchange student goes through over the course of their year abroad. Peaks and troughs varied from obvious phases of ‘anticipation’ and ‘adapting’ to an ominous-sounding ‘disintegration’ phase that left me wondering just how turbulent the emotional rollercoaster ahead was going to be.

While some of the phases have been extremely real, not once have they been linear enough to be plotted on a graph. I was homesick while I was still adapting. I was culture-shocked while I was hyperactively excited. I enjoyed my newfound independence during the same week that I Skyped home every single day.
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Of all the predictions and insight that the graph gave me, I never gave reverse culture shock much thought. How I’d be feeling after the year ahead was the least of my concerns. I was signed up and checked in with a visa appointment at the London embassy waiting down the line. Thinking about how I would feel in over a year’s time felt as distant and unreachable as it does to look back to my pre-departure days now.

On reflection, reverse culture shock has been the hardest transition of all. I say ‘on reflection’ because it is only now, five weeks after I returned to England, that I have fully recovered and emerged from the tidal wave of readjustment that has consumed me for the passing weeks.

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New York

Exchange students returning home from their beloved host countries are meant to go through ‘initial excitement’, followed by a ‘judgmental stage’, ‘realisation’,  ‘frustration’ and finally ‘balanced re-adaptation’ to home life.

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The Grand Canyon

The initial excitement to go home is like anticipating a high-school reunion from behind a plate of glass. You’re not there yet, and you can’t materialise it, but you have a million and one hypothetical guesses about what it might be like, and what might have changed. The only thing that softened the blow of heart-breaking goodbyes in America was the sweet, sweet lure of England and everything that I love within it- friends and loved ones, Yorkshire Tea, curry, pubs and sarcasm. But the prospect of plunging back into my British past and reconciling it with the realities of my American present was tinged by a nagging anxiety that I had no idea just how hard that reconciliation was going to be.

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Getting reacquainted with my beloved Yorkshire tea

The judgmental stage is like seeing your home community through a veil of cultural snobbery. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. I was seeing British sights through an American lens and making a mental note of everything that didn’t agree with my Americanised cultural appetite. I visited a sports goods shop shortly after I returned home and couldn’t help but compare the nonchalant grunts of the staff to the upbeat, optimistic and high-pitched enthusiasm of Americans I met all over the states. Welcome back to England, where the customer is never right.

The realisation stage is a numbing experience. I started to notice changes in my surroundings and in myself all the time. Everywhere I looked, everyone I met, everywhere I went I was realising how things have changed, how they’re different to America, and the small handful of things that have stayed the same. It was a fascinating but overwhelming time that left me feeling stupefied by the sheer immensity of it all.

The frustration stage is like missing an ex-partner from the regretful embrace of a rebound. I tried to find all the things I love about America in England, and it backfired. Instead of seeing England and America as lovable in their own unique ways, I went round in circles trying to push the wooden triangle block into the square hole. No matter how many times I clicked through my photo albums on Facebook, the year had been and gone.

Urban Dictionary defines ‘Zen’ as the following:

“A total state of focus that incorporates a total togetherness of body and mind. Zen involves dropping illusion and seeing things without distortion created by your own thoughts.”

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My first drink in a British beer garden after my year in SC

This is the balanced re-adaptation to home life. It is a kind of clarity, a peacefulness, a state of calm and mostly, a serene sense of happiness that I’ve never had before.

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My first curry night back with my family

We will never be able to recreate the year in all it’s glory. It was a unique coming-together of people and circumstances, of badly-timed beer pong and country music, of $2 margaritas and long road trips. But that’s what makes the study abroad experience so life-affirming and beautiful. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

After weeks of feeling displaced, resentful and bitter about home life, the final stage is like taking that first deep breath after a workout. The one that really fills your lungs. It’s a sigh of relief and a sense of comfort that you haven’t had for an entire year. It’s the immense feeling of achievement in being able to say that you did it, you overcame the hurdles, mastered your new surroundings and returned home stronger than ever before, with hundreds of stories to tell.

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Stop The Traffik call for amendment to the Modern Slavery Bill

10 Jul

Stop The Traffik (STT), a global activist group dedicated to the prevention of human trafficking, is calling for an amendment to the Modern Slavery Bill, which was introduced to the House of Commons on 10 June 2014. 

The Modern Slavery Bill would provide stronger resources to detect, punish, and prevent the spread of modern slavery. The bill includes proposals to ensure perpetrators receive suitably severe punishments and to close gaps in the law to enable the police and Border Force to stop boats where slaves are suspected of being trafficked.

But STT is calling on its members and the general public to demand an amendment to the bill. The draft contains no measures to address business supply chains, which would require large businesses to report on human trafficking and slavery within each stage of production.

STT is urging MPs to support an amendment of the Companies Act that would include supply chain legislation within the bill. This would make retailers obliged to detect human trafficking within their production line, making it easier to provide relief to the millions of workers who are exploited within industries every day.

The UK Coordinator for STT, Heather Knight, said, ‘One year after the Rana Plaza disaster, the government looks set to be turning its back on the 21 million exploited people who generate the yearly 150 billion USD illegal profits estimated by the International Labour Organisation.’

‘The government imposes supply chain integrity for tobacco, hardwood, ivory and pharmaceutical businesses. Why not for the treatment of people?’

The initiative to amend the bill shares common goals with STT’s ‘Make Fashion Traffik-Free’ campaign. It encourages fashion retailers and large consumer brands to investigate the source of their materials. Many retailers do not know where their materials come from, or choose not to make this information public.

As part of the campaign, consumers can take an official STT information postcard into their favourite retailer, write to local MPs or publicise, circulate and promote the ‘Make Fashion Traffik-Free’ Protocol booklet via social media and throughout local communities.

Ruth Dearnley, CEO of STT said, ‘Cotton made by trafficked young women and girls may be in the t-shirt I am wearing today. It may be in the clothes in your wardrobe at home, but at the moment we just don’t know.’ 

Dearnley continued, ‘As consumers we have a powerful voice, we can use it to urge companies to change their behaviour so that they can tell us that the clothes we are buying are Traffik-Free.’ 

The Liverpool branch of STT was set up by Brenda Garner in January 2009. Since then, the group has raised awareness with school children, students, taxi drivers, hotel staff, NHS and housing professionals.

STT Liverpool’s campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking amongst taxi drivers was born out of a conversation between a driver and a local STT volunteer, and it has since been accepted as a national campaign at STT’s head office.

Brenda said, ‘We want people to know the signs and what to do if they suspect anything, so that our city region becomes a hostile place for traffickers to hide their victims.’

For more information about STT, visit stopthetraffik.org

Watch STT’s ‘Are you a #fashionvictim?’ video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQ1Wy5E36BQ#t=11 

 

Ten ways to get into journalism this summer

5 Jul

One of the best ways to boost employability as a student is to use the summer weeks wisely. While soaking in the sounds of Glastonbury and working at an elephant reserve in Thailand may be beneficial to one’s holistic self-development in one way or another, gaining work experience in the field of media and journalism is the best way to boost a CV. Here are ten useful ways that students looking to get their foot in the door of media and journalism can get started:

Start a blog

Writing and managing a blog is an invaluable way to demonstrate your capacity for excelling in the journalistic world. Not only does it demonstrate self-motivation and the ability to work independently, it’s a cathartic way to showcase and develop your writing skills. It’s also great to try and pick a specialisation or a theme, like student life, fashion, or food, for example, as it helps people to remember your blog, gives you a writing focus and stops it from becoming a narcissistic narration of your daily life.

Get social media savvy

Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram- use whatever channel you can to publicise your blog, your employment profile or simply your thoughts about current affairs. Twitter is an especially vital tool for aspiring journalists, as following and tagging the right people in your Tweets is a great way to find stories and get your work seen, heard and re-tweeted. Start by following your favourite newspapers, magazines, authors, politicians and key journalism groups like News Associates, Journalism.co.uk and Women in Journalism to name a few.

Read everything

Reading the news every day is like providing journalists with oxygen. The only way that you’ll stay ahead of the game and find the most original news first is if you know what’s out there and what’s going on already. Getting a feeling for the political orientation of broadsheet newspapers is also key, as a common question in journalistic job interviews is ‘What is your favourite newspaper and why?’ Potential employers will want to know that you know what’s going on in the world- and have an opinion about it. Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 11.21.25

Work experience at your local paper

If you’ve never had journalistic work experience before, one of the best places to start is by contacting your local newspaper or news publication to ask for work experience. Brush up your CV, write a stock introduction you can send to multiple offices and then phone around. Journalists working on tight deadlines hardly ever respond to general enquiry emails, but phoning offices and asking for editorial work experience shows that you’re bold, articulate and unafraid to sell yourself. They’ll most likely ask for a brief introduction over the phone and to follow it up with an email and CV, which you’ll already have to hand. viewpointsheader

Take what you can get

A newspaper might offer you two weeks, one week, an afternoon, or nothing. Never give up. If work experience isn’t an option, ask if you can come in for a quick chat about careers, as it will be a great opportunity to form a valuable contact and create a lasting impression for future opportunities. If you can’t get a meeting, move on to the next newspaper office, magazine or website. Having the motivation to carry on when you don’t get opportunities first time is just another way of developing the nous and initiative that all journalists need.

Join a volunteering group

If you have a particular area of interest that you dream of writing about in the future- whether it’s women’s rights, human rights, poverty relief or politics, join a volunteering group or committee related to that topic and introduce yourself as a freelance journalist looking to write and publish on behalf of the group. It’s a great way to refine writing about a cause that you’re passionate about and to demonstrate that you can prove to be reliable, organised and creative in a professional setting. Local examples of volunteering groups include Stop The Traffik Liverpool, SARSVL (Support After Rape and Sexual Violence Leeds) and Leeds City Council Libraries.

Travel Writing

For those of you that do go volunteering on an elephant reserve in Thailand, come home and write about it. Post it on your blog, then Tweet about it. Or for those of you yet to depart on exciting trips, try contacting travel companies and travel magazines in advance to see if they would like an entry about your destination. I established a contact via email at Trek America before I travelled the American West Coast on their Westerner 2 tour, and my travel writing is now featured on their website. Another great travel magazine is Verge (@VergeMagazine) who look for longstanding writing deals with people who are working, studying or volunteering abroad. They ask writers for a short bio, a photo and an introductory post for review, and if successful they’ll want a number of posts before, during and after your time abroad. Whatever you do- just make sure that you keep travel writing unpublished on your own blog before you send it to anyone else, as most publications will not accept recycled or used material. DSC02810

NCTJ workshops

Gaining an NCTJ qualification for aspiring journalists is like getting a PGCE for aspiring teachers. If you’re currently studying A Levels or an undergraduate degree, enrolling for your Multimedia Journalism Diploma may just be the next step. It teaches you key modules such as public affairs, media law, court reporting and learning shorthand. The UK’s top journalism school for earning journalism qualifications is News Associates (@NewsAssociates), who have offices based in Manchester and London. They hold one-day workshops over the Summer in both of these locations- try contacting them through the email addresses provided on their website for availability.

Think outside the box and stay creative

If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Some of the best ideas are the ones that seem crazy at first. If you have strong experience blogging about student life or higher education, why not contact your old high school and ask if you can give presentations to students about what it’s like in the field? Or if you have a particular subject you think needs to be shouted about, then why not start a magazine at your university? Playing to your strengths and following those crazy ideas with action is the best way to differentiate yourself and stand out from the crowd. 999819_743861552311694_607540598_n

Plan ahead for September

If you’re having no luck getting work experience for the Summer time, another way to use your time wisely is to prepare for September. Whether that means building up your blogging portfolio to wow the newspaper committee, submitting an application for a term-time internship or researching elective modules that relate to journalistic interests, it will help get the wheels turning. A great opportunity going at the moment is with Student Beans (@studentbeans). They’re currently looking to establish local editors in universities (including Leeds) to set their own editorial agenda including news, features and opinion pieces. Find out more here: http://thebeansgroup.theresumator.com/apply/m20DI8/Local-Student-Beans-Editors.html

Alternatively, check out this elective module for Leeds Students called ‘The Digital Professional’, which aims to combine digital literacy with employability: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLKKe8KFJI4

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