Hoodies Or Altar Boys

WHAT IS MEDIA STEREOTYPING DOING TO OUR BRITISH BOYS?

A Women in Journalism/British Library Summit

British Library Conference Centre
10 March 2009

Report by Fiona Bawdon, WiJ committee member

Research conducted by Echo

1. How the media sees teen boys… Yobs turn street into no-go zone at night‘Gangs of teenagers are turning what is a popular market street by day into a no-go area at night.’ Islington Gazette, 25 February 2009

‘White working class boys are turning their backs on university even if they do well enough at school, a study revealed yesterday.’ Daily Mail, 19 June 2008

Tories promise 21st century clip round the ear for youth crime

Guardian, 24 February 2009

Juvenile delinquency‘It is a strange anomaly, that in a country boasting to be the most civilized in the world, no effective machinery exists for checking the growth of vice in young offenders. Our gaols, as reformatories, are worse than useless.’

Morning Chronicle, 22 October 1842 ‘We are a group of 14-year-old boys from the Reclaim project; since the project started, we have been approached by so many different newspapers, magazines and TV companies, most of who want to talk to us about guns and knives and gangs. We keep trying to explain that we are not involved in gangs and crime; we’re doing positive things in this area – and then journalists go away, as they tell us that’s not the story people are interested in…’

Open letter from Manchester-based Reclaim, published in Guardian, 25 August 2008.

Enforced conscription is the answer to sick yobs

Sue Carroll, Mirror, 2 March 2009 ‘What word other than “feral” better describes the swarms of hooligans abandoned to their own devices by slattern mothers and absentee “babyfathers”? No one crosses the road if they spot a crocodile of Boy Scouts coming in the other direction. But nor does anyone in their right mind risk walking through a scrum of hoodies hogging the pavement – not unless they fancy a knife in their ribs.’

Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail,18 November 2008

Sick vid posted by Rhys gangs‘A street gang with links to the murder of schoolboy Rhys Jones have posted a sickening video glorifying violence. Footage shows an unidentified youngster who has apparently been kidnapped by violent thugs (see multimedia links, right)….’

Sun, 7 January 2009 ‘If Obama gets in, I’m moving to America’

Young black British men on the role models that give them hopeMoboshir Ali, 19, currently looking for work: ‘Lewis Hamilton? Brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant. Now he’s in the history books. It was so good. I don’t care about Obama, though. I give up on politics.’

Joshua Ellison, 17, student: ‘Hackney is my hometown, it’s easy to blend in – but if Obama gets in, I’m moving to America, bwoy! I’m excited about Lewis Hamilton, too, and really happy for him.’

Julius Soares, 19, engineering student: ‘A black man being president! It makes me feel in the future I can be whatever I want to be. He’s inspired me, definitely.’ Guardian, 4 November 2008 (the day after Lewis Hamilton won Grand Prix and the day before US elections)

‘Boy dad Alfie Patten yesterday admitted he does not know how much nappies cost – but said: “I think it’s a lot.” Baby-faced Alfie, who is 13 but looks more like eight, became a father four days ago…’

Sun, 13 February 2009 ‘Heartless hoodies have snatched a cherished pet chicken from a Barnstable home… A gang of youths broke into the shed, stole several eggs, and tried to make off with a large white rooster, before setting for the small friendly bantam. The youths were then spotted the following day, chasing the chicken around Pilton. PC [Andy] Greenslade said: ‘…We won’t tolerate an innocent and friendly animal being tormented by a group of terrifying hoodies.’

25 February 2009, This is North Devon ‘Police are appealing for witnesses after a lone have-a-go-hero was hospitalized by hooded Croydon thugs. The man, in his 50s, saw two men throwing snowballs at a stationary 197 bus parked in Morland Road about 6pm on February 4. He told them to stop and the two men turned their attention on him, becoming abusive.’

Croydon Guardian, 26 February 2009 Hoodies may be told to ‘show your face or leave’

‘Hoodies could soon be challenged in every Bodmin store in a bid to catch more criminals who have been covering their faces.’ This is Cornwall, 25 February 2009

Hoodies help out OAPs‘College students are challenging the stereotype of hoodie-wearing teenagers being anti-social troublemakers by wearing theirs to carry out charity work, conservation and even shopping for the elderly.’ Lakeland Echo, 26 February 2009

Teenager given life sentence for stabbing over XboxBoy boasted ‘I’m the man’ as victim lay dyingTimes, 21 February 2009 ‘A battling Women’s Institute member was handed a criminal record yesterday for clipping a teenage vandal round the head with a roll of papers.’

Sun, 25 February 2009 Hoodies can sometimes be goodies too‘…when I called to collect a vindaloo from the take-away…, I was wary when I discovered it was filled with a group of youngsters. The shop area was small and two lounged in chairs and two others crowded the doorway, wearing hoods and blank expressions…I wondered whether to give them a hard stare of avoid eye contact altogether. It was three steps up to the shop doorway and as I reached it, one of those sitting moved his legs, opened the door for me and told his mate to move. They politely got out of my way so I could collect my waiting meal and opened the door for me again as I left…’

‘Denis’, Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 23 February 2009 ‘A war veteran has been left housebound after vandals stole his £1,200 mobility scooter – and TORCHED it…Great-grandad Reginald [Hopton, 89], who served in Belgium, Holland, Egypt, Sri Lanka and India during the Second World War, wants the yobs to have a spell in the Army.’ Sun, 3 March 2009

2.Background and introduction How Women in Journalism’s ‘Hoodies or Altar Boys?’ summit came about

In 2007, Women in Journalism staged its first ever summit looking at the impact of the media on the ambitions and aspirations of the next generation of young women. ‘Am I bovvered? What are teenage girls really thinking?’ was a great success, tapping into genuine and deep concern about what, if anything, may be going wrong with today’s young women.

The event, chaired with great aplomb by Cherie Blair (and also staged with the help of the British Library), generated a great deal of media coverage and the debate about the issues raised continues to this day. WiJ had intended the 2007 summit to be a one-off but, after having time to draw breath, we knew it was an experience we wanted to repeat.

Having focused on teenage girls, the obvious topic for WiJ’s next summit was one close to many of our hearts: teen boys and the media. A number of us on the committee are mothers of sons and so have a strong personal as well as professional interest in the way boys are portrayed.

There was a clear feeling that the reality of our boys’ lives and those of boys we know is entirely absent from much of the press. When a photo of a group of perfectly ordinary lads, just standing around wearing hooded tops, has become visual shorthand for urban menace, or even the breakdown of society, it’s clear that teenage boys have a serious image problem. We wanted to look at why the teen boys’ ‘brand’ has become so toxic and, crucially, what impact this may be having on them, their view of themselves and their place in the world.

For all WiJ’s enthusiasm, this important event would not have taken place without the collaboration of the British Library, which was keen to be involved as part of its learning programme. The Library has provided the venue for today and other invaluable resources, including using its existing contacts with schools to make sure that young people are well represented in the debate today.

We also need to thank Echo for conducting the research pro bono and supporting us throughout the preparation and planning of this event. We are grateful for the vision of Echo’s group chief executive, Sandra MacLeod, who immediately saw the importance of what WiJ was hoping to do; and for the enthusiasm (and patience) of her team, in particular, David Holmes, Zareena Asad, Matt Painter and Lexie Cameron.

Also huge thanks to the WiJ organising team, Sue Matthias (WiJ chair), Rowenna Davis, Maureen Paton and Angela Neustatter.

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