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Articles > Life July, 20, 2015

All Boobs No Brain: How The Media Fails Women

Izzy Harris
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Recently, I overheard a young woman say that she has decided against a chemistry degree because she never hears of any successful female scientists. I was confused. How could the media discourage a person from pursuing a career simply because of their gender?

There must be some evidence of successful female scientists in the mainstream media, right? Wrong. And the research I did really bothered me. First of all, I looked at the four most-read UK tabloids – the Daily Mirror, The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Metro.

Looking at the 10 most-read articles on each of their online editions I found that in terms of general coverage, there were about the same number of articles about men as there were about women. But while the stories about men predominantly covered sport, politics and general news stories, the articles about women really covered only three things: clothes, bodies and boyfriends. What impact is this kind of representation having on children?

When they go to a shop and see front pages at eye level, they’re seeing men and women in completely different roles. They see men as sports stars, politicians, actors and the occasional criminal or activist. Then, they’re seeing women as, well, bodies and girlfriends. Basically most of the stories about women cover their weight gain, ex-husband, latest fashion faux-pas or how big their baby bump is. So surely, the message children are getting is that all people care about is what a woman looks like or who she is associated with. It’s no wonder then, how so many young girls are suffering with eating disorders when the tabloids are telling them that their job is to be pretty and thin while the men get on with the serious stuff.

I find it bizarre how we all know that women are far more than the designer jeans or new lipstick they’re wearing, yet we’re still allowing the most read newspapers to focus almost entirely on their appearance rather than their real role in society. An excellent example is Amal Alamuddin. Most people I speak to associate her with her movie-star husband, George Clooney, rather than the talented lawyer, activist and author that she was long before her marriage.

Just a quick internet search of her name generates countless articles on her weight loss, recent outfit and even her wedding dress… MONTHS after the actual event. My faith in humanity was momentarily restored when an article came up about her listing in the top 100 most powerful Arab women, but was let down by the following article on her rumoured divorce from, you guessed it, Mr Clooney. It took too long for me to find any decent coverage of her recent representation for British torture victims, or her efforts in returning the Greek national treasures (the Elgin Marbles) back to their home from the British Museum.

Amal Alamuddin/Clooney is a perfect example of how powerful women are constantly being degraded by the media, by concentrating on their looks rather than their hugely important work. Welsh women are by no means protected from this gross misrepresentation either. A news search on Katherine Jenkins produces endless articles on her ‘VERY low cut dress’ (accompanied by photographic proof of course) and her rumoured affairs with famous men. There’s virtually no coverage – except for WalesOnline – on her constant charitable work for the armed forces or even her hugely successful musical career.

Alex Jones, a national presenting success, seems only to be famous for her floral dresses and for deciding on wedding dresses, according to online news searches. Her presenting talent and charity work for the Kidney Wales Foundation are again, virtually completely overlooked. If we take a look at equally successful Welsh men on the news, we can see them in completely different roles. Aled Jones is selling out concert halls, Gethin Jones is presenting new shows, and Tom Jones is touring next summer.

So, if and when children or young adults look at top news stories online, men are seen to be the diligent, accomplished, intelligent sex, unlike their female counterparts who fuss about shoes and cling to the arm of their husbands. As a young adult myself, I’m worried about the impact this representation will have on my generation’s career choices. Will we continue to have more male than female scientists, sports people and business tycoons, when women, as we know, are equally capable?

Without even glancing into the deep, dark and demeaning waters of ‘Page Three’, let’s all just take a moment to notice the complete over-sexualisation of women in the press in general. Concentrating on the tabloids, why is it that articles about female crime victims are often paired with images of them in revealing party dresses? We don’t see images of male crime victims in swimming costumes or skin tight clothes, so why is it different for women? Even articles about male singers or actors often feature at least one photograph of their current or ex-girlfriend, usually in swimwear and sometimes a mini-skirt. Surely the young girls exposed to this kind of misrepresentation are going to take away the message that the only way to make the news is to wear little clothing, preferably designer and ideally next to a successful male partner?

What amazed me most about my research was that we’re living in a time where women have more power than ever before, and are getting more rights and recognition every day, yet it’s virtually impossible to see that in the tabloids. I think this just proves that society still has a lot of work to do in terms of the equalization of the sexes. Women are still waiting for that right to be portrayed as what they really are, not just their boyfriends, bodies and the content of their wardrobes. What the younger generation in particular wants to see is more than just ‘equal’ news coverage of male and female stories. We want to be shown that women are just as clever, just as strong and just as talented as men. We want to see women doing a good job, and being appreciated regardless of who designed their jeans, styled their hair or married them.

We’re not asking for the roles to be reversed or for female chemists to make the front page every day. We’re not asking for coverage on what men are wearing, how they’re wearing it and how good they look in it. We’re not asking for some complete overhaul of the way news is written, recorded and published. We just want to see news about real women, talking about what they actually do next to the news about real men. And that is the true essence of the new wave of feminism.

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  1. Matthew1471!

    I enjoyed reading this article, I think it makes many valid points. Thank you Izzy for writing it.

    Regards,
    Matthew

  2. Dusan Do Van

    That’s sound a bit weird to write for 5 points but ok

  3. harry lary

    Kenneth, I really like your article.

  4. Looking at the newspapers you have chosen, I can’t trust anything else you say as it was clearly a dishonest attempt to distort the truth, maybe include all major newspapers and people would take your opinion a little more seriously.

    • Jennifer Loran

      Comments like this just depress me. Why is it that some people are determined on degrading talented and relevant journalists like this, to the extent in which they will produce any irrelevant argument in a feeble attempt to bring down the writer. Comments like this must stem from some sort of deep insecurity or envy, or why else would commenters humiliate themselves with nonsensical arguments?

    • Mark Kennington

      Luke, the tabloids that the author has chosen are the most read newspapers in Britain. She is commenting on how women are portrayed in the most read newspapers in Britain. It is not a distortion of the truth, there is evidence to support the point she is making. As for your opinion, is it not valid as it is totally irrelevant. It seems you are asking for her to include the less popular newspapers in an article about the most popular newspapers. Please Luke, read the article and read what you’ve written. It is a detailed, well supported and specific article and you have attacked it with the desire for irrelevant information. For your sake, consider what you have said so you don’t appear foolish next time.

  5. J-K

    I think the struggle for women now isn’t as bad as you may think I mean around 55% of universities are just women the remaining 45% being men. Women are now starting to take a stance against all this and i think that’s the most important thing to highlight and by advertising that you will encourage more women to pursue their dreams and what not.

  6. Mr robot!

    You should be commended on your writing skills and also for speaking out on your views, I enjoyed reading your article. I have to say though and I hope i’m not going off point but….most scientists don’t seek the approval of society and have a deeper desire to change the world than anybody else. It’s a shame the desire in this young lady wasn’t strong enough and that she sought the approval of society rather than of the people she aspired towards.

    We all have the ability to be successful at anything we want to do, regardless of whats in the news or the media it all depends on how much you want it. And thats what I think the women should take from your article, forget about media, forget about your peers and forget about the people who say you can’t do something, if you want to be a scientist a vet or even a racing car driver, regardless of your sex go out and get it, and if a woman hasn’t being successful in that field then even more or a reason to chase it.

  7. CM

    Well written, and you’ve made the point better than I’ve ever seen anyone make it. Although, I see in the comments below someone has already completely missed the point. It isn’t about “not consuming media that offends you”, it’s the lack of women portrayed as successful/ intellectual/ powerful AT ALL. By all means, if people want to read about wedding dresses, they can- but why, when it comes to media, are fashion, dating, pregnancy, dieting, etc. covered to the nearly COMPLETE EXCLUSION of articles on women’s actual accomplishments? Yes, even in the “serious” media. If non-serious media covers men for their accomplishments but women for their looks, and serious media covers men for their accomplishments but rarely mentions women’s accomplishments (and still often mentions looks/ shows pictures looking pretty or seductive rather than strong and successful, when men are more often shown in suits or doing their job and generally being taken seriously), we don’t really have a choice when it comes to looking for inspiring articles on successful female role-models in academics, business, politics or sport.

    Tldr- The point is, it should be just as easy to find articles celebrating women for their successes and work as it is to find them about men. The sooner it changes, the better it will be for everyone.

  8. burhan tas

    feminist already walk

    • Joe Glosk

      What do you mean Burhan Tas?

  9. Bill

    It’s a big dilemma…

    On one side, should you really be concerned? If you don’t like it, don’t consume the media.

    But then there is the other side and that is if newspapers have free roam to print anything, then they could end up always posting unrealisitic bodies (celebs with huge boobs and etc.), which could inspire young girls to do all the mods, which has risk, and is generally not needed.

    Personally I hang in the middle. I think that on one side, you simply just shouldn’t view the media that “offends” you. On the other, some media can be damaging the the younger and more impressionable of us.

    The system we have now is fine. You have a perfect choice between media that is “boob and bum” focused, and serious media, with serious media making up the rediculously large majority.

    I feel that this article just joins the queue on outrage culture, waiting to be payed attention at, without any fair and logically thinking about it’s own cause and morality.

  10. Tasneem

    I agree with that. It does not set good example for girls growing up. There is unnecessary pressure on women to be perfect and not enough focus on there actual character. This is what I don’t understand about media and the portrayal of women.

  11. Iona

    I have no doubt that men are also targets of vicious and often false rumours in the tabloids however as stated in the article not nearly in the same way! Usually about sexual harassment or who cheated on whom! Even the male articles are based around how women look and what size they wear! It is already difficult to get a serious good career in this day in age, but being a woman makes it infinitely more difficult! Women should be admired and rewarded for there strong careers! (As everyone should) but the question is
    Will men want to read about it?
    That is the main problem with the tabloids they write what people want to read, so if most articles on women are about what they wear and what they weigh then that suggests we have a very long way to go in ways of equality.

  12. Tasneem

    It is unfair for women who are in the lime light, as they are required to look good and make more effort. It is misleading to people as it sends the wrong message not to young girls,but society as well. I agree there should be more successful women should be shown through media resources as these days media has a huge impact on what we do. However, one can not discourage the fact that men can also feel pressurised as well.

  13. Kenneth Harvey

    While I agree with the premise of this news article all I can really say to it’s quality is;

    What the hell were you thinking using papers like the mirror, sun, metro etc? They are basically comic books with a reading age of 8. That is an average 8 year old could read them.

    The most sciency thing I have seen in any of those papers was the mirror reporting on the “Gay bomb” that will turn enemy soldiers gay and force them to make out with each other instead of shooting allies.

    There are a lot of female scientists. The top in my class is female. When you see chemists on television a lot of them are female. As for successful chemists? Stop looking at silly sources and link science journals published by females. Being good enough to have your work published speaks volumes to your success.

    • Ellie

      Kenneth Yes Tabloids are useless, but they are the most read papers, which will have an impact on a wider audience than science journals. She’s not saying that there aren’t female scientists etc, just that it needs to be recognised on a level with men. A woman may do many good deeds/ lots of work, but it won’t be recognised, which is the point of this article.

    • graham boroughs

      Kenneth, the point the author is clearly trying to make is that, being the most read (in print and online) news papers, journals like The Sun, Mirror, Metro etc will inevitably reach the most people. Whilst quality science journals and newspapers (that celebrate women’s achievements and focus on their success, not their looks) do exist, they are read and indeed, seen, by a far smaller readership than the mainstream newspapers you have listed. Therefore, it is obvious that the majority of the young and impressionable females will be influenced by media that surrounds them, and it is far less likely that their parents will be reading the aforementioned quality journals, as they are simply less popular and mainstream than the journals you listed. Yes, there are plenty of female scientists, yet the majority of young women and girls won’t be hearing about them when the newspapers that even mention them are at the back of the shelf, or on extremely specialized websites that only adult scientists read. I see the point you’re trying to make, but it is irrelevant to this author’s article.

      • Kenneth Harvey

        Yet it is comparable to looking for a bar of chocolate in a shoe shop then getting really upset when they don’t supply your favourite brand. She was looking for science related news in a tabloid. Tabloids do not report science. Some broadsheets do, but I have never actually seen a single tabloid that does.

        Tabloids aim their stories at the masses, the masses aren’t interested in paracetamoxyfrusebendroneomycin, they are interested in what Victoria Beckham did this week. Or who is Jordan’s latest fancy. We are not the masses, at least I hope we aren’t. I find little interest in the mentioned papers, if I am feeling lazy, I will watch DNews, otherwise I tend to read journals where said people can be found.

        • Ewan Janson

          Kenneth, you’ll find that Izzy Harris was clearly not looking for science news in tabloid newspapers. She was simply saying that whilst the mainstream newspapers do indeed cover a wide range of men’s achievements (including sports, legal, artistic and yes, scientific), equally important achievements by women are not covered, yet their outfits and dating lives are. You WILL find that if a well known male celebrity has achieved something, be it scientific or in any other field outside of looks and relationships, it WILL be covered in the tabloids in some shape or form. It is not ignored. Women, such as Amal (as the author mentioned) who achieve monumental success in professionals jobs, aswell as extremely talented sportswomen, are excluded from the tabloids whilst male achievements of equal value are covered. I agree with Graham, it looks like you’ve missed the point of the article a bit, as the author just asks for there to be equal coverage of female achievement, which already exists for men.

  14. James Morewood

    Look, I only skim read this because i get the general gist. The thing I think feminists fail to realise is that most of these women are not talented or intellectual. The fact that women can use their appearance to get further in life than most is insulting to men. So before kicking up a storm about there being less female professionals than male, consider this: women may be less motivated to succeed as they can rely on the assumption that if they focus on their appearance, someone will come along and provide for them. And yes that sounds chauvinistic as hell, but tell me, where are all the female homeless? Why are men forced by social stigma to pay for dates, and drinks? If women truly want equality then they need to stop expecting special treatment.

    • Ellie Mason

      If you had actually read the article fully you would realise how silly you sound right now.