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.