Thursday, 27 January 2011

Sexism in the media! Who knew?

(Disclaimer: Ramblings of an out of practice mind, distracting self from otherwise more pressing matters. But what else is the internet for?)

Without retelling the stories of the already well covered events that happened this week in the daily grind that is, well, sexism, I’d like to make some comments away from initial thoughts that simply deplore the views ‘exposed’.

In fact, to be honest, I fail to be massively roused by these events, not because the views are not bad in and of themselves, but because the views expressed are so common place as to only elicit an exasperated sigh. There’s sexism in the media (/sport/politics)?! Really? Okay, to be honest, yes I had noticed.

In many ways, although the comments of those two Sky Sports correspondents, and that Tory MP are pretty appalling in their own individual way, at least the relatively unified outcry against these comments should in some small way offer reassurance that the general groundswell of public opinion is against sexism, right?

I guess I’m not so convinced.

I’ll focus more on the Sky Sports case to illustrate my point. This is a clear cut case of good old-fashioned sexism. Man challenges woman on her general competence at a, b, or c simply because she is a woman, which means she must by default be less good than man at a, b, or c. Being a woman is grounds enough to undermine said woman.

So far, so bad. But so, so bloody obvious.

Notwithstanding the fact that many people can't seem to decide if it's 'just banter' or not, now we’ve all (mostly) had a good hearty condemn of these blatantly wrong opinions lets just all put it to bed now. Goodbye sexism, you can fuck off back to the 1970s with racism and trade union rights.

Nah, not so fast. If we-the-nation are going to get all public-angst on sexism on television, might it be worth pointing out some examples of less clean-cut, good old-fashioned blatant sexism. You know, the boring mundane kind, you know, those old chestnuts that still happen every day, all the fucking time.

To use one obvious – and yawn, ubiquitous – example of sexism on television: the fact that women’s physical (we’ll leave metaphysical for another day) appearance is deemed to matter to such a great extent, foreshadowing and indeed precluding the value of other aspects of their humanity.

(Note: Yes, I fully appreciate that the impulses of modern capitalism and other sociological forces place narcissistic pressures on all of us, men too, but anyone who thinks women and men are treated the same in this respect need to lie down on a bed of hot waxing strips and be slapped in the face with a burst and oozing silicone breast implant, while an eight year old girl makes serious interface with the eardrum and wails that she feels fat, and Cheryl Cole stuffs glue-heavy hair extensions down your throat, and someone rolls that weird roller you can now get to daub your face - yes an actual roller for your actual face, a paint roller FOR THE FACE – all over your ticklish zones.) Stop now.

(Note: Wish I was Charlie Brooker so I could come up with some actually funny threats not just loosely veiled feminist points...)

All back on the bus. And here’s some illustrations: the fact that make-over programmes like ‘How to Look Good Naked’*, ’10 Years Younger’ exist; the fact that make-under programmes like ‘Snog Marry Avoid’ and ‘Hotter Than My Daughter’ exist; the way programmes like 'Take Me Out' encourage you to evaluate others (and yeah I'm as bad as the rest at this, I really am); the fact that female journalists have complained that they are more or less likely to get picked for on-screen reporting roles based on their appearance; ageism and double standards, not just on BBC’s Countryfile, but across the board (Brucie: making leering whimsical fun for all the family!); the statistical under-representation of women on television; the statistical under-representation of women behind the scenes of television. I could go on.

On those final two points listed, here are some statistics from the Fawcett Society just to prove I'm not bullshitting y'all:

  • Editors of news TV and radio programmes: 94% male and 6% female.
  • Presenters of news TV and radio programmes: 56% male and 44% female.
  • Editors of political TV and radio programmes: 78% male and 22% female.
  • Presenters of political TV and radio programmes: 62.5% male and 37.5% female.

    Because women are a pretty small ethnic minority, you know. (And if our great British moral arbiter the Daily Mail has taught us one thing, it's that we definitely don't listen to those). And that's before we get onto the studies that have been done on female roles in dramas and relative absence from other television formats (panel shows anyone?).

    It does not need me to say that it says something about our culture in a broader sense that there is often a correlate between the kinds of men who hold these beliefs and those that hold relative positions of power; those that have a ‘public voice’, and those that hold a monopoly on the public voice. (Do have a read of R.W Connell’s work on ‘hegemonic masculinity’ and it's relationship with power).

    To quote my own essay (yeah, I know..):
    “It is clear that who is chosen to generate and transmit popular culture, is representative of, and mediated by our wider culture. The fact that the majority of popular culture personalities afforded such a voice are men is indicative of women’s wider social value.”

    And if we’re really going to get all national outrage and challenge sexism, my god, why stop at what’s on telly? Revolution!

    * I was laughing the other day with friends because sometimes I wake up in the night with a feminist brainwave, and here was one I have no recollection of writing, what a GEM: "While Gok seeks to define your figure, we seek a day when your figure need not define you". Yes!
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