Mia Bains and Scarlett Holt, Features
There is a solemn and collective understanding that women have forever been idealised to a male standard. In the Victorian era, women were seen by men to be a demure, fatigued, and submissive counterpart to their husbands or fathers. The same men acted as an iron fist slashing a woman’s right to govern herself. The same men sexualised women in the 50s, with the curvy bombshell archetype taking prevalence as the ideal woman. The same men whose incriminating eye can still be seen amongst the growing population of their progressive peers today.
Three recent examples of the demeaning treatment of women in the media are Rebel Wilson and Adele’s weight loss and Malala Yousafzai’s wedding. For all these women, their achievements were eclipsed by their appearance or family life, under a critical male gaze.
Below are some shocking statistics detailing the disparity in readership between articles about appearance and articles about women’s achievements:
- An article detailing the graduation of Malala got 965 shares and 442 comments, whereas the article detailing her marriage got 1.1k shares and 870 comments.
- An article about Rebel Wilson’s weight loss got 29 shares and 81 comments, but the other article narrated with quotes from Rebel herself only got 11 shares and 6 comments.
- An article about Adele’s weight loss garnered 8.4k share, contrasting an article surrounding the awards she had received for her album 30 getting only 64 shares. That is over 8k less shares.
(Source: Daily Mail)
These inspirational women deserve more respect. Systemically, a women’s value in society has been a mobile topic. However, the roots of both physical and subconscious stereotyping grow much deeper. Therefore, though achievements such as weight-loss and marriage should be merited, we cannot let them undermine the educational and political successes of each individual woman.
Yousafzai escaped the Taliban regime when she was 15 years old and since then she has worked tirelessly for women’s educational rights; articulating inspiring speeches and petitioning for policy change. Malala’s charity the Malala Fund has raised over 7 million pounds, and her efforts have resulted in many new schools being built for women. Yet, the articles which hold the most views are not those detailing her political campaigns but those that detail her dresses, her wedding, and her husband. An Instagram post about her wedding got 1,153,741 likes, but a post about her opinions on women’s freedom only got 289,997 likes.
Societal change cannot take place when we advocate so clearly in favour of materialism: the rings, the dresses, and the money; through our likes, our shares, and our comments.
After all, newspaper companies are simply companies, seeking profit and readership where it is most effortlessly gained. Manufacture, process, review, and repeat. What you choose to consume will be fed back into your hands by the media. You are in control. But are your hands are the ones scrolling past progression, empowerment, and femme positivity? How can the newspapers print the stories that we ourselves reject? How can platforms built by women ever reach prominence in society? How will the media ever transform itself into a true representation of all women? The rings, the dresses, and the money; it is what they think we want.
But it is not just our battle. News companies such as SKY, BBC and the Independent, must also be held accountable for their actions. John Ryley, Angus Foster, Vincent Crawley, Rupert Murdoch, Donald E. Graham, Robert Thompson, and Justin C. Dearborn. What do all these names have in common? They are all CEOS/Editor-In-Chiefs of major newspapers: they are all white men. In fact, 70% of top-level management of news firms in the UK is made up of men, despite women constituting for 51% of the population. This gap is trying to be closed with 50/50 projects in place which aim to balance out gender distribution within companies, however these schemes are clearly ineffective looking at the statistics above. Instead, action is urgently needed from the current leadership to propel gender equality into a top concern for their companies. All genders deserve their voices to be heard, and this can only be a reality when the job disparities are fixed.
The strength and tenacity of a company starts with the workers themselves, if they posses a diverse body of writers, their outreach and quality of content increases. However, news corporations in the UK have extreme disparities between men and women, in the distribution of senior jobs and pay thus creating a company that is overly reliant on the male gaze, yet they are presenting articles to a country with a 49-51% gender split. Not only is this counter-productive, it means that when global issues, such as the pandemic, are reported on, they are often written through a myopic and male-centric viewpoint.
Yet there is cause for careful optimism as action is being taken:
- The UN have prioritised women and the media as part of the 12 platforms of the Beijing Conference, meaning that the UN hold workshops to encourage female participation in the media, and actively work to advocate for women’s rights and representation in the global media.
- Furthermore, Digital Media’s statistics show that there are 1,811 female founders of online media websites and companies. If these media companies continue to receive funding from investors such as Micro VC and Incubator, their power in the public domain will surely increase.
- Projects such as Empower Women offer mentoring and webinars to encourage and empower women in all sectors of work life, which can be a vital tool in ending sexism in business and the media. To encourage women to pursue politics as a career “I Know politics” was set up: (International Knowledge Network of Women in Politics | is an interactive network of women in politics who share experiences, resources, advice and collaborate on issues of interest (iknowpolitics.org))
WE CAN ALSO ACT ON A SMALLER SCALE:
-Support online content creators that empower women in the media
-Donate to charities that empower women, such as the global fund for women or UNESCO.
-Be conscious of our own subconscious bias and media consumption and increase the social discourse surrounding sexism by starting conversations with our own friends/family.