Today the BBC published the salaries of it’s highest earners, with a salary over £150k, admitting that two thirds of their most highly paid workers are men, demonstrating a huge pay gap between male and female workers. Actual figures stand at 62 men and 34 women of the top 96 names earning over £150k. Women’s Hour reporter Jane Garvey tweeted: ‘I’m looking forward to presenting @BBCWomansHour today. We’ll be discussing #GenderPayGap . As we’ve done since 1946. Going well, isn’t it?’ And, while we’re on the topic, is it not a little sexist to have ‘Women’s Hour’?
This post was initially an essay I submitted in my first year at University. I’ve altered it slightly for my blog to make it a nicer read for you all, but it still addresses all the same issues regarding women in the media. With the current uproar of the thirteenth doctor being a woman (heaven-fucking-forbid ay) and the BBC’s inequality coming to light, I thought now would be a good time to post this.
Women are routinely portrayed in a negative light in the media; being objectified, discriminated or oppressed, serving a patriarchal society in which men have authority over women in all aspects of society. In a modern day society, you would think that gender issues, alongside ethnic, age and disability issues, would cease; but this is not the case as newsrooms are still dominated by middle-class white men. In this blog I will highlight and discuss the constraints that females face in the media such as the ways in which women are sexualised, how females are paid less than males, and even subtleties like why the female presenter always sits on the right side of the television.
In an ideal world, I would like to be a journalist who produces brilliant stories, gets the scoop, and breaks the news. I would like to work my way to the top of the ladder at a large, reputable company and work alongside likeminded people who have the same ideals and morals as me.
But this is not an ideal world. The sad reality is that I am a female, and therefore it is improbable that I will ever make it to the top due to the nature of the male-dominated profession of journalism. The sad reality is that I will more than likely be on a lower pay grade in comparison to my male counterparts. The sad reality is that I may one day be that demotivated in my job due to lack of progression, that I may resort to working for a ‘fake news’ editorial just so that I can get my name and my articles out in the world, albeit controversial and inaccurate 90% of the time.
As a woman, I want to be a journalist that establishes all the best qualities a journalist should have and aspire to be, but more importantly, I want to be a journalist that will shine through the sexism, and become a pioneer for female journalists.
The basic tenets of feminist theory include that despite anatomical differences, men and women are the same. Women have something valuable to contribute to society just as much as men do. The theory also suggests that all known societies have been patriarchal, with males dominating females. Similarly, sexual stereotyping and social conditioning favouring men has resulted in men predominantly being in leading/senior roles; for example, the political system, family and religion. Even Theresa May’s cabinet is male dominated, so despite having a female Prime Minister, she only has seven women, out of 24 MP’s in her cabinet. This supports a further tenet that, as an oppressed group, women are unable to achieve their potential, receive rewards or participate fully in society.
With the feminist movement gaining a higher profile, sexism and oppression is becoming much more apparent. In March 2017, The Daily Mail posted an article that had the public in an uproar. Though most of us knew, and simply accepted, sexism in journalism, it appeared that The Daily Mail had crossed the line with their front page headlined ‘Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it?’ beside a picture of Prime Minister Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party. It depicts two strong, powerful female politicians, one being the most senior minister in the cabinet, the other Scotland’s most powerful woman, reminding people that women are running England and Scotland. The ladies had come together to discuss the future of the United Kingdom and all that The Daily Mail can throw together in an article is the fact that the politicians have their legs out. The article also discusses their body language and facial expressions, analysing their every move with not a single report on what was discussed in the meeting. What makes it worse is that this article was written by a female, Sarah Vine. With such a sexist article being written by a female, it almost normalises sexism.
Critics took to social media to scorn the article, with Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn tweeting ‘It’s 2017. This sexism must be confined to history. Shame on the Daily Mail.’ And according to The Telegraph, more than 300 complaints were made to IPSO regarding the article, who were unable to pursue the complaints made under Clause 12 of the Editor’s Code (discrimination) due to the subjects – Theresa and Nicola – not pursuing complaints themselves. Theresa May was more favourably analysed in Sarah Vine’s article, and dismissed the story as ‘a bit of fun’, further normalising sexism in the media.
Women are often sexually objectified in the media, whether it be discussing their legs, their weight, their outfit – there is always something to say about a woman’s appearance. Furthermore, females working in the media industry, such as television presenters will always look a particular way: young and attractive. Think Holly Willoughby, Kate Garraway, Rachel Riley. Taking Rachel Riley, for example, replaced the older Carol Vorderman on the letters and numbers game Countdown, suggesting that female TV presenters have a ‘sell-by date’. Riley is an intelligent mathematician, yet in an article about her in The Express, her brains are outshone by her boobs. The article uses phrases like ‘Countdown beauty’ and ‘the blonde brainbox’; these phrases say little about her intelligence in comparison to her looks. Placing ‘blonde’ before ‘brainbox’ nullifies her intelligence in order to talk more about her looks before going on to talk about her ‘plunging neckline’. In a similar article, ‘Rachel Riley donned a tight-fitting pink number and marked the occasion by going braless. In turn, eagle-eyed viewers noticed that the daytime TV beauty was sharing a hint of nipple and all before the watershed.’ Oh. My. God. You can see her nipple through her completely opaque dress. And? We can see a guys bulge through his suit trousers 99% of the time – where’s that article? Nowhere. Rachel’s outfit has been coined as an ‘X-rated wardrobe mishap’; hardly something you’d find on Babestation.
In Karen Ross and Carolyn Byerly’s book ‘Women and Media – International Perspectives’ it suggests that a woman’s appearance will be reported due to the fact that ‘the way women dress is a much more important indicator of who they are and hay they stand for’ and that ‘the emphasis on style is to undermine women; it is not an unconscious process’.
Have you ever noticed that television duos, such as Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby, Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid, or Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford, always have the young, attractive female sat on the camera right of their senior, indifferently attractive male colleague? This isn’t just a coincidence, it’s like an ugly, sexist power struggle where media organisations are subtly undermining women and focusing our attention on the male. People read from left to right, so naturally our eyes are guided to the left of the television screen first where the male, senior ‘anchor’ is sat in the more dominant, authoritative position. The female ‘screen wife’ is to compliment the male’s appearance and look a particular way with full blowdry-heels-skirt combination.
Ex-Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly was supposedly sacked from the show due to her age, and spoke to Marie Clare magazine about the secret sexism of ‘power positioning’. She said that it’s due to a ‘deep-rooted misogyny in newsrooms where editors think a man has more authority… the people who make these decisions tend to be men themselves.’ She added that women on breakfast news shows are to be a ‘bit of fluff by his side’ and there to ‘smile, laugh, giggle and tease.’
Whilst women are increasingly entering the primarily white, male dominated newsrooms, it is argued in Tony Harcup’s ‘Journalism: Principles and Practice’ that though there may be more women, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are in positions of power. The chapter quotes Anne Perkins, 2001, ‘the higher up a newspaper hierarchy you travel, the fewer women there are to be seen’.
In an independent study, BuzzFeed asked 358 journalists ‘four simple questions: Are you male or female? How much do you earn? How senior are you? Do you feel underpaid?’ The results of the survey speak for themselves – women are unfairly paid in comparison to men.
There were far less men on the lowest pay grade than women, with 10% of women earning less that £20,000, compared to 4% of men. At the other end of the spectrum on the higher pay grade of £100,000+ just two women were earning this amount, whereas there were seven men. Additionally, only 37% of women that completed the survey felt satisfied with their wage, and almost half of men were satisfied. These sort of figures are discouraging for women in the industry, who are often paid less than men who may even be less qualified than themselves. Newsrooms were, and still are, heavily dominated by men – despite this, BuzzFeed received more responses to their survey from women, suggesting that women feel more strongly about the wage gap and their gender equality.
Being a successful business woman may seem something difficult to achieve giving all of the reasons discussed above, however the Telegraph have devised a list of six key traits a woman should have in order to excel in their career. These traits are a combination of typically feminine and typically male personality features. The male traits being leadership and dominating traits like assertiveness, aggression and ego strength which would suggest that in order to be respected like a man, you must in a way behave like one, ensuring that everyone knows that you are the boss, and you will not be walked over. Additionally, the more feminine traits include empathy, energy and stress tolerance, which are more thoughtful and organised traits that will boost employee morale, make colleagues feel valued, and make the workplace somewhere that people want to be.
On my journalism course, we’re a female-heavy group, and with more and more women becoming interested in Journalism, I’m hoping that in the near future we will be able to combat the traditional and old-fashioned views of the newsroom and the media and prevail as highly-regarded, senior journalists writing about what really matters – not about what Rachel Riley is wearing, not about Theresa May getting her pins out, but what truly, genuinely matters.