The UNJUST representations of women in showbiz journalism
A tradition that has existed for decades but is it even newsworthy?
How come The Daily Mail and Mail Online objectify women when the majority of its daily readership is female?
This question has been plaguing my mind for a while now. Are women in 2020 not fed up with these outdated headlines published by the British press? Are they not tired of being represented differently from their male counterparts? Are they not bored of being defined by their appearance, marital status, or whether or not they have kids?
I know I certainly am.
Hannah Fearn contemplated this exact question in 2017 and came to the sad conclusion that women “know they are judged in myriad ways for their own appearance and therefore believe that those who choose to enter public life — particularly women…know exactly what they are getting into when they put themselves in front of the cameras.”
This isn’t good enough for me.
Although being in the public eye comes with the heavy price of having your private life taken away, it does not mean you deserve to be sexualised and objectified in the media. Especially when male celebrities do not receive or endure the same type of representation in journalism.
Take Lauryn Goodman in The Sun the other day for example:
Lauryn was relaxing on holiday in Dubai minding her own business with her son, Junior when journalists papped her in close-up shots.
Publishing photographs of female celebrities with little clothing on is prevalent in tabloids and has been routine for so long now that even the former editor of The Sun, Dominic Mohan, said that page three girls were an “innocuous British institution” in 2012.
However, the endless pictures of semi-naked women in the press are harmful. Not only do they reduce women to a sum of body parts to be ‘gazed’ at, but the accompanying words: ‘busty’ and ‘curves’, perpetuate the damaging ideology that female bodies are to be viewed and enjoyed by others. Brittany Wong adds to this when she said that the verbs: “reveals, flashes and displays” in newspaper headlines paints women as somewhat “complicit” in their objectification which is obviously not the case. Journalists have a powerful role in influencing public opinion so it is time they put these old-fashioned descriptions to bed.
As well as sexualisation, many reporters and columnists frequently refer to women in their articles by their appearance. It doesn’t matter if she is a CEO, prime minister, or successful lawyer, her body, clothes, weight, age, hair colour, and even something as trivial as lip-stick shade, are deemed more important.
“Appraisals of women’s appearance remain a common way for news reports to diminish or demean a woman.” (Gill and Toms 2019)
For instance, Human Rights Lawyer, Amal Clooney has constantly been defined by her marriage, baby bump, outfits, and appearance in media outlets over her important work in international law.
Why doesn’t Mail Online report her valuable contributions to Columbia Law School or other international cases she is working on? Why do they focus on her midi dress? It's monochrome — big deal.
This objectification doesn’t stop in the headline either. A couple of sentences down, Amal is described as a “mother-of-two” who is “married to actor George Clooney.” Men are seldom defined as a husband or a father unless it is relevant. Women, on the other hand, are invariably defined by these factors even when it is unnecessary.
Her celebrity alliance with George takes up a majority of the article, all of which comes before the small detail surrounding her struggle to get justice for Yazidi women who are victims of ISIS atrocities.
By giving her marriage and ‘pink lipstick’ more prominence over her work, Mail Online is suggesting that a woman’s career will always be less important than her appearance and relationship status. What’s worse, this article and many more of its same type are written by female reporters.
In turn, women write articles that objectify women for other women to consume. It doesn’t make sense.
Cases of this kind happen every day, look at Myleene Klass earlier this week:
Despite training for Dancing on Ice and working for Smooth radio, Mail Online is only bothered about her dress and knee-high boots. Oh, and her baby weight — can’t forget that.
Gill and Toms said that even when news media are “ostensibly praising or celebrating the beauty and desirability of a woman, such discourse is sexist: it is all about the practice of gendered power.”
Although ‘sensational’ and ‘VERY leggy’ appear complimentary on the surface, it is very discriminative when you put it against the infinite backdrop of examples in showbiz/celebrity journalism. Or, next to the absence of male examples.
The parody Twitter account: “Daily Male Online” recognised this double standard and took to Twitter in 2019 to imagine a world where “the tabloids write about men the same way they write about women.”
The account cleverly reveals the absurdity of the tabloid's language by using it to describe men and the result is rather humorous.
Underneath the laughter though lies the painful realisation that this representation would never happen to men. And, if it did, it would look bizarre and no-one would buy it or read it. So, why does this unjust representation occur every day for women and no one even raises an eyelid?
“It’s time for the media to evolve past archaic notions of how women’s bodies should be discussed. The imprint a woman leaves on the world has little to do with the silhouette of her shoe, and everything to do with the work she pursues.” — Kara Alaimo, assitant professor of journalism
I am aware, even though it may not sound like it, that journalists are not wholly to blame for this out-dated, sexist news coverage. It is common knowledge that many female celebrities enjoy this type of representation in the press and actively seek it to improve their status or public image. Not to mention the thousands of female readers who daily consume this form of journalism, despite its apparent objectification.
It is a tradition that has existed for decades.
But, if women want to be taken seriously then this type of reportage in celebrity journalism has got to change. Language has a powerful influence on how we see the world and the degrading labels (wife, leggy, busty, etc) can create detrimental consequences for women, especially how they are viewed and treated in society.
So, can I ask that everyone, females and males, STOP consuming this type of representation passively? If we want to see a change, we must demand change.
And journalists, ask yourselves if this type of reportage is even newsworthy. I know I certainly don’t think it is.
Let me know your thoughts on this relentless issue on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, and stay tuned for more information on journalism.