The media is a notoriously feminist institution that takes great care to uphold the dignity of and refuse all objectification of the female sex.
“Women in the media” is a huge topic that I can’t even begin to talk about here without writing you an essay. So I shall look to the positive: for my intro piece today, I’m going to focus on a recent win for feminism in the British media.
The “No More Page 3” campaign was started in 2012 to petition the removal of the infamous Page 3 feature from on the highest-circulating British newspapers, The Sun. Page 3, initiated in 1970, was a page-long photo of a pretty lady in her panties, usually giving her views on a topical issue. Whilst it’s not completely beyond belief that someone would be musing on Syria in their slips or cogitating on Burkina Faso in their briefs, the prominence given to this outdated and sexualised image within the British media led to war cries revolving around female body image and “lad” culture, and even one of sexual violence.
By January 2015, the petition had received over 200,000 signatures, as well as the backing of politicians, celebrities and organisations, and The Sun removed the feature from their print edition (it has survived in their online edition, but if we removed all the boobies from the World Wide Wank, the Internet would probably collapse in on itself).
Whether you think it’s an over-reaction to a benign bit of booty and removing the autonomy of the model to choose her own sexualisation, or whether you think it’s a positive step forward for the re-humanising of the portrayal of women in the media, it is undeniable that this was a success for women being listened to by a big institution. The success of this campaign said to me: “Do what you like with your body: love it, care for it, show it off if you’re doing it for you, but once that autonomy is taken from it, fight for it back.” We are a generation of women who refuse to be someone else’s object.
We asked our contributors below: “Do you think that women are represented badly in the media?”
Charlotte, 31, Marketing Manager, Essex
I do feel women in the media are overly sexualised and I feel that there is a lot more sex in TV programmes nowadays where women are naked or used as sexual objects… Women may think they are liberated by being sexy but ultimately is it for the attraction of a man? Women compare themselves to other women and buy into a lifestyle to make themselves sexy so I guess it is an industry in itself!
“Hannah”, 33, Solicitor, Hertfordshire
I think in terms of behaviour that something a woman may do or say is reacted to in a completely different way to [the reaction towards] a male. If a woman reacts to something it will be questioned whether she’s hormonal or on her period, which is completely inappropriate
“Shabana”, 19, Law Student, Norfolk
Yes. Especially in TV shows and movies. Female characters are often poorly written as pretty, young things, lacking depth and realism.
Another big issue for me is the lack of female racial diversity on TV. Viola Davis said in her Emmy acceptance speech that ‘the only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity’. Slay Viola.
Shows like How to Get Away with Murder, Orange is the New Black and Orphan Black have restored my faith in TV somewhat, however.
Meera, 24, Project Co-ordinator for Community Development in a housing association, Banbury
I think there aren’t enough female role models and stories about women’s achievements in mainstream media, and the representation of women is still relatively non-diverse. I do think that TV and film is starting to offer more of an exploration of the tensions women face when trying to achieve professional success alongside a fulfilled family life.
It was particularly interesting when, in the latest series of The Mindy Project, writers introduced the concept of a woman juggling two professional roles, alongside motherhood, alongside her partner’s worryingly outdated views about which aspects of her life she ought to be prioritising. How to Get Away With Murder’s Annalise Keating is consistently demonised for her aggression and associated success in the competitive field of criminal law, rather than applauded for her professional skill, ambition and drive. All the while the series has a higher than average ratio of female characters (Annalise included) who struggle with sexual and psychological abuse from men in spite of – or perhaps as a result of – their professional success.
The media’s problematic representation of women has moved to a new plain – it’s not just about lads mags and objectification any more but about the way in which women are shown to be trying and failing to achieve that balance between the personal and professional. This is where representation needs to change, to show that women can succeed at and be respected for having it all, if that’s what they want.
Hazel, Family Lawyer, Surrey
Yes. See BBC serious panels for debates etc.
Nissmah, 22, Architecture Student, United Arab Emirates
Women are presented in the media as objects with a certain “market value”. Advertisements, movies, magazine covers etc, show women in provocative ways in order to sell a product/service and I believe women must take a stand against it. Going with the idea of feminism I go by, women mustn’t take up such offers that lowers their respect and objectifies them solely based on the size zero figure they are forced to reveal. Most of the media industry (which is obviously male dominated) reveals a lack of respect the men have for the women which again goes back to the notion of teaching our sons that all women must be respected. However, women must also have some dignity to refuse such offers and put an end to such an attitude.
Nisha, 24, Litigation Executive, London
I think we’ve gone through this huge shift from women being seen as just wives and mothers to now being multidimensional in a way that they weren’t represented before in the media. Yes, women are mothers – I believe it is our God-given gift to have such a natural ability to love and nurture – but we are also a million other things. We have thoughts and opinions and we voice them. We do recognise this more in the media now so I wouldn’t want to belittle the advancement that has been made. There are some incredibly complex, interesting and strong female characters in film and TV and as prominent figures in society. But we definitely still have huge strides that need to be made, women are still seen by so many and portrayed in so many media outlets as sex symbols. And women are sexy but they are also SO much more than that. Sexy isn’t being half naked on a TV screen. It’s having purpose and pursuing that purpose fearlessly.
“F.A.”, 23, Medical Student, London
I think that the media has a fetish for finding faults in women, particularly in terms of their physical appearance, which can be demonstrated by the limited ‘shelf life’ of women in the film industry and its disgust with the process of female ageing. For example, I watch a lot of Bollywood films, and the turnover rate of female actors is much higher than that of male actors. Also, why is George Clooney seen as more sexy than Dame Maggie Smith?
Blanca, 57, Teacher, Santander (Spain)
It’s not only what I think, it is also what I see. Lots of ads (many of them with potential male purchasers) showing beautiful women, relating certain professions or activities to women, presenting young and beautiful women as the face of glamour and success…
So what do you think? Are we leaving behind outdated represenations of women in print and screen media, or is there still a long way to go? Leave us your thoughts below!
Until next month,