Thursday, 27 January 2011

Gender ageism on television.

There has been a rumbling through British society about the position of older women in the visual media recently, with the BBC presenter of a wildlife programme winning her  case against them for age discrimination. Earlier controversies include Selina Scotts complaints against television for it’s anti older woman bias and the furore over Arlene Phillip’s being replaced by Alesha Dixon, a younger, prettier woman  who although personable lacked any real knowledge of dance.  It has been suggested by some that the agenda behind these complaints has been sour grapes or personal ambition, but obviously anyone wants to keep their job and should get annoyed when their male peers retain theirs.

I’m getting older, I never used to be very concerned in that way that the young don’t tend to be. However the situation is now beginning to grate.  My mother who is in her sixties has only been able to see one woman who resembles her physically on television.  Anne Widdecombe, a far-right politician who became a figure of amusement when dragged around a dance competition.  The media trumpeted the achievements of Felicity Kendall on the same show, a woman who has never had much in common with other women at any point.and whose television career is based on being a fey sex symbol.  Where is the shared point of reference? And in any case Strictly Come Dancing is essentially frivolous entertainment. Even then the serious stylish soft voiced Ms Winkelmann does the associated evening weekday review slot, and some big galumphing boobed blonde presenter plays second fiddle to an ancient Brucey.

More importantly I’m noticing that there are not that many women of my age in serious positions in front of the camera. Experience female broadcasters are farmed out to consumer shows or daytime tv.  Admittedly to be an actress or performer looks have always been part of the equation. But what really gets to me is news reporting. The array of serious, graying men facing an array of bambiesque younger female colleagues. is odd 
and sometimes seems a touch peadophilic and icky.  I don't want my news read to me by male eye candy, I like the older authoritative clear spoken male newsreader. But I want to hear the news from a female equivalent. It’s all very well ranting about this but lets provide some visual evidence.

 ITV News at Ten. Mark Austin and Julie Etchingham.

BBC News at 10pm George Alagiah and Sophie Raworth.

BBC London News programme. Asad Ahmad and Riz Lateef.

ITV London Tonight Ben Scotchbrook and Nina Hossein.

I could go on but having been through lots more stations I can confirm there appear to be a strict set of rules for being a woman reading the news (with just a few exceptions):

You must be younger or appear younger than your male colleague.
You must be Caucasian or of Indian appearance.
Your hair must be straight and in a tasteful bobbed hairstyle.
Your eyes will be your main feature and heavily made up.
You will not have to obey the strict rules of dress applied to your male colleagues.
You will not have grey hair.
You will look soft and approachable.
Serious is required but gravitas is not.

I’m not the only one to notice this, the advent of the ‘autocutie’ has annoyed some male newsreaders.  Some of the poppety news ladies have good qualifications and experience and fully deserve to be where they are. So why the appearance? Why are men, grizzly, rumpled, greying and very average in looks acceptable, fully acceptable to women, yet we cannot have the female equivalent? would gentlemen be unable to deal with it?  Sometimes I also think female newsreaders are their own worst enemy. Male newscasters don’t feel the need to push their masculinity but female newsreaders seem to feel the need to make their sexiness an issue, even if it is for charity.

This thought occurred to me again recently when I saw the image below:

Why does the only woman in a humorous programme surveying news and politics have to be in a red mini dress? She is already cursed by being young, female and blonde. Is this mean't to be ironic? Why isn't she in a suit, why aren't her arms crossed. As a woman I just see the fact that she is likely to be a foil to the boys, in another publicity still she is holding a clipboard, that really better be humorous. Maybe you feel I am being over judgemental, well perhaps the average Lauren shouldn't be in the show instead of someone funny (say Sarah Millican). But honestly it is one short step from this, to this:


I doubt any news person will read this but I just want to put across the fact that the same qualities that make a good male newsreader, serious presenter or commentator make a good female one. Please don't inflict only pretty or good looking ladies on us. We suspect, sometimes unfairly as a result that sparkly eyes and a cute expression have got them where they are. Also older women are grossly unrepresented. A sixty year old journalist of either gender with sombre stylish clothes a clear voice and an air of authority is what I want telling me about death and destruction, not someone who looks like they should be booking me in at the hairdressers....

Mark Austin has become the latest TV journalist to hit out at news presenters who are chosen simply for their looks.
The ITV News host said a large number of the current crop of telegenic newsreaders - so-called autocuties - lacked a proper journalistic background.
Read more:

What do you think, is this my old baggishness coming to the fore again or do you agree? xxx


Roughdiamond said...

Bring back Moira!

WDI said...

I think the female newsreaders should have their knockers out. OK, I don't really (well maybe some of them but no more than any other lady I see with my imaginary X-ray specs).
I must admit I haven't really noticed any newsreading totty-for-the-sake-of-totty but maybe that's because I'm too busy being distracted by the weather-totty in their marvelously high heels (so they can be closer to the clouds) and quite tight skirts (something to do with barometric pressure readings).

Penny Dreadful said...

I honeslty find it hard to even talk about this kind of thing any more because it makes me so angry I could vomit. Remember also Angela Rippon? Moira Stuart? There have been millions of others. And yet it seems no man can be too old, white or sexist to appear on tv. It makes me want to scream.

Esz said...

I love your thought provoking posts. :-D

It's much the same here in Aus but we have one channel who's newsreaders are a very nicely varied bunch. They not only represent numerous races and ages (one of the ladies is upwards of 50 for sure), but they even have accents.

However, the news on other channels is so far to the other extreme it's more than disappointing. Not to mention the actual content of our news - barely above celebrity gossip. Depressing.

Rhonda said...

bravo! well said. there needs to be way more discussion about this

LandGirl1980 said...

I have never really noticed. Maybe because I hardly watch "The Doom" (as it is know in our house) anymore because I hate being spoon feed toilet water.

But. When I do watch the news, what I do notice is BAD, bad, bad!!! teeth. Namely Ben Scotchbrook.

Dear.Sweet.Jehovah. HOW is this possible? To let a dentist's wet dream present us with our national bulletin?? It would NOT be tolerated in a woman - young or old.

However - I have to say that I think Moira is past her best. I cannot listen to her in the mornings because she CONTINUALLY fluffs her words. She bumbles, and stumbles, and stutters. I counted 11 occurances in one 4 mins new report. Enough to give me morning rage. Not cool.

But - yes - most certainly - put the bangers away on the blondes and brunettes alike. Hang on... maybe they DO have bad teeth - it's just that no one notices because they are all too busy looking south? Hmmmmmmmmm....

LollyWillowes said...

I absolutely agree, I was just ranting about this two nights ago!

WDI said...

Let's not forget that this is television and, as the name suggests, the visual is all important.
I'm not disputing the disparity of pleasing fizzogs between the sexes on the news but I'd rather up the attractiveness of the chaps than lower the glamour of the ladies.
The One Show (please don't think I'm equating this with the news) seems to positively pride itself on the sheer hideousness of the men juxtaposed with the outrageous gorgeousness of the women with both being a little bit thick. Surely we can have clever people who aren't aesthetically disadvantaged?

Penny Dreadful, may I ask you to elucidate you comment a tad as I'm not sure I understand your point.

Kally said...

Moira Stuart was fabulous as a newsreader - dignified, efficient and sophisticated and very good at her job. It was ridiculous that she was forced out.

There is Lucy Meacock who presents Granada news in the North West, although blonde and chirpy she must be pushing fifty, we shall see if she keeps her job once she gets there.

My main annoyance is the general softening of the news format - presenters sitting on the desk instead of behind it, and the proliferation of the word 'yeah' being bounced back and forth between local news presenters sharing a broadcast.

MissRubyDeVille said...

Ah Minn,

I totally get your rant, and totally agree, sadly when HD comes into play on a full time basis the only one's who aren't going to look like quasi-modo on crack are the airbrushed botoxed bimbettes!!! bring back normal looking women!!

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