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- In Defence of 21st Century Feminism
Following the news this week that Labour leader candidate Liz Kendall was asked about her weight in an interview with the Daily Mail, it seems about time to evaluate how the media treats women. Beware: the findings are disheartening.
So let’s start with the latest (and repeat offender) the Daily Mail. In their interview with the Labour leadership candidate, MP and Cambridge graduate, the reporter decides to comment on her weight:
‘Her jacket, navy blue ‘vest’ and trousers are from Reiss. L.K. Bennett and Reiss are two of the Duchess of Cambridge’s favourite fashion brands – and slinky brunette Liz, or Elizabeth Louise, to give her full Royal-sounding Christian names, looks as good in them as slinky brunette Kate. In fact she looks the same weight as the Duchess – about 8st – though when I ask she slaps me down with a raucous ‘f–k off!’, adding quickly: ‘Don’t print that.’
For anyone who can’t see why this is problem, please imagine how odd this question would be if it were directed at a man. Imagine if during an interview the reporter changed the subject to image and appearance, before comparing the interviewee to another celebrity in terms of weight, a point which Kendall herself rightly pointed out by saying ‘Can you imagine the Mail on Sunday asking the weight of the prime minister, George Osborne or any other leading politician?’
Kendall went on to say in an interview with BBC’s Radio 5 Live that she ‘cannot wait for a world when women are judged the same as men and not by those kinds of questions’, highlighting again how ridiculous it is that women are treated so frustratingly differently in the media than men.
Just earlier this month the ignorant Daily Mail reporters set out again to prove their disregard for women in the spotlight as they relegated coverage of Women’s Wimbledon to an article discussing the personal lives of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, discussing a rumoured feud between the women, whereas male tennis players were treated to coverage purely of their sport and not their personal lives – lucky them.
But sadly it’s not just the Daily Mail that treats women in the media with no respect. This Buzzfeed article compiles some of the best – or should I say most depressing – bits this year. Top moments include Taylor Swift being told that due to awards she’d won that evening she’d definitely be able to bring home lots of men tonight (!), and American girl band Fifth Harmony being encouraged to call out a friend for ‘hoeing it up a little‘. The article shows all of the women calling out the misogyny and putting the reporters in their places, but the fact still remains that people are actually asking these questions of women despite all their achievements.
Then there’s the infuriating ‘what are you wearing?‘ debacle, which led to the #AskHerMore campaign on Twitter, headed by Reese Witherspoon. The campaign called for female celebrities to be asked different questions on the red carpet, and not to just be reduced to a walking clothes hanger. Whilst the dresses celebrities wear to awards nights are truly beautiful, the red carpet could be used as an opportunity to send positive messages to spectators and by only asking women what clothes they’re wearing the media points out a glaring inequality between the sexes, with male celebrities treated to more conversation inducing questions. And that’s without even getting started on the dreaded Oscars mani-cam which subjects women to meticulous judgement for their hands, without even asking them any questions.
Worryingly, this inequality is not just limited to the questions women are asked in the media, it correlates directly to the actual amount of coverage women are given. An eye-opening inforgraphic by UN Women reveals that only 1 in 4 people heard or read about in the news are women. Meanwhile 6% of news stories are focused on highlighting gender equality issues whilst 46% of stories reinforce gender stereotypes. Last year a video entitled ‘How the Media Failed Women in 2013‘ went viral, highlighting how women are often are mistreated in the media. Some lowlights included the politician who called a blonde colleague an ‘abortion barbie’ for campaigning for a woman’s right to choose, the magazine editor who described women in his pages as ‘ornamental’ and the the commentator who said: ‘I’m not saying she deserved to be raped, but …’. Watch it and weep.
Even male celebrities seem to be facepalming at some of the questions their female counterparts are asked by the media. This list shows how some men in the industry expertly shut down the sexism, with Chris Pratt tackling the ‘what are you wearing?’ issue and celebrities such as Simon Pegg, Mark Ruffalo and Benedict Cumberbatch asking the questions normally reserved for women, and in doing so demonstrating just how ludicrous they are.
The bottom line is this: women are treated entirely differently to men by the media, often pressured to discuss irrelevant topics to the projects they are currently working on. But the only way to combat inequality is to call it out, so here’s to challenging the imbalance!