The problem with women in the media

I thought long and hard before invoking the name of a certain Daily Mail writer who caused a furore this week… I think that Hadley Freeman pretty much wrote the definitive piece on Ms Brick. But it got me thinking about the way women are portrayed in the media and thought that Samantha Brick was a good place to start.

Do I agree that Ms Brick is beautiful? I think she is probably attractive in person, although no more so than most ‘normal’ attractive people and that also she was misguided in a lot of the things she said. I also think that she over-exaggerated some of the things that have happened to her (for example, how does a man in front of her in a queue at a train station know where she’s going in order to buy her ticket?) Do I think the Mail sold her down the river? Absolutely. For example, in the pictures in the piece, the photographer seemed to want to project more Matalan than Milan. I also think that the Mail deliberately decided not to photoshop out various bits of normality from Brick’s body- the bits that are normal in a woman in her 40s. If this was an article about how normal middle aged women look, bravo. But not when the Mail wants people to comment on her relative unattractiveness to cause a story that will run for days and days. So,when it comes to the images used in the article, that’s the paper’s fault.

This is not to say that I think Brick is blameless. Saying that the ‘sisterhood hates attractive women’ is lazy and plays right into the Mail’s anti-woman agenda. She has spectacularly misunderstood that she has been done a number on. (Was anyone else surprised to learn that she made about £30,000 for the two articles that originally appeared?! That’s more than my yearly wage. Still wouldn’t write for them.) The whole thing has read like a parody- and the Mail is rubbing its hands together  in glee. 100 million hits. We’re fuelling its agenda by reading about a woman with self-esteem issues.

But I think the Brick debacle shows us something else about the general media reaction to women. We’re either “worryingly thin”, “dangerously curvy” or judged on the way we look. This is not just the Daily Mail, most media outlets do it every now and then to some degree.

For example, think back to the start of the hacking scandal at the News of the World. Whose appearance was commented on? Was Andy Coulson referred to as an odd-looking chap? Nope. The whispers and sniggers were aimed at Rebekah Brooks and, later, after pie-gate, Wendi Deng.

Brooks’ picture was used to illustrate the story more than the men involved. There were snide jokes, or off-the-cuff remarks about her hair (described by Vanity Fair as a “pile of red, ringleted hair”.But no-one breathlessly commented on James Murdoch’s hair. I bet he was gutted.) So why did Brooks attract attention? Because of her position in a mainly male dominated top flight career. She has also been described in masculine terms: ‘ruthless’ and ‘ambitious’ are words often used to describe her. Because we all know that if you want to get ahead, you need to act like a man. I don’t agree with what Brooks is alleged to have allowed to happen, but that doesn’t mean I agree with how the media has portrayed her. She’s the calculating bitch to Brick’s daft ditz.

Talking of ditzes, this leads nicely into one of the stories that really gets my goat at the minute. Jessica Simpson’s pregnancy. For some reason, Jessica Simpson is an easy target for the American media. She has said some stupid things (like on her reality show ‘Newlyweds’, when she asked whether tuna was really chicken…) She was also blamed for a then-boyfriend’s poor performance on the football field. Her weight is a constant issue and now she’s pregnant, it’s exploded.

The thing I really like about her is that she has a really great sense of humour and an awareness of the ridiculousness of the whole situation. Simpson is big, but says she’s carrying a lot of fluid. She’s also admitted to odd cravings (deep fried Oreos anyone?) But this has led to tabloid commentators saying she’s ‘too’ big and one doctor, who doesn’t treat Simpson labelling her as ‘an absolute porker’. So what gives this doctor the right to say this? The fact that the media is encouraging her to. Tracie Egan Morrissey over on Jezebel– a new mum herself- wrote why this is wrong. We live in a society where women are encouraged not to put too much weight on during pregnancy; this is initially dressed up as “oh, you don’t want to suffer health problems” (laudable) but in the media is reduced to “But think of the weight! How will you get back to your pre-baby weight in two weeks if you eat crisps?!” Simpson is already  in talks to be the new face of Weight Watchers after the baby is born. This just depresses the hell out of me, because she’ll be on a diet as soon as she’s out of the delivery room and surely that should be the last thing on your mind after giving birth?

To be honest, I’m bored of the constant media need to compare women. It’s a bullying tactic designed to make women feel insecure and undermined. The question is, how do we counteract it?

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the film critics who said Jennifer Lawrence was ‘too fat’ and ‘too womanly’ to play Katniss in The Hunger Games.

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2 thoughts on “The problem with women in the media

  1. ameliaflorencesimmons says:

    I’m finally being pushed over the edge by the Mail. I used to find it amusing in a ‘guilty pleasure’ type way, now I find it both alarming and depressing.

    I absolutely HATE their stories, their attitude, their abysmal quality of writing. On the pregnancy line: they ran a story on Hilary Duff, who has pretty much JUST had her baby. Maybe a couple of weeks ago or something. They ran photos of her after a Pilates class, with the line: ‘Duff trying to lose baby weight with Pilates’ or something. Fine. That’s a fact. But underneath it as the sub header was this: ‘She’s got a long way to go’. WHAT?! You absolute prick. How dare they continue to pull apart women all day, every day?

    Totally agree on the first part of this. OF COURSE they took awful photos. You can see in both of the ones their photog shot that she’s not actually looking directly at the camera, giving her a slightly bizarre facial expression. They probably advised her on which dress to wear. In fact, they probably styled her hair in the way, which makes it look particularly lank and limp. I can just imagine the Mail people rubbing their grubby hands with glee as they looked through the photos to choose the worst.

    But Brick has got form in terms of nutty articles, as we discussed on Twitter. It’s a reductive article that paints everyone in a bad light, and is a sadly bleak view of the world. I loved your picking apart of the train ticket saga. I’ll eat my hat if that actually happened. And that’s the Nancy Mitford hat, so you know I’m serious. As for the champers on the plane, I suspect she may well have been in first class, therefore getting the same treatment as anyone else would.

    Gah. Why do we bother getting so worked up? I’m posting the second half of my reaction today. I wish I didn’t care. But I can’t help it, goddammit!

    • stephaniepomfrett says:

      We should counter-measure and come up with positive views of women (I should do my Friday Fabulosity more regularly, for a start.) If we’re not doing anything, however small, to counteract the DM’s bile, how can we complain?

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