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One of the key portals which has enabled and sustained the subordination of

women is the media. Tuchman (1978) argues that the representation of women within the

media can be categorised under three headings. Firstly absence, as there is an undeniable

lack of women in the media in comparison to men. Secondly trivialisation, this means

that were women are present they are appointed to particular roles i.e. wife, mother.

Finally condemnation, as women are often condemned for not living up to the supposed

ideal of womanhood and thus portrayed as more evilthan their male counterparts.

However this was in the 1970s, since then there has been significant strides in gender

equality, allowing women to break through those glass ceilings previously imposed on

them and therefore obtain prominent positions of power. This has inadvertently increased

media attention on women and thus dented the sexist nature of the mass media.

Nevertheless despite these advances, Tuchman‟s' (1978) hypothesis is still applicable

today. This illustrates that the mass media remains a male-dominated sexist institution

which is still a long way from gender equality and perhaps as sexist as it was a generation


Radical feminists claim that we live in a patriarchal society, in other words

women are oppressed by men in every aspect of their life, resulting in their subordination

within society. Consequently because the mass media are in the hands of men, they

believe that it will operate to sustain this patriarchal society (Van Zoonen 1991). Like

many male dominated institutions such as the police, the media could be said to have a

cult of masculinity, in which conservative beliefs and values are the basis for the views

which they express within the public sphere. Unsurprisingly many of these views are

parallel to that of Parsons sex-role theory. He asserted that women adopted an expressive

roledue to their instinct to nurture therefore confining them to the private sphere of

social life, whereas men are more suited to an instrumental roleproviding economic

support as they have a more aggressive and competitive nature (Marsh et al 2009). Before

the advent of the women‟s movement these sex role stereotypes seemed natural. Few

questioned how they developed, how they were reinforced or how they were maintained.

Certainly the medias role in this process was not questioned.(Tuchman 1978;5).

Tuchman introduced one of the first and most influential volumes about women and the

media. She categorised the discrimination of women in the media into 3 categories;

absence, trivialisation and condemnation which she deems as the symbolic annihilation of

women by the media. (Downing 1980).

Women have been relatively absent from the media, both behind the scenes and in

the spotlight, despite the fact that women make up 51% of the population and well over

40% of the labour force (Tuchman 1978). From 1954 through 1975, researchers found

that males dominated the TV screens. Even within soaps, which are typically women‟s

TV, men make up the mere majorityof the fictional population (Tuchman 1978). This

is also evident within TV commercials as studies have revealed a ratio of almost three all

male ads to each all female ad (Tuchman 1978). This only gets worse in regards to factual

TV, as too often, women are simply ignored. More than 25years ago, Gallagher (1981

cited in Geertsema 2009;154) claimed that; It is the absence of women in the media

output which becomes most striking once it is highlighted. This is due to the fact that

newsmen usually define women‟s activity as not newsworthy, which may be a direct

result of their confinement to the private sphere of social life (Downing 1980). This may

also be attributed to the exclusion of women from media ownership and decision making

processes (Cheng 2007). Accordingly Froehlich (2007 cited in Geertsema 2009;151)

argues that this lack of women working in the media is a serious problem for democratic

media worldwide, which is consonant with the feminist view that while the media is in

the hands of men, the media output will remain gender bias.

This is also apparent within journalism, as decision-making remains male-

dominated. This was exposed through Lunenburgs (1996 cited in Ross, 2001;531) study

of 9 European countries, as women made up a mere 12% of editorial executive positions.

Women journalists pinpointed that trying to achieve a work-life balance especially within

the current culture of long- working hours presented itself as the main barrier for women

in the media (Ross 2001). This reveals that the very nature of the institutions within the

media are sexist as they continue to constrain women.

However women have been attaining prominent positions within society for

example, in the US, Hilary Clinton ran for the highest position of authority possible, the

presidency and also within Northern Ireland Arlene Foster became the first ever female to

temporarily assume the highest position in the assembly as First Minister. Undoubtedly,

this has increased the media attention of women therefore combating the absence that was

previously evident while also illustrating the progress women are making throughout

society. These advances have also encouraged some steps internationally for e.g. in 1995,

the problems that women face regarding access and representation in the news media was

specifically addressed at the United Nations fourth World Conference on Women

(Geertsema 2009).

Nevertheless the continuing absence of women in the media is well illustrated by

the most recent Global Media Monitoring Project, which included 76 countries and

showed that women only constituted 21% of news subjects (Geertsema 2009). Even as

recently as March of this year, Channel 4 research found that women are outnumbered 2

to 1 by men on TV (BBC 2010). More specifically, in the field of serious broadcasting,

women make up only one-third of participants in factual programming. (Thrope 2010).

Creedon (1993 cited in Geertsema 2009;151) argues that this is due workplace routine

and norms which force reporters to conform to dominant values, especially young

reporters setting out to prove themselves, which as Steiner (1993 cited in Geertsema,

2009;151) argues renders reporters powerless thus maintaining a machonewsroom

culture. This reflects Ackers (1990) idea that gendered assumptions are deeply integrated

into organisations. Evidently while there has been slight progress in regards to the

presence of women in the media, they remain relatively absent due to deeply integrated

patriarchal values.

Moreover it is palpable that these values also result in the trivialisation of those

women that do appear within the media. Gender differences are often viewed as natural

but they are actually social constructions and the media, particularly television are central

vehicles for constructing and conveying such images (Cavender 1999). The media

perpetuates three main stereotypes of women, firstly as the wife/mother, secondly as a

sex object and thirdly as a victim. Moreover women tend to be portrayed predominately

as young and beautiful in each of these roles. (Van Zoonen 1991)

Soaps are probably the source of media whereby women are most visible however

they provide powerful evidence for the portrayal of women as incompetent and inferior

(Tuchman 1978). One of the major critiques of soaps, as feminist scholars point out, is

that women are represented to conform to traditional norms of femininity. Therefore

women reviewers are encouraged to empathise with characters who are rarely allowed to

live a transgress life outside the normative expectations of patriarchy(Cheng 2007;23).

According to sociological analysis of sex roles, men are instrumentalleaders, active

workers and decision makers outside the home, whereas women are emotional leaders in

solving personal problems within the home. However Turlow (1974 cited in Tuchman

1978;171 ) finds that on soaps, the male sex is so dominant that men also lead the way to

the solution of emotional problems. This shows that there is even trivialisation of the

women's role within the home. Consequently there has been an increasing presence of

strong independent working women throughout the soaps for e.g. Ronnie and Roxie

within Eastenders and Karla within Coronation Street, all of which own their own


Trivialisation is also apparent within advertisements. Rosemary Scotts study of

sex roles in ads, categorises ads under two main headings, firstly women who are

naturally housewives and mothers and secondly women whose goal in life is to attract

and keep a man (O‟Sullivan and Jewkes 1997). Also Linda Busby summarised the

findings of four major studies and found that 33.9% showed women dependent on men

and 42.6% as household functionaries (Tuchman 1978). Even today this is apparent,

namely through ads such as Mr Musclewhereby the woman is confined to the domestic

chores in the kitchen but when she encounters a problem she calls for the strong male

superhero to help. Likewise the current Fairy Liquidad reveals a women standing in the

kitchen with her fairy bottle, from the times that TV was black and white until present

day, sublimely asserting the view that a womans place has and will always be in the


Nevertheless the most predominant female image within advertising especially in

present society is the women as a sex object. This works from the underlying ethos that

sex sells. Sexual innuendo and the image of a young, beautiful woman have

increasingly been used to sell various items throughout society. This is evident everyday

on TV and in newspapers, in magazines and at the cinema, in the street and the

underground, they are part of everyday life and we now take them for granted (Butcher

1974). In 2009, Belfast Telegraph announced that, Scientists have demonstrated

something that many women suspect and most men would admit only to themselves;

pictures of scantily-clad females turn women into sexual objects in the minds of men

(Connor 2009). In our current sex obsessed culture these ads are in abundance, for

example Specsavers most recent ad shows a large group of women in bikinis running

along a beach towards a man. Despite the degrading nature of these ads, they also

encourage women to aspire and conform to the rather unusual age and shape of a female

model (Downing 1980). As a result, many experience body dissatisfaction in the form of

weight concern and a sizeable majority will seek to actively reduce their weight (Harper

and Tiggeman 2008). A study of over 500 girls in the Boston area, found that girls who

frequently read fashion magazines have dieted to lose weight because of a magazine

articleand that pictures in magazines influence their idea of a perfect body shape

(Field et al 1999).

However women cannot reach this ideal image because it is not real. It is a hyper-

reality, as semiotics would say, as the simulation has become more real than the reality

(Fiske 2006). This reveals a dangerous element of the sexism within the media as it is

now affecting the health of many young girls. Perhaps the rising number of girls suffering

from eating disorders could be attributed to the increasing trivialisation of women in the

media as sexual objects. In order to resolve this trivialisation, liberal feminists argue

women should attain more equal positions in society, enter male dominated fields and the

media should portray women and men in non-traditional roles by using non-sexist

language. However this emphasis on role reversal has created a new stereotype of

superwoman(Van Zoonen 1991). She is portrayed as an independent career woman, a

successful wife and mother who is still beautiful and in perfect shape. Real women trying

to live up to this image, end up suffering from serious burn out symptoms (Downing

1989). Nevertheless the fact women have their own magazines draws a clear distinction

between what is male and what is female. This can be an advantage for women as it

supposes that the audience of these female magazines are concerned about changes in the

status of women therefore placing womens issues and concerns firmly within the public

sphere (Tuchman 1978).

Another prominent form of trivialisation is in relation to the portrayal of women

as victims, which is most visible on the news. The Global Media Monitoring Project

found that women are more than twice as likely as men to be depicted as victims

(Geertsma 2009). This reinforces the feminine ideals of women as vulnerable and

requiring mens protection (Cavender et al 1999). Therefore many argue that the impact

of these stories is to instil fear into all women thus assisting their oppression within

society (Downing 1989). Palpably women continue to be trivialised within the media. In

fact evidence suggests that perhaps some forms of trivialisation are more apparent now

than a generation ago.

Coincidently when women stray from these roles that the media have assigned to

them they are subject to condemnation. The second wave of feminism was the first

attempt to break women from their traditional roles of femininity and as Fauldi (1991

cited in Chesney-Lind and Eliason 2006;29) stated, it witnessed a politics of backlash.

The media perpetuated the view that this distance from traditional femininity would

increase criminality therefore conveying it as a negative advance. This stance is reflected

in Thomas(1923 cited in Chesney-Lind and Eliason 2006;31) statement, the modern

age of girls and young men is intensely immoral


result of what we call the

emancipation of women. This has produced two dominant representations of condemned

girls in the media, the laddettesand the modern girls. The modern girlbecame

apparent within the media in the 1920s, this moral panic was then further fuelled in the

1990s as the modern girlbecame the laddette. They are both typically portrayed as

displaying behaviours ranging from the unrefined to the overtly coarse and crude

(Jackson and Tinkler 2007). However despite the similarities between the portrayal of the

modern girland the laddette, the ladette is still viewed as a new phenomenon. This

year alone has witnessed an abundance of headlines including 250 ladettesarrested

everyday(Hammond 2010), ladettes turn to violence(Anon 2010), its Ladette to

furious lady

(The Snitch 2010) and so on.

Women also receive coarse condemnation when they commit crimes of violence,

especially when they are viewed as far from a women‟s nurturing nature. This is most

evident when women commit crimes against children, as it contradicts the maternal

nature that a woman is presumed to have. This was illustrated through the medias

fascination with Myra Hindley, as she succinctly stated, Its because I‟m a women and it

makes me a double devil. A woman is supposed to be the protector of children and when

she does something to harm them, it is perceived as far worse than a mans crime against

them(Irish news, 19 December 1994). As Hannah Scott, the author of a book on female

serial killers observed, "Women who kill, and kill repeatedly

are referred to as Angels

of Death or Black Widows

not serial killers." (Toronto Sun, April 5, 2004)

In the 1980s, Aileen Wuornos, was heralded in tabloid headlines and on television talk

shows as America‟s first female serial killer. However she was neither the first nor the

worst, although she did display a curiously masculine tendency to prey on strangers of the

opposite sex therefore making her susceptible to widespread condemnation (Anon 199-).

In fact because she appeared so far from the ideal of womanhood, her story was

translated into an award winning movie in 2003 (Anon 2003).

Moreover the turn of the 21 st century has witnessed a new phenomenon of suicide

bombers, however when one of these bombers appeared to be a woman, she grabbed the

headlines, as the angel of death. Wafa Idrees was a volunteer for the Palestine Red

Crescent, therefore the guardian deemed her as, „…an angel of mercy to angel of death

(Beaumont 2002). Evidently women continue to be subject to condemnation if they stray

from the traditional ideals of femininity therefore enticing women to conform to


It is evident that absence, trivialisation and condemnation continue to characterise

the sexism that occurs within the media. Nevertheless gender equality has become a

prominent issue within society therefore prompting progress within the media. This is

illustrated by the incorporation of more women throughout the media and the slight

reduction of women in traditional roles. However progress remains stagnant as these

advances are counterbalanced by the fact that women remain a considerable minority

within the media, they are perhaps trivialised as sex objects more so now than a

generation ago and they continue to be subject to condemnation. This exemplifies the

view that the media are as sexist now as a generation ago and may remain this way due to

deeply integrated patriarchal values.


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