The media is getting better at portraying women - but it still has a long way to go

Daily Sabah

The way that women are portrayed in the media is beginning to change for the better. Television and advertising are different areas of media that are beginning to take steps in the right direction and, although neither are 100% there yet, positive representations of women is on the rise.

Magazines and tabloids, however, are still in the dark ages. Granted, more and more magazines are being published that go against the traditional, derogatory magazines that promote unachievable body images and unhealthy ‘advice’ for women, but there are an equal number, if not more, magazines that portray women negatively. Tabloids are the worst offenders; often using the sexuality of women to draw readers in.

Television is one aspect of the media that has been praised for its increasing positive portrayal of women. Doctor Who, a show that was first aired in 1963, cast Jodie Whittaker as their first female Doctor. Despite anxieties over having a woman play the iconic role, viewing numbers increased and Whittaker has been received fondly by the majority of original Doctor Who fans. Additionally, SAS: Who Dares Win has just finished its first series that allowed both men and women to be recruited; Louise McCullough became the first woman to complete the course, proving that gender doesn’t matter so long as the required physical ability and psychological strength are met.

Many clothes companies are now using a variety of women with different body shapes to model their products, and there is more and more criticism being put on media outlets that edit the pictures of their models with photoshop and airbrushing. Although this is positive, there is still a long way to go, as there are lots of companies that do alter their models with technology and present unhealthy and unvaried body types as the norm. On the positive side, adverts are being put under more scrutiny to ensure that they aren’t promoting sexist messages. For example, the Sofitel Brisbane Hotel advert that showed a man reading the financial times with a big plate of croissants and pancakes, sat beside a woman with a fashion magazine and a plate of fruit, was taken down after it received a huge amount of criticism from consumers for being sexist.

Daily Mail

If television and advertising have taken a step in the right direction, magazines have taken only half a step. There are magazines that strive to part ways with traditional, derogatory portrayals of women, such as The Siren or Tom Tom (the only magazine dedicated to female drummers). However, it is in a lot of lifestyle magazines where issues surrounding the portrayal of women reside. Many of these do make attempts to promote positive messages surrounding women but unfortunately these attempts often fall flat as a result of their contradictory content. Cosmopolitan is a prime example of this. In October 2018 it was praised for pushing boundaries by using a picture Tess Holiday, a plus sized model, on the cover to promote body confidence. Three months later, in January 2019, the cover stated, “The Big Fat Cover Up – is the plus sized revolution a scam?”. This contradictory message means that the intention to promote body confidence has been overruled by body shaming. In addition, the agony aunt section of Cosmopolitan gives out positive and healthy advice such as “Your virginity is no one’s business but your own!”, along with sexist and outdated advice such as “never complain to your husband.” This shows how the portrayal of women in magazines is often contradictory and a lot more work needs to be put into stopping the derogatory representation.

In tabloids, the portrayal of women is terrible. Available in print form or over most social media platforms tabloids use sexual images of women to draw readers in; articles often having no relation to the pictures on the cover. Over the course of a week The Daily Mail’s content on snapchat featured a derogatory image of a woman on the cover on all seven days. This type of promotion is harmful and sends a message to its readers that this is the correct way to view women. This isn’t just the case for The Daily Mail, the vast majority of tabloids focus on the sexual nature or failures of women and, whether intentional or not, humiliate or oppress them. What makes this even worse is the accessibility of these articles, around 79% of teens aged 13- 18 use snapchat meaning that some of the most impressionable people in our society can easily access this harmful content.

The campaign for equal rights has come a long way; women are experiencing better opportunities and more and more regulations are being put in place to help stop sexism. In the media, the portrayal of women is getting better, but something needs to be done about the repressive content and cover images of most tabloids and many magazines.