Article by Tabitha Floyd
Recently, people are bringing focus onto the treatment of female celebrities by the media. With the departure of Meghan Markle, famously scrutinised by the press, conversations have begun about the tabloids and the wider media’s treatment of women. Many people have criticised the way women are depicted and discussed in the press, which has struck a chord with campaigners.
Firstly, young women who are thrust under public scrutiny at a young age are often sexualised and obsessed over by their, often male, fans and interviewers. These men are often twice the age of these women, but they are reduced to only sexual objects in the eyes of the media. An example of this was when Lindsay Lohan, an actor who came to fame at only eleven, turned eighteen and a sudden onslaught of inappropriate comments were made when finding a young woman sexually appealing became socially acceptable. Less than a week after her eighteenth birthday an interview was published where the man assures that her, “breasts are real,” and wrote that he discerned this through a, “goodbye hug,” as well as, “visual fact checking,”. Lohan’s experience is sadly not an anomaly but rather the norm for young girls exposed to the public eye. Another example of a girl who was sexualised by the press early in her young career is Britney Spears. She famously has been both infantilized and sexualised by the people around her and recently more information about her time with this intrusive commentary on her life has been released in the form of a documentary. It is impossible for a young woman to consent in a situation in which she has limited power or control, and it is unfair to blame these women for their sexualisation.
Even though the media sexualises famous women, the focus on their relationships and sexuality is overwhelmingly critical and shaming. While male celebrities’ sexuality is celebrated and applauded, women are shamed for dating and having sex. One of the most famous examples is Taylor Swift, who recently came out about her experience with the scrutiny and shame she was under from the very beginning of her career. It is easy to find jokes about her dating life such as tabloids saying that she, “made a career out of being broken up with”. This is hurtful and exaggerates her private life as though dating is unusual for a woman in her twenties. Further than that, it dismisses her achievements completely and allows her to be defined by the men around her. On the other hand, male celebrities tend to be celebrated for their, ‘sexual conquests’, for example there are headlines that read, “We can’t forgive Justin Timberlake for his music but at least he got into Britney Spear’s pants”. In direct juxtaposition to the condemnation his female peers face this is incredibly saddening and indicative of the unfair gap in their treatment. Sexualising and then policing female celebrities’ very sexuality, is a way to control and confine women.
Even when escaping the shame surrounding women’s dating lives and sexuality, the focus remains on their marital status and potential motherhood. Even in discussions about sporting prowess, frequent references to a sportswoman's marital status, romantic life, and looks, are made rather than focusing on her sporting achievements. Women are often stereotyped into wives and mothers and defined by their relationship to a man. The WAG, meaning wife or girlfriend, was a term popularised by football fanatics and has become a tabloid staple. These women are celebrated for who they are dating rather than what they do, as popular footballers’ significant others gained fame by proxy. Then there's the inevitable questioning when a woman appears to stray from the so-called norm. When TV historian Lucy Worsley said she had been, "educated out of the natural reproductive function," she generated a storm of negative headlines. While she was in reality, merely stating her own preference, many newspapers seemed unable to understand that the idea of not having children is, "not necessarily being a bad thing". This reveals another problem with the press in that, women are expected to not only be themselves but to represent an entire gender.
While these are all valid examples of misogynistic overtones in the media we consume, another important aspect is racism and the tone policing of women of colour. The demonization of non-white women is evident in many headlines and articles. For instance, we’ve all been made unavoidably aware of the villainization of Meghan Markle who’s recently stepped down from her role with her husband as senior royals after the constant, unnecessary backlash and harassment. The demonization continued when the Sun printed the title, “Megan Mugged Us Off.” The publisher received backlash from its readers, since the couple stepped down, but they blamed social media as the main source of the racist criticism. Another example of tone policing and racism by the tabloids is through the treatment of British actor and activist Jameela Jamil. She was accused of sending hate to Caroline Flack when the women were in fact good friends and had only once had a dispute that was aimed at the show Flack hosted rather than herself. Jamil was indirectly blamed for her death which was caused by the tabloids themselves who instead picked apart the women around Flack rather than the criticism they had heaped upon her.
In conclusion, the difference in treatment of men and women is undeniable and deeply saddening. We should not be surprised that women, just as in the Fifties, are experiencing illnesses like depression, anxiety and eating disorders as a response to being reduced to objects within our public culture. The media have spouted on more than one occasion that it is in fact social media platforms that have caused the psychological breakdown of many a woman in the public eye, but as evidenced above the media companies can be just as damaging, if not more so, due to their greater outreach. Journalists, presenters, bloggers you name them, have a collective desire to make money and it has been the accepted opinion for too long that the methods they use to do so are ethically responsible. This is sadly not the case as no consideration has been shown to the affects, and psychological damage, that an exposing or scandalous news story can have on these women’s minds. It is a collective responsibility that we share to drastically reduce the public scarring imposed. So, I will finish by politely imploring that the next time you consider purchasing a damning news story on a woman of influence, that you contemplate the implications on someone, who is after all, only human.