I'd just finished watching an ABC Q&A show about feminism and decided to take a flick through SMH on iPad before retiring. I started noticing lots of male images. Had the program on feminism oversensitised me to sexism? But it wasn't the first time I'd noticed what seemed an overwhelming preponderance of male images on the SMH iPad version. Indeed it was questions about whether my initial perceptions were accurate or simply the product of an odd bad male day at SMH that led me to get involved in New Matilda's Where are the women in the media? project. We're looking for hard facts. Part 3's on the way.
So in the meantime, I decided to do an extra small research pilot on SMH iPad images and gender. The flick through was horizontally across from the front page tonight. Up to where I started bumping into yesterday's stories, I counted 100 images of men compared to 13 women. Just 12% of the people I saw were women. Overall, the story is one of men who speak, men who represent, men who play sport and men who are always there.
The 13 women included a murder victim in another country, two women associated with fashion week, a woman who looked a bit like actor Gwyneth Paltrow decorating an article on clean food, a woman who is head of a health support NGO, the face of a woman TV star, one caricature of Australia's richest woman, Gina Rinehart and four images of PM Julia Gillard. If, as looks likely, we replace Gillard with Abbott, we would be down to 8% of female images. As you flick through your ipad, the story of women is one of food, fashion, highly made up faces, carers and the odd woman whose has become powerful.
The dominant thread is men. Who are they? They are many things - leaders, politicians, sportspeople (all of them), journalists, entertainers, business people and just ordinary old people in the background.
Last week, the SMH's section Life and Style ran an article about women sliding out of bed to put on make-up so their partners don't see their faces. Yes, even long term partners.Could things really have got that bad? Can you imagine the strain and secrecy that would impose on a relationship?
The story about women waking early to get on their make-up (if indeed it is happening on a widespread level) could be a page one story, not a slightly daring comment piece on Life and Style It's a great topic to discuss on breakfast and talkback radio.
The SMH's gender biased image practices need to be publicly discussed. Despite Sarah Oakes strong resistance to having the word 'women' applied to her Daily Life section, is Daily Life just a new form of women's pages with a soft touch of feminism, designed to hold advertisers and readers when paywalls come into place? This isn't to reject the feminist stories that do regularly appear on Daily Life amidst the food and bodies, or the efforts of women who are trying to push editors' and publishers' boundaries. But whose editorial vision is being pursued in the selection of images for the SMH? Is selection determined by individual editors? Or is it the product of market research of readers for advertisers? Is Daily Life a sop to hide gender bias in the rest of Fairfax publications? A few add-on pages can't disappear or justify gender bias elsewhere.
I've also got to be honest and say that our 'Where are the women in the media'? project is coming up with far worse results than I expected. I think I believed that gender discrimination in the media was gradually improving for women. I'm no longer sure about that and we haven't even started on women in broadcasting. I am thankful to Destroy the Joint which now has more than 27,000 facebook followers for pushing a public rewakening of these issues. They build on earlier research and feminist action.
You can follow our women in the media project on New Matilda and/or watch our progress by joining our Facebook page. Read Julie Posetti's post on our facebook page written from her sickbed yesterday where she spent the day listening to a very male ABC. The results are also not good.
A Q&A with an all female panel plus male host for one night is not enough.
Note: In an earlier version of this post, I wrote that the piece about women getting out of bed to put make-up on was in the Daily Life section. Daily Life editor Sarah Oakes has pointed out that it was not. It was in the Life and Style section. The piece was arguing against the practice of hiding one's unmadeup face from male partners. My point is that a few feminist pieces, whether in Life and Style or Daily Life could be seen as commercially based appeals to a female audience, otherwise turned off by the regular fare of content biased towards men. This is not a personal attack on female journalists who write or edit such stories or sections but an argument that these sections may also play a role in reinforcing and reproducing gender stereotypes. If you are not regular reader, have a look and see for yourself.We will be able to analyse this issue further in Part three of our Where are the Women in the media? series.