By JAMILA RIZVI
When it comes to sexism, it can be all too easy for us feminists to lose sight of the bigger picture.
If we take task with every offhand remark (which often have ignorance rather than malice at their core but are plentiful in number) and get outraged about it, then we risk wearing ourselves out and losing the goodwill of those who are listening.
It can mean that when the most severe crimes against feminism are committed – whether they be verbal, societal or physical – we are more easily ignored. In short? I’ve always been somewhat wary of becoming the boy who cried wolf on sexism.
But today I SAW A VERY BIG WOLF, WITH RAZOR SHARP TEETH AND EYES LIKE THOSE OUT OF A ZOMBIE HORROR FILM AND YES I AM GOING TO CRY OUT ABOUT IT. A LOT.
Retired journalist, Geoffrey Barker wrote an article in today’s Fairfax papers entitled ‘Switch off the TV babes for some real news’. Here’s a little taste of what he had to say.
I have a problem with commercial TV news. I don’t want it delivered to me via crimson lips and fancy coiffures. I don’t like the way the TV babes compress sometimes urgent and ongoing matters into a few barely coherent sentences that simply fail to reflect events with any semblance of their true complexity.
They are about as credible as the ads for the exercise machines with which they share the airways. They have neither the time nor the talent to offer trustworthy accounts of the matters on which they claim knowledge. They diminish the idea of journalism.
Now, my first thought was that I am very glad that Geoffrey is retired and he really should stay that way.
My second was that this is the most appalling and sexist rant that I have read in a very long time. I am completely gobsmacked that this pile of nasty stereotyping was able to make it into the public domain via such a reputable source. Why on earth would respected newspapers like the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age think that it was acceptable to publish something like this?
Now, for those of you who wish to preserve your own sanity and avoid the desire to stab at your own flesh with a pencil because of sheer frustration: I do not recommend you read the remainder of Barker’s article. Having said that, I wouldn’t want you to miss out on any of the poorly evidenced, wildly insulting points that he attempts to make.
So let’s consider them one by one, shall we?
1.If you are young, attractive and female, then you must be stupid: “They have neither the time nor the talent to offer trustworthy accounts of the matters on which they claim knowledge. They diminish the idea of journalism.”
Right. Because never in the history of humankind has the world managed to produce a person who is both attractive and intelligent.
Memo to Barker: The two do not have to be mutually exclusive – and in the case of many of Australia’s outstanding female news presenters – they aren’t.
Yes. These women are hot. Yes. They are also young. But that doesn’t mean Barker is entitled to lump them all together under a single label and appoint himself as an authority on their collective intelligence and life experience.
Each of these women has her own story, her own background, her own perspective and her own knowledge and skill set that she brings to her news reporting.
But when you’re Barker and are conveniently brushing off every female news presenter off as being named ‘Sharon or Tegan or whatever they are called’, then it seems that respect for their individual talents, differentiation between their experiences or heaven forbid – even bothering to know their names – is unnecessary.
2. Female news presenters on commercial television all look the same: “The hair, usually blonde, tumbles artfully onto the shoulders. The eyes, usually blue, sparkle brightly. The complexions are perfect. The teeth are arctic white. The breasts are pert and perky.”
I am not going to deny that the majority of female television news presenters are attractive. Television is a visual medium and ours is a society that places a (unnecessarily) high premium on women’s appearance, particularly when compared with men.
But if Barker were actually concerned that intelligent, talented women reporters were being overlooked because they didn’t fit commercial television’s particular aesthetic mold – then why didn’t he write an article about THAT?
An article that criticised the double standard applied to men and women on our television screens; most particularly as they age. An article that sought to promote women who have struggled to make it in their chosen profession because of a consideration that in no way impacts their ability to do their job.
Why not write THAT article, rather than seeking to tear down the smart and sassy – and yes, attractive – young women who are currently employed in these roles?
3. The news is oversimplified and dumbed down by women reporters: “I don’t like the way the TV babes compress sometimes urgent and ongoing matters into a few barely coherent sentences that simply fail to reflect events with any semblance of their true complexity.”
As the 24 hour news cycle takes a firmer and more steely grip over each of our lives, it is inevitable that we demand our information be provided in more succinct and immediate forms.
And while the oversimplification of complex issues that merit a discussion of more than 140 characters is a tragedy – it is not the fault of female journalists.
When you are given a 60 second spot to cover your story. You cover your story in 60 seconds.
If you don’t, it gets cut and your story doesn’t get told at all.
The women reporters we see on our screens aren’t responsible for the lack of thoroughness in reporting or even of the relative ‘importance’ of the story they are reporting on. They’re doing a job. One that is largely dictated by those working above them. Many of whom happen to be OLDER AND PROBABLY UNATTRACTIVE MEN. Hmph.
4. The noble profession of journalism cannot be left in the fumbling, lazy hands of women: “It is a public trust, a responsibility, to report the facts with context and completeness, to speak truth to power, to hold the feet of politicians and officials to the fire of exposure, to discomfort the comfortable, to comfort those who suffer. You can’t expect that from the babes.”
Yes, journalism is an incredibly important profession. The media are the fourth estate of our democracy – and play a vital role in how our society comes to understand itself and how we understand one another.
But Barker is failing to accept that journalism is changing.
Time to wake up and smell the broadband, buddy.
While the role of a 5 page opinion piece that has taken a month to write will always be needed and a formal in-person interview with a powerful political figure still has its place, so too does the blog post, and the 20 second news update and the live cross to the feel-good kitten up a tree story.
A story has value if it is something that people want to and choose to consume. Just because it’s not reported by the person Barker would prefer, and in the style he might wish, doesn’t make it worthless. It makes it another option.
And one of the most beautiful features of the internet and of the increasing number of TV news channels is that if you don’t like what you’re reading or watching – you can click or flick away. Instantly.
Female news journalists work incredibly hard. While the report may be short, it’s been preceded by an early morning wake up call, a last minute change in schedule, a mad dash to the new location, a script written on the run and information consumed, processed and then eloquently delivered all at an unbelievable pace.
All of these factors are relevant in assessing the skills and knowledge and adaptability of the women who do these jobs.
On top of this, remember that the so-called ‘bimbos’ have to get up a full hour earlier than all their male colleagues because that’s how much longer their hair and make up takes.
And what I think I found most insulting (it really is hard to choose what tops the list) about Barker’s article was his attempt to use female journalists on non-commercial channels as ‘cover’ for his sexist rant.
It was as if he thought that by tossing a sentence or two of praise their way, he would insulate his other insulting remarks from the criticism they so richly deserve.
Yes, Sally Sara, Emma Alberici, Marian Wilkinson and Virginia Trioli are excellent journalists and outstanding role models for young women (and men!) in the industry. But not everyone works as a political or investigative reporter for the ABC their whole life, and nor can they.
In fact many of Barker’s ‘bimbos’ are well educated, formidable women in their own right who are working doggedly hard with the aim of being JUST LIKE the high achieving journalists he has deigned to praise.
Geoffrey Barker says he doesn’t want his television news delivered to him “via crimson lips and fancy coiffures”.
That’s all well and good. Grab the remote and change the channel, Geoffrey.
Because I don’t want to read outdated, misogynistic crap in my newspaper, delivered by a man whose attitudes towards women are a relic of the 1950s, either.
So I’m clicking to another story on the internet.