by MICHELLE SMITH
Can you think of a female equivalent of political reporter Laurie Oakes on commercial television?
She would be aged over 60 (or 70 is Oakes’s case) with extensive knowledge of the area on which she reports. She would also not be conventionally attractive, likely with thinning hair and carrying excess weight. But she would keep her job because her intelligence and experience were trusted and respected by television viewers.
I’m assuming that you can’t answer this question because there is no equivalent to the older, trusted male television presenter when it comes to women.
While dramas and sitcoms can reflect a more diverse range of women in terms of age, size, and even racial background, the female hosts and reporters of commercial television’s news and morning programmes, all largely fit a narrow mould of young, white, and thin.
The bias toward young female television presenters is not confined to Australia. A recent study of major broadcasters in the UK found that of all presenters aged over 50, only 18%t of these were women. Yet 39% of presenters overall were women, indicating that there is a firm “use-by” date for women that does not apply to men.
The use-by date applies because ageing women often cannot maintain the standard of youthful attractiveness demanded of them, but not their male colleagues. If nobody wants to see “old people” on television, why aren’t grey-haired male presenters also replaced when their jowls start sagging?
Last year journalist Tracey Spicer wrote about her treatment after the birth of her first child. Spicer was allegedly told that she was “getting a bit long in the tooth” and that she might want to make way for “some of the younger girls”. After the birth of her second child, Spicer was fired at the age of thirty-nine, though her employer, Channel 10, denied age or sex discrimination
In her Andrew Olle lecture, given just over a week ago, co-host of Channel Nine’s Today, Lisa Wilkinson, pointed out that the age of female journalists is usually mentioned immediately in media profiles “as if it is a measure of her sexual currency and just how long it will be before it expires”.
Her comments on the inordinate attention given to the dress of female presenters have also proven timely. Wilkinson remarked that as a woman on breakfast television “you quickly learn the sad truth that what you wear can sometimes generate a bigger reaction than any political interview you ever do”.