The Headline Project
As a little project, I recently decided to compile the gender presentation as depicted in the headlines on various popular ‘news’ websites over 3 days. Having rolled my eyes so strenuously as to pop several blood vessels at the ridiculous scandals I’m subjected to each time I checked my email, I decided to monitor sites like AOL, Yahoo, and MSN News to dissect how they depict famous women.
AOL’s headlines regarding famous women:
“Brittany Spears flaunts assets” “See what (Kate Middleton’s sister) Pippa’s wearing at Wimbledon” “Who’s the British beauty showing off her armpits?” (No, I’m not kidding…) “Miley Cyrus wears daring LBD” “Megan shows off baby bump in bikini” – (Translation: "show off" = wearing a biking while pregnant and famous).
MSN messenger news:
“Katy Perry still yearning for motherhood” “Una’s getting married this weekend!” “Sally Phillips: ‘writing movies is tough’" “Rihanna in a suit, Miley in a bra; stars out and about!”
Yahoo ‘entertainment’ news:
“Kim K ‘unhappy with her body’” “It’s DROOL over Miley o’clock”
And if that doesn’t fill your legitimate news quota, there’s always the sexy celebrity ad campaigns and “celebrities in bikinis” galleries.
All three sites have systematically dissected the bodies of these women. In some cases, it seems these sites hope to police these women's clothing choices, hoping to generate enough shame over their apparently scantily-clad selves to cause a scandal. Even the (supposed) negative body image of Kim Kardashian crops up as if to say, "Don’t worry, ladies, famous women hate their bodies too! You see? It’s okay!” In keeping with traditional gender roles and expectations, motherhood and weddings are brought up repeatedly. The two women of notable intelligence and success are not praised for their efforts and career paths, but instead dumbed down to continue the curve. Instead of praising Sally Phillips for writing a movie script and being a successful actress, she is presented as having a hard time because her job is ‘tough.’ Pippa Middleton, an intelligent woman with a degree from Edinburgh University and job with a large events company, has her outfit scrutinized by the media as she attends Wimbledon -- yet again her appearance is analysed, placing all importance on physical attractiveness.
“Miley wows fans in sexy lingerie outfit” – (which, as it turns out, is just a rehash of the previous day's story with a new headline and video footage. Because it was so notable and groundbreaking to feature twice).
“Which TV presenter has exposed her veiny arms?”
“Oops! Sharon Stone forgets to wear bra!”
“Whose missus do these toned thighs belong to?” (I don’t know, but I’m SURE glad she’s recognized as someone else’s "missus" rather than an individual person with her own name!) “Dita von Teese showcases her assets.” – (That’s funny, wasn’t Brittany flaunting her assets yesterday? And SOMEHOW I think "assets" don't refer to her intellect or sense of humor!)
MSN Messenger News:
“Tom and Katie are divorcing!” “Adele is pregnant!” “Why Madonna’s made a right boob of it.”
Yahoo Entertainment News
“Rochelle rocks the LBD” “Binky tweets bikini photo *drool*" “Katie Holmes demands sole custody” “Laura Wright upstages Jessie J with bum-high split at silver clef awards”
I was hoping to find yesterday’s ridiculous headlines to be a result of a particularly slow news day, but on day two I’m beginning to realize that this is just how it works. AOL tops the misogyny charts today, shaming a woman with the audacity to publicly reveal her ‘veiny arms’, and another who may not (or may, for all they know). Women with veiny arms and no bras as news! What is this world coming to? They then publish an article about a mystery woman’s toned thighs, not revealing her name, but identifying her by the fact that she’s someone else’s missus…personal identity is overrated anyway.
Along with the ever-present ‘flaunting of assets’ and LBD, the gender role buzzwords continue as divorce, motherhood and child custody crop up once again. And if the exposure and exploitation of women’s body parts for news stories wasn’t enough, Yahoo manages to add a virtual drool into the mix for the second day running with their daily bikini shot article.
When faced with the dilemma of how to write a story that doesn't directly analyze a woman’s body, MSN news stumbles upon a piece of new linguistic terminology: if the story is not directly about Madonna’s boobs, we’ll use the word boob as a verb to describe her most recent faux pas, they figure! No it doesn’t make sense whatsoever, and if whoever wrote it considers themselves a journalist then the industry really is going straight to hell, but everyone loves the casual sprinkling of women’s body parts as negative imagery all over their news feeds.
“The baby talk that won’t go away” (Points for AOL: this was actually an interesting article about the media's obsession with the next royal baby) “Oh baby! Robbie Williams loves pic of pregnant wife” “Sir Mick at Jade Jagger’s wedding” “Playboy celebs slideshow” (I seriously hope young kids don’t have a AOL email addresses...yet somehow I think they do). “Brides diet trend” (Yes, you read correctly). “Put them away” – (On further inspection this is an article about breasts. Yes, AOL seems to have a bit of a repetitive celebrity ‘news’ mind-set). “Cheryl’s flight terror” “Pregnant celebs gallery” –(What is the obsession with pregnant famous women? Why the need to sit and click through a whole gallery of them?)
“OMG Maria gets her bikini on” “Katy Perry admits ‘now isn’t the right time for motherhood” (It must have taken a lot to admit such a dirty little thought) “Mark Wright: Lucy is a beautiful young lady”
“Rochelle Wiserman shows off enviable body at Wimbledon” – (Ladies start your envy!) “When bad faces happen to beautiful stars” (Okay, this one isn’t about one specific person but it’s so tragic it makes me want to have a good sarcastic cry anyway)
When I began this project I expected there would be a lot of sexist headlines aimed at women, with a lack of redeemable articles praising one for being anything other than physically attractive, but after monitoring these sites for a few days I find myself ashamed to see the type of things people want to read (or the media wants people to read) about women. I’m aware, of course, that in this day and age, the trivial and pleasant does not cause scandal or generate as much traffic as mindless smut, but this is just ridiculous.
Throughout the period of this project, I couldn't find headlines that demeaned men in the same way. There were no articles that deeply analyzed their bodies, clothes, body image or their follies or weak spots, whereas most every story I’ve happened upon that’s directly about a woman is designed to tear her down and expose her weaknesses. The only ‘positive’ stories comment on their bodies (which are usually clad in miniature bikinis), which implies that if you have society’s ideal body shape and bear it for all to see, you’ll be praised, whereas a woman who has the audacity to show her flaws, like her veiny arms, is mocked and shamed.
Motherhood and marriage are mentioned every single day in these stories about women, but not once did I see a story about a man getting married or having a child. Both can be wonderful things, but when there’s a gallery depicting many pregnant famous women for everyone to scrutinize and comment upon, it’s clear that people look at it to yet again to judge their bodies -- extra points if you still look skinny with a bump, ladies!
This has been a learning experience in so-called entertainment media for me. Has society inflicted such a vast negative impact on women’s personal body image that the only thing left to do is shame the bodies of the famous? When did this become commonplace and why on earth do women want to read articles dragging other women down? I think it’s time to boycott this sensationalist and harmful form of media before it becomes even more serious (as hard as it is to believe that it even could).
More articles in WMC FBomb by Category: Body image and body standards, Feminism, Media, Misogyny
More articles in WMC FBomb by Tag: Activism and advocacy, News, Gender bias, Social media, Advertising, Sexism