Appearance over Abilities: The Regressive Psyche of the Newsroom

Since the birth of modern feminism in the 19th century, women have striven to obtain equal rights as men. Despite our immersion in what is called the third wave of feminism, women continue to be discriminated against in many fields of life.

Gender disparity can be seen prominently in the workforce, and in particular the media arena. A recent study in the US, which analysed the balance of gender in American public radio and television, revealed that women, despite constituting 51% of the population, are severely underrepresented in all newsroom roles – from hosting positions to leadership capacities.

These figures, although varying slightly depending on the country, are predominantly synonymous with the global media stage. Women are simply not as present in the industry compared to men. Why? A recent NiemanReports study suggested a few potential reasons: Women are too weak. Women are too brusque. Women are more family-orientated.

The dissemination of these stereotypical scripts has often created a negative stigma regarding women in the media workforce.

As a woman on the cusp of a journalistic career, I am undoubtedly concerned with how, especially, I will manage both a family and career in the years to come. Will I be fired if I choose to “opt out” and have children? Furthermore, will I be discriminated against if I continue to work for as long as possible during a pregnancy?

Facing discrimination for pursuing a natural process of life may be considered ludicrous, and is most definitely illegal in the workplace, but the truth is – it is happening. Only last month, Global B.C. weather reporter, Kristi Gordon, disclosed on air the vast amounts of hate mail she has been receiving regarding her appearance. Gordon is six months pregnant with her second child, and has received comments about her maternity wear such as:

“Nowhere on North American TV have we seen a weather reader so gross as you.”

This astonishing example perpetuates a larger problem of double standards inherent to the global media industry. Women in the media workforce face much more pressure than men when it comes to their appearance, a follow-up article on the story exposed. They are regularly attacked on the basis of their hairstyles and clothing choices.

“I’ve been told I’m bad at my job because of the way my hair looks,” Global Edmonton news anchor Quinn Ohler admitted.

In any workplace, no matter the arena, I believe ability should always be considered more highly than appearance. It is dispiriting that we live in a society that values hairstyles and brand choices over journalistic integrity and talent. Clearly, we have a long way to go to bridge the gender gap and place women on equal standing with men, especially in the newsroom and media industry.

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Dogs are Pets; Chickens are Dinner; and Cockroaches Should Be Killed

The Paradox in Our Animal Affections

There is one aspect of moving house that can make anyone consider packing up before even taking a step through the front door: creepy, crawly cockroaches. We’ve all encountered it: the all-too-familiar experience of wielding a variety of household utensils in a vain attempt to vanquish the winged creatures. The majority of us, myself included, feel a great sense of relief in exterminating these critters from the home.
cockroach

It may then come a surprise to realise cockroaches have dynamic personalities. Roaches exhibit sociability and bravery, and are known for their, “affinity for protection and groups.” However, with the smack of a shoe, we have the power to take this all away.

There is hypocrisy in our treatment of animals. As Rob Sharpe from the Independent says, “as a society, we cage and consume some animals, but treat others like valued members of our families.” We would never handle our household pets as we do cockroaches.

This in an example of animal speciesism: discrimination based on membership in a different species. Cases of speciesism are rampant in everyday life. In the Southern Highlands of NSW, only 50 minutes from Wollongong, you can find Dogue Country Retreat, a luxury boarding house for dogs where the ‘guests’ can enjoy, “divinely designed sleeping suites,” “day spas,” and “evening entertainment…including watching reruns of Lassie.”

A 'dogue' enjoys a full body massage at the Country Retreat

A ‘dogue’ enjoys a full body massage at the Country Retreat

Now I’m not saying we should open a holiday resort for cockroaches, but this example highlights the paradox in our treatment of animals – an inconsistency that may have a deeper psychological explanation.

According to the BBC Ethics Guide, organisms are classed in a moral hierarchy in which sentient organisms that are aware of their own existence deserve more moral consideration than organisms that lack this self-awareness. In turn, this may inherently affect our judgement on an animal’s likeability and potentially its right to live.

On a more basic level, our preference for certain species may simply boil down to a subconscious choice. Psychologist Hal Herzog concludes in his book, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat:

“The arguments over many moral judgements, which take place in the subconscious, are much like whether or not we like a painting. You instinctively decide whether you like it. These things can’t be explained by logic.”

Whether an answer to this paradox lies in a subconscious decision or our active discrimination, there is no doubt we are inconsistent in our treatment of animals. In turn, this may underpin our tolerance to their suffering, and ultimately our choices: squash or save?

Images sourced from: http://www.sydneyweekender.com.au/images/episodes/ep7/Dogue/SEG2%20-%2010.jpg http://global3.memecdn.com/cockroaches_o_1048929.jpg

The Financial Industry of Suffering

Faced by a plethora of media and news channels that routinely disseminate images of war, famine and disease, it is often argued that the media is directly responsible for desensitising the population to violence and suffering. The development of ‘poverty porn’ reveals an active attempt by the media to exploit human suffering.

Poverty porn is defined as any type of media that exploits the representation of poverty and lack of material resources in order to generate a strong emotional response from the viewer, often for financial gain.

Empathy is an important concept in this discussion. Poverty porn is utilised by many humanitarian aid organizations who ‘pull on our heartstrings,’ manipulating our emotions with images intended to generate an empathetic response, which in turn encourages us to donate to their cause.

Sarcastic Poverty Porn

Satirical news organisation ‘The Onion’ makes a comment on the financial industry of poverty porn

While there are organisations and companies around the world who may use this exploitation for honourable ends (which in itself holds a level of irony), there are others who have ‘exploited the exploited’ for far less honourable means.

A CNN ‘Keep Them Honest’ report published in 2014 revealed that the Joseph Indian School in South Dakota annually sends up to 30 million forged letters to homes across America as their own form of poverty porn. These letters are written by the Native American students of the school who, in their correspondences, plead for help and money, often to escape an abusive father or a drug-addicted mother amongst a host of other scenarios.

When CNN approached the school late last year, they discovered the children who had supposedly ‘written’ the letters did not exist. The school received over $51 million in total donations in 2014 from this elaborate marketing ploy. While the money is being used to support the students, many members of the public and local community are outraged by the means of its acquisition.

At the core of the condemnation is the claim that these fake pleas propagate stereotypes and turn a proud people, in this case Native Americans, into a charity case. Is such exploitation acceptable in this, or any scenario? As the Huffington Post writes: “ Is the profitability of poverty porn worth the perpetuation of false ideologies and stereotypes?” Sure, there may be more honest means of raising money for and awareness of an issue. However, as aid is ultimately a financial industry, the sad truth is that this honesty may not be as effective. ‘Recognisable’ suffering is what we, as the audience, have come to know through poverty porn and it is to this suffering we are perhaps most likely to respond.

Image sourced from http://www.theonion.com/articles/for-only-5-per-month-you-can-help-continue-photogr,10457/ 

But First, Let Me Take a Historical Selfie

While there is a general consensus that the selfie, in all its duck-faced glory, displays the narcisstic, self-indulged tendencies of today’s youth, there is no denying the significant impact this new genre of ‘art’ is having on photography and meaning itself.

Jerry Saltz describes how the #selfiemovement is changing the way in which we communicate. Selfies provide instant visual communication and imply, “control as well as the presence of performing, self-criticality and irony.” Selfies are an intrinsic part of creating a digital avatar- the ‘virtu-real’ you.

A relatively new selfie-nomenon is what we will call in this blog the ‘historical selfie’: there are scores of selfies taken at heritage sites of historical significance around the world. Some of these selfies are causing controversy, in particular those taken at sensitive locations such as Auschwitz and the 9/11 memorial in New York. These selfies are seen by many to violate the solemnity and respectful memory inherent to these sites.

Selfie at the 9/11 memorial- New York

Selfie at the 9/11 memorial- New York

However, we cannot always be so quick to judge the nature of these photos as disrespectful. Thomas P Thurnell conducted a study in 2009 on youth visiting Auschwitz. His findings displayed that every person who took a photo at the camp did not have a desire to convert the site into a spectacle, but rather to create a meaningful documentation of their personal experience.

As such, perhaps these selfies convey an attempt to connect time and historical significance in a process of place-making, as Elizabeth Losh writes, allowing the sense of a place to be constructed around a tourist’s personal context and insights.

A perfect example of selfies having the ability to encapsulate such profound meaning can be found on the Tumblr blog Selfies at Serious Places. In line with the name, here selfies from ‘serious’ locations around the world are published; however the artists are given the opportunity to explain the meaning behind their photos.

One photo, taken by Jake Fletcher, shows Jake standing; mouth agape, in front of the Chernobyl reactor in Ukraine.

Jake's selfie at Chernobyl

Jake’s selfie at Chernobyl

It was here in 1986 that a catastrophic nuclear accident occurred, with the ensuing contamination affecting an estimated 500,000 workers. Jake’s caption reveals a more meaningful evolution of selfies.

That expression on my face is meant to be shock, not some vacuous, feeble attempt at narcissistic irony… I hope that some people will now think about images like mine for just a bit longer before bemoaning that they show society’s failures laid bare before them.

Jake’s profound comments demonstrate that we cannot so easily dismiss the selfie as an act of narcissistic self-affirmation in a digital world dictated by a currency of likes.