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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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/ 

Chasing the Roos From the Backyard

From the sunburnt centre scarred by the walk of time to pristine beaches that embrace the coastal fringes, Australia seems like a ‘bloody’ great place to live. While our country may lack documented relics of ancient civilisations, the unique and varied natural beauty of Australia is consistently employed by tourism campaigns in a beckoning call to foreigners.

Such stereotypical advertisements demonstrate how we identify ourselves on an international front. And not just as a country, but also as a people. From an outsider’s perspective, this ad suggests that the typical ‘Ostrayan’ is a surfing, beer drinking, camel-riding, laid back larrikin, unfazed by the casual kangaroo in the backyard or a sneaky shark in the pool. We are an open, friendly and accepting people. It is little wonder that many international students are attracted by the idea of an education in Australia in exchange for the promise of permanent residency in the land of the fair dinkum.

And yet, a recent SBS documentary, A Convenient Education, reveals that life in Australia for international students is a “far cry from the perceived wonderland” promoted in tourism campaigns. Exploitation in the workplace and housing sectors, safety and security concerns and visa issues are highlighted as common difficulties faced by foreign students. As if the language barrier wasn’t enough. Furthermore, findings from a transnational project designed to enhance the Australian experience for international students demonstrated that despite “images of the bushman and Crocodile Dundee…dominating impressions of who Australians are”, many students felt as if Australians did not want to know them and made little effort to understand their culture and countries of origin (Kell, Vogl 2007).

Exacerbated by the racial controversy following a series of attacks on Indian students in 2009, the image of Australia as the ‘lucky country’ is no longer in sync with reality, at least not in relation to international education. Resounding consequences of such crises continue to affect tourism, education and trade, and have cost Australia billions of dollars and thousands of jobs, according to the Beyond the Lost Decade report.

For a country which endeavours to present a picturesque view of diversity and multiculturalism coupled with a relaxed lifestyle, it seems as if the way in which we are perceived by the rest of the world has strayed from the true ‘Straya. In a world of interconnectedness and interdependence promoted by globalisation, we need to seriously consider how we both identify and present ourselves as a country and a people. We are, after all, pitching to a global audience. We need to ensure that our promises align with reality, and that international students and in fact any foreigners, feel as if they are getting a fair shake of the sauce bottle.

A Family Just Like Yours

“I’m a cool dad, that’s my thang. I’m hip, I surf the web, I text. LOL: laugh out loud, OMG: oh my god, WTF: why the face” (Episode 1.1).

Phil Dunphy- the quintessential dad. We can all relate to the embarrassing puns, the cringe worthy attempts to connect with our generation. I will never forget one particular day when my dad collected me from school- the car pulled in, the window rolled down and a high pitched parody of Regina George’s line from Mean Girls was heard “Get in loser, we’re going shopping!”  A classic dad moment.

Modern Family. Fast becoming one of the most popular series of primetime television, the ‘mockumentary’ style comedy explores the stories of three unique ‘modern-day’ families.

The show humorously handles several significant issues including race, sexuality and gender roles. However, the stereotypical characters have caused debate within the public sphere (defined by A Mckee in The Public Sphere: An Introduction as the “virtual space where citizens exchange ideas and discuss issues”) due to their alleged misrepresentation. Michelle Haimhoff criticised the show in The Christian Science Monitor for being “sexist” and “unrealistic” in presenting women such as Claire as “stay at home” mums while their husbands are successful businessmen.

Rock on- The 'traditional family'- who are you?

Which character are you in the ‘modern family?’

Furthermore the lack of physical affection displayed by the gay couple, Cameron and Mitchell, in season one sparked a Facebook campaign demanding that the two be allowed to kiss, the ensuing episode “the Kiss” drawing praise from many critics.

Despite these criticisms, the key to the success of Modern Family may actually lie in the depiction of these stereotypical personas and family models, as EVERYONE can relate to a certain aspect of the show. Whether, like me, it’s Phil Dunphy as your dad or the sibling rivalry between Hayley and Alex, it is this sense of familiarity that causes most members of the public sphere to look past the criticisms and see the show for its true comedic value.

Picture sourced from: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/review/tv/modern-family-20100519-vdgs.html