Why No Grey Haired Women Reading the News?

Some recent research from the University of Worcester concludes that female newsreaders are chosen for their looks and have to work hard to maintain their ‘attractiveness’ (I suspect my definition of ‘attractiveness’ would differ from the media’s) if they want to remain in a job in front of the camera. The researchers also make that point that women who are’ beautied up’ (my term) are taken less seriously. I don’t think the conclusions of the Worcester research will come as a huge surprise to many of us, but it’s grist to the mill to those of us who have been campaigning for an end to ageist behaviour. (see In Praise of Older Women)

Here’s an extract from the report:

Because women are generally not accustomed to staying on much after the age of 50 there is a feeling women do not want to” (industry interview). A former BBC senior editor (male) said:“You may get a woman who goes off because she says she’s made to feel she can go no further. Has she been told this or does she feel this herself?”

It is hard for women to single-handedly challenge these dominant discourses and so, rather depressingly, some women choose not to try.

And they conclude:

…we argue that the way female newsreaders are presented, supports and reinforces patriarchal norms and specific discourses of gender, despite the advances made by feminism in the 20the 20th and 21 st centuries. They also reinforce the dominant (male) discourses of beauty which provides limited role models for women.The pressure on female newsreaders to look physically attractive and young is part of the wider patriarchal power structures that dominate our society, as well as media organisations. We wonder, therefore, whether we will ever see a woman with grey hair reading the news.

While it makes for a depressing read I do find it heartening that barely a month goes by now without some serious piece of research emerging which clearly shows that women are disadvantaged when it comes to senior roles, and influential roles in society. Pregnancy is still an enormous setback to a woman’s career, largely because we still view childcare as a women’s role and have not set up the world of work to accommodate this most basic of human activities.

By the way, the report also makes mention of Miriam O’Reilly and her successful case against the BBC for ageism. I have an interview with Miriam O’Reilly here which I think you’ll find interesting.

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Photograph: Ian West/PA

Posted on May 16th, 2012 by

2 Responses to “Why No Grey Haired Women Reading the News?”

  1. Hi Jane, having just received your newsletter, I read this blog post with interest. I share your irritation with how women of a certain age are viewed and woe betide anyone who tries to write me off so soon! But depressingly I have even heard my friends and peer group tell me they are “too old” to try something new or feel that their spark has gone now that they are in their 40s. “Nonsense!” is my response. I don’t know about you but I’m only just getting started … 🙂
    Thanks for a great post, Sarah

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