Women on TV: Sexism is still front and centre

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It seems the fairer sex has been making too much noise again, protesting unceremonious dismissals instead of concentrating on smoothing out our wrinkles and fixing our lipstick. It’s not enough that to have a career in television we can’t get too fat, too thin, have too many opinions or children, now we can’t get old either.

Michael Buerk, the BBC broadcaster who presents Radio 4’s The Moral Maze, stated in an interview with the Radio Times that female television presenters shouldn’t claim they were victims of ageism if they are fired, going on to say that if you’re hired on appearance then you shouldn’t complain about losing the job along with your looks.

A double standard

He got one part right. These women shouldn’t cry ageism. They should cry sexism. Women like ex-Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly weren’t dismissed just because of the number of candles on their cake. They were fired because all those candles were pink. It trivialises it to call it ageism – this is sexism plain and simple.

If TV bosses were truly, to use Buerk’s own word, ‘pruning’ away the old, dead leaves to make way for shiny, juicy new fruit then they would be targeting male presenters too. But they’re not. Bruce Forsyth has been tottering around on ours screens for years after his best before date, with his terrible jokes and scarce dance knowledge.

Was he fired? Asked to step aside? No, he was allowed to retire at his own pace and it’s somehow a national TV tragedy. Frankly I’m relieved.

But it just reveals the double standard that TV executives have tried to dress up as “ageist” to hide the misogyny which underlies all these cases, which in all probability, wouldn’t have happened if the presenters in question had been men.

When men get old, they look “distinguished” with glossed over “laughter lines,” but when it’s a woman she’s “haggard” with every crease and crinkle zoomed in on and scrutinized as yet another sign that she should be at home knitting instead of on TV.

A missing element

But why are we still being hired on how we look? I’m not auditioning to be a Playboy Bunny, so why should the perkiness of my breasts even be in question?

We’re fighting over 2000 years of women being judged on appearance, centuries of sitting quietly while the menfolk deal with the important jobs. And look how well they’ve done at that. It’s an uphill battle in which we are slowly, slowly gaining ground.

But each comment from anyone still staring at the newsreader’s skirt rather than listening to what she’s saying, anyone who thinks mandatory female places on panel shows are a bad idea, anyone who thinks we should shut up and put up when we get unfairly fired, is just finding another way to force us back, to the bottom of the pile where we can’t threaten men anymore.

But no matter what Mr Buerk and his ilk might say, we are returning to fight with every weapon we can fashion from those kitchen utensils you are so keen for us to use, with our tribunals and protests, until we can teach both our daughters and our sons that equality really does exist.

What do you think about Michael Buerk’s remarks? Have your say in the comments section below.

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Passionate about music, theatre, books and fashion, I am an MA Journalism student at Sheffield University and I want to share the things I love with other people.