FEMFACTS
20 Dec 2018

Sexist headlines -- holiday edition

It’s no mystery that sexism seeps its way into all areas of culture and society, especially during the holiday season. From children’s toys to Christmas adverts, ‘tis the season for love and patriarchy.

Lydia Morrish
Lydia Morrish NewsMavens, United Kingdom
Sexist headlines -- holiday edition - NewsMavens
Paparazzi, PixaBay

When it comes to some media coverage, sexism can be insidious and subtle. While we cannot always instantly detect a dose of sexism in a headline, the way women and men are treated by the caption intended to capture your attention varies drastically.

In an area of the press that does this most explicitly on closer inspection is tabloids and celebrity sections. Showbiz headlines about men's appearances are much more rare than about those of women's. When men are included in these sections of tabloid newspapers, the content is more about what they do than what they wear.

To understand how men and women are described in headlines during the time of festive parties and star-studded jollies, we did some comparisons.

What would the headlines would look like if we swapped those written about women with those written about men?

Jason Momoa looks angelic in white as he leads Jingle Bell Ball red carpet arrivals

Cheryl Cole suits up at a Sydney fan event for her new blockbuster Aquaman

Real:

Cheryl Cole looks angelic in white as he leads Jingle Bell Ball red carpet arrivals  

Jason Momoa suits up at a Sydney fan event for his new blockbuster Aquaman... and gives a nod to his Hawaiian heritage wearing a flower garland

British popstar Cheryl Cole and Aquaman actor Jason Momoa both made it into the headlines for wearing white outfits to high-profile events. While Momoa was deserving of a positive “suits up” description in the real headline, in the same breath Cole was awarded the complement of looking “angelic”. An attribute rarely used to describe men, it usually presents women as innocent, sexless angels. Meanwhile, Momoa’s new venture, his film, was mentioned in the headline, while Cole’s new album doesn’t get a nod.

Vanessa Hudgens cuts sharp figure in burgundy blazer

David Hasselhoff suits up in plunging black romper

Real:

David Hasselhoff, 66, cuts sharp figure in burgundy blazer as he packs on the PDA with wife Hayley Roberts, 39, at the The Mule premiere in LA 

Vanessa Hudgens suits up in plunging black romper with dramatic sleeves as she promotes rom-com Second Act

The sexism here is much more subtle, but there nonetheless. Hasselhoff is presented in the original headline as “cutting a sharp figure”, meaning he is powerful and rigid, while Hudgens – also wearing a blazer-style outfit, is described in a much more sexual way. While she is indeed wearing clothes with a low neckline, so is Hasselhoff - but the word choice is much more objectifying than how Hasselhoff is described.

Boxer shows off stunning three-stone weight loss

Casey Batchelor wows with slim frame

Real:

Casey Batchelor shows off her stunning three-stone weight loss in a see-through dress

Tyson Fury weight loss: Boxer wows with slim frame at Sports Personality of the Year 2018

It’s the most wonderful time of the year to talk about weight-gain and weight-loss. While Fury “wows” with his weight-loss, Batchelor is “showing off” hers -- while men are applauded for their clothing choices and weight-loss efforts, women are given a choice of wording that presents them as being overly proud and flaunting their bodies.

Amelia Hamlin, 17, steps out in cosy black jacket as she heads to BBC studios

Noel Gallagher flashes midriff in crop top and sweatpants in Beverly Hills

Real:

Noel Gallagher steps out in cosy black jacket as he heads to BBC studios after reducing the asking price on his London mansion by £2.5million

Lisa Rinna's daughter Amelia Hamlin, 17, flashes midriff in crop top and sweatpants in Beverly Hills

The fact that 17-year-old Amelia Hamlin, an actress and model, is featured in the press for her midriff rather than something else she was doing mirrors aptly to how Oasis frontman Noel Gallagher’s clothing is an aside from what he was doing that day -- reducing the asking price on his London mansion, which is far more newsworthy than a teenage girl’s clothing. Both were wearing black clothing, but one was deemed to be more than his appearance.

What a catch! Lauren Silverman poses shirtless in a pair of Speedos as she hunts for lobsters while on holiday in the Caribbean

Kara Orrell’s husband Beau Ryan showcases his perfect beach body in a black one-shoulder swimsuit as he dotes on son, four, on pre-Christmas Barbados holiday

Real:

What a catch! Beau Ryan poses shirtless in a pair of Speedos as he hunts for lobsters while on holiday in the Caribbean

Simon Cowell's girlfriend Lauren Silverman showcases her perfect beach body in a black one-shoulder swimsuit as she dotes on son Eric, four, on pre-Christmas Barbados holiday

Here come the beach shots… The female in question is detailed for her “beach body”, the common gendered phrase used to analyse whether a woman’s body is fit for a bikini or holiday photo, while also being referred to as somebody’s girlfriend. Meanwhile, Beau Ryan, a rugby player, is written about matter-of-factly and about what he was doing that day – simply being shirtless in the Caribbean.

Emily Ratajkowski looks suave in a suit as she hosts her new Adidas collaboration launch with the British Fashion Council

David Beckham puts long, lean legs on display while showing off new pair of Adidas running shoes

Real:

Emily Ratajkowski puts long, lean legs on display while showing off new pair of Adidas running shoes

David Beckham looks suave in a suit as he hosts his new Adidas collaboration launch with the British Fashion Council

A clear-cut example of media bias when it comes to men and women is how model and actress Emily Ratajkowski and footballer David Beckham are treated for their affiliations with Adidas. While Ratajkowski is described only for her “long, lean legs”, Beckham’s career move with the sportswear brand is included in the headline.

The most famous example, of course, of such media sexism is the case of Amal and George Clooney. In a repeated high-profile tabloid faux pas, Amal, a human rights lawyer and powerful woman in her own right, is often labelled “George Clooney’s wife”.

In a rebuttal of this common form of sexism, George introduced himself in October to the audience of an event on powerful women in Beverley Hills as “Amal Clooney’s husband”. Amal has also “shut down” reporters for the relentless discussion of her courtroom style, when, really, there’s more interesting things going on in her life. The irony of the headline “George Clooney's wife wows in stunning red suit at Nobel Peace Prize event”, published on the Daily Express website displays this gap in respect for Clooney’s academic achievements, as well as her appearance.

So while tabloids may still be ringing in the cheer with sexist headlines and descriptions of women, people are catching on. Here’s to hoping 2019 will contain less sexism.

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Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

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