Older female newsreaders forced to become 'Stepford Wives' if they want to keep their jobs
Richard Garner has been Education Editor of The Independent for 12 years and writing about the subject for 34 years. Before becoming a journalist, he worked as a disc jockey in London pubs and clubs and for a hospital radio station. His main hobbies are cricket (watching these days) and theatre. On his days off, he is most likelt to be found at Lord’s or the King’s Head Theatre Club.
Wednesday 16 May 2012
Female newsreaders are forced to become like “Stepford Wives” as the grow older if they want to keep their jobs, according to research published yesterday.
They are recruited as “eye candy” for the viewers by broadcasters, the study by researchers at the University of Worcester concluded.
One former ITV producer who spoke to them said Botox injections, teeth whitening and veneers had become common place for female newsreaders.. “It’s like stepford Wives - making everybody look bland,” she said.
However, viewers said they would like to see older women reading the news because they had more “gravitas” - and yearned for the day when a woman with grey hair could be a presenter.
The researchers, journalism lecturer Claire Wolfe and media and cultural studies lecturer Dr Barbara Mitra, delivered 167 questionnaires and conducted in-depth interviews with eight senior broadcasters and producers and 20 viewers (ten men and ten women).
One former male producer at ITV told them: “I can’t imagine any woman who is not good looking or who is fat ever being taken on as a newsreader unless she is the funniest, wittiest person.”
Another senior broadcaster added: “A reporter I worked with who very much wanted to be a presenter knew she wouldn’t because she had a very big conk.” In the end, she had plastic surgery and fulfilled her dream within two months of the operation.
A former BBC newsreader told them that “one chauvinistic male boss ... made no bones about hiring blondes with big tits”.
Another said women signed off their careers when they became pregnant because there was a dislike of “frumpy, mother type figures”.
However, another female BBC broadcaster describes the comments as a “historical legacy”. It would portray male newcasters in a bid light making them “look like a bag of spanners with a woman as a sidekick”.
Most of the viewers, though, said they were unhappy that female newsreaders did not look realistic and thought that news programmes should be challenging stereotypes.
One, Mark, said: “None of them have grey hair ... I don’t think I’ve ever seen a women reading the news with grey hair.”
Sarah added: “An older presenter would be more trustworthy simply because I feel they have more experience in life.”
The research comes against a background where SKy News presenter Kay Burley has spoken out about having an eye lift on her 40th birthday and a facelift for her 50th.
In addition, former Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly successfully took the BBC to an industrial tribunal claiming age discrimination after she became one of four female presenters over 40 who were fired while John Craven, aged 68, was kept on.
The researchers conclude: “The fact that older female newsreaders may be replaced by younger models means that the female newsreaders are generally seen as less credible and less trustworthy than their male counterparts ...
“The lack of women with grey hair, compared with men, is worrying as it supports the trend that women are not allowed to age but have to remain young and physically attractive.
“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.”
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