Ruth Cadbury MP chairs discussion of women’s representation in the media at the House of Commons

Journalists, academics and business people joined Ruth Cadbury MP at the House of Commons to discuss current representations of women in the media, the challenges and changes needed to gain impact and set a positive tone in society on how women are portrayed.

Posted: 8 December 2016

image for news story Ruth Cadbury MP chairs discussion of women’s representation in the media at the House of Commons
Dr Jannine Williams, from the University of Bradford, addresses attendees in the Jubilee Room at the House of Commons

This is the seventh seminar of the series and was held at the House of Commons, hosted by Dr Jannine Williams from University of Bradford. It sparked debate, questioning the ways in which women are portrayed in the media, the powers that make these decisions, and what needs to change to create a shift in these representations.

Dr Simon Hodgson, Managing Partner of Carnstone Partners LLP and Chair, Media CSR Forum spoke about the Mirrors of Movers report, and noted how 'the media sector's footprint may be modest, but its 'brainprint' is enormous.' This set the tone for the discussion on how much of an impact the media has in what the public thinks about a particular issue.

Barbara Goven, CEO of Screenhouse Production, noted that bad habits carried over from years previous are hampering efforts to highlight women's achievements. Journalists, in particular males, are reaching for the same list of contacts, rather than seeking out new commentators that are women. She also highlighted a number of occasions in recent times, where males have been shown in the media to be achieving things that women did many years ago. This included that Tim Peak wasn't actually the first British Astronaut; Dr Helen Sharman was in 1991, however this was rarely mentioned in the coverage. Ms Goven discussed the idea that women will quite often say they aren't the best person to comment on a particular issue, whereas men would never say that. An attitude that needs to change to ensure they achieve equal footing against male counterparts.

Katie Hind, a freelance journalist and member of the Women in Journalism Committee spoke about her experience working in an industry where any effort to introduce women and their achievements was often overshadowed by male journalists focusing on their clothing and bodies.

Professor Mavin chaired a discussion at the end of the event where some interesting points were raised, these included:

  • Include men in the discussion, and ask them to refuse to appear on an all-male panel. Be this on television, at an event or in the workplace.
  • With social media as popular as it is with children and young women, how do encourage teenagers to work hard and pursue a profession, rather than aspire to be a YouTuber, or reality TV star? Or should we encourage young women to do what makes them happy, regardless of what that is?
  • How do we support young women's self-esteem when they are constantly confronted with images of celebrities and their quests for the 'perfect body'?
  • How much of the problem is women criticizing other women? We shouldn't judge others aspirations, or put them down for choosing a different path to us.
  • It isn't about fixing women, we need to tackle culture and classes. If you don't have anything else (an education, a profession, backing of a supportive family) you are likely to use your body to get attention and earn a living.

Professor Sharon Mavin, Head of Roehampton Business School, and Professor Carole Elliott also of the Business School, are part of a collaborative project titled 'Challenging Gendered Media Mis(s)representations of Women Professionals and Leaders' that includes professors from Lancaster University and University of Bradford. The project is funded by the ESRC.

The final seminar will be held in June 2017, for more information please click here.

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