Representations of Women in Media – back for 2009

// 12 November 2009

The F Word reviewer and commenter, Sian Norris, tells us about an exciting upcoming West Country project …

The Representations of Women in the Media Project was set up three years ago by the Bristol Fawcett Society, who spent a day in June 2007 collecting evidence exploring representation, from the number of films showing in the local cinemas that were directed by a woman (none) to how many pictures in the newspapers were of men and women (twice as many of men). The project grew in 2008 when, joining forces with Bristol Feminist Network, the two organisations decided to take a snapshot of how women are represented in the media over a month long period, between October and November.

The results were shocking.

We counted how many women performers, artists and directors were featuring in Bristol’s “alternative” venues. In one arts cinema, out of 28 films on show only 4 were directed by women, whilst a second arts cinema and gig venue had 1 woman directed film out of 19 films in total. Comedy also showed its exclusive side, in one month a local alternative comedy venue had no female comedians performing.

One mother watched Cbeebies over a day, to find that none of the stories told on the channel that day had a female narrator. Character representation didn’t do well either, whilst 70% of the characters on the Cbeebies shows that day being male, only 30% were female. Regular TV was no better; one volunteer recorded who was appearing on her screen as she switched it on throughout the day. Whereas a woman appeared on the screen 5 out of 10 times, men were present 8 out of 10 times.

Objectification was another issue we wanted to explore. We spent an afternoon flyering lad’s mags in city centre newsagents to try and discover how normalised pornographic imagery is in society, making a film to try and explore creatively how women are objectified. We counted magazine covers to discover the percentage of idealised women and men, and active men and women. 85% of magazine covers in WhSmiths and Borders showed idealised women, 15% of idealised men. And, in an uncanny reversal, 85% of covers on display showed active men whilst only 15% showed active women.


This November we are doing it all over again, and we’re getting even bigger! We’re looking at airbrushing in magazines, and how minority ethnic women are represented. We’re exploring how queer women are represented, women adverts, gender stereotyping in children’s media, gender of storytelling in films. We’re finding out how often women appear on comedy panel shows, checking how domestic violence and rape is reported in the news, and much more.

Our research is based around counting and stats, but it is also based on creativity, exploring how we feel and experience representation in the media and expressing how we want to be represented. We know that our research may not be scientific, but it creates a snapshot of how women are experienced through the media today, and offers examples of how women appear across the media. Our evidence testifies that, contrary to popular belief, women do not have equality of representation in the media.

Bristol Feminist Network and Bristol Fawcett Society will be presenting the project findings at the Malcolm X Centre, Bristol, on the 28th November. We are setting up at midday and the talks will begin around 3pm. Please keep checking Representations of Women in the Media Project> for further info.

Comments From You

maggie // Posted 12 November 2009 at 11:52 am

well done on this. Its very hard to get through to some people and well done for not losing your rag! I think I would of got fustrated and very angry! Bristol seems a cool place.

Lara // Posted 12 November 2009 at 12:24 pm

Will you be putting together a report? I think a lot of media journalists might be interested in covering it.

sianmarie // Posted 12 November 2009 at 1:37 pm

if you’re interested in getting invovled but don’t knwo where to start, and are in Bristol this saturday (14th) at 10pm [ed – this should say 10am!] we will be meeting to protest against airbrushing. we are meeting at 10am outside the tesc metro in broadmead, opposite the galleries. wear black, and we can provide all the other equipment you will need!


debi // Posted 12 November 2009 at 2:23 pm

go BFN! see you on the 28th xxx

Amy Clare // Posted 12 November 2009 at 2:27 pm

That video is excellent. “Women with beards”?! Priceless.

I had to laugh (in a nearly crying kinda way) when those radio commentators were saying ‘well men find women attractive, and they’ll always look at our bodies, that’s the way things are!’ As though there was nothing attractive about a woman other than her body (as long as her body fits society’s ideal, of course). Sigh.

sianmarie // Posted 12 November 2009 at 4:34 pm

Amy Clare – you wouldn’t believe those radio people, when we did RTN they reported on it and said we were irresponsible and that things were “never going to change”. ugh.

my personal favourite was when they said we were obviously women who had been dumped…and the whole thing that buyingf lad’s mags is a “rite of passage” – just so sad. (i am the woman in the blue hoodie and sunglasses in the video btw).

Lara – yes definitely. we have collated the findings from the last few years which you can see on the bristol fawcett site (linked to in the article) and so far they have been presented to a public audience a the Cube in bristol, and also was picked up by the National Union of Journalists Women’s Conference and the Home Office. I reported on it briefly in the Guardian last year, although that was along with a report on the rise of feminist networks in general.

do you have any good contacts i could get in touch with on the findings?


sianmarie // Posted 12 November 2009 at 4:36 pm

Argh – my brain is fried today. My post about the airbrushing protest should say 10 am. not 10pm. we are meeting at 10am.

Lynne Miles // Posted 12 November 2009 at 4:41 pm

Don’t worry, sianmarie, I’ve changed it for you!

Catherine Redfern // Posted 12 November 2009 at 4:54 pm

This project is brilliant. I have found the previous year’s results really interesting and useful and can’t wait to see this year’s outcome!

earwicga // Posted 12 November 2009 at 5:50 pm

Huge well done to the ‘mother’ who had to suffer cbeebies for a whole day. Definately deserves a medal for that alone!

Laurel Dearing // Posted 12 November 2009 at 7:57 pm

itd be good if the radio managed to fit in one person that understands. its not exactly balanced. none of them looked past their noses to look into it so why even cover the story? its shit

Emily // Posted 12 November 2009 at 9:00 pm

Those people on the radio obviously made no sense.

I wouldn’t mind if their rants weren’t so easy to interpret as privilege, and the women on the radio involved obviously sucking up to that privilege.

So pathetic that these people are so frightened of change, even if it means calling women who march to end violence ‘bearded no- lives’.

If they’re this frightened it can only be a GOOD thing. And we need to keep doing it, in the face of their frightened laughter and privileged upsets.

Ieva // Posted 12 November 2009 at 11:36 pm

Wow, the radio people made me hate this world even more. :/ Why do magazines only have naked women? The only magazines with naked men are ones meant for gay men (or at least that’s what it looks like to me). Why the hell is everything made for men? Not saying that it would be fair if men were objectified in every magazine as well but ffs. How is anything ever going to change if so many people think feminists only object those magazines because they have ”beards and are insecure” or whatever the hell they said ugh.

Liz // Posted 13 November 2009 at 9:12 am

Well done! I am an academic researcher working in the psychosocial impact of having a disfigurement. Unhelpful and biased media reps are rife in that area too and there has been a similar piece of academic research undertaken recently by Cardiff Uni School of Journalism investigating representation of those with disfigurement in the media. Their executive summary can be accessed here. May be helpful when thinking about writing up and sending out your results.

sianmarie // Posted 13 November 2009 at 10:45 am

hi all

thank you for all your support! it is such a great project to be involved in and i really think the evidence we are collecting is strong, and proof of that fact that women are misrepresented in the media, that representation isn’t fair and when women complain it is for a reason and we’re not “making it up”.

in terms of the radio – yes they are really irritating. they reported the story as we had a contact in the news dept who was sympathetic to the cause. jenny (the woman in the vid with long black hair) was invited to take part in a live discussion with a local porn star and laurel you are completely right, when our friend phoned in to the radio station to join the debate she wasn’t put through for over an hour (and only because she kept ringing up to ask why they weren’t phoning her back to let her speak) whereas people who disagreed with jenny and were pro objectification were given air time.

the only thing i will say in favour of it is that at least they reported it so that even if they did it in such a negative way hopefully some people did hear it and thought what we were doing is a good thing. but it is sad to hear these men speaking from such a point of privilege and the woman having to pander to those views because she is part of the “boy’s club”.

as ariel levy says – if you are one of the boys and accepted as one of the boys you will still always be not as good if being a woman is seen as being lesser. (she puts it better than that though!)

sianmarie // Posted 13 November 2009 at 10:50 am

Liz – thanks for the link. are you in touch with the Centre of Appearance Research at UWE? they do a lot of work in disfigurement and the psychological impact.

will look at your link to – thanks!

thebeardedlady // Posted 13 November 2009 at 10:51 am

Go BFN! What a fantastic project.

It might be worth looking at the Glasgow Media School media projects in the 80s – they did a similar thing looking at representations of BME and also news reporting. Their work is probably a bit more scholarly than guerilla. It might be worth looking at their methodology.

That radio clip was awful. I particularly hated the bit where they talked about how feminists ‘should’ have a problem with models, as if it’s the models who have all the power and are perpetuating pornography. Oh, and of course it’s more important that boys have their ‘rite of passage’ than women have their right to be seen as fully human. Obviously. Imagine a world in which boys weren’t inducted into sexism, porn and misogyny from an early age…

(P.s. I have a beard and I am insecure. Big shout out to fat, hairy feminist sisters everywhere. You don’t have to be pretty to be a feminist, or to be hurt by pornography and sexism, and I hope that when refuting the radio commentators’ ridiculous comments, feminists don’t fall into the trap of feeling they have to prove their worth in terms of their attractiveness. Hope that makes sense.)

sianmarie // Posted 13 November 2009 at 11:16 am

beardedlady – totally. completely agree, when anti feminists say things like that i just want to yell “so what? it doesn’t matter if we have a beard, or if we’ve just been “dumped” or if we’re lesbians – none of these things are bad things to be!”

what is important is the objectification and the undermining of women in the media, and beyond, and this is encouraged by people criticising women for how they look etc. what i want is to get to a point where diversity of appearance no longer is an issue, where its celebrated, where people won’t think saying “bearded women” or “looks like a lesbian” is an insult because. none of these things should be used as an insult, because it shouldn’t matter any longer. sadly however we’re not there yet…but one day…

Lynne Miles // Posted 13 November 2009 at 12:16 pm

Hey everyone. Like a total idiot, I forgot to actually credit poor Sian (sianmarie) for writing this guest blog… sorry Sian! I’ve edited the piece now but, anyway… my bad.

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