Prehistoric: an analysis of Femail

// 19 July 2012

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A screenshot from the Daily Mail website, with the headline, This is a guest post by April Pardoe. April can be found on Twitter @pinkladyapril.

Just before the Wimbledon Men’s Final, the Mail on Sunday completely erased a British woman’s achievements from history – namely Virginia Wade – by saying that this was the first time in 74 years that a British person had reached a Wimbledon final. Further research has revealed that they also ignored winners (male and female) in the Doubles tournament.

This was the impetus for writing this piece and I wanted to attempt to analyse how the Daily Mail represents women. Because of this, I have focussed on the Femail section of the website.

The Femail section of the paper is specifically aimed at women and yet it seems to use every opportunity to put us down and dismiss us as unimportant and insignificant, not to mention incapable of making any rational decisions!

I think these are supposed to be stories aimed at women, but I’m a 36 year old married, working, mother of one pre-teen daughter, white, middle class woman – probably slap bang in the middle of Femail’s target demographic. And I’m sorry but they really do not float my boat.

The front cover from the Daily Mail Cookery Book from 1919 As I scroll down the webpage a random selection of articles catch my eye…

Today’s (Saturday 14th July) top story is an article about Marie Helvin still being sexy at 60 – good for her but not particularly interesting – I don’t care that she still wears bikinis and has 3 boyfriends. Then there is a typically sensationalist story about the life and death of Eva Rausing in which she is described as “fragile” and “friend of Prince Charles” – gossipy in tone and probably exaggerated.

Then we have the seemingly obligatory daily article about Fifty Shades, with the twist this time that an “enterprising hotel owner” is replacing Gideon’s bibles with copies of this trashy novel. Well, the less said about that the better – although it seems more than a little hypocritical for Femail to describe him as “enterprising” when further down the page they are horrified that teenage girls are reading the same book behind their parents backs. So what? I think I was 13 when I first “borrowed” a copy of My Secret Garden and that was far more enlightening and informative than Fifty Shades!!

Further down another headline catches my eye – “How does a man cope when his wife won’t stop breastfeeding”. What a shame for these poor, neglected husbands that their wives are putting their children’s needs first! Breastfeeding is best for babies and recommended by the WHO until at least 2 years of age. These men seem to have a problem with women breastfeeding past six months, as if this means they will still be doing it when the children are 16! There follows the usual nonsense about it being inappropriate and obscene to feed older babies and toddlers in public. One of the primary functions of breasts is to feed and nurture our young – not to be ogled and fondled or to be public property for men to pass comment on. The total hypocrisy of Femail is compounded by running a feature alongside this one asking if you can fake the perfect cleavage!

In terms of some of Femail’s women writers (Liz Jones and Samantha Brick for example) they are not representative of ordinary women and certainly neither of them speak for or to me. I am not going to start putting them down, although for the record I don’t like what either of them has to say. I do think that they are manipulated and used by the Daily Mail to push forward its sexist, misogynistic and outdated views about women and our place in the pre-historic world Daily Mail is trying to protect.

I think that is appalling and highlights how little the Daily Mail values the contribution of women in society. It seems to me that they would prefer if we all just meekly headed back to the kitchen and started to bring our children up properly, submitting to our husband’s wishes.

[The first image is courtesy of Peter Diapre. The second is by Maurice Michael]

Comments From You

Sarah // Posted 19 July 2012 at 10:36 am

Women are one group in a long list that the DM deems as something to belittle and handle at arms length. I think if you whittled the world down to the DM’s ideal human being you’d be left with a population of one…

Ms Papps // Posted 19 July 2012 at 10:38 am

Totally agree with this article. The Daily Mail is indeed determined to represent women as secondary in all things.

One observation: if so many women, including myself and many of my friends and colleagues, are reading or have read the ‘Fifty Shades’ series, is it not more interesting to research and find out why they seem to have so much appeal, rather than to simply dismiss the books as ‘trashy’ and closing any alternative viewpoints down, ‘Well, the less said about that, the better…’? It is too easy to be dismissive of things that have mass appeal and as feminists, I believe we should want to better understand women better. Surely history has shown us that to not listen is to not understand.

Alasdair // Posted 19 July 2012 at 12:37 pm

What I find most pathetic about the Mail (its website, at least) is the vast amount of space it devotes to pictures of female celebrities and judging them on their appearance. When a famous woman appears in the Mail, it’s a safe bet the story will not focus on her achievements but on how she looks and what she’s wearing. And if she dares to look anything less than a perfectly airbrushed supermodel at all times, you can be sure they’ll trash her for it.

The Mail is hardly alone in that – all celebrity magazines are pretty much the same – and you can argue they’re just giving their readers what they want. But that would be to ignore their malign influence as a major enforcer of cultural beauty standards.

S // Posted 19 July 2012 at 6:30 pm

I don’t have anything useful to add, but in Citizenship in school we were talking about the media and how it portrays stuff. We looked at the Daily Mail and ended with a Venn diagram being drawn on the board explaining how they see the world. None of the circles overlapped. They were… big circle: Our readers (racist men), slightly smaller circle: women, tiny circle: Muslims

Alex_T // Posted 19 July 2012 at 7:44 pm

Spot on, although I’d go so far as to say that feeding infants is the *only* primary function of breasts! I can’t think of any others!

Alasdair // Posted 19 July 2012 at 7:52 pm

S: unfortunately, the Daily Mail has lots of female readers. In fact, it has a higher proportion of female readers (53%) than any other newspaper. This may be the most depressing fact about it.

Clodia // Posted 20 July 2012 at 10:25 am

Unfortunately the Daily Wail does appear to me to promote a “pre-historic” world where men and women knew their place, and there were old fashioned “family values” (has anyone ever defined these?) I too find its images and portrayal of women hypocritical and centred on the superficial and the subservient. Like the author i’m an eduacted white middle class woman with one daughter, now nearly 17, and have just retired after a long career which i pursued before and after her birth, taking only 13 weeks off. But i have never felt that the DM spkoe to me or was relevant to my concerns in any way. I feel a lot of its coverage is designed to stir discontent with any sort of liberal ideas and make readers feel that they want to return to a simpler world. Well you cannot go back to the past, and it wasn’t a good country for women in any case!

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