Sexism sells: Why the British press won’t ditch misogyny

At risk of sounding like a broken record – what on earth is going on with the British press right now? The last few months in particular we’ve seen a tsunami of old school, misogynistic articles hitting the headlines with very little apology or comeuppance. 

And if anyone else, like me, wakes up banging their head against the wall at another sexist comment, you’d think there’d be more conversation around the deep rooted issues lingering in the press and online. But it’s an echo chamber of women expressing their frustrations with no real serious action or significant coverage. 

Research recently conducted by Women in Journalism found 70% of female journalists complain that senior roles are still taken by men, with 74% saying that the workplace culture remains overly macho and intimidating. It is no surprise that female oriented conversations are pushed under the carpet, or simply used as negative click bait. 

It’s 2023, of course women can have it all.

Only a matter of weeks ago, an article published by the BBC about Jacina Ardern’s resignation as Prime Minister carried the headline ‘Can women really have it all?’. 

Unless we’ve pressed a button and been teleported back the 1950s, this headline feels monumentally fucked up. Not only is Ardern an inspirational leader who has managed her country through COVID, a horrific terrorist attack, and a natural disaster – she’s also a leader who has been open, vulnerable and admitted when it’s time to step down to protect her wellbeing. 

This reductive headline poses an unfair question to readers, instantly assuming that because of her role as a woman, as a mother and as a person in a position of power she’s at risk of not being able to do it all. 

The fact is, she did it all. Arguably, better than any other before her. 

Not only did she navigate one of the most difficult periods in her nation’s history, she continuously batted sexist questions away with professionalism and integrity. So why would one of the country’s most influential news outlets lead with such an insulting headline?

Sexism sells.

The optimist in me wants to believe that this article was a common example of unconscious bias and that misogyny is so deeply ingrained into us that this was a case of foolish misunderstanding. The BBC did issue an apology for the headline, but that’s not enough. 

When Angela Rayner was sexualised and compared to Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct back in 2021, the British press regulator received over 5,500 complaints for The Mail on Sunday article alone. Yet here we are a year on with the press in this country making the same mistakes. 

Whether it’s the endless headlines shaming women, or the amount of airtime the press give to the likes of Andrew Tate, the platform for misogynists is alarming. 

Crossing the line

Just before Christmas, an article written by Jeremy Clarkson and published in The Sun caused extreme backlash – and rightly so. His disgraceful comments demonised Meghan Markle so much so that he even suggested violence towards her was an appropriate outcome. Not only did this overstep the mark of sexism, it overstepped the mark of human decency. 

And as you dive deeper into this issue, the answer is clear. There is no unkind accident in all of this. The media are intentionally weaponising and criticising women to earn a quick buck and clickbait. 

This narrative is hurtful, it’s also dangerous too. Recently, the top 10 headlines in The Independent included “Teacher and daughter shot by husband”, “Serial rapist jailed”, “Man arrested over disappearance of 11 year old girl”. 

It’s a vicious circle of violent words, leading to violent behaviours. From where we’re standing (we, being women, feminists and decent human beings) the British press is a breeding ground for hatred. 

Sexism sells, but at what cost?

We all have a part to play in calling out misinformation and prejudiced press articles, but solid regulations and government intervention is what’s really needed to stop this spreading on mass. As a society we shouldn’t put a price tag on hate, as the ultimate cost could be devastating. 

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