OF WOMEN IN THE MEDIA - a dedicated website and blog

In the Autumn of 2008 (during the month from 15 October to 15 November) members and friends of the Bristol Fawcett Society with Bristol Feminist Network set out to examine how women were represented or misrepresented in the media – or were they represented at all?   See the box on the left for individual projects - or visit the wonderful new dedicated website for the ongoing project, here.

Among other things, we looked into film, theatre, comedy shows and newsagents in Bristol and analysed newspapers; advertising on the internet; TV for adults and children.  We reported our findings to a full meeting on November 15 at St Werburgh’s Community Hall and exhibited the findings at Windows204 artspace.  We made another presentation of our findings at The Cube on January 26th 2009 as part of IndyMedia’s programme of events.  This event was so popular that there were queues around the block, and not all those who wanted to attend could get in.  In February 2009 we reported our findings to the Women's section of the National Union of Journalists (which Katharine Whitehorn talked about on Radio 4) and later presented to the full NUJ conference.  In March 2009, we returned to Windows204 artspace for a week of displays, talks, activities and workshops.  Some of our headline findings from 2008 are presented below.

In 2009 we repeated the month long data gathering project and shared our findings at the Malcolm X Centre in November as well as at The Cube in January.  We went on to share our findings at Bristol's International Women's Day celebrations, and at the conference to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Women's Liberation Movement in March 2010.

Subjects put under our scrutiny (or gaze…) this year included the representation of Black and Minority ethnic Women in newspapers; the representation of women in newspaper sports pages; photographs of women in Sunday newspapers; images of women in women’s magazines; boys and girls in reading scheme set texts for primary schools; airbrushing; women filmmakers; music videos; lesbian and bisexual women in the media; breakfast radio presenters; boys’ and girls’ toys in the Argos catalogue.

Click here to download the Powerpoint presentation (click Slideshow / View Show: 18 minutes running time) or click here to watch it as a (silent) movie.

Click here to view the 2009 protest against airbrushing.

Get involved! Go to or contact  Visit our events page for forthcoming events.

These are some of the ‘headline’ findings from the 2008 projects:

Relative absence

We were most struck by the relative absence of women from the media at a point in time when there is an assumption of equality between the sexes.

For example:

‘Alternative’ venues in Bristol (where an 'equal' approach was expected, but not found).

  •    Of 28 films showing at the Watershed over the month only 4 were directed by a woman (14%) and there were only 8 female lead characters (28%) (last summer out of 29 films showing across the city on the single day of 13 July, there were NONE directed by a woman)
  •     At the Cube Microplex 1 film out of 19 was directed by a woman (5%) and there was only 1 female lead musician appearing in the 8 gigs on offer (12%)
  •     The Alma Tavern seemed to do much better with all five of their plays that month directed and written by women – untill it was noticed that they were appearing in a Marginalised Writing Showcase (why is half the population featuring so well in the margins?)
  •     The Arnolfini scored best – with 33% of their events and exhibitions featuring women (but this is still marked below equality!)
  •     The  Comedy Box was the worst: there were NO female performers (0%). (It is interesting that when you get a gang of women together of any age and class great wafts of laughter and cackling will regularly punctuate their conversation.  Women certainly make each other laugh). Another report was given on the results of googling ‘women comedians’ which produced a dauntingly misogynist response. (Eg:  ‘as funny as cancer’ ‘too threatening to men’, ‘humour is a masculine thing’, ‘women aren’t funny PHAKT’)

On TV:

Children’s TV. 
  • A day's output from CBeebies was thoroughly analysed and females were found to be seriously under-represented
  • All story narrators were male
  • Only 30% of main characters were female; 70% male.
  • a very clear majority of anchors and presenters were male
Terrestrial TV.
  • an hourly sampling of 5 terrestrial channels showed that you were likely to see
    • a man on screen on 8 out of 10 occasions
    • a woman only 5 out of 10 occasions.
At weekends it was worse: women on appearing their own to an average of 1.3 out of 10  occasions (13%) – while 64% of the time, men appeared on their own.

In newspapers:

  •   Significant bias was found in the representation of women in leadership. In a month of Saturday Guardians pictures and features of women in leadership were relatively rare, even at a time when they were playing a prominent part. On one Saturday there were no images or features on women at all.
  •    An analysis of the Sunday Observer showed similar bias.  No women were pictured at all till page 5 and this woman was hanging on her husband's arm.  The most frequent form of imaging was of 'women without much on' (as the 10 year old daughter of a Fawcett member put it).
  •    In the Observer Sports Monthly 177 men were pictured and only 13 women

Objectification: pressure to be ‘beautiful’, idealised and to be ‘looked at’

Ads on Face Book

               Advertising on sites such as Facebook and Myspace are specifically targeted to be "relevant" to the page user. Screen grabs taken of the ads appearing on the sites of a young researcher and the BFN showed a reiteration of ads for diets, beauty products and shopping. This is how women and women's groups are seen by the media and ad industry, and how women users of this site are encouraged to see themselves.

This kind of pressure was further demonstrated in an analysis of

Magazine covers: in WHSmiths (Broadmead) and Borders (Queen’s Road)

A total of 521 covers picturing people, were counted and analysed according to whether the person was there for their looks (idealised and to be looked at) or for what they did.
  • 291 covers had idealised images (to be looked at) : only 16% were of men, a huge 84% were of women
  • 230 covers showed people for what they did (sports, politics, music etc). The proportions were reversed. 85% were men, a mere 15% women
These findings demonstrate the very real bias still to be found in our culture.  They need serious attention and thought. As Lisa Tickner has put it:

“Representations enter our collective social understandings, constituting our sense of ourselves, the positions we take up in the world, and the possibilities we see for action in it.”

From: “Sexuality and/in Representation,” in Difference: On Representation and Sexuality, ed. Max Almy et al., (New York: The New Museum of  Contemporary Art, 1984),19.

Follow the links, as we post them to this website, to find out more detail.
  • Jenny designed an alternative "Nutz" lads' magazine cover and took part in a guerrilla action in local newsagents.  Watch the footage of the action here, complete with commentary and clips from a local radio feature.  Click "watch in high quality" when you are directed to the YouTube site.
  • Margaret looked at images of women in leadership portrayed in the Saturday Guardian newspaper (document)
  • Natasha investigated the way women working as comedians are talked about online (document)
  • Helen analysed what the children's television channel CBeebies had to say about gender roles (web page).  See also an article in The Guardian from November 2008 by Viv Groskop (document)
  • Charlotte reported on what we see when we switch on the television (Powerpoint slide)
  • Angel looked at the representation of women in Bristol arts venues (document)
  • Sian collected advertisements on social networking sites 'targeted' at her as a young woman (Powerpoint)
  • Lindy and her daughters analysed the Sunday newspapers (RTF document here; Powerpoint here)
some reasons why feminism is still needed…..

On 3rd July 2007, the Bristol Fawcett group undertook an action around representation of women in the media which acted as a 'pilot' for the larger project in 2008. Visit our reports from the 2007 day of action here.