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UK television guilty of ‘ingrained, low-level sexism’

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What's been called “the most comprehensive study of on-screen sexism” ever undertaken has revealed an average of five sexist incidents per hour are broadcast on UK television during prime-time, and – quelle surprise – is usually directed at women.

In today's depressing-but-not-particularly-surprising news, researchers, commissioned by Channel 4, studied 500 hours of television and found that 72 per cent of the sexism across all programme genres was aimed at women, with comedy named and shamed as the worst offender.

Additionally, twice as many men than women appear on TV in the first place and the disparity increased with age – between 40 and 50, men made up 70 per cent of the category, rising to 75 per cent of screen time in the over-50 group.

scales inequality

Always a fun game

Sexism was identified by the team as objectification, the dismissal of someone's views based on gender and gender-specific insults, and appeared most often in comedy, entertainment and films.

The findings were made public as part of a Channel 4 conference on diversity in media, and examples of sexism included a presenter commenting on a female contestant's appearance, saying, “Darling, don’t you look beautiful? They’re all at home thinking ‘she’s a bit of all right’. You look gorgeous.”

Another example given was a female member of the British bobsleigh team being asked about going on a “girls' night out” with teammates, in contrast to a male guest on the same show being asked about his sport.

The study used programmes shown between 7pm and 11pm on BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky 1 over three months in 2015. Sport was the worst genre in terms of equal representation,with just 2 per cent of presenters, pundits and guests being women.

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TV: it's not for you

Channel 4 diversity executive Oona King concluded that insidious, “ingrained” sexism is still a huge problem in television, and likened it to “low-level racism”.

“Television is still awash with low-level sexism and it’s so ingrained we don’t really notice or remark upon it,” she said. “We are trapped a little bit in the mindset where black people were in the 1960s. In the seventies, The Black and White Minstrel Show was OK.

“We hope that at Channel 4 today, low-level, everyday sexism is as bad as low-level racism and we wouldn’t go along with that.”

Women in television have often spoken out on sexism and ageism in the industry. Presenter Gabby Logan, one of the few high-profile women in sports TV, said in 2013 that she'd been told she was “too glamourous” by a boss at the BBC.

“[He] once told me that I was too glamorous and pointed to my high-heeled boots. I said, ‘I’ve just come from a radio show, it’s what I wear’. He said, ‘You don’t wear them when you do the dishes, do you?’”

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Gabby Logan promoting ITV's Euro 2004 coverage

The Channel 4 study identified news and soaps as programme genres where women had a slight majority when it came to major roles (59 per cent for news and 55 per cent for soaps) while the split in roles overall in soaps was about equal.

King also addressed the “sexual objectification” of men, but stressed it was to be understood in the context of the sexism women have been subjected to for centuries.

“There is a growing amount of sexual objectification of men but you’ve got to remember the context in which that takes place – the 500 years of patriarchy towards women and the impact on men and their careers.

“When a man does a scene like that, it doesn’t put him in a box they can’t get out of. You find often that when a woman comes across like that then she is labelled – ‘she’s got her kit off, she’s that type of woman’. So overall the increasing objectification we have, partly because of our celebrity culture, impacts women worse than men.”

While sexism perhaps isn't as blatant as in decades past, King pointed out: “There is no doubt that, albeit at a low level, these sexist incidents are contributing to the perpetuation of sexism in the real world.”

Progress, eh.

Images: Rex Features / Thinkstock

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