#85 – Sexism in the modern media sector – A thesis

In the article “A woman’s career in broadcasting,work,employment and society“(Eikhof,Doris,Ruth 2016) which is written from the first-hand experiences of a well-educated and hard working woman in the media industry, there is structural context given to the media field. Film and television workers are 90% freelance workers, while 74% experience unemployment often up to 11 to 29 weeks. This is a result of long working hours of over 11+ hours per day, typically starting wages of low pay and an emphasis on the struggle of there being no direct pathway from education to employment.

The media industry is one of competition, inconsistency in employment and below average starting wages. The clear discrepancy in gender equality is rampant, many industry networks and employers are dominated by middle aged white men and men of middle class backgrounds. The main argument states with many references and statistics that there is a gender bias towards female workers where they are often judged as females rather than professionals. Women, particularly in the television and film industry, are judged on being “youthful” and their “sexy looks” (Eikhof,Doris,Ruth 2016) . The inconsistent work, challenging work hours and geographical mobility are further challenges to women with caring commitments. This emphasis on youthful looks is one leading factor to only 16% of women over the age of 50 working in a media focused industry (Eikhof,Doris,Ruth 2016).

Charlotte, the author of this article provides examples of sexist remarks and advances from male superiors, where the levels of inappropriate behaviour and demeaning situations are shocking . Women also often are faced with choosing between starting a family or having a career. The qualitative aspect to this internal examination of the media industry offered a unique perspective from an individual who had strong voice and ability to describe the massive peaks and valleys facing a woman in the media sector.

In regards to the acting world, male actors garner acclaim, continue to thrive and have access to opportunities for roles that their female colleagues largely do not. The small few exceptions to this being Meryl Streep, Jane Fonda and Helen Mirren, who have each continued their career into their later years. The gender bias relating to female actors being hired on their youthful looks and sex appeal doesn’t appear to have the same importance on male actors who largely continue to work in well written roles often until their deaths.

Notably the likes of Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, etc. have been able to continue their careers into their 70s and 80s while still being nominated for awards and garnered for their roles where it is evident that female performers simply do not have the same opportunities for such roles. Charlotte made evident in her article that the opportunities for women over the age of 35, where the consideration of motherhood forces them to make the abhorrent decision between a career and a family, when generally their male counterparts most likely won’t be made to choose if the topic is even raised with them in the first place (Eikhof,Doris,Ruth 2016). The opportunities are lowered for these women and the inconsistent pay, constant job seeking and geographical relocation further lesson the opportunities for women in media.

The gender bias towards female professionals in the media is evident through male colleagues yet as Charlotte states even a female commissioner referred to her as “too young and pretty to have any authority as an expert” (Eikhof,Doris,Ruth 2016). The sexist remarks that Charlotte claims to have experienced are not a singular event as evident through the #metoomovement that has seen countless amounts of female actors, producers, assistants, etc. share almost identical stories of sexual harassment in the workplace. While this happens to both male and females, the overwhelming percentage is aimed at inappropriate sexual advances towards women. The media industry is clearly one of the most competitive fields of work and the opportunities for stable employment is difficult for any professional, however the statistics and qualitative first-hand information gathered indicates that for a female worker in the industry the changes of a long term career is an almost futile effort until there is industry wide solutions to gender inequality.

Arguments against and a lack of acknowledgement of the unfair bias towards female professionals in the industry hinders any change. The argument outlined is clearly one of disproportionate obstacles facing female media workers opposed to male media workers. The emphasis on networking as part of career advancement is a common theme throughout these findings presented. 78 % of respondents to a Creative skillset survey (2008) attained their recent jobs directly from their employer or a shared contact (Eikhof,Doris,Ruth 2016).

The fact that Charlotte didn’t feel comfortable informing those she worked with that she was pregnant and lining her handbag so she could vomit discreetly, rather being thought she was bulimic than pregnant is a damning indictment on the treatment of female workers in this area. It is clearly more acceptable to have body dysmorphia and conscious of appearing “sexy” or thin rather than starting a family, a thought that to her male equivalents would be inconceivable (Eikhof,Doris,Ruth 2016).. The argument that media is a competitive field but the experience, education or willingness to work long hours and relocate creates a level playing field is absurd.

“A very complicated version of freedom” (Hesmoldhalgh,David & Baker 2010). Offers a further insight into the experiences, emotional responses and working conditions in three cultural industries; Television, Recording and the Magazine industry. Similar issues of concern are raised here surrounding pay, working hours, insecurity and uncertainty in their career.

The issue of non-union, freelance work and unpaid internships is intensifying the competition for getting a foothold in the industry and for those with experience in the industry being overlooked for those willing to work for experience over a salary. Creatives very often have to work extended hours with little or no overtime, working longer hours for less pay. Asking for union rates could cost a person their job or decrease their ability to attain jobs in the future being labelled as difficult to work with or seen as “trouble” (Hesmoldhalgh,David & Baker 2010) in particular for freelance workers. Feelings of isolation despite the constant feeling of being obliged to network and socialise with those you work with or potential employers. Networking is seen as a necessity for freelancers where they have to be friendly under the guise of constantly hunting out the next career opportunity (Hesmoldhalgh,David & Baker 2010). The poor work to life balance, anxiety and levels of stress paint a very starkly different picture to what many assume to be a glamorous industry media appears to be from the outside looking in.

Work flexibility and constantly having to do what is required to support commercial interest. Extended contracted hours with no pay rise encouraging a rise in working longer for less pay and unpaid overtime (Hesmoldhalgh,David & Baker 2010).

Reality television and the political economy of amateurism” offers an insight into the rise of reality television in the late 1980s and growing exponentially into the modern day. The seemingly largest factor in producing reality television over the traditionally scripted television shows is that producers are able to circumvent costs through avoiding writing, directing and acting guilds (Ross, Andrew 2014). This is made possible due to the fact that the individuals or participants they film are amateurs or competitors on a game or music talent show. The editor acts as a writer for creating a coherent series of events. The production costs are slashed through these methods, often the show is capable of covering the costs of production from airing one episode. The ability to produce reality shows for a fraction of the cost becomes evident that the ability of producing media at low cost is more important than producing good quality. With intensive working hours oftentimes 18 hour days with no meal breaks, no health insurance or any other benefits, the struggle for writers, actors and directors is getting equal pay for equal work. The general rates of pay on a reality show is half of that on a scripted show. The common factor for all of these productions seems to be the feeling of creatives being expendable and exploitable. The mental health issues affecting those behind the scenes and those on screen is drastically disproportionate to most areas of employment.

The evidence put forward here clearly shows that the production companies saw an opportunity and took advantage of a deregulated landscape, launching an attack on labour generating colossal increases in their revenue while simultaneously crushing those behind the scenes making the show possible through their labour (Ross, Andrew 2014).

The majority of workers who are freelance employees gain a reputation and labels such as “trouble” or difficult to work with and often being passed over for future employment leads to a situation where professionals face losing their job asking for union pay rates (Hesmoldhalgh,David & Baker 2010). Inexperienced workers are less likely to insist on union rates due to the high levels of competition for employment. Professionals attempting to gain a foothold in the industry are now forced into a situation where unpaid experience is offered over sustainable rates of payment. Supplementing income with other employment is very common (Hesmoldhalgh,David & Baker 2010).

The 1988 Writers guild of America (WGA) is the initial spark that gave rise to the exponential growth of reality television. This strike notably gave way to Fox’s longest running television show COPS which is still running to this day over 30 years later (Ross, Andrew 2014). This cheap to produce, low budget show with no writers or actors required ushered in a wave of successful reality show phenomena such as Survivor, Big Brother and Americas Got Talent. Syndication and overseas sales are pure profit. Shows once covered by the WGA contracts such as; Hollywood Squares, Let’s Make A Deal and Star Search are now classified as “reality” as a means of avoiding union rates of pay to increase profit margins while crushing the labour workers (Ross, Andrew 2014).

The Americas Next Top Model incident (2006) where an entire story department got their jobs cut as a means of slashing costs demonstrates the relentlessness and willingness to stop at nothing to increase profit margins. In 2008 the truth was revealed on a “Truth tour” when a production coordinator, Justin Buckles, described the working environment as nightmarish. Claiming “15 to 20 hour work days on a regular basis, earning less than $550 per week averaging out at $4.50 per hour”.(Ross, Andrew 2014) The vulnerability and job stability for those behind the scenes is matched by those taken advantage of on the screen. The mental health effect that the propulsion into the public attention took on Susan Boyle on The X Factor for example. The increased opportunities for the regular person to attain fame and wealth has been increased however the lack of separation of the individuals personal life and work life has had a horrendous personal cost on those suddenly dropped into the public’s eye. Often the show’s producers will encourage the reality show stars who are supposably being themselves to act out and react in a way they would not off screen to increase ratings and viewership (Ross, Andrew 2014). These people are often ridiculed, publicly judged and humiliated for this as a result, seemingly with no consequence to those making the shows possible.

Unpaid internships that benefit the employer and in no manner furthers the industry employment norms. With the increasing destabilisation of regular union work where career progression was possible due to pay scales and reasonably stable job opportunities with equal pay for equal work (Ross, Andrew 2014). There is less career progression and opportunities, where the cheaper solution is often taken as cutting cost is most important.

The rise in alternative media outlets for performers and behind the scenes workers offers a lucrative alternative, however only for those who are successful. The rise in popularity in YouTube, Soundcloud and WordPress offers potential for the individual to control the content that they produce, while changes in technology and regulation create further uncertainty for industry professionals. Living on the edge, gaps in unemployment and constant job seeking are constantly crippling the industry (Hesmoldhalgh,David & Baker 2010).

The description of the working environment from these sources indicate a work environment in media that is not consistent as regards to pay, job stability or geographical location and often results in isolation for freelance writers. In contrast the argument that female workers are disregarded and looked over particularly when they have caring commitments and may take maternity leave during work the male counterparts are pursued for job roles. The obstacles facing male workers are lesser than that to female employees. On average male workers are more willing to relocate for work, start a family later in life and male workers are willing on average to work longer hours as a means to progress their career paths. Female workers who have chosen to start a family physically often cannot do these same things in order to attain employment. These are some rationale as to male progression and the percentage of female professionals working in the media over the age of 35.

Key industry networks are dominated by middle aged white men (Eikhof,Doris Ruth 2016). There is a poor work/ life balance (Hesmodhlagh,David & Baker 2010) which is an extra impediment on women continuing to work in the media field. Making a choice between family and work is another issue that male workers often are not faced with This also leads to white men often attaining better opportunities of advancement as the employers relate to this demographic. Despite unfairness of this it is clearly a reality for those working in the media sector.

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