Carly Miller · Female Representation · Sexism in the Media

‘The accuracy of ‘average’ female characters: Suits’ by Carly Miller

As someone who didn’t really know what they wanted to do with their life until they got to University, I am proud to say that I have my goals set on becoming a lawyer, and with that, the academic goal to get into law school. This goal is a very big deal for me as when I started my university career, I thought I had my heart set on media technology and communications; turns out, I was wrong and I believe you have to make a few wrong turns in life to find yourself on the right road for your future. After coming to terms with myself, and what I really wanted to do with my life, my parents never seemed 100% for it. In fact they were, and still are very weary; weary in the sense that they don’t believe that I can achieve this goal; with my father constantly suggesting that I should go into speech-pathology (not once in my life have I sparked interest in that field of study). While the wheels continue to turn in my head, I can’t help but wonder why no one in my family can see me as a lawyer, and if I am the only one who experiences this. Thus, leading a few other thoughts: If I am the only female who experiences this, which I can’t possibly be, because that would mean one of two things:

  1. The world is actually caught up with feminism and supports women with what they set their minds to and what they want to accomplish.
  2. My parents are just as muted as my personal testimony suggests and they are part of the problem society has created.

However, being more realistic with the concept of society not being “there” for women and their career choices; it seems as though most of the world are “visual” learners in the sense that when it comes to us women and how we “should” make our career choices.  We may or may not realize that women are profiled by a constant marketing whether it be in a simple 30-second ad on YouTube you cannot skip, a new Netflix show or a groundbreaking new-summer blockbuster. Yet, all of these things have one thing in common: the precise calculation of how relatable a female character can be.

For years and years, men have had their hand in media in which women have been boxed as nothing more as a housewife from the 60’s up until Mary Tyler Moore broke the stigma that women actually wear pants and have the desire to hold a job. While television became more politically correct with their roles for women, people of color and sexualities, there is still an apparent stigma and formula that television and media follows. Now, I do deeply apologize because after reading this theory, you won’t be able to ignore any of the signs of shitty writing and lazy producing. Over the course of a few weeks, I will be analyzing some of my favorite television shows: USA’s Suits, BBC’s Sherlock and ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy.

Suits
Back in summer of 2011, USA released this snazzy, sleek, New Yorker, law firm drama centres around three white guys, a redhead, two women of color, and another white woman just to make sure white people are secure enough while watching the drama.

suits promo

Race doesn’t have much of a narrative to this show, as it is centered around the two main characters defending clients whilst trying to keep the other’s secret about not being a lawyer. However, it does cover all of the average checkmarks: men and women, of any hair color, or skin color can be lawyers if they are sleek enough, have great legs, can afford a $1500 pantsuit, and master the art of power walking down Fifth Avenue whilst eating a bagel paired with a coffee and going over a deposition with the new associate.

Examining the point of feminism for this show: notice how the women are standing, with confidence; and their hair? Sleek and polished. Along with their top designer dresses and suits. Just looking at this promotional photo alone, what are the first adjectives that come to mind? Having their shit together, ivy league schools, too cool for school. Along with all of these adjectives, one can argue that to achieve all of these listed above is to be in the upper class or come from some sort of money.

Circling back to the main point of this post, when society thinks of lawyers, they don’t tend to think of a woman who once had a passion for screenwriting and acting to now have a profound passion for the study of law. When I’m out in public or even in the safety of my own home, I don’t tend to look at average conversations with a stereotypical lawyer’s point of view of “you can’t prove this or that”, I tend to speak like a somewhat normal twenty-year-old.

Had I had graduated with a 4.3 GPA in high school with all honors, gotten into an ivy league school, then maybe I (as well as countless other women) the people I encounter in life would “see” me more as a lawyer. Profiling the way someone dresses, speaks, chooses what they watch, how many tattoos one has and even their gender is bullshit. But yet, because of shows like Suits, often in the dominate control of men producing, writing and directing. The vision of those actresses portrayed on Suits are focus group’s ideal box of women, never once thinking outside of the box of what real women look like, dress like or even talk like.

Examining the female characters: Donna and Rachel (yes, you may recognize the actress who portrays Megan as this is Prince Harry’s fabulous girlfriend), are the two main female characters on the drama.

Suits - Season 5

The writing does get very repetitive: 

  1. Actor says something clever
  2. Other actor responds with something equally as clever
  3. Actor one closes dialogue with a dumb punch line or pun.

Starting off with Rachel Zane, a paralegal at the firm, who is evidentially the secret daughter of a wealthy/successful lawyer; she is the first person at the firm to befriend the main character, Mike Ross (fake lawyer). They fall into the stereotypical “we are only friends, but we love each other, but won’t sleep with each other because it would ruin the friendship blah blah blah” Rachel has every potential to be an amazing lawyer and get into law school, yet her character has a clutch: test anxiety. Which, I can’t get mad about, because the show doesn’t over hype it and make her character surrounded by the anxiety. The show gives the character the tools and an example of a semi-decent support system to power through the LSATs and become her own person.

Donna is portrayed as the secretary, in fact so much of the power held in the, I believe she is titled as Harvey Specter’s personal assistant (don’t quote me, it’s been a while since I’ve watched). Donna falls under the “motherly” type of woman written for television. Constantly making sure Harvey’s tie is the “right” tie, that no one goes into his office unless she gives them approval, keeping the secret that Mike Ross hasn’t graduated from Harvard. Donna is in other words, the wheels behind the bicycle.

Donna’s character proves that Harvey really wouldn’t be the lawyer he is in the present season of the show without Donna always having his back. She never really sparks an interest in wanting to be anything more than a personal assistant to Harvey (that I’ve seen, again, have not seen the whole series), while this is perfect for the angle of how women can be whatever they aspire to be if it is a personal assistant or a partner at a law firm; the show does an exceptional job at one thing: Donna putting Harvey in his place.

We have all watched shows where the creators portray women as paper machete, the writers of Suits do an exceptional job of having the women stand their ground. Harvey is a womanizer and an asshole for at least 12 minutes per every episode. Donna sees through all of the designer suits and the hair gel, and puts Harvey in his place and keeps him on planet Earth. The platform of the show encourages women to stand their ground to their boss, man or woman, to stand up for what they believe is right and to speak up for what they think is right. While I’m aware our readers probably haven’t seen the show, as it isn’t the greatest show on American television, I do encourage our readers to delve into a few episodes if you all can get past the cringe worthy writing.

Hattie Farley · Sexism in the Media

‘Sex(ism) Sells’ by Hattie Farley

My parents read The Daily Mail pretty religiously. I’ll come downstairs in the mornings and be faced with a headline that will normally make me roll my eyes in annoyance. Quite often my father will read out a fact or statement to which I will reply dubiously: “Did you read that in The Daily Mail?’ and 9 times out of 10 I will be correct in my prediction. I’m not sure why my parents trust this newspaper so much. They are not sexist people, they are educated and are able to identify sexism whether it be found in a social situation or in a newspaper. So, why do so many people (just like my parents) read and trust this newspaper? Infamously labelled as ‘The Daily Fail’, this paper is read by 23 million readers per month in either print or online. The online news website is, in fact, the most viewed news website in the world. Those are the insane numbers, considering the fact that print is supposedly a dying breed. So perhaps we are right to assume that 23 million readers per month are unaware of the sexism that takes place within its pages.

I was horrified this week when I browsed the front pages of the newspapers in Tesco to be faced with headlines from The Daily Mail which appeared to be mocking Harriet Harman for bravely opening up to the fact that she had been sexually harassed multiple times throughout her adulthood. Instead of showing support for Harman, the newspaper appeared to discredit her claims, the headline stating ‘Now, Harriet claims that THREE men have sexually harassed her’. I am unsure why these claims are being treated as ludicrous by The Daily Mail given the alarming statistics in regards to sexual harassment. Popular magazine Cosmopolitan conducted a survey in 2015, where they discovered that 1 in 3 women (aged 18–34) have been sexually harassed at work yet 71% of these cases were not reported. This is unsurprising, due to the society that we live in where sexual harassment is simply not treated seriously within our day to day news. If you don’t believe me on this, The Guardian also made a report on this issue a few years ago where they claimed that in 2012 The Daily Mail published around 54 headlines reporting on women ‘crying wolf’ about rape. This is a strong and solid indicator as to how exactly how The Daily Mail feel about sexual allegations and the ‘truth’ behind them. Yet, what The Daily Mail appears to be unaware of are the consequences that these ‘crying wolf’ headlines can have. I am thinking especially of young women who are afraid to speak out about sexual harassment, in the fear that they may be shunned and disbelieved by society.

Quite often, the sexism found within the pages of The Daily Mail can be surprisingly subtle and it is this kind that is the most damaging. Subtle sexism helps to normalise its place in society so that we end up expecting to find it around us, rather than being truly surprised when we do. I know this because I have grown up with The Daily Mail on the kitchen table. I’m no longer shocked at articles on actresses being reduced to their list of boyfriends rather than their list of accomplishments. I’m no longer surprised to see racist and homophobic headlines scatter the pages. I’m certainly no longer shocked at the ‘side-bar of shame’ on the Mail’s online website, where headlines such as ‘How Kate Took Ten Years Off Her Face’ by ‘ditching her heavy eyeliner’ can be found. That’s Kate Middleton they are referring to, by the way. Not Kate Moss or Kate Winslet. But the Duchess of Cambridge. I can’t be the only one questioning whether this type of journalism on any woman (let alone our future Queen) is entirely respectful.

Yet, an article in The Daily Mail in May 2016 pleaded with the royal couple, stating: ‘Kate and William, stop trying to be like us!’ in reference to the ‘horrific’ event in which Kate Middleton dared to refer to her husband (in a private conversation) as ‘babe’ at the Chelsea Flower Show. The article then went on to claim that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge behave too much like ‘our friends from a grammar school’. I don’t know about you, but I have friends who went to grammar schools and no offence, but they act nothing like Kate Middleton and Prince William.

Is it just me, or is this a slightly hypocritical thing for The Daily Mail to claim. They are the ones who fuss over Kate Middleton’s skirt length, with headlines stating ‘Please learn to cover up, Kate’ and referring to her underwear as ‘a thong that would make even a cheese cutter wince’. Royal titles do not appear to be an important significance for The Daily Mail, as they confidently label our future King and Queen as ‘Kate’ and ‘Wills’. If anyone is normalising The Royal Family and encouraging their so-called ‘unstately’ behaviour, then surely it is them?

Of course, it’s not just The Daily Mail that is guilty of this. Newspapers around the world could be found sporting sexist headlines in regards to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Other well-known brands and corporations such as ‘American Apparel’ use sexism and the ‘male gaze’ in order to make successful sales. Despite Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan’s promise to ban sexist body-shaming adverts on the tube they can unfortunately still be found.

I don’t know whether sexism sells and if it does I don’t know why. What I do know is that they are not just silly, little harmless headlines. They are headlines from powerful papers, which have the ability to have catastrophic effects due to their ability to warp our views without us really knowing and recognising it.

How to survive this? Recognise it when you can, make your voice heard and join the fight into breaking down that glass ceiling. As Hillary Clinton recently claimed: ‘The Future Is Female’. We’ve just got to work out a way to get through the tide of sexism in our way.