There is nothing more repugnant and objectionable than being present as a woman amidst a blaze of guy talk. Guy talk, most often than not, belongs to part of a wider culture where women are subject to sexist stereotyping and being sexually objectified. The last time I got caught amidst such chauvinistic babble was when I asked a group of random men Sigmund Freuds unanswered question: What women want for a TV series on women. Predictably I provoked an amusing array of comments all perfectly wholesome and non-offensive until the cameras stopped rolling. Interestingly, these men, all members of the general public possessed an instinct that prevented them crossing boundaries and entering into sexist territory whilst under the spotlight of a public platform such as television. This instinct can only be defined as Political Correctness which in turn greatly stems from the media itself. UK media coverage has played a significant role in shaping and enforcing social attitudes and thus setting out clear boundaries of what is socially acceptable and not.
Although we are far from a complete extinction of sexism in the media portrayal of women in advertising and a lack of senior news anchor women comes immediately to mind – political correctness can take credit for part of the progress that has been made. Often the subject of criticism, Political correctness has on many occasions been brandished unnecessary and quite simply a nuisance with regards to words and labels. The balancing act is one of the greatest challenges. Too much PC and you think the world has gone mad. Too little then you have a situation like the one America is facing a catastrophe.
What has taken place in recent times in the US media is an explosion of unshackled sexism. Although a supporter of Obama, it is frightening to think that what swung it for him was the onslaught of sexist media coverage against Hilary. All modern day democracies require mass media to create a platform to enable all voices involved in the electoral campaign to be heard and be powerful in a national dialogue. The national media has a responsibility to report fairly, to hold to account and to analyze those who wish to wish to be placed in a position of power. But when this process is tainted with sexual innuendo and their capabilities distorted over misogynist word play, you begin to question the viability of such a democracy. What impact does it have on mindsets? And whats more, if a fraction of a rant was geared against Obama because of his race, then the furore generated would have undoubtedly placed a fear of God into any media outlet wishing to follow suit. However, some media analyst groups such as the Womens Media Centre have picked up on the sexist commentaries and created the online campaign: Sexism Sells but Were Not Buying It.
I am under no allusion that sexism sells and Americans are still buying it. The media coverage during the Presidential nominee campaigns illustrated how womens professional capacity can be tarnished. But that aside, you do not need to look afar to find equal levels of double standards directed at women on their personal lives. Women have been recently the subject of the blame game when it comes to their husbands having affairs. Several books have been published to such extent from Gary Neumans latest novel entitled The Truth about Cheating: Why Men Stray and What You Can Do to Prevent It, to the even more audaciously entitled The Re-education of Women by Dante More. But in a day and age when women are increasingly embarking on extra-marital affairs, I see no self-help books of similar ilk directed at husbands. It has the same undertones as the traditional double standards of premarital sexual activity, when men and women throughout time have been subjected to different “rules” guiding sexual behaviour. Women have and almost to this day, continue to be faced with a Madonna-whore dichotomy: you are either pure and virginal or promiscuous and easy.
Language is pivotal on how the media scrutinises men and women. You only need to remember a recently brandished term sex addiction to cover up multiple affairs committed by male celebrities like David Duchovony and Michael Douglas. It strengthens the view that language is employed to excuse men. All these examples contribute to a sense that sexism is at the bottom scale of offence in comparison to racism, homophobia and anti-semitism when quite frankly they should be equal. If not addressed robustly then America may soon pay a high price for the repercussions of such a mind-set engrained in the media.
Our own struggles are far from over in the UK. Political correctness played a part in preventing the men I interviewed from airing their true views to potentially thousands. But it was not enough to prevent them airing them to me a woman a victim. It is time to put the ism back into sex on a global scale.