Sexist TV: A Spotter’s Guide
How sexist is Australian television?
Is sexism in Australian television slipping by us? Writer Clem Bastow says it's there for all to see.
Do you ever hear feminists complaining about sexism on the small screen and wonder exactly what it is they have a problem with? Do you find yourself searching the TV supplement with a magnifying glass, trying to find evidence of this so-called “male gaze”, or the mythical “patriarchy”?
(If you’re anything like me – i.e. a tiresome, man-hating feminist who would rather plait her overgrown underarm hair than engage with popular culture – it’s rather more difficult, when it comes to Australian broadcasting, to find a TV show that doesn’t display some level of sexism.)
Well, today you’re in luck. Looking for a handy guide to sexist telly? Come, frolic with me, through fields of boofheads.
Sexist TV shows
The Biggest Loser ... Gladiatorial weight-loss show where women are typically painted as abject
Let’s start with the obvious one: The Footy Show. Remember Sam Newman’s opinion about women in the AFL? “They serve very little purpose at board level. What do they do?” Onward!
Where to from here? Well, you could watch the nightly news on any commercial network, and marvel at how the old dogs of news broadcasting are permitted to widen and grey, while their female counterparts remain eternally youthful (or are booted to make way for the actually youthful).
Any gladiatorial weight-loss show The Biggest Loser, Excess Baggage, Embarrassing Fat Bodies will give you a healthy serving of sexism. “But wait,” you say, “those shows are co-ed!” That’s true, but there’s a decent level of intersectionality involved in weight-loss TV; sizeism almost always goes hand-in-hand with sexism. Consider the way the contestants are framed: male entrants usually suffer some noble humiliation (“I can’t take my son to Dreamworld”), whereas the women are typically painted as abject (no sex appeal, been single for years, and so on). However, the blokes are “abjectified” in a different way: there’s a focus on “man boobs” – usually filmed swinging pendulously in slow motion – because for a man to be feminised is the ultimate horror. You look like a woman, man, lose some pounds!
The Sunday Footy Show.
If you’re up early, why not channel surf between Sunrise, Today and see what 1950s-isms Kochie and Karl Stefanovic are spewing while their female offsiders titter politely. If you’re lucky they’ll have drafted in a panel of “experts” to discuss important issues like “Was J-Lo’s dress too risqué?”.
Women! What are they if not interchangeable wedding participants? Why, just tune in to Please Marry My Boy or, when it inevitably returns, The Farmer Wants A Wife: why look at male loneliness and rural depression with a sensitive eye when you can instead frog-march in a bunch of babes and get them to compete in dunderheaded challenges by dangling in front of them a reward like “Tonsil hockey with Danno next to the sheep dip”.
How about either of the Big Two Soaps? Home & Away and Neighbours. A couple of years ago I wrote a piece called All sluts go to heaven – lamenting the fact that it was nigh on impossible for a woman to have recreational sex on a soapie without some great misfortune befalling her. Alas, the trend still seems to be in full effect: witness the departure from Summer Bay, earlier this year, of Charlie (Esther Anderson). Had lots of sex with Darryl = DEAD. Get outta town in a body-bag, you slattern!
The Biggest Loser.
Or if it’s just a light sprinkling of casual sexism you’re after, how about Agony Uncles? The show itself isn’t particularly problematic; it’s some of the Uncles who let the side down. Got daddy issues, girls? (Don’t we all!) Then don’t expect a date with Kick Gurry: “The big red flag for me is a woman with a slightly fractured relationship with her father.” And don’t bother pursuing Des Dowling if you’re an ex-hambeast. Dowling went on a date with a woman who said she’d lost 40kg. “For the rest of the date, I couldn’t stop putting the 40 back on”, he says, “I’ve got a lot of imagination”. I bet you do, Des.
Looking ahead, perhaps you are a dumb and buxom babe who would like to apply for the upcoming season of Beauty & The Geek Australia? Here’s the word from the horse’s mouth: “There’s no doubt our Beauties are gorgeous. [...] They’re preened and ready to take centre stage. But ask for their opinions on politics, to solve a mathematical equation or maybe how to rebuild your hard drive and they’ll more than likely be stumped.”
Sexism on TV: do you believe me now?