Sexist TV: A Spotter’s Guide

<i>The Sunday Footy Show<i>.

The Sunday Footy Show.

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.

<i>The Biggest Loser.<i>

The Biggest Loser.

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!

Kick Gurry in ABC's <i>Agony Uncles.</i>

Kick Gurry in ABC's Agony Uncles.

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!

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?

37 comments so far

  • This is so funny! Thanks for a laugh this morning.

    Date and time
    April 04, 2012, 10:51AM
    • I felt a bit weird about Agony Uncles too. I know it had the best of intentions and some of it was very sweet (esp Laurence Lueng) but there was some unfomfortable things shared. Anyway everyone is free to have their say and I enjoyed yours!

      Date and time
      April 04, 2012, 10:58AM
      • To be fair with Biggest Loser, both male and female contestants are portrayed as "needing to lose weight to appear atractive to the opposite sex". The women (especially the older ones) on the show have proven to be the strongest, both mentally and physically, and consistently win most of the gruelling physical challenges thrown at them. From the sound of it, I don't think you've actually watched the show, but don't let that stop you from donning those feminist blinkers!

        Date and time
        April 04, 2012, 11:03AM
        • "..the female offsiders of Karl Stefanovic titter politely" ah.. have you actually watched this show? Lisa Wilkinson not only does the 1970s-pat-my-pussy-type jokes (think Mrs Slocum), but she also spoon-feeds Karl Stefanovic during the cooking segments, is always looking at his crotch or gesticulating with her hand passing over that immediate area. Hardly an innocent bystander.

          And Georgie Gardner, usually good value with the capacity to take jokes to an atmospheric level compared to Wilkinson, still sometimes makes me groan.. take the one about "my buns". Um, no I won't thanks, Georgie. All the same.

          G Tom
          Date and time
          April 04, 2012, 11:54AM
          • The worst of the lot is David Koch… he's like the abusive partner who says 'Oh, I didn't mean it… don't be so sensitive' when he is being downright rude and doing his best to put down the women who appear on the programme. He is more subtle than Kyle Sandilands but no less offensive.

            Leafy Eastern Suburbs
            Date and time
            April 04, 2012, 12:25PM
            • yes its a white bread issue , most australian's live a tip top world , very much a sad place

              ollie odonnell
              In the grove 3183
              Date and time
              April 04, 2012, 12:28PM
              • Let's not forget 'Girls on the Grill' on the Today Show or 'Kochie's Angels' on Sunrise. Thanks Ch9 and Ch7 for giving women a special little 5 minute segment in which you patronisingly allow them to air their opinions.

                Date and time
                April 04, 2012, 12:31PM
                • I get the gist, but as for youthful woman/old man your examples re morning TV are contradictory. And 'Agony Uncles' was a bit of a stretch wasn't it? What's sexist about NOT being attracted to a larger lass or a woman with a predilection towards stroppiness when it comes to Daddy? These matters are simply a matter of personal taste rather than anything motivated by sexual politics. Frankly I quite like a more Reubenesque lady myself. However if said wondrous beauty were to start sooking about how the old man I'd rapidly turn away and run like buggery. That all said and done I presume you don't judge men for their back hair and beer guts, Clem? See there's commentators who write to stimulate discussion, and then there's other who stimulate discussion simply by clutching at straws. Which are you?

                  Date and time
                  April 04, 2012, 12:40PM
                  • We get the art, politics, and television we deserve.

                    Date and time
                    April 04, 2012, 12:41PM
                    • Yes, maybe...but most of the execs in TV are male. We didn't vote those guys in.

                      Date and time
                      April 04, 2012, 3:20PM

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