I’m quoting lots of this response to Maxim magazines poll of the world’s five “unsexiest women” because I think it’s really important.
In calling this kind of vicious, sexist rubbish “news”, the poll is given a smidgen of legitimacy. The media implicitly support the notion that it is OK to scrutinise and rank women on the basis of the most superficial and degrading of all criteria — their appearance.
In the past three decades, as women have made advances in public life and steps have been made towards greater equality between the sexes, the scrutiny of women’s bodies seems to have gathered pace. Take politics as an example. In Media Tarts, Julia Baird’s excellent book examining the media’s treatment of Australian female politicians, Baird argues that women in politics are rarely judged on their merits. Media commentators are far more interested in women’s hairstyles (Bronwyn Bishop, Julia Gillard), sexual histories (Cheryl Kernot), polka-dot dresses (Joan Kirner), sexiness (Julie Bishop, Natasha Stott Despoja) or unsexiness and weight (Amanda Vanstone) than their policy stances or the contributions they might make to the fabric of our nation.
Indeed, in many respects, women are still seen as less the sum of their parts and more the sum of their “bits”.
I can hear the naysayers: if you don’t like lists like these, don’t read them. And I agree. But even if — like me — you don’t actively seek out polls like these, assessments of women permeate every aspect of our culture. Ask any woman and she’ll tell you that such images are the reason she spends hours in front of the bathroom mirror, worrying about her every blemish or ripple of cellulite.
Media outlets need to be much more reflective about the role they play in fostering this kind of self-scrutiny among women. They must abandon the practice of uncritically promoting sexist material about women, of the kind we see in the Maxim poll. Because, as a woman, I can only do so much to avoid such harmful nonsense.
The Age, Media’s ugly looks obsession