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TV audiences call for more older women

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Mary Tracy
WVoN co-editor 

Television audiences have expressed concern over the lack of older women on the screen, according to a new report.

Question Time, Mock the Week and QI were singled out for failing to have women on their programmes, or relying on “token women”.

The report was commissioned by the BBC on behalf of the Cultural Diversity Network (CDN).

The research was aimed at finding out what members of the public and experts in the broadcast industry feel about the portrayal and representation of age on television, radio and online.

Participants in the study felt that female news readers and entertainment presenters had been unfairly treated when they lost their jobs allegedly due to their age, replaced by those whom people felt were less qualified but younger, more attractive women.

Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC and chair of the CDN, said that “There are lessons here for the BBC and the rest of Britain’s broadcasters”.

“We should also note the concern, expressed by older people generally, about the need for greater visibility for older women,” Mr Thompson added.

The report comes a year after the former Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly won her ageism case against the BBC when she was dropped from the show (see WVoN coverage).

Speaking about the report, O’Reilly called for television executives to put more older women on screen.
“There is an entrenched view in television that viewers only want to see young faces. It is an outdated notion. Viewers want to see all ages represented.”

O’Reilly added: “TV executives put women on TV that they want to see, and this is primarily pretty young women. It isn’t what the viewers want and they ignore viewers at their peril.”

A 70 year old viewer interviewed for the report, one of the 180 participants who took part, said:

“I get annoyed when I see all the women presenters all glamorous when it doesn’t seem to matter what the men look like”.

One of the complaints raised was the age disparity between male and female newsreaders, apparent when an older male presenter was paired up with a much younger woman, implying that looks are more important than talent or expertise for older female presenters.

At the other end of the age spectrum, nearly 40 per cent of young people were dissatisfied with the negative way they are portrayed on television. They were particularly concerned that “young women may be more likely to be objectified than young men”.

Participants also pointed out that certain reality shows “showed young men as only interested in sex”.

The representation of older black and minority ethnic people (BME) was another of the issues raised. Participants could only think of a few older men from a BME background, but no older BME women.

  1. I’m old, lesbian and free – well very reasonable! lol

    Joking apart, there is a lack of older women in the public view generally. This does not promote a very inspiring image for older women, many of us have low self-esteem, poor body image and have begun to think we are on the scrapheap.

    So yes, we need to have positive role models for the older woman, Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren are two very good examples, but it is the ordinary woman that I feel we need to see more of.

    • You are absolutely right. The female image we are sold which we should look like is beyond any reality. But by constantly undermining the self-confidence of a large part of the population it is assured that there will be no resistance or critical questioning of the status quo.

  2. vicki wharton says:

    We are herd animals and the reason older women feel they are on the scrap heap is that they ARE on the scrap heap as far as the media and public opinion go. Women over 40 are seen and treated as drones – good to work until they drop but undeserving of any recognition or respect from the wider community or even to be seen on the media.

  3. Putting older women on TV in positive positions gives younger women role models to emulate. How to be a woman in her 60′s plus is very different today than in the past. While men who have worked for many years think of retirement a lot of women are really getting started in careers after raising children and have few thoughts of stopping at 65.

  4. It is not only TV and media, but also every other place in the public sphere. I work in IT and most of my colleagues are 10-15 years younger than I am. There are a few at my age, but male and at senior level. The same goes for the companies in the surrounding buildings, average estimated age of 30-35, 75% male.
    I have a friend who is my age and she also works in IT and we have been wondering where all the women of our age are….
    As for visibility, women above a certain age only seem to be good as a target consumer group for the usual rubbish of “revitalizing regeneration face creams” in advertising that then uses models that are not even 30 to sell them.

  5. R Jones says:

    Don’t mean to be obnoxious but men are massively underrepresented in education, social care, healthcare etc etc etc

    Men are underrepresented in HE, FE and all other sectors

    Where is the self-righteous attitude now?

    • vicki wharton says:

      If you don’t mean to be an obnoxious bigot then don’t be one R Jones. The reason that men are under represented in HE FE is that men choose not to enter these professions as they are seen as prodominantly female and therefore tend to be badly paid and low status compared with traditionally masculine arenas such as legal and banking etc. When men do enter these arenas they tend to be fast tracked to the top which is why men are disproportionately represented in higher management positions within these areas compared to the number of men in FE, HE etc. Its called discrimination which is why females leave university with higher qualifications than men then find themselves fast tracked into the long grass of society. I think the self righteousness is on your side actually.

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