Real Women – The Hidden Sex

HOW NATIONAL NEWSPAPERS USE PHOTOGRAPHIC IMAGES OF WOMEN IN EDITORIAL

A report from Women in Journalism by Meg Carter, Mimi Turner and Maureen Paton with research by Publicis Trends Group.

1. INTRODUCTION

We began this research with the understanding that there are more men than women in public life; that women transgressing accepted social and moral codes are deemed more ‘newsworthy’ than male transgressors and that a premium is placed on a woman’s appearance in industries such as show business and advertising.

However, overwhelming findings from our study show that photographic images of women in newspapers are out of step with real women’s lives.

More women work now than ever before, more women are making an impact – at all levels up to and including the boardroom – and there are more women MPs. But how well is this reflected by the newspapers they read each day? Our analysis of the editorial pages of nine national newspapers indicates many papers could better express this diversity.

The findings, from an analysis conducted by advertising agency Publicis’ Trends Group for Women in Journalism, show that photographic images of men dramatically outnumber those of women. And that while the men featured in photographs are more likely to be ‘professionals’ and politicians, the women are more likely to be actresses, models and other ‘celebrities’.

We also found that while women increasingly feature on the front pages and masthead marketing ‘puffs’ of national newspapers, the rate at which more women are making it onto the front page is not matched by what’s happening inside. Newspapers are making a greater effort to appeal to women readers by using more women’s images to ‘sell’ themselves, yet the approach they take to using photographs of women throughout the rest of their pages is inconsistent with this apparent ‘women-friendly’ approach.

But even taking all this into account, our research shows that the way newspapers use images of women is at best old-fashioned, at worst complacent.

Women working on national newspapers confront this issue on almost a daily basis. Many report regular discussions concerning the selection of images of women. But while male executives are more eager to use more images of women, the motivation behind this – and criteria used in selecting these images – can be questionable.

Efforts to ‘bump up’ the number of women featured on the front page, for example, risk being little more than tokenism – unless the image is relevant and the prominence it is given is in line with the prominence of the story relating to that image in subsequent pages. Selection and prominence of images often comes down to subjective judgements on what makes the ‘better’ story. For example, is it more ‘newsworthy’ that a couple made love on a transatlantic flight, or that one of the people involved was a woman?

These are questions that should be the subject of open debate. At a time when newspapers face increasing competition – and when overall newspaper readership is in decline – newspapers are fighting to attract and retain readers, especially women. There is, surely, a business case to be argued for national newspapers more accurately and realistically to represent real women’s situations and experiences.

The use of photographs of women in newspapers is not a black and white issue. But Women in Journalism believes the time is right for a debate within the industry about how women are depicted. This research, we believe, lays the foundation. On the following pages, we publish details of the Publicis findings and our own qualitative survey of picture editors’ responses.

2. SUMMARY

12,333 photographs in nine newspapers were classified for this study by Publicis’ Trends Group for Women in Journalism over a four week period from mid-September to mid-October 1999. The key findings are as follows:

59% of photographs were of ‘men only’, 20% ‘women only’, 10% both ‘men and women’ and 11% other (ie. did not feature men or women). Even when combining the ‘women only’ and ‘both’ categories, only 30% of the visuals featured women – a figure not even half of the 69% featuring men
Newspapers use a higher percentage of visuals of ‘women only’ pictures to ‘sell’ the page than ‘men only’ -72% vs 60% of those pictures judged to be there solely for that purpose. The Daily Mail, The Telegraph and The Mirror had the highest percentage of women visuals overtly ‘selling’ the page
The proportion of ‘women only’ pictures on the front pages and in the masthead ‘puff’ was slightly higher than in all sections monitored: 32% and 28% vs 20% overall, indicating that women were being used to sell the newspapers but that they are not so well-represented throughout the rest of the paper
The majority of visuals assessed were deemed relevant to the story (97%). But there were many more ‘non-relevant’ pictures of women – 80% of those deemed ‘non-relevant’. And 49% of the ‘not relevant’ pictures of women were judged ‘sensational’ by the researchers
When individual newspapers are examined it was clear that the number of pictures of women used in the newspapers’ pages had little correlation with how realistically and accurately (or not) what was going on in the world was reflected by the choice of images used
The Daily Mail, Sun and Telegraph had the highest percentages of photographs featuring women. The Financial Times had the lowest percentage of visuals featuring women (14%) – reflecting its readership profile (only 20% of FT readers are women)
The biggest differential in terms of readership profile and visual representation of women was found with The Guardian – women account for 51% of the paper’s readers but are featured in only 31% of its visuals (a differential of 20 points), The Independent with figures of 43% and 24% respectively (a differential of 19 points), The Express with figures of 50% and 31% (a differential of 19 points).
The profession of the subject varied significantly between the sexes: the ‘women only’ pictures were primarily of members of the public (38%), closely followed by professionals (28%) and celebrities (25%).
The distribution of women and men within each profession category was uneven with ‘women only’ pictures accounting for under half of the visuals – even in the categories of celebrities and general public (42% in each). Women made up only 25% of visuals of professionals, 14% of politicians and a mere 2% of sports people.

3. THE FINDINGS

Introduction
The analysis of the visual representation of women in the national press was conducted by Publicis’ Trends Group for Women in Journalism.

The Trends Group at Publicis use their unique tool, Context Analysis, to identify the themes in the media which they think will affect future consumer behaviour and attitudes. Given this experience, WiJ asked Publicis to conduct an investigation into how women are visually represented in the national press.

Nine papers were chosen for the study: The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent, The Financial Times, The Sun, The Express, The Daily Mail and The Mirror. Following a pilot study in August, it was decided that Monday to Saturday editions of the papers would be monitored over a four week period (September 20 – October 16). During this four week period these newspapers covered a broad range of stories including: the Paddington rail crash, the political party conference season, London Fashion Week, celebrity news and public indiscretions, most notably the couple who joined the ‘Mile High Club’.

All sections of the newspapers were included in the analysis, except for dedicated fashion pages, obituaries, editorial comment and arts reviews sections, as it was felt that the picture content of these sections was self-selecting.

The findings
A. What proportion of photographs used feature women?

A total number of 12,333 pictures were classified during the study. Of this total, 59% were of ‘men only’, 20% ‘women only’, 10% both ‘men and women’ and 11% other (ie. did not feature men or women). Even when combining the ‘women only’ and ‘both’ categories, only 30% of the visuals feature women – a figure that is not even half of the 69% featuring men.

Given that women comprise 43% of the readers of the newspapers in the analysis (NRS April – June 1999) and account for just over half of the adult population – 24.6 million compared with 23.3 million men (ONS October 1999) – this is a clear demonstration that women are under-represented in terms of the pictures featured in the national press.

When individual newspapers are examined, The Daily Mail, The Sun and The Telegraph had the highest percentages of visuals featuring women. The Financial Times had the lowest percentage of visuals featuring women (14%) but this also reflects its readership profile (only 20% of FT readers are women). However, the number of images of women used does not correlate with the degree to which images are likely to accurately and realistically reflect what is going on in the world.

The biggest differential in terms of readership profile and visual representation of women was found with The Guardian – women account for 51% of the paper’s readers but are featured in only 31% of its visuals (a differential of 20 points), The Independent with figures of 43% and 24% respectively (a differential of 19 points), The Express with figures of 50% and 31% (a differential of 19 points).

B. What sort of women are most regularly featured?

Photographs of men and women were categorised as follows: sports people; professionals (ie. business leaders/managers, experts – this also included catwalk models as when appearing on news pages and depicted ‘at work’ they were deemed ‘professional’); general public; politicians and celebrities. Where there were a variety of professions within one visual, each of them was classified.

Unsurprisingly, the profession of the subject varied significantly between the sexes: the ‘women only’ pictures were primarily of members of public (38%), closely followed by professionals (28%) and celebrities (25%). In contrast, 44% of the ‘men only’ pictures were of sportsmen, followed by professionals (26%) and then politicians (12%).

The distribution of women and men within each category was uneven with ‘women only’ pictures accounting for under half of the visuals – even in the categories of celebrities and general public (42% in each). Women made up only 25% of visuals of professionals, 14% of politicians and a mere 2% of sports people.

(It should be noted that London Fashion Week took pace during the research period. As mentioned previously, dedicated style and fashion sections were excluded from the study. A number of catwalk pictures of models from the event did appear on the news pages, however. These images were included in the report, where the profession of the women featured was ‘professional’ as they were deemed to be pictured because they were doing a job.)

In the case of The Sun’s Page 3, where Page 3 models featured in the newspaper during the study they were counted in the total number of images – as they appeared on a news page. Page 3 models were categorised by the researchers as ‘celebrities’. Such pictures came under the category ‘picture is the story’ (see Appendix, Table 9)

C. How relevant is the picture to the story?

The vast majority of visuals were relevant to the story (97%).However, there were more ‘not relevant’ pictures of ‘women only’ than ‘men only’ or ‘both’ (10% vs 1% and 4%, respectively). Most of the 254 ‘not relevant’ pictures of women were judged ‘sensational’ by the researchers, or the picture was the story (ie. the story was little more than a picture caption, and the picture was there on its own merit).

D. Where are these pictures used?

Pictures in the masthead marketing ‘puff’ accounted for 4% of all pictures monitored, and those on the front pages (excluding mastheads) 3%. The proportion of ‘women only’ pictures on the front pages and masthead was slightly higher than in all sections monitored: 32% and 28% vs 20% overall, indicating that women were being used to sell the newspapers.

E. Does the use of the picture appear to be primarily motivated by a desire to ‘sell’ (or ‘lift’) an otherwise ‘dull’ page (over and beyond the degree to which any picture is used to do this on any page)?

Overall, this study found that newspapers use a higher percentage of visuals of ‘women only’ pictures to ‘sell’ the page than ‘men only’ (72% vs 60% of those pictures judged to be there solely for that purpose). The Daily Mail, The Telegraph and The Mirror had the highest percentage of women visuals overtly ‘selling’ the page.

F. Researchers’ observations, paper by paper – A subjective view

The Telegraph – seems particularly women-friendly. However, this maybe misleading as it does not have so high a number of ‘relevant’ pictures of women as other newspapers. One recent City page featured a results story accompanied by a young blonde soaping herself in the bath – watched by three men in suits.

The Daily Mail – like The Telegraph, it has a high percentage of visuals of women suggesting it too is ‘women friendly’. At the same time, a high number of stories in the paper seem directed towards women readers. Yet there are a relatively large number of not-relevant visuals of women in the Mail. And a heavy emphasis in many articles and pictures on female appearance.

The Mirror, The Express and The Sun – all appear to use women to sell their papers. But they seem to be doing so by giving the male reader what they believe he wants to see, rather than catering for women readers’ interests. Images of women in these papers are more likely to involve staged shots with the subject looking directly into the camera. Women’s sporting achievements are under-represented.

The Guardian – tends to be careful about the way it uses images of women but still significantly under-represents them in comparison with other newspapers. There were few examples of non-relevant uses of women, however.

The Times – tends to be more voyeuristic in its use of images than other papers surveyed, perhaps reflecting its high male readership. It too featured that City shot of the woman in the bath (see above). It also favours images of politicians’ wives – particularly Ffion Hague, with picture cropped to highlight her exposed shoulders in an evening dress.

The Independent – like The Guardian is careful with images of women. However, unlike other papers (excluding the FT), women are significantly under-represented in the pictures it chooses to use. It also tends to romanticise/glamorise femininity. As a result, many of these images appear to ‘sell’ or ‘lift’ the page

The Financial Times – uses very few images of women, particularly professional women. Although it uses few images of celebrities (either male or female) the few women it does feature tend to be celebrities rather than other categories.

G. Case Studies

‘BRIGHTENING UP’ THE CITY PAGES
On Monday September 20, the business pages of The Times featured an old-fashioned photograph of three male executives in suits, standing behind an apparently unclothed blonde woman in a Jacuzzi, to illustrate a story about the possible Stock Market flotation of the London-based health-club chain LA Fitness. The woman’s pose with one bare leg in the air aped a famous publicity still from the 50s of the actress Jayne Mansfield in a bubble bath.

On September 22, The Guardian’s finance pages illustrated a story about Unilever axing many of its brands – which range from soap and food to Calvin Klein fragrances – with a picture from an advertisement for Calvin Klein’s unisex fragrance, One. The photograph showed a group of models, with a micro-skirted Kate Moss in the centre and a girl wearing just a bra and jeans to her right. Although the picture also featured two topless male models, one was partially hidden behind Moss and the other was on the periphery of
the picture.

In both cases, the apparent intention is to ‘brighten’ the City page. The former was a publicity shot commissioned by the company while the second was a still from aCalvin Klein ad. What is noteworthy, however, is the selection of these images and how they were used.

WOMEN – MORE TO BLAME?
A news story about an ‘incident’ involving a British man and woman, who were arrested and charged with outraging public morality during an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Manchester, made the splash in The Sun on October 4. This ‘Mile High Club’ story was illustrated with a picture of the blonde woman, blown up very large, as the main image, as if she were being publicly pilloried. A very small picture of the man in the case was used in the bottom right-hand corner. This ‘balance’ was not unique to The Sun.

A news story about an incident involving 12 male and female South
Londoners of Irish extraction on board a Boeing 767 earlier this year (on January 31) was widely illustrated in most newspapers by photographs of several of the women, even though most of the quotes used in most of the papers came from the men concerned. The women depicted in the photographs were all young and blonde.

In both cases, editorial copy presented a more ‘balanced’ account of the two incidents which, of course, involved both men and women. This balance, however, was undermined by the over-emphasis in the photographs used on the female transgressors.

OTHER EXAMPLES INCLUDE:
Apparently ‘dry’ coverage of the party conferences this autumn ‘lifted’ regularly by pictures of (male) politicians’ wives or partners. In most cases, the context and content of these pictures had no relevance to the story content – other than the fact that said female partner had accompanied the male politician to a function the night before. (Where were the female politicians’ male escorts?)

Numerous ‘generic’ stories – for example, ‘crisis in the high street’; ‘mobile phone cancer scare’ etc. etc – illustrated with stock shots of shoppers, phone users etc, most of whom are young, attractive and … female.

Conclusions
Overall, photographs of women are noticeably under-represented in the daily press and when they do appear, tend to conform to gender stereotypes. There are also clear indications that visuals of women are ‘used’ to ‘sell’ the newspapers.

4. PICTURE EDITORS RESPOND

In the light of these findings, we felt it only fair to poll the views of a number of national newspaper picture editors. It should be noted that there are no female picture editors in Fleet Street. And also that the majority of picture desk executives are male, as are most news photographers. Women photographers have a greater – if still small -presence in features sections.

Picture Editor 1 (male) – from a national broadsheet:

“Is it a case of men being more successful than women so that there are more pictures around of men? There is certainly no prejudice against using pictures of women, but there’s a definite prejudice against pictures of men in suits.

“The average photocall for a City story will be three men, some green baize and a bottle of water. But we wouldn’t use pictures of women just for the gratuitous sake of it, otherwise people would say: ‘You’re only using that picture because she’s a pretty girl’. For example, a girl at Christie’s holding up a Grecian urn would invariably be chosen by the auction house for her photogenic qualities.

“We certainly don’t go for knicker shots of tennis players. Some fashion
pictures, however, are near-pornographic and we have to censor them.

“Sometimes I’m afraid of being sexist, so I argued against using a beautiful picture of a woman’s breast by Robert Mapplethorpe to illustrate an article on breast cancer. Two women staffers wanted to use it, however, and that row reverberated for weeks. Context is everything.

“News photography in Britain has gone backwards in my opinion: it’s all the cult of the personality, now – that’s where newspaper culture is going. It’s a young-ish, post-feminist culture.

“There are no women picture editors in Fleet Street; likewise there’s a lack of women photographers. At college there’s a 50-50 split between men and women, but being a Fleet Street photographer on the road is a rough old game.”

Picture Editor 2 (male) – from a national tabloid:

“Women are more circumspect than men and tend not to make so many mistakes, so they would figure in fewer negative news stories. Generally I find they have more imagination and can see more of the pitfalls, perhaps. Or perhaps they’re just more law-abiding because they have less arrogance.

“In the story of the Mile High Club couple, men have more of a reputation for being Jack-the-Lads and sex is not so intimate to them. So maybe the woman in the case is more newsworthy. And the quality of the picture of the woman was better than the picture of the men: he ducked and dived into his house past the photographers, but she allowed the photographers to take a proper picture of her.

“Most men don’t like looking at glamorous pictures of other men in the way that women like looking at pictures of beautiful women. It’s partly because of a fear of being thought gay and partly because they don’t compare themselves to other men as much as women compare themselves to other women. So you won’t attract most men’s attention by using a picture of an attractive man, whereas a picture of an attractive woman will have a dual effect by attracting both sexes’ attention.

“So far as the high number of pictures of blondes is concerned, blondes tend to be slightly more flamboyant than brunettes. I would like to know how many natural blondes as opposed to artificial ones get the publicity. You are trying to get yourself noticed if you dye your hair blonde in this country, because brunettes are in a
majority.

“The middle-market stopped using posed glamour pictures about three years ago; they just fell out of favour. But pictures of people enjoying themselves at a party are part of the feel-good factor. And if women dress in an eye-catching way, that’s going to catch the camera. It’s the old argument about Princess Diana: who used who? The day she split from Charles, she wore that little black dress with the short skirt and the low neckline. As a result, she upstaged him and got into all the papers.

“There is no prejudice against pictures of women, but there’s a definite anti-men-in-suits policy on the City pages. Men in suits are boring even to men in suits. So on City, you tend to look for an image to illustrate your story rather than case-study pictures.”

Picture Editor 3 (male) – from a national broadsheet:

“We tend to use pictures reflecting women’s views, and I think we get a good balance between pictures of men and women. If a picture is a bit smutty, we don’t touch it: City pages sometimes use pictures from advertising which use sex to sell things such as cars.

“In the story of the Mile High Club couple who had sex in a plane loo, the woman came out of her house and gave a statement to the waiting press so everyone got a good picture. The man didn’t stand there for photos but kept out of the way, so there weren’t such good pictures of him. That’s why the woman’s picture was used by some big papers.”

5. CONCLUSION

Talking to picture editors, it is clear that they feel they simply reflect established assumptions. In effect, they feel their hands are tied – by the editorial agenda of their respective newspaper, and by received wisdom: that a picture of a sexy woman ‘lifts’ the page.

Sex sells. And the press is saturated with pretty faces and décolletages. But the high girlie count in some tabloids on a typical news day is not the same as equal representation on the news agenda.

In total numbers, women are significantly under-represented in the images used by the national press. And when they are featured, it is more likely to be as ‘colour’ or in the ‘softer’ roles of celebrity than it is in the male preserves of city, finance, politics and sport.

It is also a fact that women transgressing accepted moral and social codes is regarded as more unusual than men – witness the high profile given in recent week to a female solicitor found guilty of murdering her two young children. But does the same reasoning make it right that when earlier this year an Irish family indulged in ‘air rage’ on a transatlantic plane the men – the perpetrators – featured in few newspaper pictures while camera lenses focused on their sisters, girlfriends and wives?

Papers rely on women to ‘lift’ the page. But often when they do so – in an understandable attempt to avoid repeated images of men in suits – the choice of image is irrelevant and misleading, tired and cliched.

‘Sexy’ pictures on business pages are amongst the worst offenders – like a recent results story accompanied by three men in shirtsleeves behind a naked model soaping a raised leg in a foaming bubble bath (The Times). And in the same week: a picture of a scantily-clad Kate Moss taken from an ad campaign for Calvin Klein and used to accompany a City story on Calvin Klein-parent, Procter & Gamble … but did it really merit the prominence it had occupying almost one third of the newspaper concerned’s ‘lead’ City page? (The Guardian).

This is not an argument for news manipulation. Far from it. But we do believe newspapers should think more carefully and represent more accurately the growing role in society that women now play.

Few women’s magazines have had much success putting ‘real women’ instead of models or celebrities on their front covers. Women readers want aspirational images rather than the unglamorous reality of their everyday lives, the conventional wisdom goes. But newspapers are – quite literally – a different story. Their role is to reflect the world around them. And that means an accurate account of women’s roles and relevance in all walks of life.

Today’s media consumers have never been more sophisticated. As a result, they expect a more sophisticated response from the newspapers they buy. Picture editors say they simply reflect the greater prominence of men in public life. But if newspapers want to attract more women readers, shouldn’t newspapers now be trying to reflect more real women’s lives in their editorial?

We can’t expect newspapers to do more than society. But we can expect them to keep up.

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