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Last Monday (12.11.12) I attended a debate hosted at BAFTA on Sexism in the UK’s TV industry. The debate was (I assume) created in response to claims made across various platforms during the recent ‘Savile’ crisis that the culture of sexism / sexual harassment that had existed during the 70s & 80s have improved today. This post is my report and thoughts on the points made during that debate. Please note I am not making any comments on the Savile investigation into allegations of child abuse, which are a phenomenal criminal offence that should be handled by the professional police authorities and legal services. My interest in this subject is on how the dialogue about sexism, sexual discrimination and harassment within the TV sector that has emerged as one narratives of this story was treated within this debate.

 The story on Jimmy Savile’s alleged sexual abuse broke in early October this year and it was during this early stage of events unfolding that prominent media personalities including Radio DJ Liz Kershaw TV / Radio presenter Sandi Toksvig revealed their personal experiences of sexual harassment within the sector during the 70s and 80s. The media reported and spoke about a culture of silence and fear on speaking out against instances of sexual harassment that existed in the 1980s TV sector. A question that emerged as a result of that discussion was ‘could this happen today?’  Read the rest of this entry »

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Last night I attended a UK screening of Miss Representation Jennifer Siebel Newsom‘s documentary that looks at how the US media portrays women and young girls. This event was hosted by Women in Film and TV and Amnesty International UK.

Just watch the trailer and you’ll get a taste of the heart-lurching-lump-in-your-throat feeling that this film evokes. The opening still displays a quote from Alice Walker “The most common way that people give up their power is by thinking that they don’t have any”. This is followed by a montage of sexualised, violent and demeaning images of women cut between quotes from contributors about the media’s treatment and representation of women and the impact on society. From the start, you know that this is a campaigning film, designed to provoke its audience into action.

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Last Friday I presented at the OCR A level Media Conference for A Level Media Studies teachers. http://ocrmediaconference2012.weebly.com/index.html

My presentation was in collaboration with Dr Kim Allen a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Education (IPSE), London Metropolitan University. Kim’s research focuses on young people’s career aspirations and transitions, and the role of social class and gender in shaping these; and issues of exclusion, equality and diversity in the creative industries.  Together, we presented aspects from both our research agendas that linked to the gender gap amongst creative media professionals in the UK. I introduced the background to my PhD project including the Skillset statistics and reports on gendered employment patterns in the industry and some findings from my qualitative interviews with female creative workers on attitudes towards motherhood and employment within the industry. Kim presented her findings from a research project conducted in 2009- 2010 for the Equality Challenge Unit on equality issues in higher education work placements in the creative sector (with Jocey Quinn, Sumi Hollingworth and Anthea Rose). This project carried out a series of in-depth interviews with students in Higher Education who had undertaken work placements in the creative industries and Kim presented some of the findings from the interviews with female students aged 19-25 who had undertaken work experience placements in the TV, Film, Advertising, Design and Photography sectors. You can read up about the findings from this project here.

The purpose of our presentation was to show how the findings from our research suggest that there is a serious gender gap developing in the creative industries, one that it would appear is being felt by a younger generation, what Kim described as ‘creative workers in the making’ (term taken from Dr Daniel Ashton) which would suggest a continuing trend, and get feedback from A Level teachers on how this might affect their students. We talked about how this trend could have major repercussions, for a sector that has been identified as a growth industry, one that has been identified by politicians as potentially providing a central role in the UK recovery from the current recession. Yet if as our research suggests certain groups of workers continue to be alienated, excluded from career progression or forced to leave and if this becomes a growing trend, how does that impact on this forecast? And we asked what are the barriers or conditions of the industry that are causing this widening gap in the first place?

If I were to start writing the answers to those questions now, I’m be writing out my entire PhD (you don’t want me to do that). What both Kim and I hoped to gain from this session was the feedback and thoughts from Higher Education providers on how they felt this would impact on their students. We wanted to know what career advice they would give, particularly to their female students on jobs in the creative industries, given the findings from our research. We wanted to know what relationships currently existed between the industry and education providers, whether they felt they had the right resources to realistically advise and support their students and where they felt were the most important areas for improvement.

Unfortunately, we had very little in attendance. Those that did attend provided some excellent feedback on their own experiences of working within the industry and the areas of concern / questions posed to them by parents on opportunities for their children who were studying the media and many thanks to those that did attend for their feedback. But there was depressingly little input to go on. When I did my masters at the LSE, I co-organised a seminar on women and journalism with Charlie Beckett Director of media thinktank Polis, chaired by Samira Ahmed and featuring presentations by Professor Ros Gill and Dr Nadja Al-Ali. When planning that seminar, I was advised by a female MD of a very successful independent production company (who I shall not be naming) “If you stick the word ‘women’ in your title you’ll more than half your audience”. Why? Both Kim and I debated the title of our presentation, but we both felt that the issue was one that should be recognised as having an impact on everyone. We talked about the potential economic impact of this trend in a global industry and its affect on everyone, but it still seemed to be understood by some attendees as a ‘woman’s’ issue.

I would still really appreciate feedback from A Level teachers on this research. Kim and I included a series of questions in our presentation which can be accessed here Allen&Dent 2012_Women and careers in the media presentation so if anyone who attended the conference but didn’t make the talk would like to get in touch with me please do so: Tamsyn@cemp.ac.uk.

I will be conducting further interviews later on this year and am planning to present some of my findings in early 2013. Also Kim and I are hoping to hold this presentation again so watch this space for more information.

Last Friday I attended a half day conference ‘Media and Mother’s matters’ hosted by Dr Oluyinka Esan at Winchester University. I have to admit, I was a bit grudging about this conference. The thought of scrabbling /begging to find an extra day’s childcare for Freddy to attend what I thought might turn into a group rant about how bad TV was for young minds did not seem like my number one priority (sorry Oluyinka). But I was completely wrong. The conference included fantastic presentations by among others the legendary Professor Dorothy Hobson whose keynote speech covered the entry of mothers into the workplace, the link between the economy and policy on mothers in the UK, the representation of mothers and mothering on UK soap operas including the audience reaction to the Kat / Ronnie cot death storyline in EastEnders were outrage from real mothers on the inappropriateness of the story caused production to rethink and rewrite. She also spoke about the criticism faced by working media mothers including foreign correspondent Alex Crawford who has been singled out as a war reporter with children when she makes the point that she is surrounded by men in war-torn areas who also have kids but do not receive the level of condemnation that she is subject to. Hobson spoke of the normative constructions of motherhood that have become embedded in our society today and the lack of realistic portrayals of mothering on our screens. She celebrated the Channel Four documentary ‘One Born Every Minute’ for it’s realistic portrayal of both the ordinary and miraculous reality of childbirth.

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Miriam O’Reilly has won a landmark tribunal against the BBC for ageism in the UK visual media. As a researcher specialising in gender and the media the tribunal could not be a more timely case study. I would like to state that I am not able to comment on the tribunal’s decision or on the BBC’s conduct. I am not a media professional and therefore not in a position to do so. what I find interesting in this case is how the application of gender theory to the final court settlement (which upheld a claim of age discrimination over sex discrimination) offers interesting insight to the story.

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