New Delhi, India – The ruckus over the off shoulder outfit of a British lady member of Parliament brings the fight home in more than one way. And it is not necessarily confined to appropriate dressing in the US Congress or elsewhere. One could take US media as the obvious fitting arena for this discussion.
As an avid 24×7 US news watcher, it is curious to see the contrasting attires of men and women featuring on media news shows. The men mainly wear ties, suits and cardigans or just formal looking shirts/t-shirts, while women all have to appear in skimpy, deep neckline, skin hugging clothes more fitting a dinner party or formal.
Fox News possibly led this reprehensible viewer uptake device by being the first to employ it. Not surprisingly this virus has enveloped all other channels. By presenting eye-catching women dressed and made up in their best, with well-groomed hair the style of which could change according to the flavor of the month or the latest movie hit, Fox hit the gold or the sweet spot in channel selling and viewer rating.
Talking of shift in fashions, when ‘Frozen’ film was released, suddenly a single lengthy braid flung across one shoulder became the norm. It was later replaced by chest or waist length hair, parted in two softly curled parts and resting down each side of the chest. That style presumably is now somewhat stale and likely to yield to something different. Meanwhile, men have no such call for unanimity of hair style, make-up, body structure or dress code.
The disturbing factor overwhelmingly is the camera angles used to shoot the panel discussion. Guest discussants sit across the anchor or around a table but distant shots are frequently and conveniently used to zoom in on women’s legs, thighs and higher, occasionally hinting of what lies beyond! men’s legs don’t seem to matter though they get some of the titillating intrusion when cameras focus on their zippered areas. Decidedly that exposure and focus is much less common than of the female.
The sitting style itself is gendered, which is not owed as much to media as to the fact that it is ingrained in our societal behavioral system. From my childhood I have wondered why men sit freely with legs wide apart while women have to curl up their legs under them in an uncomfortable sitting posture. But even if media has not designed or initiated it, by merely continuing to abide by that open and shut leg syndrome speaks poorly for a modernized supposedly progressive and gender conscious current age of media.
The question arises why? And the answer is simple, if to some appearing simplistic. News sells because beauty sells. But to be more realistic, news grips when predominantly male viewers’ interest is piqued. I am not suggesting male news viewers are tuned in only because of titillation, or that women viewers don’t find news more interesting when the presenter is easy on the eye. What I am pointing out and protesting is the conscious decision by media houses to use candy catchers in one case and not the other. As one familiar (albeit in an earlier age) with TV recordings, the studios can often be freezing in temperature and in that context to view off or drop shouldered attire clad women juxtaposed with three or two piece attired men is disturbing to say the least, and at most, revolting.
Excessive mascara stiffened and artificially lengthened eyelashes, lipstick doused enhanced protruding mouths, tight fitting dresses with somewhat plunging necklines don’t add to credibility of discussants or point to their intellectual ability. If anything, they detract from it. To focus the roving lens using long shots to reveal thighs and legs, or zoomed-in tight shots exposing the breast dip and dividing line are often distracting and arguably even disgusting.
This is not because women are not free to choose what they expose but that there is a hidden force compelling them or at least some of them to fall in line. And also, as the British parliamentarian’s exposed shoulder and partial breast debate on social media suggests, viewer consensus generally in any situation would be to dress appropriately.
That another UK Parliament member is pictured caught napping and offered on social media as the greater offense or the shoulder exposure as the lesser of two evils is an unending debate to which there can and should be no one conclusion. What one should not hesitate to decry, however, are double standards used to present one face for a woman and another for a man.
Some intrinsic judgment call is necessary to rest channel success and popularity on gender equal gender sensitive presenter norms, rather than superficial physicality. Beyond a point, we should all be able to perceive women as broadcasters and not as eye candy.