As the world of media becomes increasingly digitalized, most people are giving up the Sunday morning paper for an online news peruse. Suddenly, newspapers seem too long and burdensome compared to the brief, scandalous sound bites and one-liners that online headlines provide — Yahoo! News headlines, in particular. But what happens when “top news” becomes a new haircut, a fitter figure, or twenty pounds down the drain? Unfortunately, most of Yahoo! News’ headlines about women are solely appearance-based, while headlines based on personal or political achievement are consistently overlooked.
Often, we critique individual stories for their sexist slants or crude content. But in doing so, we can’t forget to analyze the macrocosm that is the news itself — or, rather, what parades as news. What percentage of stories portray women in a positive light? A negative light? How many stories are appearance-related? In order to answer questions like these, I took a close look at one of the most used newsfeeds around: Yahoo! News.
I’m disappointed to report that the results were discouraging, to say the least.
Of the 48 Top Stories available for viewing, 19 were about individuals. Of those 19, nine were about women. Right off the bat, women made up less than fifty percent of the news stories, even though we compose more than 50 percent of the population. And then, taking a closer look at the headlines and captions, that less-than-half suddenly seemed entirely unimpressive. Take a look:
“Elvis’s granddaughter in racy role”: Riley Keough, 23, plays a bad girl in Magic Mike but says she’s far from real life. Met her beau on the set.
“Best celeb parenting advice”: Tia Mowry offers lots of advice, even though she just became a mom herself.
“Pic: Theron’s shaved head”: The upcoming Mad Max star rocks the dramatic buzz cut during an outing with her adorable son.
“TV Star’s Drastic Hair Cut”: Chyler Leigh chops off the long auburn locks that Grey’s Anatomy fans have come to know.
“Duff shows off fit figure”: The star has been working hard to get back into shape since having a baby
“Shoes Snooki shouldn’t wear”: The pregnant Jersey Shore star takes a tumble but still refuses to forgo her wild footwear
Let’s continue with the numbers, shall we?
Of those 9 stories about women, four — 44 percent — were directly about the subject’s appearance; half of those (22 percent) were about the subject’s new haircut. It seems one of the best ways for a woman to make the news these days is to shave her head or drop a few pounds. And why? Why do we consume these stories at the same caliber we consume stories about women’s charitable endeavors and medical tragedies?
The stories with men as their subjects were entirely different. Detailing NBA draft picks, victorious dating strategies, Wimbledon plights, and heroic feats, these articles consistently portrayed men actively achieving or pursuing success apart from their physical appearance. Not a single story in the total 48 mentioned men’s weight loss, haircuts, or shoe styles.
The only reason these stories become top news is because people read them. Every time we click on one of these trivial, often-judgmental headlines, we’re sending a message to Yahoo! News that (a) we want to read about these subjects, and (b) we support Yahoo! using women’s personal appearance to advance its agenda as a “news” source.
So how can we change the headline scene for women? Next time you embark on your daily news surf, select the story about Congress, even if your finger is just itching to click that headline about that hot celeb’s new bod. By stepping outside of the system that values women for their looks, you’ll be sending the message loud and clear that you think women are worth more than their shoes or their haircuts.
–Hailey Magee is a Women’s and Gender Studies and Politics double major at Brandeis University. Her foremost interests include media literacy and young girl empowerment. Hailey hopes to one day pursue a career in the political arena and become an advocate for gender equality.