No, Terry Wogan, women don't "use their good looks" to get jobs in television

There seems to be an epidemic in television of middle-aged to elderly men thinking that they have important thoughts on women on television and that those thoughts aren’t the rantings of a sexist berk.

It’s okay, ladies! In case you were still wondering what on earth to do about the emphasis placed on a woman’s appearance in pretty much any role where she can be seen, another elderly man off the television has given us his thoughts.

Veteran broadcaster Terry Wogan has come out criticising female presenters who “complain” that they lose out on roles in their later years – because they “used their good looks” to get the best jobs when they were young. “Presenters like Tess Daly and Holly Willoughby are having their time now but they will go on to be replaced,” he told The Sunday Mirror. “Female presenters shouldn’t complain about not getting work later in their careers because they used their good looks when they were young to land roles.”

He went on to draw attention to a number of older female presenters whom he admired. “I saw Sue Lawley the other day and she is still as attractive and as bright as ever,” he said, in more comments that absolutely didn’t confirm that he thinks professional women’s value should be evaluated by their appearance. “Selina Scott is a stunning beauty and Anna Ford is beautiful.”

There seems to be an epidemic in television of middle-aged to elderly men thinking that they have important thoughts on women on television and that those thoughts aren’t the rantings of a sexist berk. If it isn’t John Inverdale, it’s Alan Titchmarsh talking about women “whingeing” when their careers get cut short once they hit 40. Women, such moaners! They really should take being dumped because their skin isn’t tight as it used to be with more decorum. Anyway, as Wogan helpfully reminded us, they’re happy enough to use their looks to their advantage when they still have them.

I wonder though, according to men like Wogan, what exactly are women in television meant to do? If they stick their head in a paper bag during their twenties or make sure they look like they’ve been eating some pies, are they allowed to complain when they get pushed out at forty? It’s just the ones that looked attractive at the start of their career that can’t complain when they’re later dumped for no longer being attractive, right? Because they’ve “used” their looks to get them where they wanted to be.

Except it confuses the order of things to suggest a woman “uses her good looks” to get a job in television. She turns up, presumably with her own face, and she’s either hired or not. That female TV presenters have to tick the boxes of ‘pretty’ and ‘slim’ (and usually white and non-disabled too) to get work isn’t the fault of female TV presenters. It’s the fault of the sexist culture that, like most aspects of society, seeps through the media. Holly Willoughby didn’t walk into ITV one day and tempt the execs with her ample breasts. As far as I’m aware, up until Holly dazzled them with her cleavage, ITV were not planning on teaming up Philip Schofield with Mary Beard. Holly fitted a mold that already existed and is getting a very nice living out of it.

Should we be vilifying women like her for it? Should we agree with Wogan that, if they enjoy the perks of their looks when young, they shouldn’t complain when they’re dumped when they hit middle-age? That depends on whether you think the best response to sexism is punishing women within it rather than addressing the causes that got us there, I suppose.

It’s a bit like sneering at women (some of them actually TV presenters) who have a boob job or crash between the latest sadistic diets. “My God woman, you’re obsessed with how you look!” As if they were born with a desire to starve themselves or pay a doctor to hack at their flesh.

Women in television, much like those out it, are in a no win situation. They have to be slim and glossy to get and stay in work. If they’re slim and glossy they’re accused of only getting work because of their looks – and find themselves signing up to and perpetuating the culture that’ll throw them out the door when it all starts to sag.

Wogan unwittingly says it all when he speaks of presenting Children in Need with his “lovelies” (a.k.a grown women Tess Daly and Fearn Cotton). TV is still content with a particular set-up: the aged man (generally over 70) and the pretty young co-presenter (half his age and painted into a distracting dress). As long as that culture exists, women who want to work will have to go along with it. And wait for elderly, still-successful men to tell them they brought their short careers on themselves.

Terry Wogan has something to say about women on TV. Do we care? Image: Getty

Frances Ryan is a journalist and political researcher. She writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman, and others on disability, feminism, and most areas of equality you throw at her. She has a doctorate in inequality in education. Her website is here.

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The Autumn Statement proved it – we need a real alternative to austerity, now

Theresa May’s Tories have missed their chance to rescue the British economy.

After six wasted years of failed Conservative austerity measures, Philip Hammond had the opportunity last month in the Autumn Statement to change course and put in place the economic policies that would deliver greater prosperity, and make sure it was fairly shared.

Instead, he chose to continue with cuts to public services and in-work benefits while failing to deliver the scale of investment needed to secure future prosperity. The sense of betrayal is palpable.

The headline figures are grim. An analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that real wages will not recover their 2008 levels even after 2020. The Tories are overseeing a lost decade in earnings that is, in the words Paul Johnson, the director of the IFS, “dreadful” and unprecedented in modern British history.

Meanwhile, the Treasury’s own analysis shows the cuts falling hardest on the poorest 30 per cent of the population. The Office for Budget Responsibility has reported that it expects a £122bn worsening in the public finances over the next five years. Of this, less than half – £59bn – is due to the Tories’ shambolic handling of Brexit. Most of the rest is thanks to their mishandling of the domestic economy.

 

Time to invest

The Tories may think that those people who are “just about managing” are an electoral demographic, but for Labour they are our friends, neighbours and the people we represent. People in all walks of life needed something better from this government, but the Autumn Statement was a betrayal of the hopes that they tried to raise beforehand.

Because the Tories cut when they should have invested, we now have a fundamentally weak economy that is unprepared for the challenges of Brexit. Low investment has meant that instead of installing new machinery, or building the new infrastructure that would support productive high-wage jobs, we have an economy that is more and more dependent on low-productivity, low-paid work. Every hour worked in the US, Germany or France produces on average a third more than an hour of work here.

Labour has different priorities. We will deliver the necessary investment in infrastructure and research funding, and back it up with an industrial strategy that can sustain well-paid, secure jobs in the industries of the future such as renewables. We will fight for Britain’s continued tariff-free access to the single market. We will reverse the tax giveaways to the mega-rich and the giant companies, instead using the money to make sure the NHS and our education system are properly funded. In 2020 we will introduce a real living wage, expected to be £10 an hour, to make sure every job pays a wage you can actually live on. And we will rebuild and transform our economy so no one and no community is left behind.

 

May’s missing alternative

This week, the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, gave an important speech in which he hit the proverbial nail on the head. He was completely right to point out that societies need to redistribute the gains from trade and technology, and to educate and empower their citizens. We are going through a lost decade of earnings growth, as Carney highlights, and the crisis of productivity will not be solved without major government investment, backed up by an industrial strategy that can deliver growth.

Labour in government is committed to tackling the challenges of rising inequality, low wage growth, and driving up Britain’s productivity growth. But it is becoming clearer each day since Theresa May became Prime Minister that she, like her predecessor, has no credible solutions to the challenges our economy faces.

 

Crisis in Italy

The Italian people have decisively rejected the changes to their constitution proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, with nearly 60 per cent voting No. The Italian economy has not grown for close to two decades. A succession of governments has attempted to introduce free-market policies, including slashing pensions and undermining rights at work, but these have had little impact.

Renzi wanted extra powers to push through more free-market reforms, but he has now resigned after encountering opposition from across the Italian political spectrum. The absence of growth has left Italian banks with €360bn of loans that are not being repaid. Usually, these debts would be written off, but Italian banks lack the reserves to be able to absorb the losses. They need outside assistance to survive.

 

Bail in or bail out

The oldest bank in the world, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, needs €5bn before the end of the year if it is to avoid collapse. Renzi had arranged a financing deal but this is now under threat. Under new EU rules, governments are not allowed to bail out banks, like in the 2008 crisis. This is intended to protect taxpayers. Instead, bank investors are supposed to take a loss through a “bail-in”.

Unusually, however, Italian bank investors are not only big financial institutions such as insurance companies, but ordinary households. One-third of all Italian bank bonds are held by households, so a bail-in would hit them hard. And should Italy’s banks fail, the danger is that investors will pull money out of banks across Europe, causing further failures. British banks have been reducing their investments in Italy, but concerned UK regulators have asked recently for details of their exposure.

John McDonnell is the shadow chancellor


John McDonnell is Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington and has been shadow chancellor since September 2015. 

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump