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.

BBC
Show Hide image

7 things we learned from the Comic Relief Love, Actually sequel

Even gay subtext is enough to get you killed.

After weeks of hype, the Love, Actually Comic Relief short sequel, Red Nose Day, Actually, finally aired tonight. It might not compare to Stephen’s version of events, but was exactly what you’d expect, really – the most memorable elements of each plotline recreated and recycled, with lots of jokes about the charity added in. So what did Red Nose Day, Actually actually teach us?

Andrew Lincoln’s character was always a creep

It was weird to show up outside Keira Knightley’s house in 2003, and it’s even weirder now, when you haven’t seen each other in almost a decade. Please stop.

It’s also really weird to bring your supermodel wife purely to show her off like a trophy. She doesn’t even know these people. She must be really confused. Let her go home, “Mark”.

Kate Moss is forever a great sport

Judging by the staggering number of appearances she makes at these things, Kate Moss has never said no to a charity appearance, even when she’s asked to do the most ridiculous and frankly insulting things, like pretend she would ever voluntarily have sex with “Mark”.

Self-service machines are a gift and a curse

In reality, Rowan Atkinson’s gift-wrapping enthusiast would have lasted about one hour in Sainsbury’s before being replaced by a machine.

Colin Firth’s character is an utter embarrassment, pull yourself together man

You’re a writer, Colin. You make a living out of paying attention to language and words. You’ve been married to your Portuguese-speaking wife for almost fourteen years. You learned enough to make a terrible proposal all those years ago. Are you seriously telling me you haven’t learned enough to sustain a single conversation with your family? Do you hate them? Kind of seems that way, Colin.

Even gay subtext is enough to get you killed

As Eleanor Margolis reminds us, a deleted storyline from the original Love, Actually was one in which “the resplendent Frances de la Tour plays the terminally ill partner of a “stern headmistress” with a marshmallow interior (Anne Reid).” Of course, even in deleted scenes, gay love stories can only end in death, especially in 2003. The same applies to 2017’s Red Nose Day actually. Many fans speculated that Bill Nighy’s character was in romantic love with his manager, Joe – so, reliably, Joe has met a tragic end by the time the sequel rolls around.  

Hugh Grant is a fantasy Prime Minister for 2017

Telling a predatory POTUS to fuck off despite the pressure to preserve good relations with the USA? Inspirational. No wonder he’s held on to office this long, despite only demonstrating skills of “swearing”, “possibly harassing junior staff members” and “somewhat rousing narration”.

If you get together in Christmas 2003, you will stay together forever. It’s just science.

Even if you’ve spent nearly fourteen years clinging onto public office. Even if you were a literal child when you met. Even if you hate your wife so much you refuse to learn her first language.

Now listen to the SRSLY Love, Actually special:

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.