The Sexualization of Female News Anchors

Clarissa Speyer-Stocks ’16

Since women became more relevant in news media, the role of the female news anchor has changed from informant to prop, as news companies cash in on the sexuality and appearance of their anchors.

A trailblazer for women in the news, Katie Couric has been recognized as the first major example of this trend in news. She became one of the first female anchors for CBS Evening News and was an inspiration for women in media. But despite the new strides towards equal representation for women in media, the corporate business made the main focus not on her content, point of view, or delivery, but instead her clothing and her body

She wondered if it was her fault, discussing the issue in “MissRepresentation” saying, “I wonder if I started this all with my legs, if I was showing too much”

Later on, Couric went on to work at CBS, NBC, and ABC, but despite her success, she was still pitted against other women, such as Diane Sawyer, and followed in the headlines due to her wardrobe and relationships.

“I don’t ever see gossip columns or tabloids reporting on Brian William’s personal life, yet Katie Couric and what she’s wearing or who she’s dating is headline news,” said reporter Lisa Ling in the feminist documentary, “MissRepresentation.”

It’s no secret that the sexualization of female news anchors is out of hand and prevalent in our media. To the point where even late night hosts like, Jay Leno notice. Leno even commented on the Tonight Show saying, “Folks we’re gonna play a game, I’m going to show you a photo of a woman, and you have to guess if she is a professional news anchor or a hooters waitress”

And the issue is not that women are dressing provocatively and then reporting, it’s the large divide when looking at male anchors and female anchors. Simply put: women in news are purposefully portrayed differently.

Take a notable news anchor, such as Bill O’Reilly: he’s highly qualified, conservative and has no confines as to  how he must behave on his show, The O’Reilly Factor on FOX news. In addition, his looks are not a key selling point for his shows. Instead, he uses his qualifications and content. He is respected in his field and gains dedicated viewership more and more each year ending 2015 with an average audience of around 3 million viewers.

And O’Reilly is not an isolated example–there’s Keith Olbermann and Wolf Blitzer, both of whom are white male newscasters dominating the industry. They don’t have to be young, they don’t have to be attractive, they just have to be qualified. Whereas it appears that female newscasters have to be blessed with above average attractiveness and qualified to land the job.

Newscaster, Robin Meade reports she get many comments based on her attractive appearance (Wikimedia)

Newscaster, Robin Meade reports she get many comments based on her attractive appearance (Wikimedia)

Because of this, the female newscasters are treated in a way that demeans their qualifications and abilities. For example, an anonymous source told Vanity Fair,  “On the floor of the [New York Stock Exchange], the Fox women are referred to as ‘the Foxtrots,’ …[because] ‘they trot around the floor in unbelievably unprofessional clothing.’”

In addition to demeaning and undermining the accomplishments of female newscasters, a study from the University of Indiana showed that sexualized female news anchors cause male viewers to have trouble retaining the information from the story, but at the same time make them more interested in watching the show. This is one of the possibilities that may account for the increase in the hiring of attractive women as newscasters.

Ratings have long been an issue for news stations worldwide. What defines one newscast from the other? And how do you get people to watch the news in the first place?

This encouragement of sexualized anchors is especially prevalent in morning shows. For example before leaving “Today,” Ann Curry told Ladies’ Home Journal that executives encouraged her to wear “ridiculously high-heel shoes.” In addition, Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” had her wardrobe intensely managed.

It has become apparent that female news anchors have been hired for their looks, but it has been shown that their perceived credibility is tied to their appearance. In the same study with the University of Indiana, it was found that women are more likely to trust and listen to an attractive news anchor. As an anonymous newscaster put it, “A bad hair day negates what I’m saying on the news. I get more comments on my clothing and makeup than on stories”.

But there is hope for the future of women in the news. Although few in numbers, newscasters such as Lisa Ling and Rachel Maddow have shown that women can get high ratings based off content and not sexualization, as long as they fight to retain an unsexualized image.

Further strides have been taken as a result of backlash that has come from feminists and the general Internet community. For example, Chicago’s WFLD received quite a deal of disapproval as a result of their banning of hats on female field reporters on the basis that they “look a lot better without hats.” Along the same vein, icons like Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda are working to improve the representation of women throughout all media platforms, starting with the news itself.

At this point a worthy solution may be to follow in the footsteps of female new anchors like Rachel Maddow and Lisa Ling, and keep a neutral appearance for women in news.