Legs are content: Fox News and female representation

 Although feminist theorists have long opposed to point of view that gender is biological inherited within sexuality, they contended that it is socially constructed through stylization of body and mind (Butler, 1988, p.270). Our family, schools, public organizations and other social groups work as fundamental institutions for the socialization of human beings. Nevertheless, media institutions have been increasingly integrated into our lives, shaping our perceptions of our society and regulating our personal activities. Media owners and managers also utilize media channel as a socializing institutions that can easily dispense their ideas constantly and attractively towards a mass audience (Lull, 1995, p.62). This interaction via media institutions can be able to develop our social norms and values, or even forming ideologies and hegemonies.

In this essay, I will look at how the media conglomerate Fox Inc. depicts female in news channel, examine the representation of female, and analyze the sociological meanings behind the screen. I will focus on how media conglomeration reinforce the ideology of female in the U.S culture, and how female represent themselves in the news which follow or challenge the hegemony. I will use the example of Fox News channel, which is a subsidiary of the media conglomerate 21 Century Fox, and analyze female representation Fox News with a feminist critique.

In 2010, Allure, one of the most popular beauty magazines in the U.S. with a circulation over 1 million, published a poem that portrays  Fox News reporters as hot, sexy, with long legs, and blonde hair (Denicolo, 2010). It proposed that the network should be called the Foxy News Channel with its “bevy babes” (Denicolo, 2010). The poem, written in an ironic tone, is more likely to refer to the reporters as entertainment stars or fashion leaders rather than a serious news hosts reporting the tide of international economy or politics. It is hard to imagine those Fox reporters to serious natural disasters that involve tens of thousands of homeless victims, or to the political dialogues between developed countries and developing countries about climate change rescuing regime. In YouTube, when you type in “Fox reporters,” the most related pop-ins will be “legs.”  Video clips go viral about Fox News reporters’ short shirts and long legs; even the uncrossed legs would be a heated highlight. Female reporters in Fox News Channel are emphasized more with body rather than what they are reporting. It is undeniable that American culture is seriously objectized female character, and what Fox News presents here is only a piece of the iceberg.

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Media conglomeration has overwhelmingly affected the role and character of news workers. In the late 1990s, media industries in the United States have endured a trend of consolidation and concentration, turning out the big five majors which are Disney, Time Warner, Comcast, Viacom and Seagram (McChesney, 2000, p.19). The media industry has concentrated their ownership into fewer corporations as well as conglomerated into larger non-media corporations which operates highly diverse types of business (Croteau & Hoynes, 2003, p.40). On one hand, the merge of media industry enables media companies to cut costs and adapt to the existed competitive media industry. On the other hand, the huge debts that the buyout and mergers require media conglomerates to continue to reduce budget and conduct more multi-tiers promotions for advertisers and investors (McChesney, 2000, p.27). In this sense, journalists are no more objective critics or news reporters; rather, they are in a position to attract more audiences that investors and advertisers demand (McChesney, 2000, p.31). They also face more competitions as media conglomerate are cutting off their employees. Sine 1990s, the increasing competition in overall media sector has led to need to the media laid-off and a shrinking newsroom (Crotuea & Hoynes, 2003, p.63). For example, Fox Inc. laid of 81 full-time employees due to the selling of Fox Sports Net to Rainbow Media Group in 2003 (JournalismJobs.com). The Daily News, an iPad news publication owned by the News Corp., which has owned Fox News before its split-up, laid off approximately 120 journalists due to the business shut down (Shapiro, 2012). As News Corp.’s CEO Murdoch claimed, “it could not find a large enough audience… to convince us the business model was sustainable in the long-term” (Shapiro, 2012). In today’s business oriented model of news media, the news reporters are more in the sense of insecurity of their job, which might make them more likely to suit the needs of media giants. It is almost impossible for news journalists to criticize their parent company.

One way to attract eyeballs with the lowest costs is sex. As McChesney (2000) pointed out, media content tends to appear more sexy and violent scenes in channels of media giants (p.34). Fox News female reporters haven’t escaped from this. They unitedly dress in short skirts and wear thick cosmetics. This doesn’t requires more costs than the individually dressing up in an attractive skirt. In the 2011 documentary film, Miss Representation, Fox reporters is criticized by representing themselves sexy model (Newsom, 2011). As Katie Couric in the film pointed out, the news reporter often consists of a young lady with an old man, seemly as a grandfather and his second wife (Newsom, 2011). Media industries push their responsibility of casting sexy scenes in media towards mass audience, claiming that sex is a kind of popular taste. However, McChesney (2000) states that the effects of media system upon media content is hardly to be isolated from the nature of media structure: “the overall pursuit of profit, […], the influence of advertising, the special interests of media owners and managers” (p.31). The burden of media content should not merely be placed upon the audience; rather, it is mainly the media industries to be blamed. According to Caroline Heldman (2013), advertisers are selling sex to both man and women that when men find they are surrounded by sex objects, they feel empowered, and while women objectify themselves, they find the value for themselves. Thus, it is no wonder how Fox News female reporters presented on the screen.

Nonetheless, it is interesting to see how those female reporters represent themselves. Butler (1988) views both muscularity and femininity as performance conducted by constituting acts to achieve an imaginative as well as compelling “self” (p.271). It is the actors that perform a show, as it is female that represent themselves in a perceived ideal sex role. They think and feel are in what Hall (2003) referred “a system of representation” (p.4). Their emotions, concepts, and images represent the settled culture and values, which could be able to exchange communicate meanings to other social members in the same culture code (Hall, 2003, p.4). The representation of those female themselves is permeated in a society that gender is strongly socially constructed and demanded by social value. The corporate norms are not simply shaped by the values within media industries; rather, it is a reflection of social values. According to McChesney (2000), media in the United States is a shadow of “the interests of corporate America” (p.29). The leaders on media conglomerate’s board are also the directors of other industries (McChesney, 2000, p.28). All these interlocking companies shape a culture code for the common interest, which reinforce the ideologies in every aspect of American culture (Lull, 1995, p.62). The media ideologies also influence people’s perceptions to social roles and personal activities (p.62). On the other hand, they also depends on the willingness people accept those principles, rules and laws in dominant ideologies (Lull, 1995, p.63). It depends on the belief those principles, rules and law can best serve their interest, regardless of the fact that it might not work (Lull, 1995, p.63).

In this sense, I argue that the sexy representation of Fox female representation reinforce the ideology of American culture, which has a gender bias on female. The fox female reporters act as appealing sex roles to attract more male audiences, especially certain class of male that advertisers cater to. They are a representation of what male depict and expect for them, and of their desires to be an ideal female. They not only come from the common cultural code, but also convey to other social members through mediated communication, which help shape and reinforce the cultural norm. According to Caroline Heldman (2013), the society of the U.S is much subjected to a culture of sexual objectification. Sexual objectification is defined as “the process of representing or treating a person like a sex object, one that serves another’s sexual pleasure” (Heldman, 2013). For example, the discussion about the sexual appealing of Fox News reporters is a phenomenon of sexual objectification as “sexual availability is the defining characteristic of the person” (Heldman, 2013).  The self-objectification culture is influential to women as women are feeling less empowered, less self-esteemed, and less politically active (Heldman, 2013). The film Miss Representation (Newsom, 2011) also points out that young teenage tend to imitate mediated females and learn to view themselves as object (Newsom, 2011). A self-objectified female has lower confidence and is less likely to vote or perform as a leader (Newsom, 2011). In this film, the Secretary of State Senior Fellow Dr. Condoleezza Rice argued that it is less likely to have more rights for women if there is no female candidate: “we need to have female candidates” (Newsom, 2011). The social influence of representation of female reporters should not be overlooked, that it is not a problem in personal level; rather, it is about the equality of gender, and about the whole society.

Reference:

Butler, J. (1988). Performative acts and gender constitution: An essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory. Theatre Journal, 40(4), 519-531.

Croteau, D., & Hoynes, W. (2003). Media society: Industries, images, and audiences (3rd ed.) (PP. 31-76  ). Thousand Oacks, CA: Pine Forge Press.   

Denicolo, D. (2010, June 15). Fox News Anchors: Hot or Not? [Web log comment]. Retrieved from  http://www.allure.com/beauty-trends/2010/hot_news_anchors#intro.

Hall, S. (2003). Introduction. In S. Hall (Eds.), Representation: Cultural representations and signifying practices (pp. 1-12). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage (First published by The Open University in 1997).

Heldman, C. (2013, Jan 20). The sexy lie: Caroline Heldman at TEDxYouth@SanDiego. Retrieved from YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMS4VJKekW8.

Lull, J. (1995). Hegemony. In Media, communication, culture: A global approach (pp.61-66). New York, NY: Columbia University.

McChesney, R. W. (2000). U.S. media at the dawn of the twenty-first century. In Rich media, poor democracy: Communication politics in dubious times (pp. 15-77). University of Illinois Press.

Newsom, J. S. (producer & director). (2011). Miss Representation [Motion Picture].  The United States: Girls Club Entertainment.

Shapiro, R. (2012, December 3). The Daily Shutting Down: News Corp. to end Daily iPad Publication. Retrieved from Huff Post Media, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/03/the-daily-shutting-down-news-corp-cease-ipad-publication_n_2230842.html.

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