It was the French writer Simone de Beauvoir who first pointed out that while men were comfortable speaking for “humanity”, women were denied a universal perspective and instead only got to express a “woman’s perspective”.
More than 60 years after the publication of The Second Sex, women are still a “niche” in media terms. Up to nine times more men appeared on the BBC’s main news programme than women – and those women who do make it onto TV or radio news are more likely to speak as victims or case studies.
Of course, this niching goes on all the time in the news. It was good to see Colourful Radio’s Henry Bonsu on Sky News’ Press Preview recently, but are his opinions only of interest when it comes to discussing the most recent race row in football?
One look at The Telegraph’s newly launched Wonder Women section should tell you that something deeply troubling is going on when it comes to “women”.
I’m a journalist and a white woman, which is something I don’t have to declare often. I could also add “working class background” with a nod to the decent education that gave me a pass into the middle classes work-wise, but also means I don’t quite fit the media norm.
I grew up in a part of London where diversity was a fact of life, not a concept. Yet the dominance of the white media class reflects little of the Britain we were celebrating so enthusiastically during the Olympic Games this summer.
Yes women are more visible in the media now, but there appears to be a worrying assumption that as long as they are female – job done. Time and time again I’ve read articles about “women” that really only mean white middle class women but position themselves as being representative of all women.
What about all the other women who have to tag themselves “Asian woman” or ‘black woman”? Where do they fit in? Guardian journalist Lexy Topping was pulled up on this point after she wrote about an “explosion” in grassroots feminism in the UK but failed to deviate from the “white, middle-class heterosexual stronghold which has come to typify the feminist movement”.
Topping did respond to the criticisms, suggesting the piece was “merely a snapshot of some, not all, of the “new faces” within feminism”.
The problem is that these “snapshots” all too frequently focus on white women, even if some women think that the struggle for inclusivity has gone too far and has been reduced to meaningless tokenism.
It is true that media shorthand can’t always do complex identity issues justice, but surely white women who want equality should be prepared to find ways to share the “Wonder Women” label?
This article first appeared on Words of Colour.