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The F Word reviewer and commenter, Sian Norris, tells us about an exciting upcoming West Country project …

The Representations of Women in the Media Project was set up three years ago by the Bristol Fawcett Society, who spent a day in June 2007 collecting evidence exploring representation, from the number of films showing in the local cinemas that were directed by a woman (none) to how many pictures in the newspapers were of men and women (twice as many of men). The project grew in 2008 when, joining forces with Bristol Feminist Network, the two organisations decided to take a snapshot of how women are represented in the media over a month long period, between October and November.

The results were shocking.

We counted how many women performers, artists and directors were featuring in Bristol’s “alternative” venues. In one arts cinema, out of 28 films on show only 4 were directed by women, whilst a second arts cinema and gig venue had 1 woman directed film out of 19 films in total. Comedy also showed its exclusive side, in one month a local alternative comedy venue had no female comedians performing.

One mother watched Cbeebies over a day, to find that none of the stories told on the channel that day had a female narrator. Character representation didn’t do well either, whilst 70% of the characters on the Cbeebies shows that day being male, only 30% were female. Regular TV was no better; one volunteer recorded who was appearing on her screen as she switched it on throughout the day. Whereas a woman appeared on the screen 5 out of 10 times, men were present 8 out of 10 times.

Objectification was another issue we wanted to explore. We spent an afternoon flyering lad’s mags in city centre newsagents to try and discover how normalised pornographic imagery is in society, making a film to try and explore creatively how women are objectified. We counted magazine covers to discover the percentage of idealised women and men, and active men and women. 85% of magazine covers in WhSmiths and Borders showed idealised women, 15% of idealised men. And, in an uncanny reversal, 85% of covers on display showed active men whilst only 15% showed active women.

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This November we are doing it all over again, and we’re getting even bigger! We’re looking at airbrushing in magazines, and how minority ethnic women are represented. We’re exploring how queer women are represented, women adverts, gender stereotyping in children’s media, gender of storytelling in films. We’re finding out how often women appear on comedy panel shows, checking how domestic violence and rape is reported in the news, and much more.

Our research is based around counting and stats, but it is also based on creativity, exploring how we feel and experience representation in the media and expressing how we want to be represented. We know that our research may not be scientific, but it creates a snapshot of how women are experienced through the media today, and offers examples of how women appear across the media. Our evidence testifies that, contrary to popular belief, women do not have equality of representation in the media.

Bristol Feminist Network and Bristol Fawcett Society will be presenting the project findings at the Malcolm X Centre, Bristol, on the 28th November. We are setting up at midday and the talks will begin around 3pm. Please keep checking Representations of Women in the Media Project> for further info.