Today Show Host Becomes Whistleblower For Sexism In The Media


Host of the Australian version of The Today Show recently gave an important speech at an annual media industry event. It is called the Andrew Olle Media Lecture, named after the late Australian journalist of the same name and has been an industry tradition in Australia since 1995. Here’s the kicker, there have only been TWO women deliver speeches, one of them being Today host Lisa Wilkinson in 2013. That’s two female journalists in 16 years, which is not an accurate representation of the power of female journalists in Australia, mind you. But we’ll get to that later.

The 53 year old spoke about the age of social media and how it compares to the age of journalism when she started. The need for speed over accuracy is rife these days, which is not always a good thing. At the age of 21 Lisa became the youngest editor of Dolly magazine in Aus, after working as a secretary for only 2 years. Her passion and hard work got her the job mind you, not the amount of twitter followers (which obviously weren’t around back when she started).

After a long string of clever anecdotes and points about how the industry has changed, she launched into how women are being treated in the industry today. She mentions that female reporters and journalists today could deliver the best interviews and investigations, but still get judged only on their appearance, as has been in the case in her career with emails and letters from viewers. What’s worse is when the negativity comes from other women!

“…as a woman in the media, it has long saddened me that while we delight in covering public issues of overt sexism – possibly the hottest topic in media over the last twelve months – the media itself can be every bit as guilty of treating women entirely differently to men. And in terms of our audience, the cliché is so often true – it is women who can turn out to be a woman’s harshest critic.

And why are women so often the targets of vitriol? And why in so many areas of Australian life, are the rules of engagement still so different for women?

When I saw just a few month ago that Australia’s most trusted publication, the Women’s Weekly ran a cover story, “Why Women Hate Women,” I despaired, because I recognized the syndrome. I don’t believe Australian women do hate women, but I despair when I see the same media that decries sexism and misogyny, itself engaging in it with such uncaring ease.

Lisa Wilkinson, Andrew Olle Lecture

I despair that every time a female journalist is profiled in the press, her age is usually mentioned by the second paragraph, as if it is a measure of her sexual currency and just how long it will be, before it expires. And yet, does anyone care how old [male journalists] are? … the rule of thumb is that the more experienced they are, the better they are at their jobs. So why, so often, doesn’t that same measure apply to women?

I despair when so many gossip magazines use ridicule of women as their stock in trade. How many times do we see female celebrities used as the mass bully targets, almost always based on their appearance.

I despair whenever I hear the words “Post Baby Body” accompanied by images of yet another celebrity who in four amazing weeks has managed to immediately wipe away any physical trace of evidence that she had ever been pregnant in the first place. And we’re meant to aspire to that?

I despair when I see another “Celebrities With Anorexia” gossip cover complete with before and after paparazzi shots, calculated to show each one of them at their sad, tortured worst. It’s pure voyeurism and ridicule masquerading as concern.

I despair when I see the young female radio DJ disappear from sight and unable to work, after being caught up in a prank call to a London Hospital, that saw a troubled nurse take her own life. Meanwhile her male co-host gets promoted and is given a major industry award by his employer as “Top Jock’ of the year. Oh well, as they say, “shit happens.”

I despair, when our Federal Cabinet of 2013, has just one woman to 19 men – and we women are told, even by other women, we must shoulder the burden of blame for this lack of female parliamentary presence due to our lack of “merit” . . . if only we were more talented, we’re told, we might get half a chance of a look in.

I despair that so many young girls are growing up, held hostage via social media to the views others have of them, long before they even know who they are themselves.

I despair of the Instagram culture, where young girls learn to take off as much clothing as possible in order to generate the greatest number of “likes” from an audience too often made up of strangers. This is now the screwed-up arbiter of a girl’s self esteem?

I despair when a retired male journalist called Jeff Barker complains that he can no longer watch the TV news because young female journalists who are simply – and competently – getting on with their job . . . are apparently TOO attractive for him to concentrate. Wake up, Jeff!

And, as a former magazine editor, allow me to speak on something I feel most passionately of all: I TRULY despair, every time Fashion Week rolls

around and another parade of tragically skinny young women make their way down the catwalk. Every year! The designers blame the agents, the agents insist the girls are healthy, while the fashion editors hand the models yet another size 6 garment to wear in photos shoots because, and I’m quoting fashion editors here: it’s the only size the designer samples come in! Meanwhile, former [Australian] Vogue editor Kirstie Clements admits that she’s seen models eat tissues to suppress their appetites so they can stay skinny enough to fit the clothes they’re required to wear.

But I say no more excuses! No more pointing the finger at others as the cause of the problem. We need a simple rule, a compact: we the editors of the women’s magazines of Australia feel that our duty is to present healthy images to the young women of Australia, and this far outweighs any other consideration. Therefore, we will not display in our magazines, clothes that arrive in a size 6!

If not our generation, then whose? If not now, then when?

Because so many young Australian girls are struggling. And this barrage of impossible, unattainable images is a big part of why. It is no decent solution to our broader journalistic problems of how to retain eyeballs and circulations. It is a betrayal, to use an old-fashioned term, of our duty of care.

To the rising generation of female journalists in the room, and those watching at home, allow me to say that I appreciate you have come into the media at a difficult time. I know the frustration and concern many of you feel, because a lot of you have told me.

The wonderful thing is – and I want to end on a positive note, there are actually are a lot of bright shining stars for us all to steer by.”

Lisa ends by giving a list of highly accomplished female journalists and reporters in Australia who are breaking down barriers, going against the grain and proving they are just as capable, smart and professional as any male. It’s sad that we still come up against sexism in 2013, but this should be a reminder that our work is not done, and we need to continue standing up for ourselves.

Good on you Lisa for being a voice to women journalists everywhere, encouraging them to be all that they can, even when it feels like they are up against a brick wall. To read Lisa’s full speech, click HERE.

Lisa Wilkinson


  1. Pingback: Male Anchor Conducts Genius Experiment On Air To Prove Sexism Still Exists

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.