Does the Daily Mail Hate Women or Love Them? Answer with Reference to the Paper’s Recent Content

Table of contents

Abstract

A study of the content of the Daily Mail, examining whether it is anti-women. While circulation figures and content suggest the paper is successfully targeted at women, many critics have been vocal in saying that the paper is misogynistic and encourages self-hatred in women. A number of the paper’s articles are discussed in terms of this, and it is shown that the paper is indeed predominantly anti-feminist, but with some dissenting voices amongst its writers.

1. Introduction

Superficially, the evidence seems to suggest that the Daily Mail loves women. Not only does the paper offer many features, including a Sunday magazine, targeted at women, but they are also keen to emphasize the high readership amongst women in their material targeted at advertisers. However, closer inspection of the content of the newspaper reveals a somewhat different story. The woman beloved by the Daily Mail is one for whom behavior and experience are rigidly prescribed across many areas from the workplace to the home and family. Far from presenting a post-feminist picture that celebrates the diversity of women’s experience, the overriding message presented by the Mail (with one or two dissenting views) is that feminism has failed both women and society. The following first examines the evidence to suggest the Mail is pro-women, then looks at writers who have argued that the Mail is, in fact, firmly anti-women, before discussing in detail recent content from the Mail, which suggests that the paper is, overall, against all but a narrowly proscribed role for women.

2. The Daily Mail Loves Women: The Evidence For

The Daily Mail seems, at first glance, to be more popular with women than men. Figures show that out of a total readership of 4,705,000, just over 53% are women (2,508,000). Special daily features seem to be targeted at women, with Monday including a ‘women’s features section’ and Thursday including ‘Femail’ magazine (NMA 2011). As Feldman points out, the paper has a higher female readership than any other, with the Express and Mirror second and third at 49 and 48% respectively. Its success with women, Feldman suggests, maybe down to the way it models its content upon women’s magazines, with “revelations and confessions”, and the current editor, Dacre, argues that the paper simply gives women what they want (Feldman 2006). Dacre has attracted much criticism, although he has increased sales at a time when rival papers struggle, and the paper is very influential amongst the predominantly middle class, southern readers in the suburbs (Beckett, 2001). Dacre’s editorship of the Daily Mail has been marked by a winning formula of “a potent mixture of anti-Blairite Europhobic politics and artful lifestyle material, concentrating on self-improvement, health and relationships”, which seems attractive to its female readership. Greenslade suggests that it is now a “chameleon”-like entity, changing its editorial policy in a bid to attract more readers and compete with the Sun to become the most popular UK daily (Greenslade 2005). Dacre was voted the UK’s “most powerful newspaper editor” over the Sun and Mirror in 2001 (Guardian 2001). The attempt to boost female readership continues: in 2010 Sweney reported that the paper embarked upon a new, high profile advertising campaign with TV commercials to highlight each of the paper’s sections to women. The campaign was designed to promote a relaunch of the weekend supplements, overhauled to “have more of a women’s weekly feel” with higher celebrity content and fashion. The aim of the change was to attract those women for whom the paper had previously been unattractive, and further increase the female readership (Sweney, 2010).

3. Alternative Perspectives

Notably, the most vocal critics of the Daily Mail and its attitude towards women come from other journalists: the academic arena seems not to have discussed the paper’s anti-feminist stance. In an article titled ‘does the ‘Daily Mail’ really hate women (2006), Sally Feldman points out the contradictions in the paper, and the “unsisterliness” of much of the content, for example, the number of articles criticizing other women for defects in their appearance. She points out that the Mail was originally started to appeal to a female readership, concentrating on middle class women in the UK. By the 70’s and the rise of feminism, the paper voiced concern about the rise of women’s liberation and the permissive society, but Feldman suggests the editorship of Paul Dacre marked a turn to more extreme views (Feldman 2006). Others have criticized the Mail for misogyny. Polly Toynbee is particularly vocal in her analyses of the Mail and its attempts to “foster national anger, despair and fear” (Toynbee 2008). She suggests that its “spiteful” and “bitchy” approach is designed to increase insecurity in women and “make [them] miserable” (Toynbee 2008). In addition, Catherine Bennett suggests that it has a “growing inability to relate to real, rather than idealized women” evidence through an obsession with appearance, sickness and the benefits of staying at home to look after children, eschewing feminism and caring for one’s husband. For the Mail, she suggests, being a woman is akin to having a condition that can lead to death (2003). This is echoed by Levy, writing in the Guardian (2009), who calls the relationship between its female readers and the papers “abusive” and asks “why is it acceptable to openly bully … women”, dismissing suggestions that the misogynistic tone is “a self-knowing bit of fun and fluff”, suggesting rather that they demonstrate a much “darker side” to the paper. The Mail has recently attracted an increasing number of complaints about its content, including for the way it depicts women. For example, in early 2009 the paper had to apologize to a number of women for suggesting that they had children adopted rather than risk looks or careers (Fitzsimmons, 2009).

However, some have also suggested that the Mail is not entirely anti-women. Writing in 2006, Odone expresses a view that journalists writing for the Mail showed “a surprisingly wide range of voices”, and that the newspaper seemed to be starting to move away from the restrictive, self-hating model it presented as the preferred option for women. One suggested that Dacre may “suspect that some women readers could be wearying of the masochistic hatred of their own gender that the Mail has enticed them with” (Odone 2006).

4. Evidence from the Daily Mail

Despite some dissenting voices, the examination of the recent content of the Mail would suggest that critics of the paper’s attitude towards women have a point. This section will look in more depth at recent articles and the way they seem to portray women. The Daily Mail website’s (www.dailymail.co.uk) was searched using the key term ‘feminism’, and brought up 426 results. A study of the most relevant of these articles reveals a gloomy picture for feminism, which reveals a lot about the Mail’s overall portrayal of women, and suggests that women still suffer from media portrayals of unrealistic body ideals (Paludi 2010), stereotyping into submissive roles (Biagi 2006) and restricted employment options (Kramarae and Spender 2000).

Overall, the Mail’s take on feminism is generally critical, but with certain ambiguities. Most articles are politically conservative and overtly anti-feminist, for example, a recent report that David Willetts has criticized feminism for widening the poverty gap, reducing social mobility and made it harder for working-class men to achieve workplace success (Groves, 2011). Feminism is also held responsible for a number of society’s problems, for example Phillips (2007) suggests that it is the cause of issues with cleanliness and poor care of patients in the NHS, because the left-leaning “nursing establishment” has decided that the “womanly” aspects of looking after patients are demeaning and that women in the profession should aspire to be more like men (Phillips 2007) In addition, “feminism ‘could be bad for your health’, argues Gill (2007) citing Swedish research which, it is claimed, suggests that ‘equal’ men and women are more likely to be ill or disabled. Other recent Mail articles claim that feminism is responsible for making women more unhappy (Koster 2009), has destroyed women’s ability to cook (Prince 2010), and has led to a rise in extreme yobbish behavior amongst young girls (Phillips 2008). One particularly popular tactic is to publish pieces with an apparently anti-feminist agenda written by, or interviewing, figures previously associated with the feminist movement. For example, the novelist Fay Weldon is cited as criticizing feminism for making women unhappy as increasing demands to both succeed in the workplace and at home mean life is highly pressured for all but the most wealthy (Dolan 2009). An article by Erin Pizzey (2009), famous for highlighting the plight of domestic violence in the 70’s, suggests that she has “never been a feminist”, believing the movement is based upon a “lie” about men, that they all have the potential for violence, a lie which is destructive to family life. Rosie Boycott writes that nowadays men have little sense of their identity and role in society and feel “undervalued, their voices and opinions are unheard” as a result of the feminist movement and the breakdown of sharply differentiated gender roles(Boycott 2008).

Another key theme in Mail articles is an attempt to rewrite feminism to the extent it is barely recognizable as such, for example claiming that high heels “empower women” (Femail 2009), or that the history of women’s liberation has got it all wrong: “forget feminism, it was agony aunts who liberated women” (Hinsliff, 2011), a contention which fails to take into account the extent to which the agony aunts might themselves have been influenced by a feminist agenda. This effort to rewrite feminism frequently seems motivated by a desire to reject any seriousness, and present it in a way to appeal to a new generation of image-conscious, media aware and celebrity obsessed young women. For example, Swales (2005), commenting upon a survey suggesting that, for many women, success in the workplace is equated with being good looking, suggests that women should “work with the stereotype and play to its strengths”. This Mail version of feminism, however, is surely oppressive to women who have no desire to dress in high heels or conform to conventional images of attractiveness.

However, amongst the openly critical articles and those in which reactionary views of the role of women are dressed as feminism, there are a number of articles that are more supportive of feminism. For example, Hazard (2009) writes in support of feminism While the title of the article: “Let’s put the fun back into feminism: Forget burning bras and Germaine Greer, what we need now is Cheryl Cole” suggests this is another typical Mail article, the content is actually rather more considered, highlighting the extent to which women, despite their success in the world of work, are still “buying into a culture which … degrades women”, and suggesting that the only way to continue the feminist cause is to present it in a light that uses the tools of image and marketing. A number of articles are also more openly supportive of an unambiguous feminist cause: For example, in an article from April 2011, Suzanne Moore argues “It wasn’t feminism that shut the coal mines, Mr. Willetts”, attacking a previous critique of the notion of equality between the sexes by the Tory minister, suggesting that his notion that feminism is to blame for the gap between rich and poor is “a bizarre form of denial”, and stating that evidence, in fact, shows that gender equality is associated with higher social mobility (Moore 2011). Similarly, a 2008 article (Clark 2008) discusses the ‘growing trend’ towards sexualization of young women, including giving themselves nicknames like ‘slut’ and ‘whore’, the negative influence of celebrities who define themselves through their bodies, commercialization of childhood, and the consequent damage to teenage girls’ self-esteem. The article considers a suggestion by an academic that “teenage girls should be taught feminism at school” teaching them about positive examples of well known women writers, suffragettes, and even fictional characters in order to overcome the bad effects of media images. In 2009, Liz Jones argued, writing about Obama’s support for feminism, that there is a greater need than ever before for support for women’s rights, as, despite new legislation and more equality in pay, women still work primarily part-time rather than full time, earn 17% less than men, are subject to domestic violence and hold just 12% of directorships within FTSE 100 companies. Jones also suggests that young women are increasingly embracing a misogynist viewpoint which accepts that women are “okay with being treated as sex objects” While these articles go some way towards overturning the view of the Daily Mail as overtly anti-feminist, they are, it should be noted, in a minority.

5. Conclusion

The Mail’s formula of news, lifestyle, and celebrity gossip seems to work to attract a readership in which women predominate, thanks to the editorship of Paul Dacre. However, the paper has been criticized for the misogynistic attitudes which lie just beneath the surface of this content. A careful examination of the recent content of the Mail suggests that critics are right to be suspicious of the paper’s agenda. The bulk of articles about feminism portray women in an oppressive light and the feminist movement is, it is suggested, one that has harmed society. However, while this represents the dominant viewpoint, there are dissenting voices putting forward a more pro-feminist agenda, which suggests that the reality is rather more complex than appears at first glance.

6. References

  1. Beckett, A (2001) ‘Paul Dacre: the most dangerous man in Britain?’, The Guardian, Thursday 22nd Feb 2001.
  2. Bennett, C (2003) ‘Read all about it in the Daily Misogynist’, The Guardian, Thursday 26 June 2003.
  3. Biagi, S (2006) Media/Impact: An Introduction to Mass Media, Cengage Learning, Belmont CA.
  4. Boycott, R (2008) ‘Feminism has turned men into second-class citizens, but have women’s victories come at a price?’, Daily Mail, 2008.
  5. Clark, L (2008) Girls should be taught feminism at school ‘to counter negative influences of celebrity role models’ Daily Mail, 2008.
  6. Dolan, A (2009) ‘Feminism turned women into miserable ‘wage slaves’ just like men says Fay Weldon’, Daily Mail, 30th November 2009.
  7. Feldman, S (2006) ‘Does the Daily Mail’ really hate women?’, The Independent, Sunday 2nd July 2006.
  8. Fitzsimmons, C (2009) ‘Daily Mail apologizes to women over adoption feature’, The Guardian, Thursday 12 February 2009.
  9. Gill, C (2007) ‘The height of feminism do high heels demean women as sex objects?’, Daily Mail, 25th March 2007.
  10. Greenslade, R (2005) ‘Mail domination’, The Guardian, Monday 6 June 2005
  11. Groves, J (2011) ‘Tory minister: Feminism widened poverty gap and set social mobility back decades’, Daily Mail, 1st April 2011.
  12. Hazard, H (2009) ‘Let’s put the fun back into feminism: Forget burning bras and Germaine Greer, what we need now is Cheryl Cole’, Daily Mail, 10th August 2009.
  13. Hinsliff, G (2011) ‘Forget feminism, it was agony aunts who liberated women’, Daily Mail, 11th February 2011. Dolan, A (2009) ‘Feminism turned women into miserable ‘wage slaves’ just like men says Fay Weldon’, Daily Mail, 30th November 2009.
  14. Jones, L (2009) ‘SOS for new feminism: How Obama’s being hailed as a new champion for women’, Daily Mail, 26th January 2009.
  15. Koster, O (2009) ‘Women are more unhappy despite 40 years of feminism, claims study’, Daily Mail, 1st June 2009.
  16. Kramarae, C and Spender, D (2000) Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women: Identity politics to publishing, Routledge, UKBiagi, S (2006) Media/Impact: An Introduction to Mass Media, Cengage Learning, Belmont CA.
  17. Lewy, R (2009), ‘Daily Mail misogyny a ‘joke’ too far’, The Guardian, Friday 27th March 2009.
  18. New Media Age (2011) ‘NMA Facts and Figures: Daily Mail’, [online] (cited 12th May 2011), available from http://www.nmauk.co.uk/nma/do/live/factsAndFigures?newspaperID=10
  19. Odone, C (2006) ‘The acceptable face of the Daily Mail …’, The Guardian, Monday 13 February 2006
  20. Paludi, M A (2010) Feminism and women’s rights worldwide, Volume 1, ABC-CLIO, USA
  21. Phillips, M (2007) ‘Dirty wards, feminism and the tragic end of Florence Nightingale’s ethos of patient care’, Daily Mail, 15th October, 2010
  22. Phillips, M (2008) ‘Fire-bombs, mugging and gang warfare – just what has gone wrong with girls?’, Daily Mail, 12th May 2008.
  23. Pizzey, E (2009) ‘Why I loathe feminism… and believe it will ultimately destroy the family’, Daily Mail, 24th September 2009.
  24. Prince, R (2010) ‘Has feminism killed the art of home cooking?’, Daily Mail, 21st September 2010.
  25. Swales, E (2005) ‘Turning heads – the secret of our success?’, Daily Mail, 3rd August 2005.
  26. Sweney, M (2010) ‘Daily Mail targets women aged 35 and older with ?10m TV ad campaign’, The Guardian, Thursday 28 January 2010.
  27. Toynbee, P (2008) ‘The miserablists need a politics they can believe in’, The Guardian, Tuesday 24 June, 2008.

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