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Why are people so mean to Samantha Armytage?

Ever since it was announced way back in June of 2013 that Samantha Armytage would replace breakfast stalwart, Melissa Doyle, on Channel 7’s Sunrise, Armytage has been the subject of much derision and debate — with people on social media and the major daily newspapers feeding the negativity in a manner that can only be described as bullying.

But the big question is why do people seem to have a difficult time leaving Sam Armytage alone? The Sydney Morning Herald ran a piece earlier this week in which it noted that Armytage has copped criticism for, among other things, “her weight, her appearance, both on and off-set, and her treatment of staff who work in the traditionally female realms of wardrobe and make-up”.

The article, titled “Dear Seven, don’t let Samantha Armytage become Ann Curry”, made mention of what happened to U.S. Today cohost, Ann Curry, who eventually left the show following a barrage of criticism that ultimately led to her being asked to step down (although, there seems to be much debate about how that all went down). While the point of the SMH article wasn’t overly clear and its premise seemed to be altogether quite loose and lacking in a structured argument, it did bring attention to the fact that the performance and appearance of women on television — in this case, breakfast television — generate criticism at a much higher rate than the performance and appearance of their male counterparts, not to mention that women on television are subject to gossip fodder and speculation in a manner that can only be described as cruel. That’s not to say that male television personalities remain completely unharmed, but none of the vitriol directed at them is anywhere near as vicious as that directed at women.

And none of this is new. The difference in the treatment of women and men, particularly the women and men we invite into our homes each day via the medium of television, is not by any means an untouched topic of discussion. In fact, even some of the men these women share the screen with have gotten in on the act of drawing attention to the disparity. Last year, Karl Stefanovic drew worldwide acclaim for wearing the same suit on air every day for a year purely to prove that the appearance of men on television is subject to far less scrutiny than the appearance of women.

From where we’re sitting, it seems that none of the backlash, criticism or mean-spirited remarks thrown Armytage’s way are warranted. What we see is an articulate, intelligent, hard-working, accomplished and down-to-earth woman who is in possession of a lot of qualities we consider to be ideal and who is a much-needed breath of fresh air, both on morning television itself and in her approach to the haters.

She has approached criticism of her weight — which is an infuriatingly unnecessary topic of discussion — with humor and with honesty. Now we’re going to approach it with honesty, as well: There is nothing at all remarkable or newsworthy about the fact she is a size 12; in fact, it’s downright stupid that her weight keeps getting brought up or that people seem to think her size is a topic worth being debated. Who cares?

Another thing that makes us Armytage fans? She has a personality. She has a wonderful natural chemistry with a lot of the celebrities she interviews and she’s not opposed to giving a politician a well-deserved grilling when it’s called for. She strikes a lovely balance between making what she does seem effortless while also making it clear that she’s done her homework.

We love that Armytage hasn’t had any of her success handed to her; instead, she’s put in the hard yards and worked her way up the ladder. She’s gotten to where she is through hard work and perseverance and there’s no question of whether or not she’s good at what she does or whether or not she deserves to be there.

We’re also pretty fond of the way Armytage handles the criticism, which is usually in a manner that brings attention to obvious gender bias and subtly suggests that those hurling mean and untrue comments her way can do, and should be, better. In December last year, she told the Australian, “It’s down and dirty. You do have to really put your shoulders back and keep walking forward when sometimes all you want to do is cry,” she said.

“Some sections of the media attack­ below the belt… every woman out there has to deal with office politics, whether they’re a nurse, a vet, standing at the school gate or a TV reporter… in most scenarios, the information is untrue and, in some situations, defamatory. It’s unjust and that I find incredibly disappointing.”

We love that Armytage isn’t afraid to stand up for herself, but the thing is, she shouldn’t have to be doing it as often as she is. The media and online commenters are fueling a gender divide that we should be well past in the year 2015. We’re unabashed fans of Armytage, and for the life of us, we can’t see any legitimate reason why others shouldn’t also see her as an example of a wonderful success story. To confine the mention of her name in the news to nasty comments about her appearance and gossip about infighting is doing the progression of women in the media, and the progression of women in general, a great disservice.

More on gender equality

Does excluding men from Q&A‘s feminism panel legitimise the debate
Don’t host your International Women’s Day event a men-only club like the LNP
Now that Tony Abbott is a #HeForShe campaigner, we can put him to work

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