Study confirms that prime time British TV is completely sexist

Jan 26, 2016 at 8:11 a.m. ET

The days of The Benny Hill Show are long gone, thank goodness, but sexism on prime time British TV is still "thriving", according to a recent study commissioned by Channel 4. 

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The Communication Research Group analysed 500 hours of BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky 1 programmes and found that men are twice as likely to appear on television than women.

When it comes to televised sport women account for only 2 percent of onscreen roles (presenters, pundits and guests), revealing that — unsurprisingly — sport on TV experiences the greatest gender bias.

The research also found that there are up to five sexist incidents broadcast every single hour on each channel during prime time viewing (programmes aired between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m.) with sexism occurring most often in comedy, entertainment and films.

Women are five times more likely to suffer sexism than their male counterparts. An example of sexist "objectification" was a game-show presenter who told a contestant: "Darling, don't you look beautiful. They're all at home thinking 'she's a bit of all right.' You look gorgeous."

On another show, a female member of the GB Bobsleigh team was quizzed about going on a "girls night out" with her teammates. On the other hand the conversation with her fellow guest, a male boxer, focused on his most recent bout.

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Women account for just 25 percent of presenters on prime time entertainment shows, while news and soaps were the only genres where women had the majority of major onscreen roles: 59 percent and 55 percent respectively.

The research was presented at a Channel 4 conference on diversity, where the heads of all the U.K.'s leading broadcasters vowed to take further steps towards improving representation.

Oona King, Channel 4's head of diversity, touched upon the sexist objectification of male actors in dramas, specifically the trend for leading men to expose their torsos in topless scenes. "There is a growing amount of sexual objectification of men but you’ve got to remember the context in which that takes place — the 500 years of patriarchy towards women and the impact on men and their careers," she said.

"When a man does a scene like that it doesn't put him in a box they can't get out of. You find often that when a woman comes across like that then she is labelled — 'she's got her kit off, she's that type of woman'. So overall the increasing objectification we have, partly because of our celebrity culture, impacts women worse than men. (sic)"

"Television is still awash with low-level sexism and it's so ingrained we don't really notice or remark upon it," King added. "We are trapped a little bit in the mindset where black people were in the 1960s. In the '70s, the Black & White Minstrel show was OK. We hope that at Channel 4 today, low-level, everyday sexism is as bad as low level racism and we wouldn't go along with that. (sic)"

"Not for one moment can we rest on any laurels we might think we can rest on, in that we've just got to keep pushing," said Tony Hall, BBC Director-General, adding that diversity was central to the BBC's mission.

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