What is she wearing? Gender division and the dilemmas of female agency in television news | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 6, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 2040-4417
  • E-ISSN: 2040-4425



Patricia Holland’s essay ‘When a woman reads the news’ first appeared in 1987. In this text, Holland extended feminist visual culture theory into the discussion of women in television and highlighted how female newsreaders were subject to scrutiny as to their appearance. The purpose of this article to revisit the subject in a contemporary context in order to examine why this emphasis on physical appearance, and especially attire, still exists some three decades later.

In order to discuss the sartorial dilemmas that women in news media face, in particular in the digital era when praise or censure can be immediately communicated, the article uses semiotic deconstructions of three specific broadcasts, BBC Breakfast and The Six O’Clock News and Channel 4 News, to consider how dress operates as part of a discourse of power and gender reinforcement. The article also offers three strategies, which women newsreaders appear to adopt in their attire in order to deal with the perceived issue of femininity and its appropriateness in the context of the newsroom. The larger implications of the article are that feminist efforts towards less focus on women’s appearance and attire could be seen to have had little effect, however, Judith Butler’s post-feminist writings offer an alternative perspective whereby femininity is reconfigured as a positive rather than a negative attribute.


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  • Article Type: Article
Keyword(s): clothing; gender; journalism; news anchor; panopticon; television news
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