The 1990s gave us many cultural icons, but I doubt we remember them all for the right reasons. Women have been hounded and misrepresented by the people in the media for as long as anyone can remember. Those responsible will tell you that is what sells the papers and what people want. But sensationalism often supersedes the truth and destroys people’s careers and lives. Still, they carry on. Seeing the trajectory of social media, I don’t think it will ever change.
But at least now, people are willing to consider the other side of the story.
The 2020 documentary Framing Britney Spears (⭐️⭐️⭐️) highlighted one of the music’s biggest superstar’s struggles with abuse by journalists and later under a court-sanctioned conservatorship. Earlier this year, Pamela, A Love Story (⭐️⭐️⭐️) came out on Netflix, probably the first humanising portrait of the biggest TV star of the 1990s. Anderson, an actor and activist, addresses the sex tape scandal and opens up about how she dealt with constant insults and mockery. I hope the documentary and the new autobiography Love, Pamela released around the same time, will give Anderson a start to a new happier chapter she deserves.
Only last week, Channel 4 brought us Paula (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️), a two-part documentary special celebrating the magnificent talent and bigger-than-life British TV personality Paula Yates. But as Pamela and Britney, this celebration can’t be done without mentioning the unforgiving treatment she received from journalists, which led to a tragic end. She started her career in the 1980s and quickly made her mark as a columnist and a presenter using her intelligence, humour and wit. Sadly, the world couldn’t handle her flirtatious and unapologetic nature for too long, quickly reducing her to abusive tabloid headlines. Her private life became journalists’ primary focus, and Yates quickly became ‘next to Princess Diana, the most famous female in England’ not for who she was but for who she slept or was with. Most people I spoke to remember Paula Yates as a girlfriend and wife of Bob Geldof and later a partner to Michael Hutchence, the late frontman of INXS. I had just heard of Paula Yates last week, but her story deeply touched me.
The documentary invites friends and social commentators, including Belinda Bewin, Nicky Clarke, Robbie Williams, and Grace Denttries, to correct the so terribly distorted image journalists created during her life. Together with interviews, Yates recorded with a former editor of the Sunday Express and OK! Magazine, Martin Townsend, a picture of an undeniably talented woman who was one of a kind emerges. Seeing merely clips from her broadcasting career, the doc offers, it is impossible to disagree with the commentators. There was no one like her before or after in journalism or on TV. Despite that, even after her death, the cruelty and insults continued. Her life was either brought down to flops and failures or, in the best cases, she was partially held responsible for the misogynist treatment she received. One female writer in The Guardian summarises: ‘She was bright, she was witty, she was warm, she was a television natural – she could have exploited these talents very differently. Instead, she packaged herself as that male fantasy, the rock chick who loved it. In truth, what she cultivated was a peculiarly British dated chauvinist image: the blonde bimbo with breasts who acts dead saucy; a junior Barbara Windsor.’ If that’s not victim blaming, I do not know what is?!
I believe it is essential to stop referring to elusive media that destroys people’s lives. These are journalists behind those headlines and readers who want them. It is also not only women that are the victims. But in journalism, where sexism and misogyny persist, women are just an easier target for ridicule and public scrutiny, which leads to abuse.