Actress Jameela Jamil has, in recent years, become well-known for her outspoken activism and feminism. In the last year, she has admirably used her considerable social media influence to draw attention to the issue of the gaslighting of women in the media. On a very visible Instagram story labelled ‘GASLIGHTING’, she describes toxic media strategies, which she believes are relentlessly and mercilessly used to poison female celebrities, including herself.
Jamil exposes a dangerous pattern in media coverage of female celebrities. Tabloids and papers seem to build a female celebrity up by over-exposing her to the public. There is constant media coverage until the public feels so familiar with her that they are almost exhausted of her. Then, they begin a destructive smear campaign.
They focus on her flaws or take her words and actions viciously out of context to destroy her public image. This is a tactic that appears to be disproportionately applied to women. Jamil rightfully highlights the damage such vicious strategies do to female celebrities. Still, the problems run far deeper than this: the treatment of female celebrities is both symptomatic of and perpetuating the way women are generally still perceived in Western society.
A quick look at the Daily Mail’s ‘Femail’ section reveals headlines about Kate Middleton’s alleged attempts not to outstrip Prince William in the limelight, as well as new claims against Meghan Markle, pertaining to her now-famous Oprah interview. These articles are interspersed by advertisements for slimming and dieting products. It need hardly be pointed out that the advertisement of such products on the dedicated female section of the Daily Mail is frankly disgraceful, promoting toxic stereotypes about women’s bodies that run counter to everything that advocates such as Jamil have been trying to achieve with body positivity movements. Then there are the highly questionable connotations of a woman not being permitted to outstrip her husband in the limelight.
But it is Meghan Markle that appears to be the freshest victim of the toxic media strategies outlined by Jamil. Regardless of what one makes of her recent Oprah interview revelations, it seems impossible to deny the vilifying nature of the constant media coverage that has hounded her ever since she became associated with the royal family. From the countless headlines obsessing over every element of her wedding to Prince Harry, tabloids moved on to questionable headlines such as “Is Meghan’s favourite snack fuelling drought and murder?”, sparked by Meghan daring to consume avocado on toast. Most recently, Piers Morgan launched shameful media attacks after Meghan opened up about suicidal thoughts.
The media has very clearly written a drama out of Meghan’s life, one which the public continues to consume and thereby fuel. What never seems to be mentioned in media coverage about Meghan are the many positive things she has achieved, such as her work as an ambassador of international children’s charity World Vision, or her patronage of animal welfare charity Mayhew. The same phenomenon applies to Jameela Jamil, who has actively changed global policies to protect teenagers from the advertisement of dangerous dieting products on social media.
No matter what one’s opinions on specific individuals are, it appears as though the media is allergic to reporting the good that female celebrities achieve. Instead, there appears to be an obsession with reporting (and usually exaggerating) any flaws that female celebrities may have, thus creating elaborate dramas, that draw in the public and are thus highly profitable for the tabloids and papers that perpetuate them. As media consumers, we buy into this poisonous business with every like we give them on social media and with every click on their articles.
The gaslighting of women in the media is apparent. It will continue for as long as consumers buy into it. We must be highly critical of the things that we read about female celebrities in the media. We should support media outlets that celebrate the achievements of women.
Every time we ‘cancel’ a female celebrity for being too controversial, outspoken, dramatic, or ‘hysteric’, we buy into the toxic and never-ending criticism of strong and empowered women in the media. By doing so, we only maintain stereotypes about women in wider society; that they must conform and must not be outspoken or outrageous. The media must no longer be allowed to profit off the gaslighting of female celebrities, and we, as consumers, have the responsibility to starve them of their ability to do so.
Image: Verity Laycock