*She looked as if she were headed to the club. Or had just left it. Yes, that’s it, she just left the club.
What other reason would anyone have for wearing a body-hugging Little Black Dress with a hemline just under her chin and mesh long sleeves, sheer black stockings and stiletto heels at five in the morning–unless she’d partied all night before hitting an after-hours spot and from there went straight to work.
Or, unless she’s a television weather lady.
This is who I found the other morning when I clicked on a Los Angeles TV news program–a young, attractive, camera-savvy, after-taxes Rihanna, telling me of L.A.’s chances of rain. It’s gonna be hot, she said. I believe her.
Unless you never watch television news, surely you’ve seen the female meteorologists in low cut tops, mini skirts and high heels meant to accentuate calves and backsides (where does that booty end and the microphone pack begin?), valiantly working the Green Screen that is the weather map.
Not only does it not faze us, this has gone on for so long in television news that most of us don’t even consider how these women are dressed—-until a new weather lady comes on the scene and takes contemporary Hoochie Mama to yet another titillating level. With few exceptions, the look has become de rigueur in TV news.
Before going any further, let me say that I am as guilty as any of my buddies who phone me at any hour of the day and urgently ask, “Are you at the crib? Then get on [whatever channel] quick and check it out”, only to go to that channel and find a woman standing before a weather map, reaching up to point to North Dakota, her micro mini raising with the tide.
I admit that when these women come on, I haven’t always turned the channel and that almost instantly my interest in what’s happening “in my neck of the woods” weather-wise becomes secondary to wondering if she left home that way or got dressed after she got to the studio (or, did she just come straight from the club).
But more often than not, when I watch the weather, I’m marveling at just how casually the objectification and sexualization is committed and honored. And how, apparently, no one complains about this. I’m also wondering: do THAT many men watch the weather report, and what do women viewers think when they see this?
Things weren’t always this way. Television meteorology, which began in the ’40s, was once almost exclusively the job of a man (hence, weatherman) allowed to be the dorkiest looking cat on a TV news staff because, after all, weather is science, and the more the guy resembled someone not concerned with fashion, the more believable he seemed.
In the ‘50s, seriousness in TV weather gave way to gimmickry, with some TV weather men across the country doing the weather accompanied by dogs, monkeys, puppets.
Carol Reed, working for New York’s WCBS from 1952 to 1964, was one of the first women to do TV weather. She wasn’t a trained meteorologist (neither were many of her male counterparts). Instead, Reed won over viewers with her kind and easy going on-air demeanor.
Initially, when more women were hired as TV weather persons, they were allowed to be themselves. However, with weather long considered by programmers to be the most boring part of a newscast, men doing weather were urged to be either suave or funny. Women, on the other hand, were hired to be what mankind usually wants women to somehow be in every personal or professional situation: sexy.
Indeed, weather women are hired almost expressly for their looks–which is why you’ll never see a female version of the Today Show’s Al Roker doing television weather (if it’s any consolation, Al, you’re the best dressed weatherman on TV today).
During her segment, it’s not enough that a weather woman stands at the screen; by design, the camera often gives her a full-body shot walking to or from the screen, to allow a generous view.
TV news management–still male dominated–may not insist that their weather women nurture sexy personas off the air, but they don’t discourage it: plenty weather ladies have photos out there that feature them in bikinis or in tantalizing poses. Among the staff, their Twitter accounts are often the most popular, the following being overwhelmingly male.
On TV, weather women aren’t the only ones required to be sexy: it’s no coincidence that on-camera female news readers, especially on cable, often work behind Plexiglas tables or desks with only a top and no sides, for maximum exposure. Some programmers say to hell with that—-put her in a short skirt and perch her on a stool with no obstructions. Call for her to keep her legs crossed for an hour long broadcast. Have her enhance that story on Syrian refugees with a bit of shoe dangling.
Imagine the outcry if male broadcasters were required to resemble a young, original James Bond, be tall, flaunt a six-pack instead of that gut and have a full head of hair. There’d be marching on Capitol Hill. Truth is, plenty of those guys could benefit from the walk.
That won’t happen anytime soon. The idea that weather lady burlesque exists so prominently in the 21st century just goes to illustrate, in HD-—accommodated by sequins, hot pink and mesh—-that, despite progress, in so many ways it’s still a man’s sexist world. But that’s not news, breaking or otherwise.
Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]