The issue of gender discrimination in the media is a deeply personal issue to me because I am a writer who puts a lot of effort into highlighting women’s human rights issues. In other words, not only do I write about this issue, I am also a victim of it. On the occasions that I submit a piece for publication and it gets rejected and then I see that the publication has far more bylines by men than women, I have to wonder. Or more to the point, I don’t.
The systemic invisibilizing and trivializing of women’s lives and voices by the media is a deeply damaging misogyny and the preliminary data from the latest Who Makes the News report confirms that persistent media misogyny is alive and well throughout the world. While there have been some improvements since 1995, the 2010 findings, while not surprising, are truly appalling.
The findings in this preliminary report are based on an analysis of 6,902 news items containing 14,044 news subjects including people interviewed in the news in 42 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean region, Pacific Islands and Europe. The data for North America has not yet been released.
Here are some of the highlights from lengthy and very illuminating report (the final version will be out later this year):
It matters profoundly who and what is selected to appear in news coverage and how individuals and events are portrayed. Equally, it matters who is left out and what is not covered. The three previous GMMPs showed that women are grossly underrepresented in news coverage in contrast to men, resulting in news that paints a picture of a world in which women are largely absent. The studies equally revealed a paucity of women’s views and opinions in mainstream news media content in contrast to men’s perspectives, resulting in a male-centered view of the world. The Fourth GMMP has produced mixed results as demonstrated in the key findings below.
- 24% of the people interviewed, heard, seen or read about in mainstream broadcast and print news are female.
- Only 16% of all stories focus specifically on women.
- Women have achieved near parity as givers of popular opinion in news stories. At the same time, less than one out of every five experts interviewed is female.
- An analysis of media coverage on selected issues of special concern to women contained in the Beijing Platform for Action reveals such issues receive an average of less than 1.5% media attention each.
- Of the three mediums, mainstream radio is least likely to contain news on issues of concern to women. Print news contained the highest proportion of stories on all five themes, suggesting that newspapers would be the most effective medium for issues of concern to women to find space in the mainstream news agenda.
Delivering the news:
- Overall, news stories by female reporters are much fewer than news stories by male reporters. In 2010 the percentage of stories by female reporters on radio was lower than in 2005, a drastic drop from 45% to 27%. 44% of stories on television were reported by women, up from 42%. Newspaper stories by female reporters increased from 29% to 35%.
- News stories by female reporters are almost twice as likely to challenge gender stereotypes than stories by male reporters.
- News stories by female reporters have considerably more female news subjects than stories by male reporters.
- Almost one half (48%) of all news stories reinforce gender stereotypes, while 8% of news stories challenge gender stereotypes.
- Only 12% of news stories highlight issues of gender equality or inequality. The percentage of news stories that shed light on an aspect of gender equality or inequality in the story has tripled in the last five years. Nevertheless, stories that miss the opportunity to highlight (in) equality issues are by far more numerous.
- Women are five times as likely as men to be portrayed in their roles as wives, mothers, etc.
- Only 9% of news stories mention gender equality policies or human and women’s rights legal instruments.
If you are thinking that the North American data when it comes out will paint a vastly better picture, think again. The NPR ombudsman recently reported that NPR is a long way from gender parity finding that,
12 outside commentators appeared at least 20 times in the last 15 months. The only woman is former NPR staffer, Cokie Roberts.
Otherwise, males dominate, especially on subjects of sports, politics and the economy.
NPR listeners heard 2,502 male sources and 877 female sources on the shows we sampled. In other words, only 26 percent of the 3,379 voices were female, while 74 percent were male.
Numerous other reports also point to gender imbalances in the U.S. media (Be sure to also see the Gender, Media and Power slide show that can be accessed on the right sidebar of the Feminist Peace Network website as well as the numerous posts on FPN and articles that I have written on the subject as well).
There is no shortage of examples of the persistent invisibilizing and objectification of women. This list of 25 Twitter “Insiders” to follow only contains 4 women. And take a look at this very disturbing documentation of mainstream advertising porn as well.
Here in Kentucky where I live, the Louisville Courier Journal publishes a magazine called HerScene, a relatively new publication that came into being roughly around the time that print media hit the financial skids and the CJ radically cut the size of the newspaper.
It arrives every few months with my morning newspaper and is filled with helpful tidbits on wardrobe, grooming, home decorating entertaining and advertisements. Well actually it is mostly advertisements. Is there a similar publication for men? Of course not. In other words, we women have been tasked the very important job of shopping til we drop in order to keep the male-centric print media alive.
As I said at the outset, this is a very personal issue to me, the statistics above document both the challenge women in media face getting their voices heard and the difficulty getting coverage of issues that impact women’s lives. There are days I think my time would be equally well served lying in bed with a romance novel eating bon bons or hiking along the edge of the sea. And I do those things, but mostly I keep writing and speaking out, even though the odds of my work being published are worse than awful.
While I want to believe that it couldn’t be as bad as it is, the truth is that what we are told is the truth is really a very male-centric vision because it does not adequately include the needs or voices of more than half the population of the world. And that skewered story isn’t the news, it is a dangerous fiction that we cannot afford to continue to allow to be perpetuated.