What Is It about Women in the Media?

September 03, 2009

Gender discrimination in the media can generally be broken down into how women are portrayed in the media (both popular forms of media and news media), as well as women’s participation in, and ownership of, media. Much has been written about women’s representation and the effects of media portrayals on certain groups and our society, which is a topic I’ve touched on before in a more specific, targeted way. Instead, I’m going to focus this post on women’s media participation because it’s a pervasive problem.

Women are severely underrepresented in newsrooms, both in front of and behind the camera. NOW has compiled some of these dismal statistics:

  • “Women own just six percent of the commercial broadcast TV stations in the U.S.”
  • “Only one in four communications/media jobs created between 1990 and 2005 were filled by women.”
  • “For full-time workers in the communications/media sector, a gender and race wage gap persists: White men are paid 29 percent more than white women and 46 percent more than women of color.”
  • “Of all network news stories, slightly more than a quarter are reported by women correspondents and 15 percent by people of color.”
  • “Women own just six percent of all full-power commercial broadcast radio stations in the U.S.”

No wonder the problems involving women and media are as pronounced as they are. This lack of women’s ownership can ultimately affect women’s editorial control, the number of women anchors and correspondents, how women are consulted to comment and provide context to news stories, and even how women are portrayed in media. In response to this problem, the Women’s Media Center (WMC) has a campaign titled Sexism Sells, but We’re Not Buying It, which calls attention to sexist media coverage and commentary. In addition, WMC advocates for the inclusion of more women experts to be consulted and quoted in the media. That is yet another barrier to be broken.

About a year ago, Jon Stewart of the Daily Show was in the running for being named the nation’s most admired journalist. He came in fourth and was tied with the likes of Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, and Brian Williams. No women were listed in the top five. What about Katie Couric, Ann Curry, or Rachel Maddow? Stewart’s show is humorous, opinionated news, and its rise in our culture holds great meaning for our society because he’s representing a new form of media; however, it is perpetuating the men’s club at the top of the news media hierarchy. According to a Time poll, Katie Couric was at least considered as an option for “most trusted newscaster,” but she’s the only woman represented, and she came in last.

Are women seen as not being as “objective” (and, therefore, not as trustworthy) in their news coverage? Ann at Feministing wrote a blog post looking for explanations for this disconnect — how white male anchors and reporters tend to be more well-known and impressive than more “diverse” journalists, a group that includes women, LGBT individuals, and people of color.

Or does this disparity in women’s representation in media participation have more to do with the lack of women serving as consultants or experts in reporting? Feministing has a great post containing an interview with WMC’s Carol Jenkins and Glennda Testone. They focus on a variety of issues affecting women in the media, and they mentioned a shocking statistic: “Women write only a quarter of all op eds and make up only one-third of the top 100 syndicated columnists.” This is just one more illustration of the lack of participation and ownership women have in the media. I hope that, through the work of organizations such as AAUW, NOW, WMC, and Feministing, among others, future generations will see a more diverse media landscape that includes a greater variety of perspectives and considers women to be among the ranks of the most admired and trusted journalists.

By:   |   September 03, 2009

3 Comments

  1. Katherine Broendel says:

    One thing I’d like to add to my post: it was announced yesterday that Diane Sawyer will take over Charlie Gibson’s place as ABC News anchor, and that is a great accomplishment. However, it’s important to note that women still have a long way to go in attaining equality in media representation and participation. The ABC News anchor position is just another step in the right direction.

  2. Lisa Goodnight says:

    It would be great if we could get to the point where women can age gracefully before their audiences. Men can but too many women aren’t given that same opportunity.

  3. It would be interestingto see what gains have been made since the 60’s. I remember when the only female on a newscast was your local “weather girl” and she obviously had not been selected for her meteorlogical expertise. It was a thrill the first time I saw Barbara Walters reporting and then, eventually taking her place at the anchor’s desk. Now thanks to CNN, a female face reporting hard news is much more prevalent, but still that lack of women as anchor! Why, I wonder?

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