My friend Sara recently sent news of a disturbing bit of research. Turns out that “less than a quarter of the people heard, seen or read about in mainstream broadcast and print news worldwide is female,” a finding dutifully and credibly recorded by a group called WIMN or Women in Media & News.
“It seems we still have a wee bit of work to do before we retire,” commented Sara.
The report summarizes preliminary findings of the fourth Global Media Monitoring Project, which WIMN calls the biggest and longest-running research initiative on gender in the news media. All in all, it’s a working snapshot of how women and men are portrayed and represented in global news media, based on analyzing 6,902 news items containing 14,044 news subjects, including people interviewed for/about the news, in 42 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean region, the Pacific Islands and Europe. (North American data isn’t represented yet, but will be included in the final release, slated for September 2010.)
We — by which I mean working journalists, broadcasters and bloggers, socially conscious twitterati, social activists, media mavens, nonprofit communications and development folks, women-for-women advocates, elected officials and government officers who like to say they care about women — WE don’t seem to notice or put up much of a fuss over this glaring fact any more. It’s old hat, I suppose.
Certainly, the fact that women are overlooked and undervalued in news stories has been documented for decades, though I actually didn’t think it was still this bad. The National Organization for Women put out a scary factsheet about the lack of women in media jobs and media coverage in 2005. Since 2007 or so, the White House Media Project has occupied a niche of this space by each year running training workshops for a dozen or so women-with-the-appropriate-message to become effective media spokespeople and OP Ed writers. For years, the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at USC supported an annual report that literally counted how many women experts were referenced or quoted on the front pages of big-city dailies. Very few was always the tally, year after year. That benchmark died because newspapers were no longer worth surveying.
So here we remain. Muzzled.
It feels to me that all the noise we hear about the need to promote women in the workforce; and all the efforts mounted to ensure that women get to sit in political and corner offices; and all the horrific male-screened images and statistics and footage we see in mainstream media about violence done to women round the globe — all of that clearly is much more dramatic and immediately compelling than the disquieting little fact that women are arguably invisible to whoever and whatever is defining “news.”
But consider. If we were to work on this, to push back on this passive and disconcerting fact, if we all did some due diligence on advocating for women’s stories in mainstream media and maybe boycotting (there’s a word for you) the outlets that ignore women’s stories, then maybe there’d be more women in the power chairs. And then, well then, I’d just bet that much of the appalling domestic and international violence against women would diminish.
Why aren’t women’s stories important? Why are we still called a minority and fed “lifestyle” fables?
Maybe we should get together and pool our powerful pennies and buy a controlling interest in a multimedia brand. Who’s got a dime?