How would you feel if we routinely removed half of everyone's brain because really, we just don't use 50% of it anyway?
That's how many systems in society treat the existence of women and minorities: they are, indeed, valuable, vital assets but they go untapped and likewise regarded as though some people would just as well have them removed completely.
This week, I got to explore the presence of this problem in the media while participating on a panel at the "Dirty Politics" Poynter Kent State Media Ethics Workshop 2012. The panel was titled, "Not Your Mother's Politics: Women & Gender" (and had the difficult task of following Connie Schultz's address).
You can see the provocative videos about sexism in the media that I used to get the party started in the PowerPoint embedded below. If you've never seen these videos, I encourage you to watch them in full. They had seasoned and hope-to-be journalists gasping, dropping their jaw and saying they cannot believe what they were hearing. (Hattip and thanks to the Plain Dealer's Mark Naymik, also on the panel, who astutely pointed out that all of the clips were from cable, not broadcast, channels.) Jason and Dan did a fantastic job covering the panel's banter and you can also check it out on Twitter.com with the #ksuethics12 tag.
Another dimension of this intersection between women, politics and the media can be seen in the chart below, Gender Gap in the 2012 Election Coverage from 4thEstate.net. It had people talking long after the panel ended. It's just out within the last couple of months and, having followed this topic for a few years now, there's been little improvement in the numbers of women directing or providing election coverage.
Silenced: Gender Gap in Election Coverage
Women are significantly under-represented in 2012 election coverage in major media outlets. In our analysis of news stories and transcripts from the past 6 months, men are much more likely to be quoted on their subjective insight in newspapers and on television. This pattern holds true across all major news outlets, as well as on issues specifically concerning women. For example, in front page articles about the 2012 election that mention abortion or birth control, men are 4 to 7 times more likely to be cited than women. This gender gap undermines the media's credibility.
How do we do better? Poynter's Kelly McBride tweeted the idea of perhaps creating "...soft quotas that would reward journalists who get more women sources into their columns." I like both ideas, especially the notion of rewards versus punishment.
Or, you know, if you're still wondering why it even matters - that women journalists and voices be more visible and more abundant in that visibility - we could just go back to removing half our brains. Just kidding, mostly. Mark described some newsroom scenarios that indicate a reasonable amount of awareness and attention to this topic - it was encouraging. But we know how much news is being consumed from the Internet where the standards around not using sexism, especially as linkbait, are, and I say this as a political blogger myself, not even, to say the very least. For example, do you care about diversity among those who will be moderating the presidential and vice presidential debates? Why or why not?
Returning to the topic of the tone of the coverage itself, I believe that as the number of women running for office and in political leadership positions increases, gendered commentary will decline. That certainly is my hope and I believe there are some examples of this as well. Although Hillary Rodham Clinton still may be looked at in regard to her hairstyle or clothing, coverage of her now emphasizes the gravity of her work and the consequences of how she performs that work far more than in the past. Maybe that's not saying a lot, especially once you view the first video below where she is absolutely eviscerated by cable news people during the 2008 primary season. But as the videos also demonstrate, this stuff is depressingly deep-rooted. We need to find good examples of improvement wherever we can, and, as often as we can, show how coverage of women in politics could and should be done.
What are some of your favorite examples of journalists behaving badly or behaving bravely when it comes to gender issues?
Copyright © 2012 Jill Miller Zimon; available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.
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