Yesterday I read a report from The Women’s Media Center, “The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2013.” One of the most important aspects of this report, and it’s worth the read, is how it focuses on women’s opportunities to become “influencers.” We hear about how few women or anyone non-white make up the “Academy” that decides the Oscars, we hear about how rarely women are CEOs, how not often enough women’s books are reviewed in national papers and this compelling report adds important context to this landscape of inequality (while also ripping NPR a new one like whoa).
Some key findings:
“At its current pace, it will take until 2085 for women to reach parity with men in leadership roles in government/politics, business, entrepreneurship and nonprofits.”
“By a 3 to 1 margin, male front-page bylines at top newspapers outnumbered female bylines in coverage of the 2012 presidential election. Men were also far more likely to be quoted than women in newspapers, television, and public radio. That’s also the case in coverage of abortion, birth control, Plannet Parenthood, and women’s rights.“
Forty-seven percent of gamers are women, but 88 percent of video games developers are male.”
“Obituaries about men far outnumbered those of women in top national and regional newspapers.”
It should be surprising to no one that women are underrepresented at newspapers or that they’re more often relegated to writing about “pink topics” like “food, family, furniture and fashion.” One aspect of inequality in the media I hadn’t contemplated enough though (and I’m an idiot) was how rarely women are quoted in articles in print, in television news segments or…on NPR. During the 2012 Presidential Election coverage on NPR, men were quoted 70% of the time. Now, I lived this, like all of us did during last year’s election. I noticed on television how many men were discussing or being asked for their opinions about reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood, but for some reason I don’t think I realized how guilty NPR was of this same imbalance. In some ways, I think I just got used to it: it’s all I know, after all, it’s mostly men in Congress and on the Supreme Court who make decisions about my body and my right to make decisions about it . I don’t know what makes me more sick: that it continues to happen, or that, in certain news outlets, I’ve stopped paying attention and quieted, as Jessica Valenti says in this wonderful article at the Nation, my “justifiable rage.”
Another aspect of this shitstorm that I’ve noticed but never seen data about was how often this depending upon mostly men for quotes happens even when a woman is either hosting or producing a television show, writing the article, or delivering the news on the radio. The WMC’s report shows that, from January 1st to November 6th, a show on CNN, hosted by a woman, “CNN: State of the Union with Candy Crowley,” quoted men 84.7% of the time. Now, NPR’s female correspondents do better at this, they used male and female sources equally during their election coverage (whereas the male correspondents (ARI! YOU’RE BREAKING MY HEART) only used female sources 20% of the time).
Thinking about all of this had me remembering an anecdote from Tina Fey’s Bossypants.
So my unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism or ageism or lookism or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: “Is this person in between me and what I want to do?” If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. Then, when you’re in charge, don’t hire the people who were jerky to you.
She then goes on to cite one of my most favorite things in a world, an amazing segment on an early episode of Sesame Street where the kids are learning about prepositions by running through a junkyard full of rusted crap.
If the answer is yes, you have a more difficult road ahead of you. I suggest you model your strategy after the old Sesame Street film piece “Over! Under! Through!” (If you’re under forty you might not remember this film. It taught the concepts of “over,” “under,” and “through” by filming toddlers crawling around an abandoned construction site. They don’t show it anymore because someone has since realized that’s nuts.)
If your boss is a jerk, try to find someone above or around your boss who is not a jerk.* If you’re lucky, your workplace will have a neutral proving ground—like the rifle range or the car sales total board or the SNL read-through. If so, focus on that.
Again, don’t waste your energy trying to educate or change opinions. Go “Over! Under! Through!” and opinions will change organically when you’re the boss. Or they won’t. Who cares?
I kept thinking, reading this report, that even when women finally reach the forefront, they’re still going “through” the old dudes–they’re often not using women in their programs and articles. Take for instance, the gender gap in articles discussion abortion, in the print media, men were sourced 72% of the time. Of course men should have a voice in these debates. But, really, almost 3/4 of the time? Articles on “birth control” weren’t that much better (68.46% of sources were men) and I would bet my right tit they weren’t discussing male birth control.1
As for the women who are worthy of obituaries, which is fascinating, the report uses a story in Mother Jones and a quote from the editor of the obituaries at the New York Times, Bill McDonald. When asked why he runs so many more obituaries of men, he said:
“We simply choose the most prominent, the most well-known, the most influential…The people we write about largely shaped the world of the 1950s, the ’60s, and increasingly, the ’70s, and those movers and shakers were–no surprise–predominantly white men.”
In response to Mr. McDonald’s comments, Lesley Kinzel, an associate editor at Jane, called this response a “convenient cop-out” that “lets these editors abdicate any responsibility for failing to do the legwork necessary to track down those women who maybe didn’t get the attention they deserved.”
The report concludes with a list of simple suggestions:
“Be more mindful about how stories are framed.”
“[Writers,] Monitor your reader/viewer comments…You’re more likely to act on constructive criticism, fresh insights and new angles suggested by readers” [if you have the energy to scroll through the trolling]
There’s more, and these are, well, duh, but still. It’s a useful read, even if its treading the shitty waters we know and feel and experience everyday. Except we have to keep talking about it. Out loud. In print. This all matters so much. The power of narrating the world is in the hands of men. And even when we have the opportunity to take their hand, we’re still letting them guide the direction of ours.
1. An aside. Some friends and I had a great discussion about male birth control a few weeks back. We were talking about side effects: women over a certain age, who smoke, really really shouldn’t be on birth control, the pills can affect your sex drive, etc. Now, even with these side effects, that we know to be true, women often still take them. But when the guys talked about what side effects would keep them away from using male birth control, the dudes in the room were pretty worried about losing their getting-it-on-ness (though that wouldn’t completely prevent them from using it, they said). And I don’t blame them. It sucks a bit fat butt. But, for ladies, in many ways, it’s just how it is. It’s the only thing we can do if we don’t feel like using condoms with our partners or husbands (because, I mean, duh) and losing a bit of your sex drive for a while is way better than getting pregnant when you don’t want to be–our cost/benefit ratio is so different and there doesn’t seem to be any inclination that anyone is feeling super-compelled to get on the pill for dudes.