Can Women Be Fairly Represented?
Monitoring the Media
September 28, 2010
Just society depends on vigilant advocacy to ensure responsible media. Women can make important contributions to this vigilance by working to guarantee balanced representation so that their voices are heard.
All media companies, whether they produce print or broadcast media, have an “obligation to act in the public interest.” Media encompasses all major avenues by which information enters our brains. In this age of Smartphones, large-screen televisions, satellite radio and an ever more connected global economy; humans are bombarded by more information than ever before. Media inevitably plays a huge role in shaping our perception of the world and one another. United Methodist Women members make a vital contribution to just media by working for fair representation and responsibly interpreting the daily barrage of media information.
United Methodist Women has served as an intermediary between the public and the media since the United Methodist Women’s Television Monitoring Project in 1975-1976. In subsequent years, United Methodist Women has participated in the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), with the important goal of measuring the starkly imbalanced representation that men and women receive in the media.
According to the Executive Summary of GMMP’s United States of America, Global Media Monitoring Project 2010 National Report (PDF) published by the World Association for Christian Communication, in 2010 observers found the monitored news stories reported men’s activities more than 70 percent of the time, while women as subjects were reported less than 30 percent of the time. With such a deluge of male-focused stories in all media formats, gender imbalances and stereotypes perpetuate themselves around the world.
Little Progress Since 2005
The 2010 results show little progress toward gender balance since 2005. The results do, however, provide invaluable data on both gender of news subjects and gender of news reporters, with separate numbers recorded for different categories of news to show how woman are assigned topics perceived as “softer” than men’s topics.
In this year’s GMMP, 173 total news stories were analyzed on November 10, 2009. In 73 percent of the stories, the subjects were men, while only 27 percent of the subjects were women, exactly matching the levels from 2005. The imbalance of male to female news reporters and presenters is also stark.
The difference varies depending on the type of media. Print news reporters were 31 percent women, while television news presenters were only 14 percent women. The only area in which women outnumbered men was the area referred to as “soft” news, which includes celebrity news, arts, and sports. Women performed 51 percent of the reporting in this area, according to the report. Evidence indicates that media companies continue to enforce gender stereotypes in their choice of assignments given to women.
Charles Benton and Jim Goodman wrote, “Without public-interest obligations, our country’s most time-honored broadcast values of competition, diversity, localism and democracy might all be toast.” Responsible reporting requires telling events as they occur and acknowledges that on any given day, newsworthy events may befall one gender more than the other.
An example of media virtually devoid of women’s voices is sports coverage. Media companies purposely employ women sports reporters at football games, increasing female presence in the broadcasts, but their roles are not parallel to men’s. This month in particular, female National Football League (NFL) reporters have made headlines, highlighting several important issues of gender inequality. The case of New York Jets reporter Ines Sainz drew national attention when she became the target of catcalls from football players during a locker room interview. When she made charges of sexual harassment, media coverage ballooned, and Internet searches for images of Ms. Sainz spiked. This predictable media cycle is clear evidence of one stereotyped role of women in the media; women are expected to be visually appealing and cast as victims. The GMMP 2010 and other research efforts, such as “Japanese Women in the Media” by the Japan NGO Report Preparatory Committee in 1999, recorded this same phenomenon repeatedly:
There is the problem of representation by mass media that aggregates gender discrimination. Commercialism of the media creates a flood of pornography. Television programs and weekly magazines are flooded with representations that condone violence against women and reinforce sexual stereotypes. … Gender discrimination is often expressed in conjunction with other types of discrimination such as discrimination against ethnic minorities, the [disabled], the aged, and sexual minorities.
The GMMP 2010 results again highlight the need for media monitoring. Active vigilance can ensure that women are more equally represented and fairly portrayed in the media. Media’s effect on public attitudes is undeniable. The only way to change people’s attitudes for the better is to remain involved. Women’s contributions will continue to preserve and increase justice in the media.
Call your representative and tell them to support the Healthy Media for Youth Act, H.R. 4925 (2010). Dial 202-224-3121 to reach the Capitol Switchboard. The act
Directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to award grants to nonprofit organizations to provide for the establishment, operation, coordination, and evaluation of programs to: (1) increase the media literacy of girls and boys; (2) support the empowerment of girls or boys in a variety of ways. Permits giving priority to grant applicants providing non-federal matching funds. Directs the Secretary, acting through the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and in coordination with the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, to review, synthesize, and conduct or support research on the role and impact of depictions of girls and women in the media … [and for the FCC to] convene a task force, to be known as the National Task Force on Girls and Women in the Media, to develop voluntary steps and goals for promoting healthy and positive depictions of girls and women in the media for the benefit of all youth. (Congressional Research Service summary, emphasis ours.)
Join the NAME IT. CHANGE IT. Campaign launch that addresses sexism in media against women candidates starting in 2010 midterm elections. Women’s Media Center president and former advisor to Hillary Clinton Jehmu Greene says, “Not only will we monitor and hold outlets accountable for problematic coverage, we’ll work proactively with media professionals and outlets to provide resources for balanced local and national coverage of the elections and give them the opportunity to take the equality pledge not to engage in pervasive sexist attacks. Visit www.womensmediacenter.com for details.
Read about the Global Media Monitoring Project at http://www.whomakesthenews.org/.
The United Methodist Church affirms the basic principles of communication. Communication should be “just and participatory, equitable and sustainable.” Book of Resolutions 2008, Resolution ¶8011, “Proper Use of Communication Technologies,” pp. 934-938. See also Resolution ¶2081, “Pornography and Sexual Violence,” pp. 148-152.
Last Updated: 09/29/2010