Is Political Media Coverage Biased Against Women?

When I saw the Politico question “Is political coverage biased against women?” I had one of those “Is the Pope Catholic?” responses.  Remember how Hillary was treated, with all sorts of sexist comments about her cackle, cankles, clothing, and age? Got more examples?

Politico Arena Asks:

A new study of political campaign coverage finds that the media uses considerably more men than women as sources on women’s issues, the Washington Post reports.

Major TV and print news outlets turn to mainly male sources for their take on abortion, Planned Parenthood and other political women’s issues, according to a study by 4th Estate, a group that tracks campaign coverage. On topics including abortion, men were four to seven times more likely than women to be cited as sources, the study shows.

Is this information a sign that the media’s campaign coverage is losing credibility? Or should men be considered equally knowledgeable on such issues?

My Response:

The media forms us as it informs us. When the preponderance of commentators on women’s bodies, rights, lives, health, and pay parity are male, what message does that send to the female 51% of the population?  What message does that send to your daughter? That women are incapable of speaking for themselves? That their voices are less important than men’s even though commentators are pontificating about and lawmakers are passing measures that affect their lives?

The result is that “women’s issues” get framed as less important than the “really important issues” like the economy (hello—contraceptive coverage IS a huge economic issue for women, as I argued with former RNC chair Michael Steele on “Now with Alex Wagner”—and certainly so are economic policies like the Paycheck Fairness Act since women are now half the workplace and often the family’s primary breadwinners).

Check out the Name It Change It website sponsored by the Women’s Media Center, Women’s Campaign Forum She Should Run campaign, and Political Parity to see innumerable examples of sexism in political coverage of women. For the most part this is not deliberate; it stems from the fact that men see the world through their privileged lens, and hardly recognize the sexism they are parroting.

Women are not seeking to keep men from commenting on any issues. Men have opinions; they are impacted by the issues too and no one says they should be shut out of the conversation. But right now, they hold most of the top clout positions in major media companies (97% according to the Annenberg Center at UCLA). Thus it is men who are keeping women out of the story explicitly or implicitly by the hiring and story-line decisions they make.

  •  According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, women accounted for 25% of all creators, executive producers, producers, directors, writers, editors, and directors of photography working on situation comedies, dramas, and reality programs airing on the broadcast networks in the 2010-11 prime-time television season.  Among writers, just 15% were women; of directors, just 11% were women; and of directors of photography, just 4% were women.
  • The same study also found that in 2011, women comprised 18% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films.  Women comprised just 5% of directors, 15% of writers, and 4% of cinematographers.

Download the Women’s Media Center full report, The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2012.

The current status of men as the predominant commentators about women is neither fair nor right and it’s time to change it.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

2 thoughts on “Is Political Media Coverage Biased Against Women?

  1. Politico asks such revealing questions. “Or should men be considered equally knowledgeable on such issues?” Yeah, right! It seems to me Politico belongs right there with the rest of the mainstream media in deserving no credibility on its campaign coverage, or just about anything else for that matter!

    This goes to illustrate my beef with the concept called political reality, which is political, but hardly real. It is theater, propaganda, a circus designed cleverly to distract people from really important issues and ideas the mainstream wants kept off the table.

    1. I know, you are so right with your sarcastic note about Politico’s questions, Aletha!Sometimes I just want to respond, “Duh!”

      Politics is theater, to be sure. Unfortunately f people become cynical about it and refuse to participate, we get even worse government. So I want more people engaged and involved and speaking up as you do.

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