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Women Won't Be Equal to Men in the Media Until 2085, Study Finds

During Women’s History Month, it’s important to look back on the accomplishments of women. However, it’s also necessary to recognize how far women still have to go in terms of obtaining equality. According to a new report by the Women’s Media Center, women still are not on equal footing with men in the media.

The report’s finding are disheartening. In terms of the media, most of those driving the narrative are men. For instance, in the news coverage of the recent presidential election, male journalists wrote a majority of print and online stories and they primarily quoted men.

The report found that “in coverage of the 2012 presidential election, male front-page bylines at top newspapers outnumbered female bylines nearly three to one.”

This kind of male dominance was even the case when the media talked about issues that were significant to women, like birth control or wage equality. Men still outnumbered women in digital news representation, where “male bylines outnumber female bylines by two-thirds (four of six websites), as reviewed by the Gender Report during the six months between July 1 and December 29, 2012.”

Perhaps not surprising, is that when it comes to TV and radio, men still hold most of the power both in front of and behind the scenes. According to the FCC Report on Ownership of Commercial Broadcast Stations, “females owned only 6.8% (91) of 1,348 full power commercial television stations in 2011, compared with 5.6% (66) of 1,187 full power commercial television stations in 2009.” They don’t fair much better in front of the scenes either. The report indicated that “on Sunday TV talk shows, 86% (228 guests) of the one-on-one interviews were men, and just 14% were women (36 guests). And women were just 29 percent of roundtable guests.”

More shocking is that even when notable women die, they’re less likely to be commemorated in an obituary by a major media organization. Obituaries have commonly been male-dominated and that’s still the case today. Obituaries about men continue to far outnumber those of women: “Through the better part of 2012, the Washington Post ran obituaries on 18 women and 48 men. The Los Angeles Times wrote about 36 women and 114 men.”

These troubling trends continue into the gaming world. Even while forty-seven percent of video-gamers are women, 88 percent of game developers are men. Even more concerning is the case of Anita Sarkeesian, media critic and host of the web series Feminist Frequency. Sarkeesian started a Kickstarter project to analyze how women are portrayed in video games. Afterward, she found herself on the  receiving end of “a massive online hate campaign.” Sarkeesian describes the attacks she received, saying, “All my social media sites were flooded with threats of rape, violence, sexual assault, death — and you’ll notice that these threats and comments were all specifically targeting my gender...There were images made, pornographic images made in my likeness being raped by video game characters and sent to me again and again.”

If women’s representation in media is not bad enough, they are not doing much better in the business and corporate world. According to a study by the Women’s College of the University of Denver and the White House Project, it will take until 2085 for women to reach parity with men in leadership roles in government/politics, business, entrepreneurship and nonprofits if women continue to progress at their current pace. 

This all sounds pretty bleak, but what can be done? The Women’s Media Center report also includes recommendations for how to improve the representation of women in the media. They suggest that media organizations be more mindful about how their stories are framed and be careful about their use of loaded terms. They also need to respond to their critics and online commentators about how they choose to depict and represent women.

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