I attended a panel at the Women's Forum Global Meeting this afternoon, which was meant to answer the question: "How do we deal with stereotypes of women in the media?" The conversation, however, quickly shifted its focus to a more frightening and urgent question: "Where are all the women in media?"
According to one of the panelists, Mercedes Erra, who is a member of the French commission on Woman's image through media, a recent french survey found that 80% of the people who appear on news channels as "experts" are men. The women who do get screen time, she explained, are mostly called on for their reactions -- not expertise -- because women are still largely considered to have a more emotional point of view of the world.
And this startling statistic has not gone unnoticed. Isabelle Duriez from Elle talked about a reference book the magazine has compiled, which provides contact information for female "experts" from France across job sectors. The editors of Elle sent the book to every major media company in the country.
Unfortunately, this surfaced another unanticipated problem: Even though they are finally being sought after as guests, many women are still declining the opportunity to participate in media interviews.
According to Duriez and the other panelists, which included a Member of the European Parliament, Sophie Briard-Auconie, and Huffington Post's own Carla Buzasi, here are four reasons this may be happening:
1. Many women shy away from classifying themselves as experts. This is often despite spending many years in their field and publishing numerous works on the subject.
2. Many women do not feel comfortable participating in self-marketing. They feel like it is undeserved or comes off self-aggrandizing.
3. The 2 most important times for TV news shows are in the morning and in the evening. These are also the most important times in the home for working women who are also managing families. It is difficult for them -- particularly if they live outside of the city -- to fit regular appearances into their already hectic schedules.
4. Expressing yourself in media is much risker for women than men. For example, as Briard-Auconie explained, women are much more likely to be asked personal questions than men. In her experience, she is repeatedly asked how she "juggles her private and public lives" by journalists, while her male colleagues in politics are not. A successful woman in media must be able to "master her image" to avoid harsh criticism, and this is a daunting task.
Buzasi, editor-in-chief of Huffington Post UK, was quick to point out that France is not the only country seeing predominantly male faces as experts on televised news stations; England faces a similar diversity problem. This leads me to wonder what the statistic would be in the U.S., where I live. (American readers: I would love to hear your thoughts on this.)
What do you think are the major obstacles women face when it comes to representation in media, across countries? Share your ideas and reactions in the comments below.
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