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Susan Bulkeley Butler

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Changing the Portrayal of Women in the Media

Posted: 02/08/2013 7:26 pm

The Wall Street Journal chronicles America's best practices which provide the pipeline for business innovation.

So why, then, does the Journal seem so stuck in the past in the way it portrays women in the workplace and in advocating for equality in the business world?

I recently purused the Wall Street Journal and it really struck a nerve. Here's some of what I saw in a single issue:

  • Under the headline "Innovators of the World to Convene in Singapore" were pictures of 21 people. Only one was a woman. Does the Journal really think there is only one woman in the world who is an innovator, has the most cutting-edge ideas in business and technology today?
  • A house advertisement for an upcoming edition of WSJ Money featured an older woman with gloves seated round a tabl ; a woman who was scantily dressed; another younger woman who was dressed in a sexy and seductive way... and a man who was obviously in charge. The house ad seeks advertisers for the upcoming special section described as sophisticated and engaging financial advice on how to grow your investments, keep it and pass it on.
  • A story with the headline "Juicers Invade Kitchen Counters" features a mother with two young girls, like a 1950s advertisement for refrigerators or ovens, but with an expensive juicer to get more vegetables into their diet. Does this mean the Journal wants us to believe that a woman's place is (still) in the kitchen -- or that real men don't use juicers?


Of course the Wall Street Journal isn't alone in the media world when it comes to portraying women poorly.

In a comprehensive study, the Global Media Monitoring Project found that only 24 percent of the people interviewed, heard, seen, or read about in mainstream broadcast and print news in 2010 were women. In other words, in a world where the population is basically split 50-50 between men and women, nearly three-quarters of all people mentioned in the media in 2010 was a man.

Moreover, only 13 percent of the stories that appeared that year focused specifically on women, and only 6 percent focused on issues of gender equality or inequality, according to the Global Media Monitoring Project.

In a separate study by the American University School of Public Affairs Women and Politics Institute, women represented just under one-fifth -- about 22 percent -- of guests on Sunday morning news shows on the major networks in 2011.

Hollywood isn't any better. According to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, men outnumber women 3 to 1 in family films. Remarkably, that ratio is about the same as it was in 1946, according to the institute.

Women are almost four times as likely as males to be shown in sexy attire on television and movies, according to the Geena Davis Institute. Maybe that's because only 7 percent of directors, 13 percent of writers and 20 percent of producers are women.

Here's what this all adds up to: There is simply no equality when it comes to the portrayal of women in the media -- whether it's on the news pages, in advertisements, on the airwaves or on the Big Screen. We need to think about what the under-representation of women and stereotyping means to the society that relies on the media.

The editors and reporters of august publications like the Journal need to remember the power of their pages when they're planning stories, writing headlines and mocking up ads.

And we all need to work to advance equality in the workplace -- including on the movie sets of Hollywood; the newsrooms of America's publications and the studios of our television stations.

Only when we have more women making decisions in the media can we expect the media to be more reflective of the population as a whole.

 

Follow Susan Bulkeley Butler on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SusanBButler

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