The Women’s Media Center issued its annual study on The Status of Women in U.S. Media, which examines how women are represented across multiple media platforms, including “news, literature, broadcast, film, television, radio, online, tech, gaming and social media.” Titled "Divided 2015: The Media Gender Gap," the investigation found that women, who make up more than half of the country’s population, are woefully underrepresented in most media formats. While the report notes that there were modest gains in a few areas, at nearly every level, from creation to fulfilment, the voices of women, as well as those of people of color, aren’t being heard in numbers comparable to their percentage of the population.
The figures offer a stark reminder that there’s tremendous work to be done to achieve gender parity in media, an institution which shapes and defines much of our cultural landscape. For example, just 37.3 percent of news is generated by women, compared with 62.1 percent of news which is generated by men. In terms of evening broadcast news, the numbers—which tallied appearances by anchors as well as correspondents—are even more troubling: women are on camera just 32 percent of the time, while men appear on camera 68 percent of the time. Of the 10 most widely circulated newspapers, women write just 37 percent of all stories. Contrast that with the 62 percent of stories written by men. And in the case of wire services Associated Press and Reuters, women write less than 40 percent of the stories, while men write 62 percent. Daily newspaper employees are overwhelmingly white, and just slightly majority male. White women are 31.1 percent of employees, while white men are 55.9 percent.
As Julie Burton, head of the Women's Media Center notes, the news numbers deserve particular attention as political coverage begins to heat up. “With the 2016 presidential election already underway, this [report] is especially problematic,” Burton says. “We hope that one good result of releasing these discouraging numbers will be that media can take a hard look at their newsrooms and make changes to improve the ratios in their reporting. Media companies should establish goals for improving their gender diversity and create both short-term and long-term mechanisms for achieving them. They should ask themselves why their newsrooms aren’t 50 percent women and what steps they need to take to get there. And if they aren’t asking themselves these questions, then that’s a problem.”
Unsurprisingly, newsrooms aren't the only places WMC found women being underrepresented. There’s been a tremendous amount of recent discussion around the lack of women in film and television, and WMC’s findings only further underscore the need for greater diversity in the entertainment industry. The situation actually worsened slightly between 2014 and the year prior, with women “creators, writers, producers, executive producers, photography directors and editors of prime-time TV entertainment” dropping off by one percent to comprise just 27 percent of all those roles. Astoundingly, of the 250 American films that had the biggest box office returns in 2014, a staggering 83 percent of executive producers, producers, directors, cinematographers, editors and writers were men. It seems obvious that with so few women involved in the creation and execution of movies that are greenlit and produced, women are often shut out of the final product.
In gaming, social media and technology, the numbers for women are even more dire, keeping with what many of us already suspect. WMC notes that “[w]omen have long been grossly underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), a reflection of how much females have not chosen those fields and of how much, some say, those fields have historically been less welcoming to women.” WMC found that at Facebook, 69 percent of employees are male, a number that climbed to 77 percent when only senior leadership was considered. In tech roles, just 15 percent of Facebook staff are female, while a whopping 85 percent are male. At Google, 70 percent of employees are male, but at the executive level, some 79 percent are. Twitter’s staff is 70 percent male, while 79 percent of its leadership and 90 percent of its tech staff are. Apple, similarly, has a workforce that’s 70 percent male. Surprisingly, tech companies, most of which say they have diversity efforts in place, trail older, non-tech companies in diversity.
On the gaming front, women represent a large number of consumers and players. Per WMC’s report:
- Overall, 48 percent of gamers are female.
- Women and men each purchase 50 percent of video games.
- Women aged 18 and older are 36 percent of gamers, while boys aged 18 and younger are 17 percent of gamers.
- On average, all adult gamers have been playing for 16 years; women have been playing for 13 years, on average, and men for an average of 18 years.
Those figures are of particular importance in the era of Gamergate, and as hostility continues to be directed toward women involved in the world of gaming. Veronica Arreola, assistant director of the Center for Research on Women and Gender and the director of the Women in Science and Engineering program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told me, “The WMC report shows that women are at least half of those who are gamers or driving social media. Yet these platforms are not being created by women. When I work with young women I ask them if this is a problem. Many cite the lack of women characters, sexist plots in games and harassment when using. They know what the problem is and some want to change it. Yet, as the report also shows the climate in tech companies where they want to work is not always supportive of their goals. In other words, we have a lot of work to do! That’s why my office works with schools and community orgs as well as support undergraduate and graduate women students as they earn STEM degrees by providing mentors and seeking out donors for scholarships.”
Despite the many disappointing numbers, there were a few bits of good news to be found. PBS, where Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill are key players, features women anchors 97 percent of the time. That beats ABC, CBS and NBC—where women fill the anchor role just 17.1 percent, 9.5 percent and 15 percent, respectively—by leagues and miles. At the Chicago Sun-Times, from 2013 to 2014, the number of stories written by women jumped from 46 percent to 54.2 percent, a fairly impressive leap. The paper was the sole publication among the country’s top 10 newspapers—a group that includes the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times— to achieve gender parity. On the Internet, the Huffington Post was the only outlet studied that had more female bylines than male ones: 58 percent versus 42 percent. That puts it ahead of FoxNews.com, the Daily Beast and CNN.com for the second year in a row.
So why do these numbers matter? For myriad reasons. Our media informs who we are, and in theory, offers us a reflection of ourselves. The omission of any group is problematic; everyone’s stories are important and should be told. WMC notes that America's quickly changing demographics make the dearth of images of people of color, who make up 37 percent of the population, and women of every race, who are 51 percent, a glaring omission, one that will only become more obvious as people of color become a majority, a change currently projected to take place in 2043. What’s more, as researchers from the Ralph Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA found in a recent study, films with diverse casts make more money than those without. In terms of sheer dollars, it behooves Hollywood and the entire media to picture a country more like the one we really live in.
Helen Zia, former executive editor of Ms. Magazine, a founding co-chair of WMC and the author of Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People drives the point home. “The Women's Media Center report is a devastating indictment of the glacial motion to bring women and people of color into the media institutions and to diversify the ranks of their journalists, executives, sources, anchors and content producers. These are the people who decide what events are worthy of society's attention, they are the decision-makers, the filters and gatekeepers of the news, yet they continue to be monochromatic and overwhelmingly male at a time when America is rapidly becoming a female and minority majority. There are a few positive examples of media that buck this backward trend, but in general the WMC report shows that almost all spheres of media produce perspectives that are largely male and white, which only perpetuates a distorted and unbalanced view of important events that affect all of us."
The WMC was founded in 2005 by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem to increase the visibility and strength of women in media. Its latest report, merely highlighted here, is incredibly comprehensive in scope, and deserves an upclose look. To review the study in its entirety and dig deeper into the numbers, click here.
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