How the Media Denies Women Power and Influence
June 8, 2012 by Anita Finlay ("Ani")
The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.
A brutal truth is being revealed in this election cycle that reinforces what we learned in the last one, when mainstream media and political power players worked to demolish Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. These women could not be more different, but arguably, one of big media’s goals seemed the same for both: to maintain the current power structure that leaves women out. Today, the ramifications play out daily as women are trivialized and in the main, subtly excluded from the decision-making process at the highest levels of government, corporate boardrooms and respected media outlets.
This is not about whether one likes or supports any particular woman candidate. It is about the playing field and the rules of engagement. It is also about an increasingly female labor force and how much say we actually have in determining our future and that of our children. This is not about being at war with men, but understanding a corporate-owned media and political climate in both parties where women tend to be an afterthought; where women vying for leadership positions are often hampered by misogynist attacks and stereotypes. That is where a real war is being waged.
Don’t believe me? The Daily Beast’s “Men Rule Media Coverage on Women’s News” by Abigail Pesta makes clear that men still control the narrative at all levels. Ms. Pesta detailed a troubling study, Silenced: Gender Gap in the 2012 Election Coverage, which shares researchers’ findings after tracking thousands of print articles and TV segments over a six month period, logging almost 51,000 quotes. The study discovered that when media reports on women’s issues—abortion, birth control, Planned Parenthood—men are quoted five times more than women.
Apparently, men don’t just “dominate stories on women’s issues,” but “all election topics, including the economy and foreign policy.” The disparity is shocking. On the airwaves and in print, men outnumbered women by ratios of as much as 4 to 1, sometimes more, indicating that women receive scant consultation on critical topics. Even in the opinion columns of major publications, men outnumber women 2 to 1.
What does that indicate about who controls the treatment of women in the political arena or in the workplace?
It may seem troubling, then, that the Washington Post just reported only 3 in10 women actually believe there is a “war on women.” But the reality behind those numbers is more complex.
Women typically become more important in an election year – when our votes are needed. Perhaps some women are not bamboozled into thinking that the current pandering is all that meaningful. The “war on women,” as painted by the mainstream media, concerns women’s reproductive rights. While a woman’s right to choose, to have access to proper health care, and the final say in determining those issues is critical, this year the economy is polled as foremost on women’s minds. That may explain why many women are not buying into the media’s premise. We are not one issue voters. As characterized by politicians and the mainstream media, the singular focus of “the war on women” is designed to keep 51% of the population in line – fighting each other over pro-life/pro choice so that politicians know exactly the way their respective party-aligned female constituency is going to vote.
Women are getting college degrees in greater numbers than men. 73% of women are in the work force. We have the power of the purse in ever greater numbers, and yet our opinions or wisdom are not being sought on the economy, foreign policy or matters affecting our own health care with any attempt at parity. Even with the lesser numbers of female legislators and Governors, there are certainly enough qualified women, and female experts in a particular field, to be offered equal consultation on a news piece.
Last month, President Obama gave a commencement speech at Barnard, an all-women’s college, telling the soon-to-be graduates to ‘fight for a seat at the table,’ yet in order to grant himself that forum, he nixed the original commencement speaker, Jill Abramson, on short notice. As the first Executive Editor of the New York Times, Ms. Abramson earned a seat at that table, yet the President thought nothing of telling her to step aside; a decidedly mixed message to women.
Further, via Yahoo News, Chris Moody reported when it comes to SuperPACS – organizations with deep pockets that exert ever greater influence in electing our officials – they, too, are the province of men. Women account for only 20% of donations to SuperPACs – in fact, half of those donations came from one woman!
Is it any wonder that when Hillary Clinton tried to break through the highest, hardest glass ceiling in 2008, efforts were made to silence her with vicious attacks? Paul Bedard of U.S. News & World Report reported on two respected scholarly studies, stating that “Sexism Doomed Clinton’s 2008 Presidential Bid” – and offered the facts and figures to back up his assertion.
The last real “year of the woman” was 1992 when many women swept into elected office. The Washington’s Post‘s Karen Tumulty recently wrote that as the result of greater legislative representation by women in Congress,
“…They made their presence felt beyond Capitol Hill, with the passage of legislation that made the workplace more family-friendly, that directed more medical research to women’s health issues and that made the criminal justice system more responsive to domestic violence.”
Women are not just an afterthought to be remembered at election time.
Newsweek recently published a study stating that women make more effective legislators. Harvard likewise just offered their study wherein women excelled past men in over twenty leadership markers. Yet we still have a mere 16.8% representation in Congress. When women do run for elected office, they get three times more media coverage on their physical appearance than men, while men get 68% more paragraphs written about their platform than their female opponents. These two statistics alone tell the tale — women’s qualifications are diminished even prior to the sexist name calling that seems de rigueur today. It is not surprising then, that fewer women choose to run. If recent history is any indicator, they know they will have to endure a misogynist gauntlet in the press, and via their opponents, when they do.
To this day, women still do not earn equal pay as men for doing the same job and sexual harassment still exists in the workplace. The reasons now become clearer.
Up until now, the vicious truths of 2008, 2010 and the current election cycle have been swept under the rug. Connecting the dots on the behavior patterns of mainstream media, politicians, advertisers and comedians (who never seem to run out of sexist material), exposes the methods behind the madness of keeping capable women out of power.
This also begs the question of why this is allowed to continue.
Anita Finlay is the author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin: Sexism and Sabotage, a Hillary Supporter’s Rude Awakening, available in at Amazon.com in print and Kindle editions.