Stereotypes are everywhere. On billboards on your way to work. On screen when you go to watch a film or switch on the TV. In magazines, online and in video games. Whatever the media, we have all seen them: femme fatale, nasty businesswoman, super-mom, heartless politician or sexualised heroine. Despite the many roles played by women in today’s economic and politic world, their objectification continue to thrive in the media we consume every day. Women’s bodies are used to sell, to entice and please a male gaze or to contribute to making men feel more masculine and powerful.
There is no doubt that women are trying to reclaim their bodies. The last few years have seen a surge in women’s movements, on social media and on the streets. The campaign #niunamenos against the epidemic of femicides that started in Argentina spread across several Latin American countries. The more recent #metoo and #timesup, denouncing and fighting against sexual harassment and assault, have made countless headlines around the world.
But how effective is their fight if the media, and especially the news, keep portraying women in a limiting and derogatory way?
We all know that the news (supposedly) represents the social, economical and political reality. It is a powerful force in shaping how we see the world, what we think and how we act. And as such, it is a great indicator of gender equality and fulfilment of women’s rights.
The Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) is a study on gender in media spanning more than a hundred countries, and its finding are alarming. According to the latest study, only a quarter of the people heard or read about in print, radio and television news are women, exactly the same as almost a decade ago. And women’s relative invisibility in traditional news media has crossed over into digital platforms: 1 in 4 news stories focuses on women.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, the GMMP finds that gender stereotypes have remained firmly embedded in the news over the last decade. Progress towards news representation that acknowledges women’s participation in economic life remains elusive. If in reality women hold approximately 40% of paid employment globally, in the news world they represent 20% of the formal labour force and 67% of the unemployed and stay-at-home parents.
Mainstream news coverage continues to rely on men as experts in the fields of business and economy. Women are instead featured in stories about accidents, natural disasters or domestic violence. According to the study they are more than twice as likely as men to be portrayed as victims.
Women in politics are similarly sidelined. And the ones that are featured in the news are ridiculed most of the time, their competency constantly questioned on the sole basis of being a woman. Journalists seem more interested in discussing women’s looks or their domestic life – such as their ability to juggle motherhood with their careers – rather than their positions on relevant issues.
Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign included, to cite just an example, the CBS News headline “Hillary Clinton: Grandmother-in-chief?” and the very important question: “How will the new granddaughter affect Hillary Clinton’s decision on a 2016 presidential bid?”.
It’s the same story for women in sports. The sexist comments made during coverage of the 2016 Olympic games infuriated viewers. Corey Cogdell-Unrein, a three-time Olympic athlete who won bronze in women’s trap shooting was referred to as “the wife of” (American footballer player Mitch Unrein). Commentators implied that for athlete He Zi a proposal was better than her Olympic medal. Swimmer Dana Vollmer was constantly talked about in terms of her new motherhood. To name just a few.
The news is a long way from reflecting reality. The marginalisation of women’s voices in the news undermines their potential contributions to society. If, to quote French writer and feminist Simone de Beauvoir, “one is not born a woman, but becomes one,” how can we expect girls to be future leaders if women are portrayed as powerless and passive victims? It also applies to men: how can we expect them to champion women’s rights if growing up they have only seen a sexist view of the world?
We can not achieve gender equality without fair and balanced reporting. That’s why we believe NADJA’s work is so important. By highlighting women’s accomplishments, amplifying their voices, we aim to not only fight the misrepresentation of women in the news but also to inspire others to achieve their best. We want to rethink the world and include the diversity and richness of women’s visions and experiences. We aim to give you a different approach to news and bring you stories that challenge conventional wisdom and spark constructive conversations.
Women are shaping our present and laying the foundations for our future. It’s time for the media to acknowledge them.