Women Working in the Media

Since the 1960s, feminists have argued that “it matters who makes it.” When it comes to the mass media, “who makes it” continues to be men.

Women working in the media have made some inroads. In 2011, the International Women’s Media Foundation reported that around the world, only a third of journalists are women. [1] Studies conducted by Canadian researchers Gertrude Robinson and Armande Saint-Jean have found that 28 per cent of newspaper editors are female. [2] And according to San Diego State University communications professor Martha Lauzen, 18 per cent of the directors, executive producers, writers, cinematographers and editors on the 250 top-grossing films of 2011 were women. [3]

Although women now have a significant presence in both print and TV newsrooms, they still face a distinct “glass ceiling: while women make up 50 per cent or more of writers, producers and editors, they make up only 40 per cent of top-level management and only a quarter are found at the highest levels of authority. [4]

A study carried out in France in 2000 by the Association of Women Journalists (Association des femmes journalistes—AFJ) pointed out that French television devotes five to nine per cent more news coverage to women than do the other media—clearly the result of more women journalists working in television than in the radio and newspaper industries. The same study showed that women journalists select six per cent more stories on women than men journalists. [5]

Lauzen’s annual studies of the film industry reveal that women account for only 18 per cent of the creative talent behind the highest grossing Hollywood pictures—18 per cent of executive producers, 25 per cent of producers, 5 per cent of directors and 4 per cent of cinematographers. [6] Robinson and Saint-Jean report that in the newspaper industry, only 5 per cent of managing editors and editors-in-chief are women. [7]

Decision-Making Power Matters

Studies show that a difference can be made when women hold positions of power. In 2000, women editors and journalists took over the newsroom for one day at a newspaper in Wichita Falls, Texas. For the day’s top story a choice had to be made between a crime-stopper’s story about a peeping tom and an item about local women fighting for equal rights. When the women opted for the latter story, a heated argument erupted. Journalist Laurence Pantin reports that “the women finally won, but only because they held the key positions on that day. All other times, the peeping tom and stories like it would have prevailed.” [8]

Two Steps Forward…

Author Kathi Maio reminds us that the march to equality for women in media has had strides forward and setbacks. She writes: “Our story has never been one of steady progress. For example, more women were directing movies in the 1920s (when the industry was new and more open) than in the 1950s. And there were more positive, empowered roles for women in the early ’30s than in the early ’70s.” [9]

As women continue to struggle for equality in the media, Lauzen’s research shows that the biggest difference is made by the women who actually work in the industry. Behind the scenes, they can have a definite impact on the ways women are portrayed on the screen and in print. Lauzen concludes, “When women have more powerful roles in the making of a movie or TV show, we know that we also get more powerful female characters on-screen, women who are more real and more multi-dimensional.” [10]

 


 

[1] Byerly, Carolyn M. Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media. International Women’s Media Foundation, 2011.
[2] Robinson, Gertrude and Armande Saint-Jean. How far have women come in journalism? Media Magazine, Spring 1999.
[3] Lauzen, Martha. The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 250 Films of 2011.
[4] Byerly, Carolyn M. Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media. International Women’s Media Foundation, 2011.
[5] Commission femmes dans les medias. Association des Femmes Journalistes, 2001.
[6] Lauzen, Martha. The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 250 Films of 2011.
[7] Robinson, Gertrude and Armande Saint-Jean. How far have women come in journalism? Media Magazine, Spring 1999.
[8] Pantin, Laurence. When Women Run Newsrooms, Women Are in the News. Women’s enews, April 6 2001.
[9] Maio, Kathy. From Taxi Driver to Waterworld: 20 years of waiting for women to arrive in Hollywood. Sojourner: The Women’s Forum (21) 1, 1995.
[10] Yeomans, Jeannine. Hey, Hollywood: What’s Wrong With This Picture? Women’s enews, September 18 2000.