Who Speaks For Women In The News?

By: Amanda K. Fox

According to a recent survey of 35 major national publications conducted by the 4th Estate over the last six months, when it comes to women’s issues, women are the last people being asked about them. This is not a trend limited to one specific outlet; it is in print, over the airwaves and on television. The numbers are shocking and they don’t lie. Whether it be reproductive rights, EEOC matters or any relevant topic regarding to women, the odds are if you’re watching, hearing or reading an opinion about it, that opinion is coming from a man.

 

Kit Coleman, world’s first accredited female war correspondent

The study conducted by 4th Estate focused heavily on three specific topics that are always of great concern to women: Birth control, Planned Parenthood and abortion. The topics are controversial. The issues are not easy for everyone to come to agreement on, however, they are issues that impact women in ways that they do not impact men. Men do not get abortions. Responsibility for birth control is still primarily placed on the shoulders of women. Planned Parenthood is the only option for many women that fall into the lower income brackets to receive health care services. It would make sense that in the public debate raging on over each, women would be the logical choice to go to for opinions, but the reality is that women are often left out.

Over the last 6 months, when quotes have appeared in mainstream news concerning abortion, 81% of the time, the quote is coming from a man. Various organizations were cited 7% of the time, meaning women, the people most directly impacted by abortion, where only cited a paltry 12% of the time the issue was raised. There is no denying men can be emotionally effected by abortion nor that they in some cases may be impacted by the outcome of physical maladies that can sometimes stem from the procedure, it is not nearly enough to warrant they receive such a disparate proportion of the voice given to the issue.

Women were only cited in 19% of the stories concerning birth control measures. While condoms, which are worn by men, are still the most popular form of birth control, the burden of having them available and ensuring they are used is often the responsibility of women. A variety of health services organizations provided 7% of the quotes on the issue while men accounted for the remaining 75%. Again, men are not responsible for taking birth control pills and maintaining that daily schedule. Men do not have any under the skin implants, or shots like Depo Provera that they can rely on for effective birth control, begging the question, why do they make up the bulk of the debate? Even in the Planned Parenthood firestorm that has raged on nearly a year, men still account for 67% of all citations.

 

Desirée Ndjambo

Even in the debate over women’s rights in general, women only account for 31% of all quotes that were provided versus 52% for men and an additional 17% for organizations. It begs the question, why are women on the fringes of these discussions? Theories are abundant, but none seem to truly make any sense. There is no shortage of women to provide quotes that voice a personal or professional opinion on any of these issues. There is no shortage of women in the media that know enough to understand that women are as capable as any man to provide a wealth of knowledge and tantalizing sound bites as men are. Knowing all of this, the simple question, why, remains.

 

Jasmine Linabary, of The Gender Report, cites a major issue being that women are still largely relegated to covering the “Four F’s” (Food, Fashion, Family and Furniture) while men are doing what is primarily considered the “real news”. When men need a quote on anything, it often seems that they go to another male for it, while women tend to go to other women when applicable. A possible secondary factor has to do with using approved sources which have often been curated by male editors. Women may rely on their personal sources initially only to discover that once they turn in their article they are being directed to go with the editor’s choice even if it may not be as relevant or accurate.

This is far from a secular opinion, and claiming secular bias not an accurate response. The findings of the 4th Estate study were upheld not only by The Gender report,  but by a second study conducted by the OpEd Project and third from Global News Intelligence. The fact, pure and simple, is that even women that have a voice and should be heard are often being squeezed out over a number of irrelevant biases. While there is no denying women are far better represented than 50 years ago, or even 20, there is also no denying that the disparity is both glaring and disproportionate.

All women should view this as a wake-up call. These are issues related to our bodies and minds. If you do not like the idea that men are providing the bulk of the information on women’s issues, issues they may be capable of sympathizing with or understanding in a clinical sense only, then it is necessary to be an active voice that stands out and demands to be heard. Claim your power and right as not just a woman, but a human being, to play an active role in shaping policy not just for yourself, but for all women now and in the future.

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