“The first step to success for women and girls is to learn how to interrupt. In the classroom or workplace, a woman who is afraid to interrupt may never be heard, and only by being heard can we make a difference.” –Madeline Albright
Last month the research group 4th Estate, which monitors campaign coverage, released a report showing that women are not quoted by major news outlets as expert sources on women’s issues, including topics like abortion and birth control near the rates that men are.
In the report, Silenced: Gender Gap in the 2012 Election Coverage, researchers studied a total of 2,750 print articles and TV segments in a six-month period from November 1 to May 15. In stories about birth control, men scored 75 percent of the quotes, with women getting 19 percent and organizations getting 6 percent. Stories about Planned Parenthood had a similar ratio, with men getting 67 percent, women getting 26 percent, and organizations getting 7 percent.
Why, even in areas of women’s issues, are women not considered the experts on their own lives? Often, the lack of women’s voices on politics, security, and economics is attributed to women not achieving high levels of influence in these fields. For example, only 17% of Congress and 3% of CEOs are women. It may be argued that women would comprise less of the expertise in some of these areas because there just aren’t enough women in the pipeline.
Additionally, the number of women holding staff positions on television or radio news teams is not at parity. Forty percent of TV and 22 percent of radio news staff roles are held by women. Perhaps there just aren’t enough women in decision making positions in the media looking to include women’s voices?
However, could part of the gap be credited to a still existing yet completely false perception that an individual- usually male, white and straight-is objective and unbiased while other people—female, persons of color, gay or lesbian-are subjective and biased? All people have different perspectives and points of view; objectivity is largely a myth but even with empirical evidence to back them up, do women still lack credibility despite attainment of advanced degrees, years of industry experience not to mention their own personal experience? Are women seen, as default, to be ‘pushing an agenda’ while men are seen as an objective, measured voice?
The number of women who could be considered experts on abortion, birth control, and Planned Parenthood are everywhere. They teach at universities, they are bloggers, they work in think-tanks, they are elected officials. Did no one think to just do a google search?
Another piece of the puzzle may be how people perceive behavior. Social psychology researchers have argued that individuals with high levels of dominance attain influence because they behave in ways that make them appear competent, even when they actually lack competence. Can men’s appearance of authority on a subject, even when the subject is women’s lives and experiences, inadvertently hold more sway with the gatekeepers of the media simply because men appear more confident?
Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright famously suggested that women need to “interrupt more?” Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s that straightforward in the long-term. There is no silver bullet in finding an answer to this question. Structural inequality between the sexes exists. Clearly, in most aspects of society women are underrepresented, the media included. However, it can no longer be ignored that even when there are expert women are in the room they are still not being asked to contribute at the rate their less qualified male counterparts are and we still do not have a satisfactory answer as to why that is the case.
Image Credit 4thEstate.net.