Do Women Count?

Yesterday, after I made some snarky comment, a friend asked me if I was Eeyore. The truth is, I'm a mash-up of Eeyore and Tigger. Tigger bounces up and down gleefully whenever I talk about gay rights. But today I'm talking about the ladies again, so get ready for Eeyore. 

The online magazine VIDA just released its count of female:male bylines in influential literary and political outlets—"thought leader" magazines, as they're called. The numbers are absolutely dismal. In The New Yorker and The Atlantic, there are nearly three male bylines to one female. In The New Republic, the byline ratio is four to one. In Harper's, it's five to one.

VIDA's introduction and its press release say nice cheerful things, like, "But we at VIDA aren’t discouraged by this fact—we know that significant cultural change takes time." 

But time isn't making significant changes. Well, OK, in 2005, the Columbia Journalism Review found that the byline ratio in The New Yorker was 3.5 to one, and in The Atlantic it was six to one, so yes, things have inched up a bit. (In The Atlantic, though, consider which women are writing. As Caryl Rivers notes in her dead-on analysis called "The Atlantic's Woman Problem," "The leitmotif of much of what the Atlantic publishes about women is that female gains are dangerous—to children, to families, to marriages, to themselves, and to men." I have a great editor at The Atlantic Online who has assigned me some very interesting stories. But she's female—and outnumbered.) But women actually make up more than 50 percent of English literature and journalism school graduates. We're not talking about Larry Summers' leaky science pipeline here. We're talking about the subject at which girls are, stereotypically, supposed to be outstanding, and where they concentrate in high numbers: reading and writing. 

I saw a major discussion about the thought-leader byline problem most recently in 2006, when Ruth Davis Konigsberg, then an editor at Glamour, did a similar count with similar results. Her website isn't there any more, but Salon's Broadsheet wrote about it here:

Last September Ruth Davis Konigsberg, a deputy editor at Glamour, started the wittily named, with the aim of tracking the male-to-female byline ratios in five general-interest magazines: Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, the Atlantic Monthly, and Harper’s. It’s not shocking that male bylines proved more common — that’s the no-brainer that spurred the WomenTK project in the first place — but the extent to which men are outpacing women is staggering.

Female writers wrote about it with outrage all over the place. Nothing changed.

And it's not just the elite American magazines. This month the Women's Media Center released its annual report on the state of women in the news media. Guess what? As Amanda Hess reported in GOOD:

The good news: In 2011, women held 40.5 percent of newspaper jobs, compared to the 36.6 percent they occupied in 2010. (Women's representation at American newspapers had hovered below the 40 percent mark for more than a decade). The bad news: By almost every other measure, media remains overwhelmingly male, and it's getting maler.

The outlook is no better in the rest of the world. The Global Media Monitoring Project's "Who Makes The News?" report finds similar statistics in both who covers the news and who is covered by  the news worldwide. They find, for instance, that only 24 percent of the people mentioned in the news are women; apparently men's lives matter three times as much as women's do. And men do far more of the reporting, editing, and news management than women do.

So what? Why does it matter that women are not part of those who define the world, identify the issues, and set the public agenda? Who cares if women's lives are invisible? In 2008, I wrote an article for Brandeis Magazine, "Do Women Count?" that included this: 

Why is this important? Because the news purports to be objective, to tell it like it is. The media help create our image of the world, our internal picture of what’s normal and true. And when the news is being written by men about men, a significant part of reality is missing from view.

Megan Kamerick, my colleague at JAWS (a fabulous organization of women in journalism) gave a wonderful TEDX talk that laid out the issues brilliantly, and which deserves more attention than it has gotten. I hope you'll watch it.

We've all had plenty of fun mocking Issa's all-male panel on contraception—er, religious freedom. But you know what? That wasn't an outlier. The fact that Issa's panel was about lady business made it particularly egregious. But check out the world around you. All-male and 90 percent male panels convene every day. Sometimes they're called "Congress." Sometimes they're called your newspaper. And they're giving you a false picture of your world. 

So What Is To Be Done? My inner Eeyore just wants to complain. But Ann Friedman and Amanda Hess at GOOD propose a solution

It’s time to stop lamenting and start doing. Here's how:

1   Think of three women in your industry who are underpaid, underemployed, or under-noticed. Women who are rising through the ranks more slowly than their male peers. Women who are really great at what they do but haven’t been recognized as up-and-comers yet.

2   Think of three powerful people (of any gender) in your industry who you know personally and who are in a position to hire or assign to women.

3   Compose an email to each of those powerful people individually and recommend a specific woman they should meet, hire, or otherwise work with.

  Email those women and tell them you’ve recommended them. We haven't provided a form email by design—a genuine, original email is what counts.

Contrarily, analyze the news—and email your editors when things look biased. Keep a running count. Ask why only men are quoted in that story on domestic violence. Ask why your congresswoman isn't quoted in the story on the budget. 

What are you waiting for?

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