Making History: Celebrating Women in the Media

By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

Earlier this week the Women’s Media Center celebrated the increasing visibility and power of women at its third annual awards dinner. The event honored women working to change the way females are portrayed media. As host Anne Hathaway noted in her opening remarks, the Women’s Media Center works to make sure “neither girls nor boys will grow up to think women can be insulted, demeaned, or sidelined on national TV or radio.”

Women are gaining power and influence, she continued, but the playing field is far from equal. “We might be farther along than we ever have been, but it’s not far enough yet.”

She continued, “To be honest, I’m not sure I want women to be part of the current media fray. I want us to shape it and make it better.”

Women’s Media Center President Julie Burton echoed a similar sentiment. She explained that getting women involved in the making of media is critical to building gender equality. “If we don’t make our own history, it seems we are not going to be in it,” she said.

Women in the Media

Women make up only a small fraction of the people positioned as expert commentators in the media – and during the event, Burton announced some new figures revealing the dismal statistics on the proportion of women in election news since January 1 of this year (produced in conjunction with the 4th Estate Project). For example, on cable and network television in the US, political news show guests were 77 percent male and 18 percent female*. Similarly, on the Sunday talk shows Meet the Press and Face the Nation, guests were 78 percent male and only 21 percent female.

The numbers aren’t so different moving to the print media. According to the WMC, in the 50 top news outlets, 71 percent of front page election stories were written by men. Only 27 percent were written by women. And specific to the presidential election, articles on hot-topic issues directly affecting women, like abortion and birth control were also predominantly written by men (73 percent and 68 percent respectively).

Additionally, she added, only 3 percent of clout positions in the media are women. “We want equal representation on all platforms of media,” she added.

Women Making Media

One of the evening’s honorees was Luvvie Ajayi, winner of the Social Media Award, who discussed the power of the web to help women ensure their voices are heard. Ajayi is a blogger and the founder of the Red Pump Project, an awareness initiative that encourages women to wear red shoes on March 10th each year to shine a spotlight on how women and girls are affected by HIV/Aids.

Four years ago it was just an idea – but now it’s become a movement, she explained. “It all started with this thing we call social media.” Ajayi continued, “Most of all what I want to do is change the world, and with social media I’m able to do that.”

Other honorees discussed the importance of female support in helping their careers grow. Martha Nelson, winner of the Going the Distance award, began her career as an academic journal editor and eventually became editor of Ms. Magazine. Today she is Editorial Director of Time Inc. She said, “A big reason I’ve been able to go the distance is because I spent the early part of my career working in a unique environment.” That is, an environment working for publications by and for women. She added, “It takes a village to raise a child, and it’s clear to me that it took a sisterhood to launch my career.”

The WMC presented its Lifetime Achievement Award to Pat Mitchell, President and CEO of the Paley Center for Media, and former President and CEO of PBS. She said, “I talk about power a lot lately, because it’s so important that we own it, we name it, and we use it. …We have the power to use it to empower others.”

Other honorees were Sarah Hoye, winner of the Emerging Journalist Award, and Laura Ling and Lisa Ling, winners of the Sisterhood is Powerful Award.

*WMC did not provide an explanation for the missing percentage points here.

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