Special report: Gender in the media

 Diana Swift, editor, Anglican Journal special report on September 21, 2013

Reality check required

If women are underrepresented in the mass media, they are undervalued in society. If women are perpetually portrayed therein as victims, sometimes willing, that invites exploitation. If the media show women as dependent, unskilled and contributing little of value, women can be more easily abused.

The media are key spaces for the creation of meaning in contemporary culture, says Dennis Smith, president of the Toronto-based World Association for Christian Communication (WACC). “Media discourse and media images that represent violence and fundamentally distorted views of male-female relationships and human sexuality can skew how we relate to other people in real life,” he says. Furthermore, the representation of women and men in the news media—combined with the roles of women and men in delivering news—distorts our understanding of how the two genders interact in the home, in politics, in business and in society in general. “In news coverage, women are seriously under-represented, and when they do appear, it tends to be as victims or in roles that are subsidiary to men. In the real world, my life isn’t like that!” Smith says.

The distorted reporting of non-representative journalism fails to depict accurately the role that women (and therefore men) play in society, adds Chloe Shanz-Hilkes, a Toronto CBC radio producer and a former project assistant for the GMMP. “It turns to men for expert commentary far more readily than women. It portrays the work that women do as less newsworthy than work done by men. News is delivered by male anchors and written by male freelancers,” she says. “This helps to reinforce and even worsen existing gender imbalances within society.” Simon Fraser University’s Kathleen Cross, GMMP’s national Canadian co-ordinator, cautions that complacency is a blind spot in developed countries. “Popular mythology suggests we’ve been successful at solving gender disparity.”

Adding her voice, Lakshmi Puri, acting head of UN Women, says, “Gender stereotypes in the media are influential socio-psychological factors in how women and girls are perceived. They also influence their self-esteem and relationships between the sexes.” Puri stresses that we must not let negative depictions of women erode the hard gains made in women’s empowerment.

Story by story, ad by ad, the picture is slowly changing for the better, but we must continue to be critical of and vocal about skewed gender portrayals in countries both developing and developed. Let’s support the Global Media Monitoring Project in its quest for realistic and gender-balanced media. Everyone stands to gain.

Download special report here

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September 21, 2013
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