Our mainstream media is institutionally sexist. I live in an age where I feel I cannot identify as merely a ‘journalist’ – I write here today not as a journalist, but as a ‘female’ journalist. The distinction, one would think, is surely arbitrary?
Far from it.
In an industry riddled with monopoly, oligopoly, the weight of social elites and advertising, mainstream journalism has lamely tossed aside the basic democratic function of journalism in favour of male-dominated political economy.
The reality of our media today is that it is segregates. There is a stark, democratically dangerous underrepresentation of the female voice in the media and it is operating a social consensus.
All too frequently, women’s roles in the media realm are harrowingly reminiscent of the traditional gender roles expected of women in society. Often, female journalists are assigned beats that correspond to the preferred “women’s” agenda or what constitute our expected, pre-determined concerns – health, education, and celebrity news. ‘Soft’ news. In the semantic spirit of antonymy, men write 78% of stories relating to politics and governmental issues. ‘Hard’ news. In addition, female journalists are predominantly expected to conform to the happy-go-lucky, girl-next-door prototype and focus on ‘infotainment’ – fluff and celebrity news.
Has anybody stopped to think what this does to our society? An industry monopolised by the male voice is a very real threat to our consciousness, for when one voice is propagated another is suppressed. When the elite structures of the very medium designed to inform and shape public opinion are controlled by ‘masculine’ conceptions of the world and what is important, an implicit assumption that the social, political and cultural experiences of women are somehow ‘Other’, perpetuating a culture of sexism that undermines the very premise of democracy.
The implications of this? That the very presence of a woman in the newsroom constitutes the need to churn out degenerate journalism.
Essentially, media represent ‘reality’ according to the terms of an agenda. Male-dominant newsrooms are merely one facet of agenda setting, and I could discuss the manipulation of structure and content to serve the interests of social elites in a separate post. But for now, I will discuss only the roles (or lack of thereof) and representations of women in journalism and how this contributes to societally embedded sexism and stereotypes.
We are a world of producers and consumers. In context, we rely on journalists to provide us with objective information to allow us to be reasoned, active citizens – to fulfill our democratic duties. I use ‘consumers’ in this sense loosely, for we are not passive recipients of news and information but politically, socially and culturally mobile beings. We live amongst those of us who resist dominant ideology and we live amongst those too reluctant (or too ignorant) to challenge the status quo. This latter majority are consenting to a hegemonic reign masquerading itself as ‘common sense’.
Thus, we must ask: when an industry is such that men monopolise it, what assumption does this communicate?
It communicates to a mass audience that somehow, women are still ‘Other’. We are the ‘difference’. Despite the very real changes in the lives (and representations) of women over the past few years, an underrepresentation of women in the very outlet from which we digest the majority of our information about the public sphere suggests that women are not in it. We are ‘consumers’ of a media that suggest women’s voices, experiences and contributions are inferior to those of our male counterparts.
In news bulletins, the political voices invited to debate and discuss their expert opinion are predominantly male. The voices invited to share anecdotal personal experiences are predominantly female. Those most likely to feature as news subjects and spokespeople are male. Those most likely to feature as second-hand witnesses and victims are women. The list goes on. There is a hero/victim binary present in the way gender is presented in journalism that pushes women out of the public sphere and into the private.
The apartheid continues behind the camera lens. Women are frequently denied top positions in the field due to the pressures of balancing work and family life. There exists a social narrative that includes widespread scepticism of a woman’s aptitude for a high powered career that coincides with a similar scepticism of a man’s ability to nurture children and perform domestic tasks. Once again, the man is thrust into the public sphere whilst women are ushered into the home. But this is not just media – this narrative exists deep within the foundations of society. As long as there is a consensus that ‘husband’ will work 12 hour shifts in an office while ‘wife’ vacuums the carpet and feeds little Harry, we cannot hope for a workplace revolution.
There are currently three female national newspaper editors in the UK. In short – if I want to get to the top of my game in my career, I may as well hand over my ovaries to the establishment now.
The state of play must change. Our democratic integrity depends on it.
Sophie Elizabeth Moss is a second year undergraduate at the Cardiff school of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, a faculty of Cardiff University. When not searching for the perfect leather jacket, she can be found wincing the night away in a quiet corner of the English countryside, penning gritty horror novels of grandeur supernatural splendour and nurturing a dysfunctional relationship with her out-of-tune bass guitar and misanthropic pendulum. Disillusioned with societal expectations of the ‘modern woman’, she is a pro-choice, body positivity advocate and is haunted by the ghost of Simone de Beauvoir. @Sophiedelays