According to a new report by the Women’s Media Center, the representation and visibility of women in the media are still sorely lacking. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Gender Equality in the Media Business—Still a Lacking Issue

The Women’s Media Center (WMC) just released its 2021 report on the status of women in U.S. media. The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2021 includes research from academia, industry and professional groups, labor unions, media watchdogs and newsrooms, as well as original WMC research including WMC Divided 2021: The Media Gender Gap, which illustrated that gender inequality in America’s newsrooms continues across all media platforms as men received 65% of bylines and credits in 2021, whereas women received only 34%.

The report “demonstrates that while there have been some gains, in all realms of media, [the] representation and visibility of women are still sorely lacking,” said WMC President and CEO Julie Burton. “This has implications for media and for democracy.”

According to WMC, in the United States women are 51% of the population but report only 34% of the news stories. “How can the public possibly know about and understand the perspectives, concerns, experiences and lives of over half the population if women are not allowed to be half of the storytellers? We at the Women’s Media Center want to see greater gender and racial equality in the American media,” added Burton.

“For media to offer accurate, fair and complex reporting, women must be at all levels of decision-making and work throughout news organizations,” said Erica González Martínez, a WMC board member.

“The data gathered and reports produced by the Women’s Media Center are critical tools for raising uncomfortable but urgent conversations about the need for media to not simply say better, but do better—today.”

“This report will help to hold news media accountable for the persistent inequalities in media,” said Gloria Steinem, a WMC co-founder.

“Women must be visible and powerful in all aspects of media if American society is ever to be a real democracy.”

Janet Dewart Bell, WMC Board chair, added that progress for women in media is moving too slowly. “There is so much work that needs to be done if we are to achieve true equality and inclusion in media.”

Here are the status report highlights:

In news media—print, online-only media, radio and television:

  • No Indigenous women and just one woman of Middle Eastern/North African descent appeared as a guest on five top Sunday TV news talk shows in 2020, according to the WMC. Of the 1,671 guest appearances, Asian American women accounted for 0.6%, Latinx women 2%, Black women 9% and White women 20%. White men were 53% of the guest appearances, dominating even when the conversation was racial justice.
  • Women made up 44.7% of the local TV news workforce in 2019, fractionally down from the previous year’s record high of 44.9%. The tally of White people in local TV fell to 73.4% from 74.1% during the same period, according to the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA).
  • Of the top 100 personalities on radio sports talk shows, not one was a woman, according to Talkers.
  • Racial diversity was the No. 1 priority of 42% of newsroom leaders responding to a nationwide newsroom survey, following unrest over George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer; gender diversity was the No. 1 priority for 18% of them, according to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.
  • Of surveyed women journalists in the United States, 79% of 115 respondents said online harassment affected press freedom, and some added that fear of online abuse made them avoid reporting on certain kinds of stories, according to the Seattle University Department of Communication.
  • Women owned 5.3% of the nation’s 1,368 full-power commercial TV stations, a 7.3% decrease from 2015, according to the Federal Communications Commission. People of color owned 1.9%, down from 2.6% in 2015.

In entertainment media—film, TV and streaming:

  • Twenty-nine percent of protagonists in the top 100 films of 2020 were women, representing an 11 percentage-point decrease from 2019, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film.
  • Black females constituted 6.5% of the U.S. population but 3.7% of leads or co-leads in the 100 top-grossing films of the decade ending in 2019, according to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.
  • Across the 100 top-grossing movies from 2007 to 2018, 4.5% of a total of 47,268 characters were Latinx; 3% of films featured Latinx actors as leads; and 49% of these lead or co-lead roles—or 17—went to women, according to the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and National Association of Latino Independent Producers.
  • For the first time, during the 2018–19 season, women and persons of color directed more than half of all entertainment TV episodes, according to the Directors Guild of America.
  • Men continued to dominate the non-acting Primetime Emmy Award nominations in 2021, receiving 65% of those preliminary honors, slightly less than 2020’s 68%, according to the WMC.
  • Of 773 characters appearing regularly on traditional broadcast prime-time television shows in 2020–21, 9.1%—or 70—were lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. That was a decrease from the previous year’s record high of 10.2%, according to GLAAD.

In tech—social media, gaming and engineering:

  • The top female gamer, competing in tournaments, earned 7% of what the top man earned, according to Casino.org.
  • Women, persons with disabilities, Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans and Native Alaskans were underrepresented in science and engineering, including sectors that feed the pipeline to certain jobs in technology, gaming, software development, social media and other media, according to the National Science Foundation.
  • Of 7,893 staffers surveyed at book publishing companies, book review journals and literary agencies, 74% were women, 23% were men and 76% were White, according to Lee & Low.

*****

The Women’s Media Center was co-founded by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem in 2005 and is based in New York. It is an inclusive feminist organization that works to raise the visibility, viability and decision-making power of women and girls in media to ensure that their stories get told and their voices are heard.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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