Who Makes Our News?

American television news anchor and reporter Najahe Sherman.
















It’s not just women in politics who are struggling to overcome sexism in the media, it’s girls and women in general.

The latest report from the Global Media Monitoring Project is proof, yet again, that women’s presence in the media is lower than that of men. And that is one reason why gender inequality persists in the 21st century. As the 2015 report states, “the way women are depicted in the news has a profound effect on societal attitudes.”

The GMMP report is compiled once every five years through the information compiled by volunteers around the world and is divided into regional reports. One of the findings has deeply troubled the GMMP staff: The progress of women’s equality in the news media “has ground to a halt in the last five years.”

Overall, since 2010, women still make up only 24% of people seen in the media. However, in North America alone we make up 36%. Sounds like good news until you realize that women’s presence reduces to 23% in stories about politics and government.

If you are a female college student who aspires to be a politician and you watch the news, you are not seeing many female role models from whom you can learn. This is part of the systemic sexism in the media and one that must be addressed if we are to encourage girls and women to be political leaders. As Marie Wilson of the White House Project often said, “you can’t be what you can’t see.”

I was first introduced to the GMMP during the 2008 primary election when the sexism directed at Hillary Clinton disturbed me to such a point I searched for information to give me a context as to why the gender bias against her was so omnipresent.

The 2008 online landscape of facts about sexism in the media was a desert but, I was relentless (and desperate) in my search and finally found an oasis: The Global Media Monitoring Project. I reached out to the staff and said hello from the wilderness. With the appetite of an omnivore I read every report and then I shared them with others. I couldn’t get enough.

These reports showed me that sexism in the media was not only real it was woven into layers of bias about women. When something is embedded over time it’s hard to dislodge. As I watched the 2008 primary unfold I could see how women in politics could be taken down many rungs just by the simple task of covering their campaigns in the news.

But it’s not just women in politics who are struggling to overcome sexism in the media, it’s girls and women in general. The news shapes our world and if men dominate the news stories girls who are shaping their identities have to struggle to fit into a male framework in order to see themselves as people who create change. Can a woman ever fit into a male framework? I think not.

Women are involved in everything in the world from war to economy to the environment so when you see our presence in the news as small we must include this phenomenon as part and parcel to the overall sexism in the world.

Women are equally affected by the world economy as men. Yet, according to the 2015 GMMP, “Economic news followed by political news are least likely to focus on women, currently at 5% and 7% of stories in these topics.”

In North America 19% of news subjects portrayed women as linked to their family status as opposed to only 5% of stories about men. Enter Matt Lauer who recently asked the singer Adele if she could find time to have a career and be a mother. The insistence on asking women about their family status prevents people from seeing women as independent people with autonomous lives.

There is good news in science. “Over the past 10 years the largest strides in integrating a gender equality perspective have been in science and health news.” This is impressive and I believe that STEM activists have done a tremendous job in raising the awareness of the need for women in science and technology.

Sexism can be embedded over time, but enough people who want to solve this problem can upend the status quo and set on us on a new path. The GMMP staff is cognizant of the power of the people because their goal is to eradicate gender inequality in the news media by 2020.

​It’s an ambitious goal, but in order to solve the world’s biggest problems women must be part of the solution. And in order for this to happen, both girls and women must be able to see themselves as equal partners with men.

Jennifer Hall Lee is a filmmaker who lives in Los Angeles. She has spent many years working on Hollywood films,  in visual effects, and used her free time (when she had it!) making her own films. Her latest film, “Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation” is being distributed nationally and more public screenings. Jennifer was named Global Ambassador for the Global Media Monitoring Project. To schedule an interview with Jennifer or book her as a speaker, she can be reached at jennifer@feministstories.com.

Image via Wikicommons

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