Were always told that women get given a hard time by the media Bidisha has called the lack of women on our screens and in our newspapers cultural femicide, and BECTU has conducted extensive research into how women are being pushed out of the media. Being three journalism students, the team wanted to see this for ourselves. So, on Friday 20th April, we bought a copy of every national newspaper (and a couple of local ones) and trawled through every single one to find out how they used women. We looked at how many articles were written by women, how many featured women whether as experts, subjects, or interviewees.
The results shocked even us; we had little idea of just how few women are involved with, or even mentioned in, national dailies, or how pervasive the problem was in all papers. In a special series of three posts, were going to take an in-depth look at how women just aren’t present in the vast majority of the press, despite making up more than half of the population, and how they are often confined to reporting on social issues and the arts. And we’ll be wondering what effect this will have on the public, deprived of coverage of women in positions of authority, and on the women who will work in the media in the future.
As a free sheet distributed in cities across the country, The Metro has some 3.5m readers every day, making its content and attitude towards women pretty important. However, out of the 148 articles we counted in the 20th April edition, just 26 were written by women, and only 24 mentioned women in any context.
In the news section, women were mentioned in twelve stories, but only one an article on p38 about an NHS blunder- used a woman as an expert. Even then, it was limited to one sentence at the end of the article, Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie called for an independent inquiry. The majority of the other news stories featured women and girls as the victims of crime or circumstance, from a p5 story about five-year-old Thusha Kamaleswaran, who had been paralysed by three gunmen, to a p33 story on Tia Bhatia, a girl who had her nose broken by a ball hit by the cricketer Chris Gayle.
Perhaps predictably, most of the entertainment stories focus on women. However, a lot of them focus on women in relation to men we see Carey Mulligan getting married, Katy Perry finding a new man, Mel Gibson threatening his ex-wife.
Across the rest of the paper, there are a further ten articles written by named women. All of these are in the culture and lifestyle sections, and some are quite substantial: Larushka Ivan-Zadeh interviews Ewan McGregor and edits the film review and TV sections (with Sharon Lougher), Polly Humphris writes a double-page spread on festivals, And Jayne Atherton edits the business section. However, this shows that there are relatively few named female writers the same bylines tend to crop up, revealing that, while the proportion of articles written by women is low, the number of female writers is lower still.
Happily, the non-footballing bits of the sports pages contain a fair few female athletes.
However low the proportion of female-related articles in the Metro were, the numbers get even lower at the Independent. Out of 173 total articles, just 25 are by women, and only 14 mention any. (There were 13 pictures of women too.) For a newspaper that prides itself on spearheading progressive issues, it seems odd that their workforce and editorial agenda are so androcentric.
As with the Metro, the lead article features Theresa May looking uncomfortable. May is the subject of two articles, one comment piece, and one cartoon; the two other political women that are the subjects of news articles are Condoleezza Rice and Marine Le Pen. Most of the articles written by women concern health or social issues, such as the death of an autistic boy on p14, the closure of a heart unit at the Royal Brompton Hospital on p29, and campaigners hacking into an abortion clinic website on p32.
However, unlike the Metro, women writers only have a sporadic presence in the arts and lifestyle section. Elisa Bray writes about Snowbombing Festival on p17, the book reviews include Toni Morrison and Carole King, and women write both recipes in the cookery section. There are also interviews with Helene Darroze, a chef, and Micele Stodart, a musician; but they are the only women profiled in the culture section. Ruth Bloomfield writes both of the Homes & Design articles, and the excellent Lucy Tobin writes three business stories, but Paula Radcliffe is the only woman mentioned in the sports section, and there are no female writers.