New research carried out by Women in Journalism has found that British newspapers are dominated by male journalists, sexist stereotypes and negative portrayals of women. Nine national newspapers were analysed over the course of four weeks and it was found that 84% of people quoted or mentioned in lead articles were men, with men writing 78% of front page articles.
The most male-dominated title was the Independent, with 91% of articles being written by men during the period studied. Women came out on top at the Express, with 50% of bylines, and the Financial Times, writing 34% of front page stories. The male bias was most prevalent at the Telegraph (89%), the Sun (86%), and the Times (82%).
Women, however, were disproportionately likely to be quoted as either victims or celebrities. It's no surprise, therefore, that the only women regularly pictured on the front of newspapers in the period were the Duchess of Cambridge and her sister Pippa Middleton - one famous for marrying a prince, the other for being "eligible". Also frequently pictured was Madeleine McCann, one of the most recognisable "victims" of recent years. In contrast, the most-pictured men were Simon Cowell, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Jeremy Hunt.
The new research backs up the findings of the Guardian, which found last year that in a typical month, 78% of newspaper articles are written by men, 72% of Question Time contributors are men and 84% of reporters and guests on Radio Four's Today programme are men.
WiJ's research found that there was actually overall greater gender equality in the images used on front pages, but that of the top ten images used during the period studied, none were of female politicians or leaders. When pictures of powerful women were used, they were often deliberately unflattering, which comes as no surprise when you think about the media's love of berating them for their clothing choices and haircuts.
Clearly, we have a problem with the way women are represented in the media. We don't need new research to tell us that. Feminists have been saying it for years, and the debate has made headlines since a coalition of women's groups addressed the Leveson inquiry in January to demand change and highlight the problematic way the newspapers report issues such as rape, while "relentlessly objectifying" women and consistently portraying them as little more than body parts. There have been panel discussions and numerous articles written about the representation of women in public life, motivated by concern for the situation. So what's the solution?
1. More major stories by women
One important step forward would be a change in the proportion of front page and other important stories written by women. Men have always been more likely to write about politics, finance and "serious" news, as well as providing opinion pieces, while women are still more likely to write about lifestyle topics, often confined to one specific section of a paper or website and seen as less important. More effort needs to be made to commission women to write the "big" stories. In newspapers where we do seem to be more visible, there's often a depressing trend towards the sort of stories that involve women being nasty about other women, so a few more positive and affirming opinion pieces wouldn't go amiss either. When it comes to radio and television, women need to be better represented as presenters and "experts".
2. More positive stories about women
The general tone of news about women needs to change. At the moment it tends to deal in tedious stereotypes, focus on who they're dating or marrying, or come in the form of reports on "research" that seems to reinforce gender roles and differences. If there's the opportunity for controversy or a "catfight", the media will pounce on it. If we can be portrayed as "evil", whether that means neglectful mothers or women who "cry rape", the papers will go to town. And then there's the endlessly repeated stories dealing with whether or not we can "have it all". We need things to change, and for that change to happen outside of the traditional "women's section" of papers. Women aspiring to become journalists might in turn be encouraged by a press that sees them as more than their body parts and sexual partners.
3. A more welcoming workplace culture
All companies need to make an effort to stamp out sexism in the workplace and provide a positive environment for everyone, with less judging women on the way they look and painting female managers as "bitches". The media is no exception here. There needs to be a commitment to flexible working and a positive attitude towards family life so employees don't feel they have to choose between their career and their children. Less ageism (we're looking at you, BBC) towards women is vital, as is the impression that women presenters are there as the eye candy alongside an older man. Better coverage of issues relating to women, as detailed above, would also contribute towards a more welcoming environment.
A change in media culture has been a long time coming and it might be much longer before we see a total turnaround in the way the press represents women. But since the Leveson inquiry began, the newspapers have been under increased scrutiny and several organisations have very publicly stated that they're no longer going to sit back while media misogyny goes unchecked. Female journalists have spoken out against the treatment of older presenters and women war correspondents. The turnaround may well be underway.
Hannah Mudge writes about all things news and feminism-themed for BitchBuzz, and is currently adjusting to life as a new mum. You can also read her blog, We Mixed Our Drinks or follow her tweets as @boudledidge.
Image via noodlepie's Flickr