By Charles Hallman
A new study points to a “stubborn gender inequality” affecting females in U.S. media. “The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2013” study, released in March by the Women’s Media Center (WMC), found that women are seen less often than men on Sunday morning news shows and are often relegated to write “pink topics” such as food
and family stories.
The overall employment of women in television newsrooms “remains flat,” according to the study. It also shows that “story framing and descriptions of women still too often fall into lazy stereotypes.”
“A gaping divide” in gender parity exists at both traditional and newer news sites. Male bylines outnumber female bylines by two-thirds “even in coverage of issues of great importance to women,” notes the WMC report.
Other findings in the report:
Women own nearly seven percent of U.S. commercial television stations, make up almost 30 percent of television news directors, 32.7 percent of the radio news workforce, nine percent of the directors of the top-grossing 250 U.S. films of 2012, and 18 percent of key behind-the-scenes roles. Women directed 15 percent and wrote 30 percent of all television episodes in 2011-12.
What about Black women in the media?
Chicago-based social media strategist Lovette “Luvvie” Ajayi, after reading the WMC report, told the MSR, “It is way worse” for Black women in the media.
Had the report included breakdown numbers by ethnicity, “The numbers would be truly appalling and even more glaring [for Black women],” adds Emmy Award-winning journalist and author Janus Adams. “It is appalling how really, really low the numbers are, and how disproportionate it is.”
WCCO-TV News Anchor Angela Davis points out, “Black women make up a very small number when it comes to women in the media. We are discouraged right off the bat from going into the business, because it’s well known how competitive it is.
“I must point out that our industry is a very tough one that requires a lot of skill and sacrifice,” Davis notes.
Black women still are confronted “with the same obstacles — people tend to hire people who look like them,” says Howard University School of Communications Dean Jannette Dates.
“I read the report, and [as] we look at the media these days, we don’t see the faces of color that we should be seeing,” continues Adams, who points out that skin color appears to remain part of an “old axiom” still used by media decision-makers. “This is something as a dark-skinned woman I have experienced all of my life in journalism. I remember when I first came into the industry and was working my way up, and was told point blank that if I was 5-foot-9 and blonde, this guy would’ve hired me right on the spot. But because I was not 5-foot-9 and blonde, he had no place for me.”
Former meteorologist Rhonda Lee was fired last November from a Shreveport, Louisiana television station after she responded to a viewer’s online comments that “she needs to wear a wig or grow some more hair” because of her short, tightly coiled hairstyle. Station officials claim Lee was let go because she violated the station’s social media policy.
“I’m fortunate that I work for [a station] that’s Black,” notes KMOJ-FM Program Director Candice Breedlove. “My boss is Black, and the people I work with are Black. [However,] as a Black woman you are undervalued and disposable” in mainstream media, she believes. “You have to look at who’s running their stations. They work with predominately White men who have power…”
“I have worked side by side with very few [Black women],” admits Davis. “I have only had one Black female manager in my entire 23 years in TV. She was the assistant news director at the TV station I worked at in Dallas for two years in the mid 1990s. She eventually left that job to become a real estate agent in another city.”
Adams, a frequent commentator on NPR who has published nine books on Black history, says, “I had written a newspaper column for 16 years and was unceremoniously dropped last year without so much as a notice. The editor said he was too embarrassed to have to tell me that he had to drop me.”
“Most of my college professors and advisors strongly recommended I pursue a career in print,” recalls Davis, “because they believed my chances of getting a job at a newspaper were greater than getting one at a local TV station. I think they based that opinion on my appearance and my race.”
Since becoming an executive, Breedlove, the only Black female executive in Twin Cities radio, admits she has been viewed differently “by a lot of people in the community. I honestly believe that first of all, I’m a woman, and then second of all, I’m a Black woman. ”In contrast to other area stations, KMOJ has a dozen or so Blacks at the station, including herself: “We have several ladies who work behind the scenes,” claims Breedlove.
That is extraordinary high.” “We got to be diligent and got to have people stand up and talk about [the fact] that we need diversity,” surmises Dates, who expresses concern on the recent departure of Soledad O’Brien from the CNN morning show. “So many other females of color have left or are leaving.”
“We can’t be the only ones who are fighting to have our voices heard,” surmises Ajayi. “There has to be a conscious effort to get the voices of Black women…heard, and not just for show.”
A nine-year blogger, she was one of two bloggers of color to get press credentials for the 2012 Academy Awards. “The blogsphere is becoming a new platform [for Black women],” says Ajayi. “In this new age, we are seeing that new media, like blogging, Twitter and Facebook, are taking up spaces where old media used to [be].”
“We have to continue to push as much as we can,” says Dates.
Davis concludes on an optimistic note: “I feel that despite the dismal numbers we continue to see with women in the media, there are still plenty of opportunities for sisters who are determined, focused, strategic and blessed with skills.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected]