Gender in Journalism

Gender in Journalism and the Media

Are women in the media criticized differently than men? Is there a byline bias based on gender?

A fellow female reporter shared a link on Facebook, and her comment was something along the lines of “Disgusting, what a shame.” The link was to an opinion piece published on “The New York Times” site and was titled, “Life as a Female Journalist: Hot or Not?

I read the article twice. I wanted to be sure I got the whole feel of it; to completely understand where the author (a female) was coming from. Usually when I see things that involve terms like gender equality and feminism or just relating to the gender of a person, I tend to take what I’m reading with a grain of salt. I try to be as unbiased as I can – as I’m trained to do both in writing and as part of media literacy – before I make my own judgement on the piece. I try to view it from the perspective of a female, male and neither.

Criticism Bias
This particular article’s main point was that female journalists receive a different kind of criticism then men do – often in the form of their bodies and sexuality. She described a situation in which organizations and readers who were displeased with a female journalist’s work, would Photoshop her head on the body of a model in a bikini and comment with derogatory slurs like “slut.” Her male counterparts would also receive derogatory slurs and Photoshopped images, but never concerning their sexuality or bodies. Often times it’d be about their lack of intellect.

Though internet trolls will forever exist and will forever heckle anyone and everyone, the importance of this article is perfectly explained in this one quote by the author, Amy Wallace,

This kind of vitriol is not designed to hold reporters accountable for the fairness and accuracy of their work. Instead, it seeks to intimidate and, ultimately, to silence female journalists who write about controversial topics.

Another concern I have about criticism like this is that it gives a perception that the story is inaccurate or isn’t reliable information. The journalist and her publication may lose credibility because of sexism. I found the comment below particularly alarming.

Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 2.20.32 PM

Bottom line: Women in the media are often attacked based on their appearance and sexuality whereas men are criticized based on their competence. This is dangerous because it has nothing to do with the quality or reliability of a woman’s work, but seeks to attack and silence her. It also puts her and her publication or station in jeopardy of their credibility.

Byline Bias
Subject and byline bias are another form of gender inequality. Various surveys, noted in the article, “Hard Evidence: is there still gender bias in journalism” find that women dominate in the Life & Style genre, while men dominate in Sports and Politics. The question I raise is – why? It is unfair to assume that it is because women are silenced in the latter subjects and forced to write Lifestyle articles. Personally, I am not interested in sports at all. Though I wouldn’t mind writing something on politics, it’s also not my first pick. I sometimes do enjoy a good lifestyle or feature story. That’s just based off of my interests. I don’t imaging that a majority of men enjoy writing about the latest DIY craze. That’s not something to blame on bias in journalism. That’s just an aspect of western society and culture.

I do suspect, however, that some women reporters who are interested in sports, politics or controversial topics do receive unfair treatment or intimidation. I would also suspect that males who enjoy writing a Lifestyle story may receive some sort of harassment or judgement. It’s unfortunate, and unfortunately it’s a fact we have to face, but ultimately overcome. If you can’t, then maybe you’re not in the right field. Regardless of the gender bias being true or not, you must have thick skin in this profession.

Bottom Line: Based off of the graphs, there is a byline and subject gender bias. However, it’s unclear whether it is a bias that lies within the field of journalism or is just a difference in gender roles. (hint: possibly a follow-up piece after more research.)

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