Getting Even

Getting Even by Evelyn Murphy with E.J. Graff

"Getting Even: Why Women Don't Get Paid Like Men and What To Do About It," (Touchstone), by Evelyn Murphy with E.J. Graff. 

"['Getting Even']...calls for nothing short of another American revolution that enlists the public, top executives, and men as well as women in the cause of fairness." -- The Boston Globe

Do Women Count?

Note: Below you will find a footnoted version of this Brandeis University Magazine article. This version includes links to the original research and resources. Click here for the original layout and to download the PDF.

By E.J. Graff, Senior Researcher, Gender & Justice Project, Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism
Brandeis University Magazine, Spring 2008.

In 1999, on the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, feminist legal scholar Catherine MacKinnon published a provocative and now-famous essay asking, “Are women human?” If they are, she asked, why aren’t systematic violations of women’s lives—sex trafficking, bride burning, domestic violence, “selling” of child brides, mass wartime rapes—treated as violations of human rights?

The world is still waiting for these violations of women’s lives to be universally treated as human rights violations. Among the contributing factors: how women are portrayed (or not portrayed) in the news media. The news is supposed to deliver an accurate snapshot of our world, with all its important problems, issues, and players. If women are not revealed as part of our shared human reality, how can women’s problems be treated as such? And so I am adapting her title slightly, to ask: Do women count to the news media? Are women shown in full, as active and important parts of the world—or are we missing, misrepresented, or marginalized? In short, do women count?

In the news media, the answer is: not as much as men.

Consider the findings from “Who Makes the News,” a report issued every five years by the Global Media Monitoring Project. In 2005, after groups in seventy-six countries examined almost 13,000 news stories and 26,000 news sources, GMMP published this conclusion: “The world we see in the news is a world in which women are virtually invisible.” Their analysis shows that, only 21 percent of news subjects—the people who are interviewed or whom the news is about—are female. In global news, the Project found that men constituted 83 percent of experts and 86 percent of spokespersons. In stories on politics and government, only 14 percent of those interviewed or portrayed are women; in economic and business news, 20 percent. When women do make the news, it is as “stars”—celebrities or princesses—or as background, as a woman on the street, a neighbor, an eyewitness, or the voice of popular opinion. Women are more than twice as likely as men to be portrayed as victims and more than three times as likely to be identified by family status—for example, as wife, daughter, or mother.

To put it another way, in the news media, women are mainly shown as having families and feelings and sexualities and bodies and problems. Men are shown to have authority and expertise and power and knowledge and money. Next time you watch a report about an earthquake or a famine, think about which sex is speaking about the geology or weather patterns… and which sex is crying over the dead body, or is the dead body.

What does that say about women’s place in the world?

Similar statistics have been collected in the United States. Bearing in mind that women make up 52 percent of our population and 47 percent of the civilian workforce, you may be surprised to know that in a 2005 study entitled "The Gender Gap: Women are still missing as sources for journalists," the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that out of 16,800 news stories from forty-five different American news outlets—broadcast, print, and Web—more than three out of four news stories included male sources. Only 30 percent included even a single female source. Only in lifestyle stories did women show up in more than half the stories. Statistics were worse on cable news and on PBS News Hour, where just 19 percent of stories cited a woman. That same year, a women’s group called The White House Project released a study, "Who's Talking Now," that determined that only 14 percent of the guests on the Sunday morning public affairs TV shows are female. 

Could it be that women don’t count in part because it’s men who are doing the counting? Other studies such as that of the International Women's Media Foundation have shown that women represent only 21.3 percent of news directors at U.S. TV stations and 24.7 percent of news directors at radio stations. At the nation’s most influential intellectual and political magazines, the articles are written overwhelmingly by men. A 2005 study by the Columbia Journalism Review found that, at the Atlantic, the male to female ratio was 6 to 1; the New Yorker, 3.5 to 1; New York Times Magazine, about 2.5 to 1; Foreign Affairs, 6 to 1; and the New Republic, 8 to 1.

Why is this important? Because the news purports to be objective, to tell it like it is. The media help create our image of the world, our internal picture of what’s normal and true. And when the news is being written by men about men, a significant part of reality is missing from view.

For example, consider the fact that the gender wage gap—what fulltime working women make compared to what fulltime working men make—has stayed at around 77 cents to the dollar since 1993. That’s fifteen years in which women have made no progress toward financial equality.

What explanation are the news media most likely to offer for the wage gap? Women don’t make more money because they want to stay home with their babies.

You have probably read those stories—the mommy war stories, the opt-out stories. The reportorial method involves finding a few of the writer’s college friends, ten women who also went to Princeton or Yale, and whose husbands are now investment bankers (or something financially comparable). Academic researchers find that, typically, these elite women have taken a few years off as an extended maternity leave, as working women traditionally have, when their families can afford it. But the writer declares a new and significant trend of women “opting out” of the workplace. These articles are bad reporting: they’re anecdotal stories from a non-representative group, flagrantly ignoring the actual data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which show no such flood of women abandoning work for home, and in fact show highly educated women working at higher rates than women on lower socioeconomic rungs. And yet this becomes the dominant narrative about women’s wages: women make less money because they want to stay home with their babies.

Why does this matter? Because the news media are ignoring the facts that a large number of working women—women who need the money to help support their families—can’t break into better-paying jobs because of active discrimination, job segregation (“women’s jobs” and “men’s jobs”), and severe sexual harassment. (For documentation on this, see "Getting Even: Why Women Don’t Get Paid Like Men—And What To Do About It," by former Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Evelyn Murphy with E.J. Graff. Instead, the news media are covering women’s economic problems as personal (women just want to stay home and be moms), while they cover men’s economic problems as political (good union jobs are disappearing because of globalization or rising health care costs).

This media miscoverage matters. By ignoring women’s real lives and instead offering up myths as if they were facts, the news media do real damage. If the news media report on the wrong problem, public policy is less likely to deliver the right solution. And when women aren’t in the news, the news is inaccurate, slanted, and biased.

The news media’s failure to report fully and accurately on issues related to women and their lives is why Brandeis’s Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism has a Gender & Justice Project, a “beat” devoted to covering the un-reported and underreported issues facing women and families. Just one reporter dedicated to women’s lives is not enough, but it’s a start.

Here are some suggestions about what to do: 

And let’s make sure women count.