As part of our ongoing series examining the media’s “blind spot” towards gender, race and class, we interview online journalist Cristiana Bedei about the media’s attitudes towards women, and ask her to reflect on the role social media has played in ensuring that more diverse voices are heard.
How would you define or characterise the Media’s Blind Spot?
News tends to ignore women. That’s one big blind spot right there. The latest Global Media Monitoring Project report showed the ratio of women to men as producers and subjects of news across the British media to be 1:2. The lack of women journalists and sources obviously constitutes a problem of gender inequality, but it also affects the news in serious ways. Journalists select and prioritise some facts over others to turn them into ‘news’. If it’s mostly men talking about men, it is problematic. Not enough women are writing or broadcasting the news, and as sources they are less reported and less quoted, perpetuating a skewed perception of women as less available or, worse, less credible.
What do you think of media coverage of women’s issues generally and how does the Blind Spot operate in that respect?
There is a prevalence of stereotypical information that undermines women’s intellect and skills. Comments about women professionals tend to be more sexist, including inappropriate remarks about age, fashion/beauty, family life etc. that push forward the idea that a woman’s duty is to look a certain way, dress a certain way, behave a certain way, even when it has nothing to do with her role or the events in consideration. It’s very depressing.
Women are scrutinised much more than men, their lives are judged more harshly and they are put under a lot of pressure to achieve perfection. We constantly see women leaders being questioned about their clothes, their life choices (for example, how they are going to take care of their children while pursuing their career, as if men don’t have children too), their qualifications… It doesn’t happen so often to men.
How have your experiences of the media been affected by the Blind Spot?
I think once you start noticing all these things – the way women are (not) talked about, photographed, they way the easily become the subjects of a mean comment or a dirty joke – you cannot ignore them. And actually, you start noticing them everywhere. Also, as a female writer, I’ve been trying to challenge gender bias with my work, deliberately including women’s voices and looking to report on their specific values and priorities. I know affirmative discrimination is often – and easily – criticised, and yes, I know that is probably not the ideal solution, but I also think women should look out for other women, because if they don’t, then probably no one will. There are qualified female sources and journalists out there, we only need to give them more space.
What are the challenges for people working in the media?
I think it’s important for people working in the media to acknowledge and address gender imbalance by educating more people to recognise it. Many people genuinely do not know about this issue. It is hard to realise if you are not close to certain circles where discrimination and marginalisation are discussed more frequently. It is true though that feminism is going through some sort of mainstream revival right now, so newspapers publish a lot more about women’ under-representation and gender issues. It is good because it can raise awareness, but practical progress remains very slow.
I also think journalists and writers should consciously make an effort to avoid portraying women in stereotypical ways – that includes stopping commenting on the outfit of a presidential candidate or constantly referring to an affirmed professional as the ‘girlfriend of’ even when the news is about something completely unrelated to love affairs… It is important to start seeing – and writing about – women the same way we would do if a man was in their same position.
What role does digital media play in challenging the blind spot?
Digital media – but media more generally – can promote social change. The internet has given women many new opportunities to express themselves more freely, and create supportive communities related to their interests and priorities.
That said though, it is hard to quantify the actual impact as resources such as blogs, personal channels or even social media do not hold the same power of traditional media. In fact, the idea of the internet as a resource to validate women’s voice and push forward a more gender-balanced agenda needs to be carefully challenged. Although it is important for women to claim any sort of public space – through blogs, communities and social media – when we look at the real centres of power, the media organisations, there has been little progress. I feel positive though, as the digital sphere is growing in power and offering a platform to many interesting projects and alternative resources. Blogs, for instance, represent a very fertile territory for women to join the public debate, express their opinions and demonstrate their expertise. They have become so important that people get book deals and jobs in journalism as a result of creating a successful blog. Yet, the online environment is pervaded by sexism and speaking out online can come at high price, as abuse is one of the biggest issues for female writers – feminist writers, in particular.
About the author
Cristiana Bedei is a digital journalist focused on gender issues within contemporary culture. Her work has been published on The Huffington Post, Feminist Times and The Girls Are, and she recently investigated women underrepresentation in the art world with the project ‘Where Are All the Women?’.
You can find Cristiana on Twitter at @critalks