Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Today Is Love Your Body Day, But Every Day Should Be

The NOW Foundation has declared today, Oct. 20, "Love Your Body Day" and has made visuals and discussion materials available on its web site.  These are terrific for classroom discussions in a range of high school and college courses.  The package describes how advertisers and the media perpetuate unrealistic beauty standards, sexual ideals and gender stereotypes that girls internalize at younger and younger ages, and that influence their behavior throughout their adult lives, sometimes with devastating physical and mental results.  Read more about the program and see the slide show at:

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Girl Scouts Leading New Campaign for Healthy Media Images for Girls and Women

Today at the U.S. Capitol: The Girl Scouts of America convened a conference on how to urge the media to offer healthy images of girls and women. GSA also previewed a new public service annnouncement urging girls to be the best versions of themselves, not imitators of celebrities or ultra-thin models. Watch it here and pass it on:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Updated Industry Statistics Posted on Media Report to Women's Web Site

Looking for the latest research on how women are portrayed by media? How they are used, or not used, as sources of news and expertise? What advertising and entertainment media convey about women's bodies and spirits? How women are advancing in media professions? Video presentations that illustrate media's power to influence?

Click here for data drawn from multiple sources by Media Report to Women Editor Sheila Gibbons, posted today, with links to research sources:

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fashion, Race and Essence Magazine

Essence magazine’s hiring of a white fashion director has touched off a discussion of whether it makes sense for a magazine started at a time when black women were largely ignored by American women’s magazines (and when many of these magazines had, for years, been edited by men) should have given the job to a white woman. The new hire, Elliana Placas, has freelanced in fashion for Essence for half a year. Essence's editor, Angela Burt-Murray, decided to bring Placas on fulltime and is defending the decision. Placas has experience at O Magazine and House Beautiful, among others. “I got to see firsthand her creativity, her vision, the positive reader response to her work, and her enthusiasm and respect for the audience and our brand,” Burt-Murray said.

Comments from readers have touched on disbelief that a qualified black fashion editor couldn’t be found; that black fashion sense and style are both special and specialized and that someone outside the culture wouldn’t be as attuned to it; and that a position that could have advanced a black female magazine staffer’s career was handed to a white woman instead.

Hurt feelings and confusion abound in the early comments, though I’ve also read sentiments that say qualifications and experience should count most in this economically competitive magazine environment, in which many titles are struggling – and if Placas has the right resume, so be it. But does she have the right race, ask others? And how much should that matter?

I’m inclined to think that Essence, which began publishing in 1970, has matured to the point where it, too, can diversify its ranks and benefit from the mix. Burt-Murray seems to think so. Placas will need to be persuasive to win over the skeptics. But the proof will be in the pages.

Read Burt-Murray’s comments on the Placas hiring, and Essence's mission, at

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sunday Morning TV Talk Shows: It's a Guy Thing

American University's Women and Politics Institute has released a study that confirms with percentages what most of us know in our guts: Newsmakers on Sunday morning are mostly of the testosterone variety. Only 13.5 percent of guests being chatted up by David Gregory, Wolf Blitzer, Candy Crowley and the like are members of what used to be called the fairer sex. The long-standing excuses of TV bookers persist: the most influential players in politics and corporations continue to be men; women don't make themselves as readily available, don't seem as eager to be in the limelight; Sunday morning is a bad time for women who are protective of their personal time. However, I believe there's more to it than that. I think bookers are pressured to land the big "gets," the guests who in the eyes of the producers and their bosses lend gloss and stature to their programs. That approach naturally favors incumbency, longevity and seniority, factors that, at least to this point, haven't favored women. Details at

Monday, June 7, 2010

Controversy Brings Down Veteran Correspondent Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas, veteran Hearst opinion columnist and before that, White House bureau chief for UPI, resigned today amid the furor caused by her May 27 comments about Jews, Palestinians and Israel. In an interview, Thomas said Israel "should get the hell out of Palestine" and suggested that Israel's Jewish citizens return to the European nations where they had lived prior to, and during, their persecution in World War II. These intemperate comments have cost Thomas a graceful exit from a remarkable, 67-year career during which she blazed trails for women journalists and aspiring political correspondents. Frustration among long-time observers of the endless Israeli and Palestinian negotiations -- and Thomas has had a front-row seat at the White House since the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s and has met many of the players-- is undoubtedly rising. But comments such as these, coming from a journalist of Thomas's stature, are no help whatsoever, least of all to Thomas herself. It's a sad day.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Women Journalists Talk It Over

The Poynter Institute has organized a forum on women in journalism and is live-blogging it. Follow the discussion at Discussion is lively and is showing us that some old issues for women in the newsroom -- parity, opportunity, the risks of pushing for change, acceptance -- don't go away entirely and new strategies are needed for moving forward.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Moxie Trumps Gender for Sawyer

In the April 26 edition of Time magazine, journalist and ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer answered questions from readers. This gem illustrates how newswomen have refused to let gender be used to block them from plum reporting opportunities:

In response to a question, "What is the weirdest thing you ever had to do for a story?", Sawyer said:

"I made my way into the Russian White House in the middle of a coup attempt when [Boris] Yeltsin was President. No one was being allowed into the building. I went up, and the guard said women would not be allowed into the building. And I said, 'I'm not an American woman, I'm a journalist.' There was a momentary perplexed look on his face, and he said, 'O.K.' It worked. Sometimes a non sequitur is as good as strategy."

The entire interview is at,9171,1982295,00.html

Friday, April 2, 2010

Where Are the Female Voices on NPR?

We often fall into the trap of thinking that more liberal media, more progressive media, including many public broadcasting outlets, have a better record presenting women as authoritative sources than they actually have. National Public Radio Ombudsman Alicia Shepard blogged today about her research on NPR's performance in this regard and found it very much wanting. Read her post at

Monday, March 22, 2010

40 Years Later, Is It Better for Women in Journalism?

It's always useful to look back and measure progress -- not measure our hopes and dreams, but look at what actually happened. Women who currently report and write for Newsweek have reflected on the history of women who worked there 40 years ago, with ambitions blunted and talent thwarted, who decided they weren't going to take it anymore. In a lengthy article in the March 29 issue, today's Newsweek women admit that, in terms of progress, "the victory dance feels premature." Read the entire piece at

And the latest issue of Media Report to Women carries a nearly parallel piece about a female broadcaster, Alison Owings ("Evolution of a Broadcast Feminist" by Sarah Guthrie). In the 1960s, Owings worked for the ABC Washington bureau and later the NBC owned and operated station in Washington before moving to New York and CBS. The Newsweek women of that era were told "women can't write," and so was Owings. But that didn't stop her from breaking into the reporting ranks and becoming an activist who helped pave the way for younger women to enter TV news in markets large and small. Contact me at to order a copy of the issue containing this marvelous profile.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Even With Bigelow's Directing Oscar, Hollywood Still A Boys' Town

Kathryn Bigelow's Best Director win at the Academy Awards March 8 was a welcome event. With the golden statuette in her hand, Bigelow became the first woman to win the award for best direction, with her work on "The Hurt Locker."

But female directors, and most female filmmakers, remain in short supply in Hollywood. According to a recent report, in 2009, women constituted just 16% of all directors, executive producers, writers, cinematographers and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. Women were only 7% of directors in 2009, a figure dead even with the percentage of women directing films in 1987!

Martha Lauzen of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University tracks these figures annually, and each year it is dispiriting to see how little movement there is in women's advancement in the film industry. We need to patronize and praise films that involve women as storytellers and stars, from the indies all the way to the blockbusters, if we want to see more Bigelows walking to the stage to claim recognition for movies -- such as the powerful "Hurt Locker" -- that affect all of us.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Mean Girls?

In the new issue of Vogue magazine, actress/writer Tina Fey says that she received hate mail after she began parodying Sarah Palin on "Saturday Night Live." "There are people who hate me because of that," she said, adding, "The weird thing is, when Darrell Hammond or will Ferrell or Dana Carvey did an impersonation of a president, no one assumed it was personal, but because Sarah Palin and I are both women and people think women are meaner to each other, everyone assumed it was personal."

Are women meaner to one another, really? Or does the culture, and media tropes, set them up to seem that way?

Consider the catfight coverage of Olympic skiers Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso, who have been competitors since childhood. A Today show correspondent talked about the "icy conditions" emerging in their relationship after Mancuso complained about a "popularity contest" in news coverage about the U.S. ski team. Other media picked that up.

Then Mancuso was frustrated in her attempt to defend her 2006 gold medal after her downhill run was stopped while Vonn, who had crashed on her run, was struggling to get off the course. Mancuso had to wait for 13 skiers before getting another chance, and she didn't medal in that event. She was understandably upset.

Smelling blood, some journalists pounced, looking for cracks in the cameraderie. We ended up with speculation about lot more personal drama than there really was, according to later statements by Mancuso and other team members.

What is it about women doing on-point political parody, as Fey did, or skiing the races of their lives, as Vonn and Mancuso are, that suggests they are mean?

After figure skating titans Victor Plushenko and Evan Lysacek competed, Plushenko whined that a man who doesn't do a quadruple move (Lysacek doesn't) shouldn't win the gold (he did). But it was a one-day story, and no one suggested Plushenko was a meanie.

Looks to me as if assertive women still make a lot of people uncomfortable.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Gender Bias in Media Persists for Female Candidates

At a panel discussion Feb. 18, 2010 at The Aspen Institute in Washington sponsored by Madeleine K. Albright Women's Voices, Erika Falk of Johns Hopkins University showed us the dispiriting results of her research on press coverage of women presidential candidates, beginning with 1872 with Victoria Woodhull. (Yes, that's right; women began running for president before the vote was available to women in every state.) In spite of social progress, women's advances in the economy, in education, and in non-traditional occupations, "There has been almost no change in the pattern of disproportionate coverage," Falk said.
Falk did not compare male winners with female losers. She compared what she called "equivalent candidates" vying for nomination, and these were the results:
Item 1: Men received more coverage. If you aggregate the eight races Falk looked at, male candidates received twice as much coverage. And the articles about them were longer.
Item 2: Men received more substantive coverage. Twenty-seven percent of paragraphs in articles about men described their policy positions -- only 16% for women.
Item 3: Women's status was diminished when their official or professional titles were dropped on subsequent references, as when Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm would be referred to as "Mrs. Chisholm" in subsequent references. This happened 32% of the time for women, but only 11% for men.
Item 4: Physical descriptions of candidates occurred four times for a female candidate to every one time for a male candidate.
There is obviously no upside to this for voters or for female candidates or for the nation, for that matter. The worst of it, says Falk, is that "media bias may not make women lose, but it may discourage them from running."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

BBC News: Commander Mom

Kudos to the BBC for launching a series on women at war on February 15 View this respectful profile of a Canadian officer commanding a combat unit. The emphasis on her family ties dominates the story -- a given, it seems, in media coverage of mothers rising in military units and ascending in performance. Let's see what the BBC offers in the days ahead -- hopefully, an assessment of military women's effectiveness and contributions as well as the family longings that affect any soldier, male or female.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Monday Morning Quarterbacking

Broadcast network CBS has revised its long-standing policy resisting broadcasting advocacy ads and has accepted $2.5 million from the conservative political group Focus on the Family to air an ad featuring collegiate football star quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother, Pam. The ad will air during the ad-rich Super Bowl on Feb. 7. Pam Tebow is expected to explain how she rejected medical advice to terminate her pregnancy after contracting a serious illness, with the result that she had a healthy child who is now a famous athlete. Many women's groups, including the National Organization for Women ( and the Women's Media Center (, have criticized CBS for not announcing the change in policy until confronted about the Tebow/Focus on the Family antiabortion message. An intelligent, reasoned take on the controversy will appear in the Jan. 31Washington Post, and certainly elsewhere, authored by Frances Kissling, former president of Catholics for Choice, and Kate Michelman, former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. Read it here:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Anne Frank's Diary: Not Chick Lit, These Readers Say

Some Washington Post readers have taken reporter Monica Hesse to task for writing about The Diary of Anne Frank as if it resonated primarily with young girls. Hesse's article appeared after the recent death of Miep Gies, the last living protector of the Frank family during their years hiding in an Amsterdam attic in a desperate attempt to avoid capture by the Nazis during World War II. While Anne Frank's story undoubtedly riveted readers who read it as girls and young teens, "for [Hesse] to assume that this feeling is peculiar to women diminishes the profound power of both of these lost lives," wrote Charles Tennes in a letter to the Post published January 16. "It is also obnoxiously sexist," he added.

In a letter published the same day, Edward Hayes Jr. said, "I discovered [Anne Frank] when I was a young black boy growing up in Northeast Washington.... Through its examples of neighborly love, determination for survival and heroism... it inspired a young boy not to take life for granted. The story of Anne Frank is indeed for girls, boys and adults."

Hesse quoted only females in her piece about the diary's power and influence ("Legions of women lose their last link to Anne Frank," January 13). Her point, I think, was to show how girls who were near Anne's age when they read the book were changed and shaped by her account of her ordeal. That's certainly a legitimate angle to take as the last link to the Frank family, also a courageous female, leaves the scene. Still, I have to agree with the Post readers who objected to the narrower focus of Hesse's piece. Anne Frank's diary has crossed generations, cultures, languages and sexes -- 25 million copies in 54 languages. Really, shouldn't that have been the headline?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Vogue Cover Model: Healthy or Chunky at Size 4?

Hello, again -- I'm back to the blog after an absence of several weeks, during which I moved home and office. During that time, a news item caught my eye, noting that Vogue magazine was featuring a larger-sized model on its cover, Lara Stone, who is all of a Size 4! After years of cover models who have been Size Zeros -- yes, that's Size Zero -- this is considered to be some kind of a breakthrough, incredibly. You can read about Stone's and other models' sometimes self-destructive struggles to remain model-thin at

In a statement on the blog, Vogue editor Anna Wintour expressed hope that the fashion industry, which insists on waif-thin body types, "will rethink its current preferences." Wintour, a powerful influence herself, could help that process along by featuring more realistic images more often. Size 4 is a long way from the size of the average American woman: 14.