Female Media, Fully Clothed

Panel Discussion Takes Aim at Lack of Women in Media

A cursory scan of Canadian daily newspapers will reveal some bleak statistics on gender parity today, as women’s perspectives—as both newsmakers and sources—make up only about 20 per cent of all voices being quoted or reported on.

Working to remedy the scarcity of female opinion in the news, Canadian communications expert Shari Graydon is holding a workshop at Concordia on Feb. 1.

Graydon is the founder of Informed Opinions, an online support and training network that features a growing database of female experts. The mandate is to “explicitly bridge the gender gap in public discourse” by using the website as a tool to make female ideas and knowledge more accessible in media.

It’s a necessary tool, for despite the gains women have made in the last half-century, their media presence is still lacking.

In a two-week study last spring, Informed Opinions discovered a mere 16 per cent of op-eds published in a six-paper sample were written by women, and female columnists made up 15 per cent of regular contributors in English language dailies.

In the French-language papers, the number of female columnists was slightly higher, sitting at 23 per cent.

Another study from McMaster University found men were writing 90 per cent of all commentary on politics, national affairs and economics in 2009.

Graydon makes a convincing case on why it’s increasingly important to have female voices inform the news: primarily, she argues, it makes for “richer, more relevant and more compelling” content.

“One of the messages we deliver when we talk to producers, reporters and editors is that they’re serving the Canadian public [and] their readers are increasingly diverse, so if they’re only reflecting the activities and perspectives of middle-aged white guys, there’s a problem,” Graydon told The Link.

“It’s competitive out there and [including diverse voices in media] is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do—it’s better reflecting readers and viewers.”

Graydon emphasized that the media is not missing “just one, single, mythical woman’s voice,” but a lack of diversity in general.

“It’s so critical,” Graydon said. “The bigger picture issue here is that we need more voices. […] Many of the intractable problems we face as a country and a world could really benefit from the diverse perspectives of people who have a different daily experience.

“The capacity of any group to problem-solve is exponentially enhanced when the group is diverse. I really think there’s huge opportunity here to make change.”

But there are many different challenges keeping women in particular back from the mic, said Graydon, and often the reasons are “self-perpetuated.”

“If the media is full of male pontificators and experts, and women never see other women in those roles, it’s this very subtle thing, but on an unconscious level, the message that they don’t belong there is reinforced,” said Graydon.

“Marry that with the fact that on the home front, more responsibilities land on women […] and add that to the punishing appearance standards that women are subjected to [on television]—it’s sometimes just an overwhelming hurdle and women just won’t go there.”

More often, female experts also decline the opportunity to be interviewed or write an editorial, said Graydon. Many don’t believe they’re the best person to comment, while “men never say these words.”

The event on Wednesday will seek out solutions to the lack of women’s voices in media, and will be rounded out by a panel discussion with Concordia Journalism Department chair Linda Kay and Montreal Gazette Deputy Editor Katherine Sedgwick.

The event, dubbed ‘Fully-Clothed Female Role Models: Bridging the Gender Gap in the News,’ takes place in on Feb. 1 in the Hall Building, in conference room SH-767 from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.