Women and the Media

Briohny Williams ponders some of the main themes that emerged from the IWA’s conference Making a Mark: Women, the Media and Politics earlier this week

Women are appearing on television are outnumbered two to one by men. In recent media job cuts women are being hit harder than men. The constant need for content means many journalists end up doing the work of others. Cuts in media funding are hitting women disproportionately.

Women are also handicapped by the fact that working in the media industry is so unpredictable. As a news reporter you could be following any story which may take you anywhere in the country. Fitting that around a 9-5 timetable isn’t possible. Women also find it harder than men to put off having a ‘media shelf-life’.

There is a gap in representation in women over 35 in the media because it is thought that once you take a break to have children it is difficult to make a return.

The IWA’s conference also underlined how rarely women are called upon as experts in the media. It always seems to be male professionals that are quoted rather than females. A better relationship was called for between journalists and non journalists. Women with expertise were urged not just to make themselves known to journalists reporting their field, but to be proactive and listen out for topics of discussion where they may be the right person interview.

Science was highlighted as a topic where women are generally unrepresented. And where they are they are expected to turn something dull into an alluring fact. As Professor Jenny Kitzinger, of Cardiff’s School of Journalism out it, “Women are expected to make science sexy and accessible.” Her research has found that five males get quoted for every one female scientist in the media.

When male scientists are described in the media they tend to be portrayed as ‘stereotypical geeks’, either young whizz kids or eccentric professors. On the other hand women in science tend to be measured against ideals of femininity. Enthusiasm is interpreted as ‘girlish flirtation’.

The way women in politics are treated by the media was explored by four Welsh politicians. Julie Morgan, Labour MP for Cardiff North, referred to Westminster as an “old boys club”. Kirsty Williams, Liberal Democrat AM for Brecon and Radnor, said the Welsh media always picked up on the clothes she was wearing rather than her campaigns. One newspaper had described her as being “dressed as an air hostess”.

Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru AM for South Wales Central, suggested that the bad press they receive as female politicians was “chiefly about attitudes towards gender roles in society.” We still cannot shake off the stereotypes of yesteryear that dictate how women are perceived.

Karen Robson, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate, Cardiff Central said that in a workshop on how young people could become involved in politics one girl had told her she was put off by “the way women are portrayed.” She added that women “aren’t always as supportive as we could be.” This was a consistent theme of the conference.

The final session of the conference was with working journalists. BBC Wales Political Editor Betsan Powys said experts were picked not because they were male or female but because they were the best for the news story. The Western Mail’s Chief Reporter Martin Shipton observed that had to be a balance of what is published in newspapers and what sells them. Advertising and marketing revenue had fallen so newspapers were coping with less staff.

A widespread feeling at the conference was that whatever their path in the media women need to walk it together. More should be done to put women in contact with others that have experience of working in and with the media.

Briohny Williams is a student at the Cardiff School of Journalism

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