Where are all the women? In Life & Style, apparently.

Monday, 5 December 2011

"In a typical month,78% of newspaper articles are written by men, 72% of Question Time contributors are men and 84% of reporters and guests on Radio 4's Today show are men. Where are all the women?"

Kira Cochrane's article on the under-representation of women in public life, published online yesterday and in G2 today, gives us the statistics that prove what women have been discussing for some time. Indeed, I remember the topic generating much discussion and strong feeling when she mentioned it as part of a panel discussion at UK Feminista's 2010 Summer School.

In June, Cochrane tells us, she began counting bylines, analysing presenters and guests on news programmes, on current affairs shows such as Question Time and news-based comedy shows like Have I Got News For You. She details the results in her article - and as you'd expect, they're depressing and predictable. She also mentions the number of women MPs - 22% - and notes that when the results of her analysis of women's representation in television and newspapers are averaged, at 22.6% the figure is almost the same.

It's really great that someone has finally laid out the facts and challenged people to improve the situation in the national press. But there's just one problem - a problem that perhaps sums up the entire issue. Cochrane's article appears not in the main news section of the Guardian, not in Media or Politics as would also be appropriate, but in Life & Style.

I know I've mentioned this in my posts a number of times and that many other women have too - the consistent sidelining of news involving anything deemed to be a "woman's issue" to the section of the newspaper with the features about clothes, about food, about children. That's not to say that there is anything wrong with writing about these particular subjects; it's more the insinuation that certain topics are a woman's domain - and that even if these news stories have something to do with politics, or international development, or law, they're to be filed under "women's interest".

Take a look at the headings in the Life & Style section (all other newspapers are just as guilty; I'm only picking on the Guardian because of Cochrane's article). You'll see that Life & Style encompasses the Christmas gift guide, fashion, food, health, homes, gardens, craft, family, relationships, women and dating. As someone said to me this morning: "One of these things is not like the others". You'll see this even more clearly if you click on "Women" and discover the subheadings within - feminism, gender issues, equality and women in politics. Today, under "Women", you can find stories on maternal health, women in the Congo and Afghanistan, the controversy over women in sport and the Sportsperson of the Year award, "honour" crimes, and birth control in sub-Saharan Africa.

Something is going badly wrong when it comes to the representation of women in the media and in politics. You want a television show with more than a token woman on a panel? You're limited to Loose Women and the fact that it represents everything truly awful about stereotypes of women. On the radio? You've got Women's Hour, which I have no problem with, but it is only an hour. You write about peacemaking in Afghanistan or maternal health for a national newspaper? It gets filed under "Life & Style" with the Christmas gift guide.

Newspapers like the Guardian should be doing better than this and according more visibility to issues that affect over half the world's population. Maybe it's time for the women on their staff to demand change not just for the women they don't see on television or in parliament, but also to put more pressure on those in charge in the media to practice what they preach about equality. In fact, I know this already happens, so maybe it's time for those in charge to listen.

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