American sports, eerily echoing political coverage

As with the last post, it’s time to look at how women athletes are covered in media to further understand the media atmosphere female politicians face. While the Olympics seem to be improving in the amount of coverage women receive, regular media attention of female athletes, who comprise around 40% of all athletes, is less than encouraging. Take in account that only 4% of media coverage is dedicated to women’s sports, something that is concerning considering that lack of attention given to the sport in this small amount of coverage:

Girls also see a double standard in covering women’s sports. When male athletes receive media attention, such coverage is primarily focused on their skilled performance. When female athletes receive media attention, the media is much more likely to focus on their physical attractiveness or non-sport-related activities. –Donna A. Lopiano, Ph.D., President, Sports Management Resources

Which is exactly the problem, according to Mary Jo Kane, a professor at the University of Minnesota, “The thing that we infrequently see is images of women athletes as athletes.” That seems to be a common theme that echoes in the coverage of female politicians as well, as hyper-feminized content takes away from a woman’s political goals and platforms. Below is an excerpt from Playing Unfair, a documentary put out in 2007 by the Media Education Foundation:

 

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Media representation as a whole

This week, it is time to take a look at how women in other professions interact with the media in order to acquire a larger picture of women’s public representation. A relevant and recent example of this is the February Winter Olympics that were held in Sochi, Russia. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, coverage of this year’s games showed far more equity in the time men and women received attention. In, “The Olympics are the closest to coverage parity female athletes get,” Sarah Laskow notes that the data found by Andy Billings shows a significant increase in coverage of female athletes, for at the closing of the games, “… men got 45.4 percent of clock time, women 41.4 percent, and pairs 13.2 percent.” However, Laskow mentions that simply gaining screen time is not an end-all be-all, for the content of the coverage still remains a large component of the inequitable and gendered differences in media coverage of men and women.

Nolan Feeney, a writer for The Atlantic, says the content of this coverage is still widely offensive and sexist, “… in one of the bigger dust-ups, NBC skiing analyst Steve Porino said, in a segment about how extreme the courses are for skiers, that the female athletes do ‘all of that while in a Lycra suit, maybe a little bit of makeup—now that is grace under pressure.'” In his article, “A Brief History of Sexism in TV Coverage of the Olympics,” Feeney notes that the while NBC is continually giving more screen time to female athletes, it is choosing to do so through socially accepted “feminine” sports like tennis and golf — where in Beijing those sports took 60% of all female coverage. Regardless of the official media coverage the Olympics receives, it is easy to say that female athletes across the board garners more media attention when it comes to their appearance than their performance, much like female politicians:

Political Pioneers Continued…

As promised, I am back today to continue my list of American activists who paved the way for female political involvement and representation. While last time we looked at women who were “the first” of their kind, today it is time to focus on more modern women who have carried those pioneers’ messages while creating their own legacy…

Condoleezza Rice1. Condoleezza Rice — In 2001, Rice was the first women appointed national security adviser by President George W. Bush. She went on to become the first black woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State from January 2005 to 2009, where she logged the most miles traveled by a U.S. Secretary of State. Among her other various political involvements Rice broke down social-political barriers when, in August 2012, she and businesswoman Darla Moore became the first women to gain membership to the Augusta National Golf Club.

Sandra Day O'Connor2. Sandra Day O’Connor — After a successful state level judicial career, President Ronald Reagan nominated O’Connor for associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Once O’Connor received unanimous approval from the U.S. Senate, she broke new ground for women when she was sworn in as the first female justice on the Supreme Court. Serving from 1981-2006, she was seen as a conservative swing vote, upholding Roe v. Wade.

Geraldine A. Ferraro

3. Geraldine A. Ferraro — Even though you may think Sarah Palin made history as a VP candidate, Ferraro became the first female on a major party’s presidential ticket 24 years prior, in 1984. While she was Walter Mondale’s vice president nomination, she also played important leadership roles for the democratic party during her three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. She served as an alternate delegate to the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993, and as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 1994. 

Women’s History Month — A Tribute to Political Pioneers

This week, in honor of Women’s History Month, I will be looking at six women who made significant strides in the participation, dialogue and representation of women within America’s political system. You may know all about some of these women and nothing about others — but their political impacts can still be seen and felt across the nation today. Let’s start with three women who achieved remarkable “firsts” with America’s political system.

Lydia Chapin Taft1. Lydia Chapin TaftIn 1756 she became the first women to become a legal voter in America. She voted in three different town hall meetings when ” … the townspeople of Uxbridge voted to allow Lydia Taft, Josiah’s widow, to vote as his proxy, out of respect for the large contribution Josiah had made to the town.” Ten years ago (almost to the day) a portion of a Rhode Island highway has been named the “Lydia Taft Highway.”

 

Victoria Woodhull2. Victoria Woodhull — An extremely public advocate for women’s rights and suffrage, Woodhull addressed Congress about the issue and distributed a ‘radical’ publication by the name of Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly. In 1872 she ran for the US presidency under her Equal Rights Party ticket. The campaign, however, quickly went sour when Woodhull began to fight her opponents in her publication. She was scrutinized as a radical for her support of socialism and her unconventional relationship history.

3Jeannette Rankin. Jeannette Rankin — The first woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives on November 7, 1916 (before women had the right to vote). Rankin set the stage for women generations after her to be politically active and involved. Rankin was unafraid to voice her opinion publicly, as demonstrated when she was the only member of Congress to vote against declaring war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

America v. the Rest of the World — Where We Sit in Terms of Women in Politics

On March 11, 2014 UN Women Deputy Executive Director Policy and Program, John Hendra, made a statement during the “Where Are the Women in Politics” conference held in New York City, discussing the need for cultural transformation in order for political participation and equality. Not surprisingly, he mentions the need for a change in the way media interacts with these politicians:

“Achieving gender equality in political participation requires that we address the full range of barriers women face in competing in elections. As we know, these barriers include gender bias and discrimination, cultural attitudes that see women as less able and worthy to lead, the challenge of raising sufficient campaign funds, tackling corruption and vote buying, and inadequate support from political parties and the media.” -John Hendra

Anders Johnson, also speaking in this conference, says that it is not the developed countries that are leading the way in gaining more women in their political systems, but the countries that are developing institutions after monolithic regimes that are coming to terms that you need women, as well as men, to successfully and democratically run a country.

This is a bold statement, but surprisingly true. According to the Inter Parliamentary Union, several countries surpass the United States in terms of percentage of parliament seats held by women. A few include:

  • Rwanda at 63.8%
  • Andorra at 50%
  • Cuba at 48.9%
  • South Africa at 44.8%
  • Senegal at 43.3%

(All statistics from the IPU, taken from 2013.)

With all of these percentages exceedingly more than double the U.S.’ tiny 18.5%, it’s clearly time something changed within “the most powerful free nation” in the world. While this issue stems far beyond media coverage, I don’t think it’s a bad place to start in order to revamp our country’s attitudes, biases and predispositions surrounding women in positions of leadership and political power.

Reality v. Fiction: Mirroring Each Other in Misrepresentation

Visual Representation of Congrees Make-Up

By Dana Rieck

America’s political reality seems uninspiring to some when it comes to the productive presentation of women, especially since, according to Rutgers, a mere 18.5 percent of the 133rd U.S. Congress is comprised of women. Taking this into consideration, some experts say it’s time to compare the fictional manifestation of women to real-life female politicians within our media system.

Cara Buckley, a Colorado State University communications professor, said she thinks fictional representations of female politicians are much kinder than those found in news media outlets, partly due to the fear of coming under harsher scrutiny for sexist content.  “Unfortunately, I believe it is non-fictional representations that create the most cultural side effects,” Buckley wrote in an email. “Given that these are real politicians being reported about on news shows that we still assume as a society are factual, we begin to understand the news representations of these women as examples of ‘who these women really are’ (even though, of course, it is often just someone’s opinion of them).”

This fear of scrutiny might be why the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that,  “From 2006 to 2009, not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, as a business leader, in law, or politics. In these films, 80.5 percent of all working characters are male … a contrast to real world statistics, where women comprise 50 percent of the workforce.”

While these statistics can cause alarm in respect to gender role development in children, it’s not all bad. Lauren East, a counseling graduate student at the University of Northern Colorado who holds her undergraduate degree in psychology, said that people in a child‘s life can counteract gender representation found on the screen.

“Although the media representation does lack a female role model presence, childhood career development can be formed by role models in their everyday lives,” East said. “I think the best thing a parent can do for their child’s career and gender role development is model the behaviors they want their children to recognize.”

Even so, it’s slightly comforting for some people to know mainstream television has recently seen several inspiring female roles including Olivia Pope in “Scandal,” Julia Louis-Dreyfus inVeep,” Mel Burke in “Melissa and Joey” and Leslie Knope in “Parks and Rec.”

Fort Collins resident Michelle Oldham, an avid “Parks and Rec” fan, finds comfort that Knope’s goofy character still manages to portray power and confidence within the show.

“She doesn’t use her sexuality to get ahead, she uses her intelligence,” Oldham explains. “I feel like it shows healthy relationships between grown women.”

While small improvements are being seen in American media every year, Buckley advises viewers to “…seek out resources outside of the U.S. American mainstream media,” to combat opposing negative representations.  This advice will have to do, at least until America’s mass communicators are pushed by their consumer base to turn toward more true-to-life representations in all information outlets.

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“Sexism Sells — But We’re Not Buying It”

Today, I look to take six minutes of your time to illustrate the expansive nature of sexist political coverage. While it’s an issue that seems, on the surface, to plague only certain news channels, newscasters, or ideologies — the truth is you can find it anywhere on your TV. While the video below (Courtesy of The Women’s Media Center) was uploaded just shy of six years ago, it still rings true today. According to Rutgers, a mere 18.5% of the current 113th US Congress is comprised of women, making the US “… 68th in the world for representation of women in our congress.” Clearly a segment of the news media takes advantage of this ‘non-threatening’ number, some so far as to acknowledge their sexism — “I know that’s a sexist comment, but there’s truth to it.” Watch the video below, then tell me what your take on the news media’s relationship with female politicians.