subscribe: Posts | Comments

You can’t be what you can’t see


EWL investigation, collected images, Investigation into images in print media found far more men portrayed than women.Investigation into images in print media found far more men portrayed than women.

For four months, the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) team cut out all the pictures of men and women from 136 different publications.

They used 87 titles from 22 EU-member countries.

The result was expected.

After pasting the images onto long sheets of paper, and when laid out end-to-end on an athletics track, the images of men stretched many metres beyond the collective total of images of women.

Only 30 per cent of the photos collected, including advertisements, were of women.

Compounding the invisibility of half the population was the detrimental style of the depiction.

Not only were there extraordinarily few healthy images of women and girls, less than four per cent of the images portrayed were non-stereotypical.

Wife, mother, actress or model were the most commonly used categories for images of women.

In only 12 per cent of all the news stories covered by EU media was a woman the central subject.

And only five per cent of the sports photography had a woman or women as the subject.

The project made visual what many of us know intellectually – women are not portrayed as experts.

In the UK, the websites HerSay and thewomensroom were launched in response to the BBC’s notorious 2012 claim that its Today programme had been unable to find any women experts for discussions on breast cancer and teenage contraception.

As The Women’s Room said, ‘women represent 79 per cent of victims [portrayed in the media, yet] three-quarters of ‘experts’ are men.’

Such complete erasure of women’s talents and integral roles in today’s societies is extraordinarily detrimental to young girls and adults.

In addition to her looks, a woman, even when being interviewed or participating as an expert, is subjected to lines of questioning that men, rarely, if ever, face.

Does she have children? Why or why not? How does she balance family and professional life?

If girls do not see the broad range of career options available to women, because women are rarely, if ever, depicted visually as anything other than a face or a body, what hope is there for ridding society of such limiting and degrading stereotypes?

Power, age and experience are no barriers to such sexism.  In 2012, Hillary Clinton was subjected to questions about her apparent lack of make-up at official events.

‘It’s just not something that deserves a whole lot of time and attention. If others want to worry about it, I’ll let them do the worrying for a change,’ she said.

The EWL’s project also clearly revealed the level of ageism within the media.

Only 16 per cent of the images collected over the four months showed women over 45 years of age.

In an interview for the project, Nora van Oostrom-Streep, a professor of law and substitute judge in the court of appeals in the Netherlands, said that she had lost count of the times that she has been asked if her various professional appointments have been because of her looks, being blonde and or a woman.

Who and what is portrayed, as well as who and what are ignored, by the news media is exceptionally important in shaping individual and group identities.

The project calls on editors to consistently do more to improve the healthy portrayal of women in the media.

Otherwise, we all lose as we continue to miss out on half the stories of the world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *