Aspire to be Sexy!….(but not too sexual)
A group of journalists, producers and public relations specialists were recently meeting in New York to talk about the types of guests that get the best ratings and attention from the audience. It turned into a discussion about how the media rarely covers stories about women, and if women do appear they are unrealistic, stick-thin celebrities or sex symbols. Most of the men appearing in the news, Brad Pitt and Tom cruise aside, are given the cover because of other value they add to informing us about business, society, and politics.
There’s no doubt that part of business success is appearance. There is, however, a lot of confusion about how powerful and necessary it is for women to be sexy, and yet how inappropriate it is to be sexual in any real context where men and women interact. There is a real disparity between what women consume from media as compared to how women are to actually behave in order to achieve success alongside men in power.
Does the media favor stories by men for men? The issue with media is twofold, in the subjects of stories and in those reporting the stories.
First, the media reflects society in that powerful men are still the movers and shakers attracting the most attention. A 2002 study of the major networks ABC, CBS, and NBC revealed that news stories reported on men 86% while stories on women appeared about 14% of the time. A 2003 MediaTenor Report showed similar results, with the top stories women appeared in being crime victims. Business stories about women had a 21% share, which is surprisingly high for women’s stories, and also disappointingly low in the context of the majority of reports on men.
Secondly, journalism itself suffers from the same phenomenon college success to workplace failure for women that many industries do. According to the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication women have been the majority of media and journalism majors in college ever year since 1977.
Despite this, men have been a full two-thirds of journalists since 1982, with women only 20.3% of newswire, 21.8% in radio, 33%-36.9% at daily and weekly newspapers, and 37.4% in television as reported by Poynter’s 2003 Journalist Survey.
Broken down, the women in positions of real influence even within these statistics is paltry. For example, at the major networks, women were actual reporters of just 26% of the stories. In radio, women are only 14.4% of news directors. Fully 80% of news editor positions in general media are held by men.
The tragedy is that the figures for media and journalism are so much better than other industries like technology, manufacturing, or politics. It’s much more likely a male or female journalist will have female peers or supervisors, which is not the case for the majority of the workforce.
So the media does favor powerful men and women who are “hot”. It’s simply a reflection of reporting what actually exists in our society. It’s unfortunate that most guys aren’t really aware of what the issue is because things are the same as they have been. We’ve all been living with a statistically proven disparity that across all areas of highest influence from university professorships to corporate boards to news editing---although they may not feel like it to men---men are in charge. So women are still playing by the rules in attempts to achieve parity---even if it has required using all of their assets.