17 Jun 2013

What Happens When Women Aren't In The Frame

By Julie Posetti

Why does society need a media that respects women? Media academic Julie Posetti comments on the findings to date of the Women in the Media project

Were you one of the people who sceptically dismissed the Mal Brough menu as a hoax, because you simply couldn’t believe something that misogynist could have been produced by anyone?

Did you think you’d heard the worst in Australian sexist political commentary when you listened to that rancid Howard Sattler interview? Until you saw Piers Akerman go there again on the ABC’s Insider’s program yesterday.

Did you think the Australian military learned the lessons of Skypegate? Until you heard about the Army’s investigation into allegations a self-styled “Jedi Council” using military networks to distribute pornographic images they’d produced during encounters with unsuspecting women.

Did you cheer for equality when Moya Dodd became the first Australian to be appointed to the FIFA Executive Committee? Until the Socceroos coach joked to journalists that women should shut up in public.

If the last week didn’t convince you that sexism remains deeply and damagingly embedded in our society, culture and politics, it’s likely that nothing will.

My own response to these convergent, gendered scandals was visceral. I've never experienced such open hostility towards women in Australia. It made me incandescently angry.

All of these scandals lit up public conversation via the conduits of traditional or social media. The mainstream media, and the many citizens who used social media platforms to report on a brewing scandal or disseminate content, both reflected and fuelled the last week’s gender debates.

But in the Australian print media, despite the fact that we have a female Governor General and a Female Prime Minister, women are barely seen and mostly unheard. Data collected from nine national, capital city and regional newspapers on 4 March 2013, by the Women in the Media Project, confirms as much. Our key findings published last week were:

So what? A number of prominent journalists retorted.

In my current research focus (the intersection of social media and professional journalism) I am often exposed to the view that what we journalism academics call “media effects”, “framing theory” and “media representation” are really no longer relevant in such a fragmented and highly atomised mediasphere, where everyone has the means to produce and distribute news, and peer networks are viewed as more trustworthy than traditional media.

There is certainly some truth in this assertion. And it’s also true that much research on media effects (there’s a century’s worth to contend with, if you’re keen) is academically contentious.

Essentially, these theories contend that the ways in which journalists “frame” (or shape) stories effects the “reader’s” understanding of, and attitudes towards, the issues and individuals being reported. Framing is a process that involves journalists deciding what facts to emphasise and what to leave out; which sources to approach and what questions to ask them; what sources to quote and the way in which to order those quotes; and what language and tone to adopt. This process of selection and presentation is assumed to also produce broader social and political impacts.

While the mainstream media can’t be held solely responsible for the construction of identity, nor blamed entirely for societal attitudes (yes, the media can also be regarded simply as conduits for very problematic social standards and gutter politics), they are said to “provide the lens through which reality is perceived”, to quote Henry Francis.

For example, in my own research about Australian Muslim women’s lived experience of media-misrepresentation (see, for example, my chapter in the 2010 Melbourne University Press book Islam and the Australian News Media), the women I interviewed spoke directly of the effect of mainstream media coverage on their emotional/psychological well-being and even their physical safety.

One of the women told me, “[The media coverage] is very distressing ... It makes me afraid to show my Muslim identity publicly.  Absolutely [I] feel vilified and discriminated against”. Another woman said she believed media stereotyping was to blame for the abuse she had experienced on the streets: “I was abused when I went out for a walk”. And another of my research participants said, “Sometimes I feel in danger because of the bad TV. That’s where they get their information”.

Earlier, Scott Poynting argued that political opportunism and sensationalist headlines lead to, and give license to, racist attacks in shops, streets and workplaces. He identified a dramatic upsurge in such attacks on Muslims after the 2001 World Trade Centre attacks as evidence. This research led the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission to call for urgent action to address the problem in 2003.

A significant number of the women I interviewed described deliberately tuning out of mainstream media and turning to alternative or community media, social networks and blogs as a means of avoiding the impact of constant negative media stereotyping. Interestingly, most said mainstream reporting was still a cause for concern.

However, there is more recently published research that confirms that traditional media power continues to play a fundamentally important role in Australia, not just in terms of framing debates, or in driving political strategies, but also in the formation of public policy.

Following a three-year study of the nexus involving mainstream media, government bureaucrats and Indigenous policy, academics Kerry McCallum and Lisa Waller last year published research in an Australian Research Council-funded report (pdf) that found:

“(There is) a significant manifestation of media power in the policymaking process ... Our research concludes that the way Indigenous issues are portrayed in mainstream news media does impact on the way Indigenous affairs policies are developed, communicated and implemented.”

Their findings, which included the revelation that The Australian newspaper was particularly influential on Indigenous policy formation, were based on in-depth interviews with bureaucrats in the Northern Territory and Canberra.

It is reasonable to conclude that, even in this social media age, sexism and misogyny in the mainstream media have a potentially significant impact on women as individuals, on society more broadly, on political discourses, and even on gender policy.

From research undertaken by the Women in the Media team (which is in the process of being prepared for peer review publication) it is also relevant to note that the gender of a story’s author does appear to have an impact on the gender of the sources they select. As we reported last week, when female bylined stories are examined for sources, almost twice the number of female sources is identifiable when compared to male bylined stories.

We pointed out that this may also reflect the higher concentration of women reporting on “softer” news rounds (like entertainment and community news). These rounds are often less prominently covered than politics and economics, for example, which remain heavily male-dominated – both in terms of reporters and sources. It is worth repeating that only 34 per cent of political sources quoted in the newspapers examined by the project were female, and that a third of those quotes belonged to Julia Gillard. Imagine the picture if the number one political office holder in the land were male?

A society that views itself through a mainstream media lens that reinforces portrayals of women as less powerful, less significant, less respected and less visible than men risks perpetuating sexist stereotypes and further marginalising women. Such a society may also license appalling gender-based attacks on, say, a country’s female Prime Minister.

My friend and fellow academic Shakira Hussein has theorised that Muslim women are subject to a “double bind affect”, meaning that they feel compelled to defend Muslim men, regardless of chauvinism or worse, because they're so vilified by the media.

I now realise that's precisely how I feel about Julia Gillard. I'm strongly critical of some of her more populist policy positions (such as “border protection” and cuts to single mothers’ benefits) but the atrocious, gender-based vilification of the Prime Minister by significant sections of Australian media and society, which targets her body and sex life, rather than her ideas and policies, compels me to defend her as a woman.

Such an effect is counter-productive to healthy political debate in a democracy and, in my view, the mainstream media have a responsibility to address the issue at its root cause. The mainstream media are part of the problem — but they’re also part of the solution.

So, as the Women in the Media team asked at the end of the last report published here, how do we change women’s lack of visibility and voice in the Australian media?

Here are our suggestions, but we’d welcome yours in the comments below:

  1. Newspaper editors could make a strategic decision to encourage female reporters into male dominated rounds; institute editorial policies that encourage enterprising source identification (e.g. identifying fresh female voices); and explicitly discourage sexist stereotyping.
  2. Reporters themselves could undertake more enterprising source identification and conscious source selection in the interests of gender balance.
  3. Female writers could continue to activate social media to build community around quality content generated by women who struggle to get published in mainstream media outlets.
  4. Female sources could “go direct” to their own audiences via social media, bypassing mainstream media outlets when their voices are ignored.
  5. Fundraise support for alternative and community media initiatives that seek to address the problems identified above.
  6. Keep calling out problematic, sexist and misogynistic media coverage and demanding change – that’s a suggestion for professional journalists as well as social media commentators
  7. Facilitate collaborations between industries, professions, academia and media organisations to assist in the identification of female sources/expertise and in the development of more competent and responsible reporting on gender issues.
  8. Work with the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance and the Journalism Education Association of Australia to develop guidelines and training modules to assist and educate journalists and journalism students in reporting gender issues.
  9. Scan international studies on media and gender (there are many of them) to contextualise the Australian experience and learn from other interventions in sexist reporting and strategies to address the male domination of editorial management and the highest profile rounds.
  10. Publish academic research into the representation of women in the media in an accessible way, in an effort to generate debate and highlight concerns. (Note: our project will soon move into an analysis of broadcast and online media coverage of women).
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Dr Dog
Posted Monday, June 17, 2013 - 14:44

Good article and an interesting series thanks,

Can I suggest that women in the media could do more to mentor other younger female journalists, who like all youngsters are less likjely to stand up for themselves in expecting advancement and assignment to serious stories.

Also spending time with female (and male) journalism students would have to have a positive effect, discussing the state of gender within the industry.

Posted Monday, June 17, 2013 - 20:21

Speaking as one with a certificate in motor mechanics and not "certified" to speak on media and gender issue; my observations and understanding stand somewhat at odds with yours.

I'd agree that the "theories" you posit are reasonable in regard to the effects of "framing".
But even though you or the media at large are unable with any certainty to convince any reasonable mind of "what to think" through mere "framing", you and they are able to control "what we think about".

Repetition of "voices" media and political, if they aren't one in the same, on gender issues ensures that this topic is and has been for a very long time at the fore.

Similarly repetition of voices media and political on the Issue of Islam, generally in the context of "terrorism" and "extremism", ensures that this issue is as it has been at the fore.

To take on the attacks on Muslim women by "framing" it as a "gender issue" seems to be disingenuous, with nay a mention of the fact that those attacks are "possibly" caused by their being Muslims and not because they are women.

Although I have no study to cite; I put it to you that small Muslim men or Muslim Children would also be more likely to cop a spit or other abuse than large or strong looking Muslim Men, as would smaller or less fit looking Muslim Women cop more than a Muslim woman that appears strong.
The reason for this, as any school child can assert, is that before an attack, a potential assailant will consider the likelihood of their victim coming back with a good right upper hook to the chin.

When you do finally mention Muslim Men, you do exactly what I expect to see in the MSM and "reputable" media like NM.
You frame them as brutes.
"Muslim women are subject to a “double bind affect”, meaning that they feel compelled to defend Muslim men, regardless of chauvinism or worse, "

I'd suggest you read your own column again and see that there is no statement made to you by the Muslim women you cited to indicate that the attacks on them were primarily motivated by their gender.

Attempting to usurp Muslim suffering as a problem for women distinct from men while further perpetuating a "savage Muslim" common stereotype really betrays what might otherwise have been an expression of humanitarian concern.

On a scale of "life or death" and the role of Australian or Western media in the determination of outcome, you must agree that in the context of Islam or Gender; Australian media has so much more to answer for the killing of Muslims that gender concerns should pale as humanitarian concerns.

In the modern context and "realpolitik" "Your" topic is getting plenty of press and +ve media attention.
IMO, above that which it warrants.

Posted Monday, June 17, 2013 - 22:32

Although I don't necessarily disagree with this article, I think it fails to hold the power of the media in a realistic position...we both affect the media and are affected by the media...media represents dominant values of a society which become reflected within its pages and pixels by the writers and editors....their values, priorities and perspectives.  This is one reason why women need valid positions within the media if only to balance out gender perspectives.  The problem also becomes about women adopting dominant gender values and norms (such as interpretations of beauty, feminine roles or Christian, white middle class values) and only represent these within the media (which actually only further advances and empowers current dominant power processes).  The media is not like a university where the writer is held up to a certain standard with peer-review, research ethics etc...its values and use/impacts of its power are not very well regulated or standardised, as it is in universities.  The danger is that information is treated as credible and valid regardless of the quality of sources, research, critique etc.  The vigor and quality of writing isn't viewed as informative, instructive or a social, normalising process...it is mostly now only entertainment, a short boat-ride to fiction.  So yes, standards and purposes for The Media DO need scrutiny...but usually this is up to a discerning public, an active, thinking, vocal public...which especially after this past week with all these sexist media behaviours...doesn't really show up as an attribute within Australian society.  Our apathy, self-centredness, individualistic perspectives have conditioned the population into being passive unthinking consumers and audiences.

Posted Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 02:55

When will journalists learn that anti-Muslim attacks can never be racist, because Islam is not a race. It is a religious and political ideology. The hostility towards Muslims is being directed towards people, both male and female, who have chosen beliefs that are unjust to women.

Posted Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 07:21

The reporting recently of the Gallen punch-up was very inadequate and inaccurate, it was dominated by men and rugby people who condone such violence, are entertained by it and fail to offer intelligent critque on such violence...they fail to identify how violence by sports stars (especially male ones) has flow-on effects into commuities, streets, homes and neighbourhood sports fields.  Even Karl on Today recently disapproved but still called it "brave/courageous" violence..which still illustrates that men in the media will represent events and socially significant situations in particular ways.  The incident recently with Nigella and her husband with his hands around her neck - this is extreme domestic violence, and her husband is a writer for a newspaper...so once again, how would someone like him report or comment on issues that are relevant to women in balanced and intelligent ways when he does such violence and sees nothing "wrong" with it?  This incident was, this morning, reported by men, interviewed with men and involved only the material events that occurred - their reporting didn't include any women and didn't consist of socially relevant critique or comments by women or domestic violence experts...in Oz that I saw anyway.

Posted Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 18:02

EarthFan, Your a Knob.


Go and Read:

defence 17 Jun 2013 ADF Bullies Put Reform At Risk By Kathryn Spurling - See more at: http://www.newmatilda.com/2013/06/17/adf-bullies-put-reform-risk#sthash.RmnCf6m2.dpuf


read the whole lot and then ask yourself. "who have chosen beliefs that are unjust to women."


When you understand what happened to those poor women and why we are a Nation of Pedophiles and have been for 80 years or more you can make brain dead statements like that to stroke your Aussieness in Public. Now go and crawl in your Wombat Hole, unless your just having a stir. In which case LOL.

Bob Karmin
Posted Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 18:45

Don't feel bad sisters.

You will soon control the forum.

Law School graduations have been tracking at a 75/25 gendered split for some years now. Accountancy / finance graduations reflect a similiar proportion. The percentage of females graduating in medicine is well over 50%. 

Another encouraging fact is that the influence of "print media" has a demographically determined used by date. 

Maybe the severity of these comments are an aknowledgement of the inevitable?

Maybe "sexism" in the print media is just one more of those "baby boomer" demons to be excercised in due course?








Posted Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 20:09

To Jackal012. I have not disputed the reports of misogyny in the armed forces. My post was with reference to attacks on Muslims, which this article attributes to "racism". They aren't. 

I have read the Qur'an. To be a Muslim you have to believe that it is the perfect word of God that cannot be changed. And I assure you that the Qur'an is viciously unjust to women. That is not to say that the Bible is completely free of anti-woman propaganda. Saint Paul uses the nasty Adam and Eve tale in Genesis as an excuse to keep women silent in church and to deny them authority over men. However, the injustice in the Bible pales by comparison to the evils of the Qur'an and Mohammed's other hadiths.

Australia is a free country and nobody has to be a Muslim. I recommend that Muslims exonerate Allah of any involvement in the unholy Qur'an and stop insulting our creator.

Posted Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 21:15

fightmamma said "The media is not like a university where the writer is held up to a certain standard with peer-review, research ethics etc...its values and use/impacts of its power are not very well regulated or standardised, as it is in universities."

I get it, the reason my critique wasn't addressed is because there's no regulation to compel you to reciprocate. You feel the need for force.

Husbands and brothers and fathers oppress and coheres women, and you'd like to see that role undertaken by the state. You'd like the state to be a surrogate daddy.

It seems that marxist (class struggle) feminists really want just that; a financial and strong supporter but without the need to reciprocate.
And men, as members of the "oppressor class", take part in the shotgun wedding by paying their greater portion of taxes to support a woman but get no say at all in her contribution to the "marriage".
So I guess for the Marxist, the "class struggle" will inevitably synthesise to where the oppressor class is redundant,

I'd like to see some feminists put their money where their mouth is and rather than, for example, being indignant over traditional 'door opening etiquette', come down hard on traditional 'life boat boarding etiquette'.
Perhaps even level the gender disparity in industrial deaths and injury in heavy 'pick and axe' type jobs that small men, if not all, try to avoid.
It's only anecdotal; but I know there's one woman shoveling fresh steamy horse shit all week with the dozens of men at Adelaide's Morphetville racecourse. You don't suppose it's purely because the employer is not for equal opportunity employment?.
I'll ask next time I see the HR person, "do many women apply when a job like that is advertised?" and I'll get back to you with an answer if you insist, but I'll bet you know the answer already.

Posted Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - 00:51

phoneyid - what the heck are you going on about here?  Where do you get the impression I was saying anything at all about force?

For the record - I have been a female professional kickboxer and quite badly discriminated against by some people, very supported by others, but my situation as a sinlge mother made it impossible for me to continue my goal of becoming a boxer as well - I had a willing and interested trainer lined up and all...and also for the record, some of my most memorable times are working with my kelpie in the shearing sheds and pulling up the boards to pull out all the very studid sheep that have been wedged underneath...with me all covered in sweat, sheep poop, dirt and lanolin...still wanted a nice shower and some perfume when I got home though!!

Ah no, I think I get it - you thought my comment about universities was directed at you because you mentioned a lower level education.  No I was directing my comment at the author of the article because I got the impression she has an expectation that the media should behave like university researchers...and I thought this was unrealistic.  Dude maybe you have a sensitivity about your level of education?  I wouldn't get hung-up on that if I were you - I've gone back to uni as a mature-age student, and my impression is that people who've been in those places all their lives are often completely out of touch with reality...and cannot visualise that their grand, well-researched ideas might not be pulled-off in the real world!!  Something I am personally very determined not to do if I ever end up joining their ranks!!

Anyway - I have an exam coming up...

Posted Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 15:59

Muslims were mentioned in the original article to boost the author's specios article about sexism.

The reason Muslims are occasionally abused is that we (that is genuine Australians) just don't want them here, whether male or female. They have a dangerous religion that seems to generate violence wherever they are, or wherever they go. It's impossible for them to integrate because of their customs and beliefs. We don't need them and never have. For the life of me I cannot understand why they they come here when they can be with their co-religionists somewhere else. It can only be because they want to "take" what we have built up over generations.

At one stage here in Queensland in my local government area we had a female Mayor, a female Premier, a female Prime Minister, a female Governor, a female Governor-General and a female Sovereign. Just because the author does not like the the proportion of female journalists in the media, or their work preferences, we are supposed to believe that sexisim is a serious problem in our society. Quite frankly, it's nonsense and just what I would expect from an academic journalist and one of the chattering classes.

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