At least, that’s what I’ve been told by about half the men I’ve met whenever the subject of menstruation comes up. I didn’t expect it, however, from one of my male coworkers.
When I heard the familiar jab at the female reproductive system, I wondered why my newsroom, filled with professional student journalists who strive to represent and inform the people, made me uncomfortable.
According to the Women’s Media Center, two-thirds of journalism undergraduates in the United States were women in 2013. Why, then, did women make up only about 35 percent of all newsroom staff members the following year?
In the 1960s, women struggled to break into journalism. Often, they were confined to copy-editing and fact-checking while their male counterparts were given front-page bylines.
According to CNN, the women who worked at Newsweek decided to take this discrimination up in court. The New York Daily News ran the headline “Newshens Sue Newsweek for Equal Rights” in March 1970, the writer “reporting” that the so-called “newshens” were young, and “most of them pretty.”
Journalism is still an old boys’ club—women continue to struggle to be heard more than 40 years later.
In 2014, about 67 percent of the bylines in The New York Times, and 70 percent of the broadcast reporters at ABC World News were men.
Worse yet than women’s mere exclusion from journalism, when women are welcomed into the industry, studies show that they’re often confined to reporting on “pink topics” or traditionally feminine subjects. According to The Byline Survey of 2012, “pink topics” encompass subjects like women’s health, culture, gender inequality and the four Fs: “fashion, food, family and furniture.”
Women accounted for only 13 percent of all coverage of global economic partnerships in 2010, while they covered 43 percent of beauty/fashion content and 58 percent of family content.
In other words, out of 1,410 random general interest articles surveyed, covering topics like politics, the economy and education, women wrote only 261 articles, according to the Byline Survey Report.
Sure, women have a few more bylines today than in the 1960s—but how much has really changed? Then, women were limited to clipping newspaper stories; now, they’re still divided, keeping the “pink topics” alive.
When women are confined to writing about traditionally feminine topics, their voices are not really being heard. The gender-based oppression in newsrooms across the United States has not been solved, it’s just different.
Furthermore, racial inequality is intertwined with gender inequality in complex ways. About 31 percent of newsroom staff members across the country are white women, according to the Status of Women in the Media. Only 2 percent are black women, and the rates of representation for Asian and Latina women are worse still, at slightly more than 1 percent.
As a white woman, I fear I won’t be taken seriously in a professional newsroom. I fear I’ll be confined to writing about family and furniture. Statistically, a black woman with identical qualifications has to fear she won’t get a job in a newsroom at all.
Luckily, the revolution of online journalism seems to provide more equal opportunity for women. In 2014, 53 percent of the contributors to The Huffington Post, a news source exclusively published online, were women.
“We should also be heartened by the increase of women’s presence in new media opinion forums,” wrote the Byline Survey Report. “It has been much remarked that the Internet and the new media landscape has a democratizing effect: there is a potential for many new voices to be heard, including more women’s voices.”
Fortunately, I am one of many women on our staff, more representative of women gaining degrees at Temple and across the country.
But, gender inequality persists across many different professional fields, but it’s especially problematic in a profession like journalism. Journalists are expected to fill the “watchdog” role in society, to make sure that the citizens are informed and protected from those in power. Without a truly representative newsroom staff, how can a news outlet ensure that it is protecting everyone?
But hey, at least no one will be PMSing in the newsroom.
Michaela Winberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.