The gender gap in the media in America is not as limited as some would like to believe. A story appearing on Mother Jones discusses a significant gap between the number of notable male deaths and notable female deaths for 2012. According to the story, The Washington Post had 48 men and only 18 women on its list, and the Los Angeles Times had a whopping 114 men, compared with only 36 women on its list. The New York Times has had significant gaps over the last five years as well.
New York Times obituaries editor Bill McDonald says:
“We simply choose the most prominent, the most well-known, the most influential, without regard to race, color, sex, creed…It’s a rearview mirror. The people we write about largely shaped the world of the 1950s, ’60s and, increasingly, the ’70s, and those movers and shakers were—no surprise—predominantly white men.”
Is that the entire story? Not likely. Noted feminist Gloria Steinem believes it is not. In an email to Mother Jones, she said that the standards people use to decide who is deemed “notable,” are still very skewed towards men. Men are measured predominately by money and wealth; women tend to be noted for certain, specific influences and are put into one single area, unlike men.
Furthermore, over the last three years, the Op-Ed Project has conducted a survey of bylines, particularly in op-eds in different media. It found that, while there have been significant increases in the number of opinion bylines that were female, a large majority were still male. The purpose of the project was essentially to see who was writing what, as they believe that “whoever tells the story writes the history.”
Their study also found that women still overwhelmingly write about so-called “pink topics,” including home and garden, family and parenting, fashion, and other topics considered traditionally “female.” Despite the increases in overall bylines, there is a huge gap between the number of men writing “general” topics and the number of women on those topics. Out of 1481 “general interest” articles included, only 261 were written by women.
Media survey group, 4th Estate, did a survey finding that men were quoted far more frequently in the press about issues pertaining to the 2012 election, even on women’s issues. They were quoted 81% of the time on abortion, 67% of the time when it came to Planned Parenthood, and 75% of the time on birth control. This and other statistics showed a strong bias towards men when media outlets were making decisions on whose expertise was best when it came to discussing important issues in this election.
In other words, it’s very likely that the gender gap in deciding whose deaths were notable in 2012 is because of gender gap in the media in general, despite what the obit editors say. Those kinds of numbers create a bias that is likely to either make them look harder for notable men who’ve died, or consider more men in a wider variety of fields to be notable.