Silenced: Gender Gap in Election CoverageAre you a lady with lady opinions on issues that affect ladies?

Then shut your stupid ladyhole, stupid lady, because no one cares what you think about that lady stuff. At least, that’s what the traditional media thinks, according to an analysis by The 4th Estate and shown in the infographic above.

The numbers are stark, but not exactly surprising. When it comes to coverage of issues that directly affect women, the beacons of traditional journalism—the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Sunday talk shows—clearly subscribe to the Darrell Issa school of thought: that the people best qualified to talk about women are, in fact, men.

Rep. Issa, you may recall, held a congressional hearing in February about the president’s new policy mandating that health insurance providers cover birth control without copays. This, as we know, made Issa and his fellow Republican men in Congress, as well as his friends at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (aka, the Catholic wing of the Republican Party), have a very sad sadness of sad. So sad that they needed to have an all-male hearing to share their sad feelings and console one another about how women’s access to affordable birth control will simultaneously destroy the republic and bring forth armageddon. And, most importantly, make them very sad.

The No Girls Allowed rule at the Issa hearing was so shocking, given the subject, that even some in the traditional media tsk-tsked it. But the following Sunday, when the Very Serious People of the beltway sounded off on the morning shows on this very subject, none saw fit to feature women as guests, though some were allowed to join the menfolk in roundtable discussions:

Additionally, of the five women included in roundtable discussions, four were non-partisan, allegedly unbiased reporters, while the men across the table from them included former Republican National Committee Chair Ed Gillespie, on Meet the Press, and conservative columnist George Will and conservative television commentator Lou Dobbs, both on This Week. Only former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers could be considered an opinionated counterpart to those three partisan voices.

Even when the media is talking about women, and about issues and policies that directly affect women, and even about the absence of women from the discussion, they still don’t think women should actually be included in that discussion.

Take the New York Times, for example. The editors of our newspaper of record have published editorial after editorial decrying the Republicans’ War on Women, but they’re still turning to men most of the time for their opinions and expertise. Not that it’s breaking news that the Times has its own woman problem. It’s just further evidence that even when an outlet acknowledges that there is an assault on women, it doesn’t make the connection between the legislative assault and the absence of women’s voices in the media to address that assault.

Two years ago, Meteor Blades spent an agonizing 16 months analyzing the Sunday morning shows and found them to be “dominated by men, whites and Republicans, particularly right-wing Republicans[.]” Since then, nothing has changed—except for the first time in a long time, maybe ever, women (or “caterpillars,” as the nice Republican menfolk call them) have been front and center in political discourse for several months, which you would think just might be an opportunity for the guardians of the fourth estate to seek out women to see what they think about all that. But alas, no. The fact that the national discussion has turned to women does not mean the media feels compelled or obligated to expand its pool of commentators and experts. Should we invade Iraq? Ask the menfolk. Should women have access to birth control? Ask the menfolk. Are women’s rights under attack? Ask the menfolk. Regardless of topic, regardless of the carefully measured outrage of the editorial pages, it is still He Who Has The Penis Who Has The Answers.

Another study released this week by the OpEd Project found that even the editorial pages are dominated by men, and while women have slightly more prominence in digital media—you know, in the great meritocracy that is the gender-blind, color-blind internet—those lady bylines are largely restricted to lady subjects. As Erika Fry at Columbia Journalism Review reported:

But while women’s opinions were better represented in digital media, they were more than twice as likely to focus on “pink topics”—the “four F’s” (family, food, furniture, fashion), plus women’s and gender issues—than in the traditional media, where about 14 percent of women’s op-eds were “pink.” These statistics suggest a silo effect online, with writers speaking more frequently to like-minded (or like-bodied) individuals—a concern that has been much lamented within the political media landscape, but less so with regards to gender, race, and class. This development would seem to hark back to the days of the “ladies pages”; while there is nothing wrong with women writing on “pink topics,” it’s the relative lack of women’s voices on non-pink topics like the economy and politics online that is problematic.

In other words, women are occasionally allowed to offer their opinion, as long as they keep it to unimportant “pink” topics like the latest fad diet or what’s new in window treatments or how to empower yourself with a pair of $500 stilettos. And those pink topics are narrowly defined. Abortion, birth control, women’s rights—these, apparently, are not pink topics. Family planning, it seems, does not qualify as a “family” topic suitable for women to discuss. You may be permitted to offer your thoughts on where to take your family for a summer vacation or which lunch box is right for your child, but more serious family matters—like whether you should be allowed to plan your family and under what circumstances and how much it should cost? Nah. That is far too important a topic of too much “general” interest to leave to the ladies of the pink ghetto. Better to leave such conversation to the Very Serious Men Whose Opinions Matter.

Yes, yes, as the lady haters are quick to point out, we’ve come a long way, baby. But we’re still underrepresented in our government, in boardrooms across America, in the economic recovery hecovery, and in the national meta conversations about why all of that might be. It’s a shameful stain on traditional media that even conversations about women are still being held mostly by men. We can’t possibly hope to eradicate institutional discrimination, not to mention cultural misogyny, if we can’t even get our voices heard. But that’s the lesson from this week’s reports: Shut up, little ladies, and stick to not-of-general-interest pink subjects, so Very Serious Men can tell us what we should think about ourselves.

Editor's Note: This story first appeared at and is reposted here under their "content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified" license.
Kaili Joy Gray

Kaili Joy Gray

Kaili Joy Gray was born in 1978 in Santa Barbara. She worked on her first political campaign at six years old, as a doorknocker for her father’s City Council bid. Her first political act came in fifth grade when she successfully led a protest against the teacher for not calling on girls often enough. A graduate of UC Santa Cruz with a degree in women’s studies and a dean’s award in economics, her proudest academic achievement is that the state of California paid her to run her yap as the Opinion-Page Editor for City College. Kaili spent a year living in Virginia, where she learned that the most important issue in a gubernatorial race is who loves the death penalty more, and then lived in Washington, where she enjoyed the rain thirteen months a year. She now happily resides in the Bay Area, where the politics and the weather are pretty much perfect.

  1. Frank Povah

    It has ever been thus. So what’s the solution?

  2. Well said, Ms. Gray, and I’m truly sorry it needs to be said. And said. And said again. One way to start prodding change is to let the editors of the Times, the Post, etc., know that they need look beyond their first impulse when it comes to seeking people to comment on all issues.

  3. Complain, complain, complain. If women want to get quoted more they need to say something interesting! This is just another story pointing a finger at other people for their own problems.

  4. Here’s a thought. Instinct-driven people need to be cared for. If they happen to be female, traditional society was organized to do that automatically. If they happen to be male, they have to beg or pander to get “a living,” if they’re not to be a “mamma’s boy” as, for example, a large percentage of Italian men seem to be. Begging for support/attention is likely particularly necessary in a culture that’s fixated on individualism. If succor has to be “earned” and a person has no skill but the gift of gab, there’s no option but to do a lot of talk. We could say that the swelling ranks of middlemen are filled with people whose only talent is to talk. Even typing on a key-board requires a manual dexterity that many people simply don’t have.

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