UPDATED: “Girl Games” still grappled with gendered language, commentary

As the 2012 Olympic Games wind down in London this weekend, the Gender Report compiled coverage from both the broadcast coverage of the Games, as well as the plentiful commentary and feature reporting from print and online media sources.

Photo taken from http://www.bostonglobe.com

Female athletes for the first time represented every participating country, and the U.S. team brought a female-majority team to London (as did Russia and China).

Females served as both the U.S. flag bearer and delegation chief, and female athletes took home almost double the gold medals for the United States than their male teammates. The Boston Globe went as far as to deem London as the “Girl Games,” and Time magazine named London the “Year of the Woman.”NBC’s features during the Closing Ceremonies did include a feature on women’s participation, and medal count dominance, in London. Accomplishments highlighted included women’s basketball, water polo, rowing, (also highlighted as a team of “strong personalities”), and soccer, which was credited for doing more for attention to women’s sports than any other event. (The U.S. men did not qualify in soccer).

But with plentiful gains towards gender equity in these games, the Gender Report also found plentiful bias in both spoken and written commentary throughout the past weeks.


In both live and prime time coverage, NBC offered a glimpse at the language biases still present in sports coverage. For example, in his interview with beach volleyball gold medalists Kerry Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor, Bob Costas reminded viewers to watch the girls’ medal ceremony, despite both women being in their 30s. Similar use of “girl” to refer to female athletes over the age of 18 could be found in swimming and basketball commentary. Similarly, commentators giving background or “color” information on athletes tended to focus on the personalities of female athletes but the training or athleticism of male athletes, even in the same sports. For example, a feature piece for the Washington Post focused on swimmer Missy Franklin’s accomplishments despite her “bubbles and dimples” and that a “mean girl” takes possession of her in the pool. The Atlantic Wire noted “It is truly hard to imagine Michael Phelps’ or Ryan Lochte’s desire for victory being described in this manner. ” Other feature coverage highlighted female swimmers’ nail polish choices or other athletes’ hairstyles, while male coverage, largely lacked these kinds of pieces.


Throughout the games, companies from Proctor and Gamble to Kellog’s to Gillette featured athletes endorsing their products. An upcoming article in the Journal of Brand Strategy focused on the “cycle of failure” facing female athletes because they are less featured in the years between Olympics, and when they are featured, appear in oversexualized advertisements.

A lack of femininity has also been criticized as a reason some female athletes, in sports like boxing and weightlifting, don’t receive as many endorsements.

Gymnastics Coverage

One particular sport highlighted the gender biases prevalent throughout these Olympics. While the U.S. Women came into London as gold-medal favorites in both the team and all around competitions, many media, and in particular NBC, put extensive emphasis on the femininity, rather than the athleticism, of this team. At one point in the team final, a commentator noted the beads of sweat on one athlete, saying viewership of the sport may be declining as the women show “less grace” in the sport. A Washington Post article noticed “grimaces have outnumbered smiles” in the women’s competition. Coverage of NBC commentators zoomed in on the tears of Jordyn Wieber and the “divas” of the Russian team. But as Slate columnist J. Bryan Lowder notes, “That “these girls are very emotional,” as NBC’s Tim Daggett put it, should be neither here nor there. After all, when Michael Phelps and his teammates express diva-like torrents of emotion poolside, their whooping and grimacing—if it’s noticed at all—is deemed nothing more than uncomplicated masculine enthusiasm.”

All-around gold medalist Gabby Douglas faced gendered, and at times racialized, coverage. Bob Costas often made comments about her “winning smile” and “bubbly” personality, but Douglas’ physical appearance also drew particular interest. As the first African-American to win the all-around title, Douglas became a social media target for the way she styled her hair. After congratulating her accomplishment, one fan told the Daily Beast “I just hate the way her hair looks with all those pins and gel. I wish someone could have helped her make it look better since she’s being seen all over the world. She representing for black women everywhere.” Tennis sisters Venus and Serena Williams have faced similar criticism of their hair styles in the past. NPR, Ms. Magazine , the LA Times and Jezebel also noted the commotion around Douglas’ hairstyles. However, Ebony magazine gave more blame to media stereotypes of black women criticizing one another than social media posts.

In its summary of the gender-focused coverage, The American Prospect summarized the games by crediting the athletes themselves:  “Even if the media wanted to maintain an image of the demure, petite female Olympian, the women themselves clearly won’t be having it. For no other reason than pure competition, women from all sorts of backgrounds have been redefining what’s acceptable. “

Read more about gender issues in Olympics coverage:

New York Times hires first female public editor

The New York Times named Margaret M. Sullivan as the newspaper’s new public editor this week — the first woman to hold the position. She will take over for Arthur Brisbane, who has served in the position the last two years, on Sept. 1.

Sullivan has worked for 32 years at the Buffalo News where she became both its first female editor and first female vice president.

Sullivan has signed a four-year contract with the Times, longer than the various two-year contracts of her predecessors. She does have the option of leaving after two or extending to six years. Many reports, including the press release for the New York Times, have hinted that Sullivan will take a “more active online role” than previous public editors.

The Times’ first public editor, Daniel Okrent, suggested in an interview with Poynter in May that he would  like to see an end to the “boys’ club” that has been the public editor position. He was quoted as saying, “It would be pretty wonderful if they had woman in the job, frankly.” The previous four hires since the role was created nine years ago have been white males. The position was created in 2003 following the Jayson Blair plagarism case.

Several people raised questions about what impact having a woman in the position would make. Mallary Tenore argued that women bring may bring different sensibilities to the job and that Sullivan’s personal experiences would likely shape her perspectives. In addition to being quoted on the subject in several articles, Sullivan seemed to agree when she addressed this issue herself in a post on the Buffalo News site. She wrote, “Yes, it matters because we bring everything we are to the jobs we do.”

Although she wrote that being a woman doesn’t drive everything she does, Sullivan highlighted several issues she cares about, including equal pay and child care. She also noted her observations and at times frustrations about women’s representation in the news media: “I do like to see women represented in the news media — in images, in quotes, in stories — and I know that they are often underrepresented…And I’ve sometimes been exasperated that the paper’s front page, on a particular day or series of days, has not featured a single photo of a woman, even in a teaser.” (Read her full write-up here.)

Read more about Sullivan through the round-up of articles below:

Former public editor Okrent would like to see New York Times hire female ombud (Poynter)

The New York Times Names Margaret M. Sullivan Public Editor (New York Times’ press release)

Times Names Buffalo News Editor as Its New Public Editor (NYT Media Decoder)

Sullivan looking to ‘unique opportunity’ at NYT (Buffalo News)

Buffalo News editor Margaret M. Sullivan to be next New York Times public editor (Poynter)

New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan signs on for 4 years (Poynter)

New NYT public editor brings experience, online savvy (Columbia Journalism Review)

Margaret Sullivan, New York Times Public Editor, Says Readers Want Transparency (Huffington Post)

-As editor (or public editor), does being a woman matter? Of course (SulliView)

Why it matters that The New York Times’ next public editor is a woman (Poynter)

Count shows few women as National Magazine Award finalists

The announcement of the 2012 National Magazine Award finalists drew attention this week, not for the finalists themselves but for those who were missing.

Ann Friedman pointed out that no women were listed among finalists for the American Society of Magazine Editors’ awards in the reporting, feature writing, profile writing, essays and criticism, columns and commentary categories. However, women were the majority of candidates for the public interest, personal service and fiction categories, in other words, two those three categories are “servicey” (as Friedman noted) and most of the articles that were nominated are on “women’s issues,” such as body image (including an article on getting a “mommy tuck”), relationship or sexual violence, or specific women’s health issues like breast cancer.

This provoked a number of posts and commentary. Alyssa Rosenberg at Think Progress pointed out the fact that the awards include a women’s magazine category but no men’s magazine category, meaning men’s mags are included as general interest. References were also made to VIDA’s annual byline count, which has shown male authors dominating the space in top magazines. Said VIDA’s Erin Belieu in an interview with Mother Jones, “The National Magazine Awards have sent a pretty clear message… When it comes to a career in journalism, chicks should stick to writing about chicks.”

Meanwhile, Brooke Hatfield started an #ASSME hashtag on Twitter in an effort to point out quality work by women in 2011. Here are some examples:

All of this drew a response from Sid Holt, the chief executive of ASME, who explained the selection process and called the criticisms “kind of silly,” according to Poynter. He also identified women who have been in nominated in recent years. Rosenberg reported that Holt did acknowledge that the questioned women’s magazine category has been a “subject of debate” and explained the reasoning behind it.

Read commentaries on women and the awards as well as the judging process in the articles below:

What do you think of the lack of women finalists in major award categories? Are counts like this important? What do they mean? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

INSI launches book on female journalists’ experiences in conflict zones

The International News Safety Institute's "No Woman’s Land: On the Frontlines with Female Reporters" is available at http://www.newssafety.org.

The International News Safety Institute launched a publication titled “No Woman’s Land: On the Frontlines with Female Reporters” in time for International Women’s Day.

The book, sparked by the sexual assault of Lara Logan last year in Tahrir Square, includes a collection of 40 stories of the experiences of women journalists. INSI calls this effort the first book “solely dedicated to the safety of women journalists.”

In addition to Logan, contributors include several BBC correspondents such as Lyse Doucet, Caroline Wyatt and Frances Harrison, as well as Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin, al-Jazeera’s Zeina Awad, Somali investigative journalist Fatuma Noor, and countless others.

A panel discussion held for the book’s launch, chaired by Doucet, was live streamed online through Reuters. Check out Twitter comments via the hashtag #nowomansland and in the stream here.

Proceeds of the project go toward the group’s safety training for women journalists.

Here are a few write-ups on the project including excerpts and pieces by some of the books’ contributors.

Safety of women journalists on the frontline highlighted in new book (The Guardian)

Women journalists share stories from the frontline (Journalism.co.uk)

Women reporters on the front line: Tales of survival (BBC)

Women reporters on the front line: 15 survival tips (BBC)

On International Women’s Day, reflections from women journalists in war zones (Washington Post)

“No Woman’s Land” book details newswomen in warzones (Reuters)

Zeina Awad: On the front lines with female journalists  (Al Jazeera)

Frances Harrison: My double life as mother and foreign correspondent (Journalism.co.uk)

By the numbers: Women visibly absent from contraception stories

Since the issue began blowing up, The Gender Report has kept track of a small slice of the news stories about the birth control ruling from the Obama administration. We separated our data from stories about the original ruling (starting Jan. 20), as well as stories after his announced compromise with Catholic leaders (after Feb. 10). We looked at news stories on the issue from the New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post, POLITICO, and USA Today. We did our best to avoid stories that came from other services (such as wires) on these sites or stories posted to the sites’ blogs or special feature services. Keep in mind that this is just a small sample of stories coming from dominant news sources. Here are our results of women in these stories:

Before the compromise: 37 stories, published Jan 20 – Feb. 10

  • Bylines: 48.4 percent women (15 female bylines, 16 male bylines); 6 shared bylines between men and women
  • Sources: 30.9 percent women directly quoted (60 of 134 sources), 29.1 percent of all persons named or mentioned (88 of 302 mentions)
  • Author gender and sources: Women were 38.1 percent of sources in articles by female authors; they were 29.7 percent of sources in articles by males.

After the compromise: 16 stories, published Feb. 11 – Feb. 17

  • Bylines: 38.5 percent women (5 female bylines, 8 male bylines); 3 shared bylines between men and women
  • Sources: 24.7 percent (14 of 43 sources), 24.2 percent of mentioned sources (22 of 91 mentions)
  • Author gender and sources: Women were 26.7 percent of sources in articles by female authors; they were 22.2 percent of sources in articles by males.

Overall: 53 stories, published Jan 20 – Feb. 10

  • Bylines: 45.5 percent women (20 female bylines, 24 male bylines); 9 shared bylines between men and women
  • Sources: 29.5 percent (74 of 251 sources), 28 percent of mentioned sources (110 of 393 mentions)
  • Author gender and sources: Women were 35.9 percent of sources in articles by female authors; they were 28 percent of sources in articles by males.
  • News sites: The New York Times had the highest percentage of female sources with 46.8 percent (33 male vs. 29 female sources in 12 articles). Politico had the lowest percentage at 17.6 percent (56 male vs. 12 female in 17 articles).

Other groups have also found similar trends in data. ThinkProgress, a division of the Center for American Progress, found that out of a total of 146 guests who discussed contraception on cable news shows, 91 men were invited compared to 55 women as commentators. In other words, males comprised 62 percent of the total guests who commented on contraception. (The study looked at shows on Fox, MSNBC, and CNN.) In a more balanced finding, in a self-conducted survey, NPR discovered that of those interviewed and quoted between January 13 and February 13, 26 were women, ranging from Catholic students to lawyers to professors. This compares to 18 men who were quoted by name.

This image from Think Progress of a witness panel of all men testifying in the Congressional hearing on contraception Thursday went viral. (Photo via @ThinkProgress)

It’s important to take a closer look at some of the potential causes, and subsequent pitfalls, behind these numbers. First, much of the debate has involved leaders of the Catholic Church; these voices are, by church rule, male. Some groups interviewed included female leaders in the Catholic church, but even when Methodist or Lutheran pastors were included in the sources, these were male pastors or church leaders. The second group taking the spotlight in much of the coverage, especially in stories from the past week, looked at the responses of the candidates for the republican presidential nomination. Again, all these candidates are male. The third group is Congress, which we’ve stated before is currently only 17 percent female; if you’re interviewing a senator or representative, you’re most likely going to end up with a male voice due to basic probability.

However, despite these caveats, we still are asking the question: Where are the women? While the percentage of women represented in birth control coverage is slightly higher than the representation of women in the news overall (see our Findings & Statistics section for details), the lack of women’s voices in these particular stories is especially glaring considering it is an issue related to women’s health.

The individuals quoted in these stories (with the exception of a few features such as those about experiences with and opinions about birth control at Catholic campuses by the New York Times and Los Angeles Times) were often the same people repeatedly across media outlets. For women, Sister Jane Marie Klein (chairwoman of the board of a system of 13 Catholic hospitals) was most often quoted, followed by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebeliu and then Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Both Klein and Richards were named among the three people (the other being Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan) that President Obama is said to have called to alert to the change in the policy.

In our research, only a small handful of non-expert female sources were quoted in the 53 stories. This included the woman whose testimony was canceled in this week’s congressional hearings on the ruling. In any policy story, we would expect to see the perspective of not just the policy makers, but the people whom the policy impacts the most: users of birth control. In the case of contraception, this almost exclusively means women, since male forms of contraception such as condoms do not require a prescription and thus are not a main focus of insurance policy.

A photo (above) from the Congressional hearing quickly went viral this week, as it highlighted the all-male panel in Thursday’s debates. NPR’s ombudsman also pointed out this lack of female representation, writing: “Airing diverse voices and views that reflect the country is critical.” We will continue to follow this story, and provide updated statistics and findings as the debate continues.

Looking for more opinion? Check out these stories and opinion posts on the contraception debates: