Television host, documentary highlight widening gap in gender access

This week’s news saw both ends of women’s role and participation in the media. One woman, Jennifer Livingston, confronted discrimination and the biases against women head on. But other women around the world, highlighted in a PBS documentary, are lucky to even get the education to hold such power.

TV anchorwoman confronts viewer’s e-mail
Jennifer Livingston, an 11-year television anchorwoman for WKBT-TV in La Crosse, Wis, became a “sensation” when she made national headlines this week for Tuesday’s on-air response to a viewer’s e-mail calling her fat and a bad role model for young girls. Her husband, who also works for the news station, posted the text of the e-mail to this Facebook page. Livingston’s four-minute response, which went viral on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other social media sites, used her response to highlight the danger of bullying and bring attention to National Anti-Bullying Month this October. Livingston also appeared on several talk shows and is scheduled to appear on the Ellen DeGeneres show this week. Her brother, actor Ron Livingston, also voiced support this week. Part of the coverage around the topic, including that from The Telegraph, focused on the fact that an overweight male anchor might not have received the same type of criticism and female journalists are being held to near-impossible standards of weight.

Here is the full video of her editorial:

Kenneth Krause, the viewer who sent the e-mail, has stood behind his words, saying he hopes this gives Livingston an “opportunity to influence the health and psychological well-being of Coulee Region children by transforming herself for all of her viewers to see over the next year.” He submitted a video response to the station.

But despite praise for her poise and powerful message, some have questioned Livingston’s use of the word “bully” to describe the e-mail. In fact, many stories, including those on her home station’s website, use the word in quotation marks. Livingston told E! News she is “not a bulling expert”  but that she had to take a stand against the viewer’s “hurtful” words. Christian Science Monitor columnist Stephanie Hanes wrote Livingston’s label of Krause as a bully a mistake: “it stops conversation and often leads to a fight over the label rather than the content.”

Half the Sky

While Jennifer Livingston made headlines for taking charge of her own image, many women around he world still lack access to these rights. The PBS documentary “Half the Sky“, based on the book by Nickolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, focuses on the discrimination and voicelessness of women in many parts of the world. The two-part special featured American actresses traveling with Kristof to different countries and organizations combating sex trafficking, female genital mutilation, economic hardship, and other gender-based issues.


GOP, Democratic conventions focus on “war on women”

As the political climate heats up and party conventions are in full swing, both the media and the parties themselves are still pushing, or defending, a “war on women” from both parties. The term first widely circulated earlier this spring during debates over changes to healthcare. The term is now used by both sides to refer to any issue, valid or otherwise, that could woo potential female voters.

Last week’s Republican convention in Tampa started under the shadow of comments made by Missouri congressman Todd Akin, who said “legitimate” rapes rarely resulted in pregnancies. Leading up to the convention the republican party’s leaders, including Gov. Mitt Romney, Karl Rove, and GOP chairman Reince Priebus insisted Akin remove himself from his senate race; he still refuses to drop out.

As the convention played out, the speaker line up clearly showed the republican party chasing after female (and minority) voters. According to the Huffington Post, female republican governors had a 75 percent chance of speaking, a disproportionate representation of their actual presence in office (women hold four of the 29 republican offices). Women at the convention downplayed social issues such as abortion and gay marriage in an attempt to bring all focus in the race to economic issues.

As the Democrats begin to fill Charlotte for their own party’s convention, women’s healthcare and abortion rights will likely be highlighted as reasons for women to vote with the democratic party. The Washington Post noted “You couldn’t move without bumping into a feminist leader” as convention preparations were underway.

Want more political coverage from the Gender Report? Look for our “Candidates at a Glance” profiles this Tuesday and Wednesday, where we will examine voting records, public comments, and media perceptions of both tickets.

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

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:

“Media Darling” named CEO of Yahoo

After thirteen years as an executive at Google, Marissa Mayer landed the much-anticipated role as the new CEO of Yahoo. And while many sites focused on her potential for the company, some focused on what they saw as a pitfall: her pregnancy.

At 37 years old, Mayer became one of the few CEOs of Fortune 500 companies under the age of 40, and one of only 18 women to hold the title. But after Tuesday’s announcement of her new title, some media noted she would be the first pregnant CEO. She announced her baby is due in October, around the same time her job performance will first be analyzed, according to NPR. (The public radio’s coverage of her appointment, reprinted from the Associated Press, mentions the pregnancy as almost an afterthought at the end of their predictions for the changes she’ll make to the Internet company.)

Some major media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal don’t mention her pregnancy. But others, such as New York Magazine, the Huffington Post, news show Morning Joe, NBC News, and The Guardian ran coverage both commending and criticizing the role motherhood could potentially play in Mayer’s job evaluation. CNN’s coverage included her pregnancy in a list of other background information which included her gender and naming a former boyfriend.

A Washington Post blog commented that “what most people seem to agree on, of course, is that we wouldn’t being having this conversation if the name of the Yahoo CEO were Martin and not Marissa.” The post went on to note that “we are having the wrong dialogue again about women in the workplace. Women now often do society a triple service: They work, they bear children and they provide the key emotional bond. We ought to be figuring out how to help and celebrate them more.”

This is the Gender Report’s Week in Review, a weekly post that highlights some of the major stories related to gender issues this week. Some of these stories may have already appeared in our News Feed. We’ll at times include a longer analysis of stories as well as bring attention to stories that may have slipped through the cracks of the week’s news cycle.

Women making history in 2012 Olympics

With the 2012 Summer Olympic games less than two weeks away, many countries are finalizing team rosters and the athletes who will represent them in the world competition.

Saudi Arabia allows first female athletes

Two stories in this week’s coverage leading up to the games, however, focused on the female athletes who will take part in the London games. For the first time, all of the 204 countries participating will include female athletes. This milestone came once Saudi Arabia announced this week it would send two women to compete in judo and the 800-meter race. Two other countries, Qatar and Brunei, will send women to the games for the first time as well. One of Qatar’s three female athletes, Bahiya al-Ahmad, will carry her country’s flag in the opening ceremonies.

Once the Saudi Embassy in London announced they would allow a female athlete who could qualify to compete, it became clear that no women in the country had met the qualifying times. According to the Wall Street Journal, an International Olympic Committee spokeswoman said both Saudi athletes were accepted under the Olympics’ “universality” clause, which allows athletes who didn’t meet qualifying times to compete when their participation is deemed important for reasons of equality.

Despite international coverage, Saudi media outlets still did not highlight the announcement. According to the Associated Press, both athletes live outside the kingdom and carry almost no influence as sports figures. The nation still bans women from driving or traveling without the approval of a male guardian. While girl’s sports are effectively banned in the nation’s schools, viewers of mixed audiences will be able to watch the women compete.

United States’ team brings more female athletes than male

In another first for the Olympic Games, team U.S.A. will have more female athletes than males at this year’s games, prompting USA Today to call the event the “Title IX Olympics.” The 530-member team is comprised of 269 women and 261 men. In comparison, 2008’s team in Bejing had a roster of 310 men and 286 women.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the shift in numbers can be explained more through changes to sports included or removed from this year’s roster, as well as the U.S. men’s soccer team’s failure to qualify. Softball and baseball were both removed in 2012, but the first female boxer from the United States and the qualification of the women’s field hockey team added athletes to the final total. Women also represent the youngest and oldest athletes to compete for the United States.

In the last 40 years, women’s participation in the summer games has more than tripled, making them 45 percent of the 2012 athletes. Until the 1984 Los Angeles Games, women were not allowed to run a marathon. Less than 20 years ago, at the 1996 Atlanta Games, 26 countries did not send women.

“The I.O.C. has been striving to ensure a greater gender balance at the Olympic Games, and today’s news can be seen as an encouraging evolution,” Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, said Thursday in a statement about the participation of Saudi women.

The opening ceremony for the London games will be held July 27.

This is the Gender Report’s Week in Review, a weekly post that highlights some of the major stories related to gender issues this week. Some of these stories may have already appeared in our News Feed. We’ll at times include a longer analysis of stories as well as bring attention to stories that may have slipped through the cracks of the week’s news cycle.