A Golden Age for Women?

June 30, 2008 • Ethics and Quality • by

St. Galler Tagblatt, April 25, 2008
How the Media are Treating Women these Days
Each year, Swiss trade paper Schweizer Journalist publishes an issue entirely devoted to women, German news magazine Der Spiegel has recently published a special issue entitled “Das starke Geschlecht” (the stronger sex). It seems that a new W Class is celebrating its arrival on the media market: women are all the rage – on glossy paper, in chat-rooms, at the altar… But let’s start from the beginning…

Everyday life looks somewhat different. Somewhat more gloomy. According to International Global Media Monitoring, a project aimed at documenting the participation and portrayal of women and men in the world’s news media, the share of articles which were devoted to women on a given day in 2005 stood at 21%. Researchers from Danube-University Krems and from the Women’s Network of the Upper Austrian Press Council produced follow-up studies, the results of which have been recently discussed in Austrian newspaper Der Standard. In 2006, the share of women-related articles in Lower Austrian regional media reached 19% which, even though this was below the international average, still beat quite clearly the national average of 12%. The key measure was the relative proportion of men and women that were either mentioned, by name or not, quoted or depicted. The women’s share in terms of pictures was 27%, with the main focus lying on young, attractive women, such as those elected as wine queens or “milk girls”. In terms of quotes, the female share reached only 17%, with women appearing least often in the sports, politics and business sections.Blooming Fields, but only in Certain Niches

Women have a specific market value – and a specific market. In kiosks and newsstands, the shelves are nearly collapsing under the weight of the combined “women’s press”, and on the Internet the number of websites and forums aimed specifically at women are multiplying. In March, Yahoo launched Shine (http://shine.yahoo.com/), a website where women “between 25 and 54” may freely chat away, shop (according to market researchers, 80% of all buying decisions are taken by women) and get advice on all kinds of topics. Popsugar (http://popsugar.com) has similar things on offer but comes across quite girlish, with little stars embellishing the site, while iVillage (www.ivillage.com) seems more distinguished, and more concerned with real-life issues. Almost daily, new Internet platforms are being added – all of them targeting the same species: women who want to please the eye, and who are ready to spend their money in pursuit of this goal. From the earliest age on, therefore, young women seem to learn from those specialised media mainly one thing: girls who want “to be a hit” with the boys, who want to become, and then stay, successful women, have to work on themselves constantly. While men simply can be themselves, women have to accommodate things as diverse as skin care, shopping sessions, relationships, their families and their jobs. German newspaper Die Zeit recently wondered how it comes that women complete their studies faster, achieve better grades – and still earn less than their male colleagues. Those who are familiar with the majority of the women’s press (yes, there are some outstanding exceptions from the rule, but they are not the subject of this text) may realise that this fact is also related to the inferiority complex those women are often talked into, by articles that carry such uplifting titles as “How to become more self-confident”… The results presented by the Austrian researchers basically confirm this: even women in executive positions readily let their male colleagues go first when appearing before the media.

The Female Perspective

“The female perspective is going to dominate the 21st century”, is how a team of three recently announced a news magazine made entirely from a female viewpoint, set to appear this autumn. So far, only a description of the concept is available on www.nouvelles.de. A concept, however, that seems far-fetched – not least because said team, even though committed to hiring an all-female staff, consists of three men…

All this raises some basic questions. Do we, from now on, really want to read two reports on Africa, one by a female correspondent, and one by her male colleague? Find career advise for her, next to that for him or perhaps a fitness plan for her on one side, and a test report on car tyres for him on the other? Should we, then, in future devote the left hemisphere of our newspapers and our computer screens to the female perspective, and the right one to the male perspective or vice versa? Maybe the top half? All this seems to lead us mainly in one direction – straight to the lovely country of “Absurdistan.”

If we need one thing, then it is a truly novel M perspective – M as in human.

Translation: Oliver Heinemann

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