Even Your Information On Women's Rights Probably Isn't Coming From A Woman
Like most industries, the media has historically been dominated by men. That gender imbalance is still very strong today, and men even handle most reproductive rights and abortion coverage. According to a Women's Media Center report released Wednesday, women only wrote 37 percent of news stories on reproductive issues between August 1, 2014 and July 31, 2015, while men wrote 52 percent (11 percent didn't have bylines). Gender inequality persists in every realm of the media, but it's more troubling when it comes to this subject. Women need to be the voices for their own issues, as men will never and could never fully understand female struggles.
"When it comes to stories about abortion rights and contraception access, women's voices are systematically stifled as writers and as sources," said Julie Burton, president of the Women’s Media Center, in the report. "In articles about elections and reproductive issues, men's perspectives prevail."
On the topic of women's issues within presidential campaigns especially, male journalists overshadow female reporters — 67 percent of all presidential election stories related to abortion and contraception were written by men. The problem isn't just who's writing the stories, but also who those journalists use as sources. According to the report, men are quoted more in stories about reproductive issues, and male reporters writing on the subject quote other men more than female journalists do.
It's important to note that a few publications had an almost equal representation of female and male voices on reproductive rights. The study points out that The New York Daily News published nearly an equal number of related stories by men and women, and USA Today and The Washington Post had slightly more stories by women (though both publications had more than 10 percent of bylines unattributed). Even so, they're exceptions and not the rule. The New York Times and San Jose Mercury News published almost twice as many stories about reproductive issues by male journalists than female ones. Not a single outlet studied had women covering more than half of stories on reproductive issues.
As with any subject, it's best to have the people that know the most about it covering it. That's not to say that male journalists aren't knowledgeable about abortion and contraception laws and regulations — just that there are aspects of those stories that won't occur to them simply because they can't know what it's like to worry about having your reproductive rights stripped away, like many women do. The same way a person of color is a better authority to talk about racism, a woman is much more equipped to tackle women's issues than a man.
In the same vein, women need to be sources in these stories as well. Interviewing men about reproductive issues perpetuates the patriarchal structure of men deciding what women can and can't do with their bodies. Reproductive laws are already created this way, as most legislators in the country are male, and covering those laws in the exact same way doesn't portray the other side of things or allow women to comment on the laws dictating their sexual and reproductive lives.
Women need the opportunity to shape all types of conversations, but especially those around the issues affecting them the most. You could argue that reproductive issues are really "family issues," as everyone's a product of and affected by reproduction. However, men's bodies are not the one that are being policed, and therefore their voices deserve less amplification.
Of course, men can and should still write about reproductive issues. This is only to say that the media needs to make more room for female voices as well. Women need the power to tell their own stories and explain the issues that shape their lives.