|The Women’s Media Center report suggests that this small uptick might mean that women writers are pushing harder to cover these issues or that editors are assigning more of them to women. This is important because of what we know about how the gender of a writer affects the way in which these stories are told. Male writers tend to focus on the perpetrators. Women writers focus on the survivors. According to the 2015 WMC report on how newspapers were reporting on rape on college campuses, “women journalists interviewed alleged victims more often than male journalists, and a higher proportion of women journalists wrote about the impact of the alleged attack on alleged victims.”
Where media (and Hollywood) falls short
Even as women journalists’ voices become more prevalent and survivors increasingly speak up, media outlets often lag behind when it comes to amplifying the #MeToo movement and, perhaps more importantly, addressing the gender inequity underlying these abuses of power. This is particularly true in Hollywood, as writer Sophie Gilbert summarized in a fantastic piece last week in the Atlantic. Gilbert observes that “the tangible achievements one year into the #MeToo movement need to be considered hand in hand with the fact that the stories being told haven’t changed much at all, and neither have the people telling them.”
The WMC report also found room for improvement in news coverage, especially when it comes to reporting on sexual assault outside of Hollywood where the perpetrators and survivors are not famous, and in reporting on itself. Among the categories studied — Hollywood, media, politics and the church — media had the fewest number of stories overall when it came to sexual harassment and assault in the newsroom.
Moving forward, the Women’s Media Center challenges news outlets and journalists to:
- Use precise and empowering language — use “survivor” rather than “victim” and distinguish words like “harassment” from “assault” based on clinical definitions and formal charges, rather than selecting one arbitrarily.
- Create a specific journalist beat or section area for sexual assault and harassment of women, and train journalists on how to cover and investigate these kinds of stories sensitively.
- Think carefully about which cases your media outlet is choosing to cover, and which it is ignoring. Why is it that Hollywood has been covered the most? How can the media give a broader voice to those who do not yet have it?
- Understand the impact that media coverage makes on societal perceptions of issues like sexual assault and wield this power with thought and care.
- Build inclusive newsrooms.
“Without inclusive newsrooms, women’s stories, and especially the stories of women of color and other under-represented groups, are missing from the conversation,” said WMC board member Erica Gonzalez. “This report highlights how cultural shift begins to be possible when women are given the opportunity to share their stories.”