A Planned Parenthood rally in New York this fall. Photo by All-Nite Images (Creative Commons).
We’re already well aware that men’s voices overwhelmingly dominate the media world. Now we know that they dominate coverage of reproductive health issues, too.
New research conducted by the Women’s Media Center found that men outnumbered women as authors of articles covering reproductive issues like abortion access and birth control coverage. The research, which reviewed 1,385 news stories, columns, op-eds, and editorials about reproductive issues published between August 1, 2014 and July 31, 2015, found that female journalists wrote just 37 percent of articles about reproductive issues, while men wrote 52 percent (the rest of the articles were not bylined).
If that’s not depressing enough, in some cases, the number of male and female bylines a paper printed overall didn’t change the results. The New York Daily News, for instance, published the same amount women’s bylines as men’s—and yet, men still covered reproductive issues more than women writers. And a few publications—The New York Times and San Jose Mercury News, for instance—had male writers writing about reproductive issues almost twice as often as women.
Why is this important? Well, for one, who writes the article likely affects whose voices will be heard: The research found that quotes from men accounted for 41 percent of all quotes in articles about reproductive issues, while quotes from women accounted for 33 percent (the remaining quotes were either from organizations or not identifiable by gender).
The report also found that the reporter’s gender affected coverage: Articles by men tended to frame reproductive issues as political issues, whereas articles written by women framed reproductive issues as health issues.The report notes something else that’s important to keep in mind when you’re scanning headlines:
“Highly unusual, shocking, negative stories with limited social impact got more play than positive ones that could have wide influence. For example, two stories out of Colorado this year: One about a woman whose fetus was cut out of her uterus, an appalling but very rare crime; the other about a long-acting contraception program that significantly reduced unintended pregnancy rates and, by extension, rates of unplanned births and abortions. The murder story got more coverage not only generally, but also in the context of reproductive rights specifically.”
Who tells stories affects how stories are told. The fact that men cover reproductive issues more than women isn’t just a matter of injustice in the newsroom; it’s a matter of injustice for their readers, and for the women whose voices won’t be heard.
“The American public—and especially women —deserve accurate, informed and experienced media coverage on reproductive health, state and federal legislation, abortion and contraception,” said Gloria Steinem, co-founder of the Women’s Media Center, in a press release. “This research is offered in the hope of increasing public information about reproductive justice—which means the right to have or not to have children—as a basic human right.”