The novel coronavirus has not only economically sidelined women, but it has also siloed their voices in media coverage, according to a new study.
The Global Institute for Women’s Leadership released a study Friday that showed women’s voices and expertise have been largely missing from coverage about the pandemic in articles published between March 1 and July 31.
An analysis of more than 146,800 coronavirus-related articles from 15 major news sources in the United States, Britain and Australia showed that women were only a third of all those quoted about the pandemic and were only a quarter of those quoted on topics of epidemiology and public health.
The findings of the analysis confirms that we have a long way to go until women are viewed as experts in multiple spheres, experts said.
The lack of gender diversity across media leads to a lack of diversity in sourcing, said Radhika Parameswaran, a professor of journalism at Indiana University at Bloomington whose research interests include gender, media and cultural studies.
“It takes some extra time to go out of that way of thinking and find another voice. Someone who’s frequently quoted, it becomes an easy option,” she said. “Media professionals need to seriously channel their thinking, and it’s not something you can do on deadline.”
Analysis by the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership proved that repetition of sources appeared to be an issue that also shrank the number of female experts quoted in articles. For every mention of a well-known woman STEM expert in a coronavirus news story, there were 19 mentions of their male counterparts.
Women were, however, over half of those quoted in articles related to child care and domestic violence, and more than a third in education-related clips. Fewer than 1 in 6 were quoted for financial and economic stories, according to the review.
The topics that women appear to be the go-to sources for are a sad reminder about how difficult it can be for media professionals to change their outlook, said Donna Halper, a media historian and associate professor at Lesley University
“When I wrote [my book], I noted that it was a very common belief on major talk shows that you only called on women when you wanted to talk about child care, family issues and divorce. That was about 50 years ago,” she said. “It’s 2020 and yet studies continue to show that when experts are needed on marriage, family and divorce, they call women.”
Some change has occurred over the years, she said, but more is needed.
“There are so many talented and qualified people waiting to be called on.”
The study’s results are a reflection of what society — and the media — thinks about women, said Ayleen Cabas-Mijares, assistant professor of journalism and media studies at Marquette University.
“Only 33 percent of newsrooms are female. … These are things that are systematic,” she said. “They are just not innocent assumptions about the capabilities of women. It just shows how strong these cultural assumptions are of putting people in boxes."