by Gina Glantz
Every election season, this term pops up in the media: women’s issues. Discussions of so-called women’s issues are where you find most women commentators, certainly many more than in discussions of economics and foreign policy, as if these topics were of no concern to women.
GenderAvenger, in partnership with the Rutgers University Center for American Women and Politics and the Women’s Media Center, launched Who Talks? in early 2016 to collect data and monitor the gender balance of pundits who appear on the highest-rated morning and evening cable news shows on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox to discuss the presidential election. With more than five months of data amassed, the results have been less than encouraging. The aggregated data from February 22 to July 15 show that the percentage of women commentators dips as low as 15 percent in one show, while hovering between a mere 22 percent to 37 percent for four of the six shows. Only one show held anything close to a balanced average, with 46 percent women guests over the five-month period.
When Who Talks? covered the party conventions in July, the stats weren’t much better. Coverage throughout the Republican National Convention across the three major cable news channels (including morning shows and prime-time evening coverage) showed Fox News and MSNBC with only 26 percent women analysts and CNN with 35 percent. The following week’s coverage of the Democratic National Convention—the convention putting forth a woman nominee for president for the first time in the nation’s history—did only slightly better. Fox News had 27 percent women commentators, MSNBC 32 percent, and CNN 39 percent.
The combined average of women commentators covering both conventions peaked at CNN with 37 percent. Fox News and MSNBC brought in women analysts only 27 percent and 29 percent of the time, respectively. The one glimmer of hope was on the night of Hillary Clinton’s historic nomination, when Fox News surpassed its usual performance, bringing in 41 percent women commentators to discuss the event.
There is a historic pattern of underrepresentation of women in the media and the public sphere, but through GenderAvenger we have seen that change can be made when we come together to fight for it. For example, political journalist Ron Fournier, who publicly signed the GenderAvenger Pledge not to serve on panels without women, was asked to be a commentator on a morning show with a poor history of including women. The program’s entire first hour didn’t feature any women, but when Fournier’s segment began, a woman spoke alongside him. Being up front about including women in the public dialogue makes a real difference, be it on stage at a conference, in history books, or in commentaries on television news programs.
Women’s voices need to be heard. The aim of Who Talks? is to hold the media accountable and ensure that more women analysts are seated at the table by continuing to drive attention to gender ratios in political commentary. Representation is crucial, and it requires collective effort. GenderAvenger will continue to push for greater visibility for women in all areas of public discourse. What part will you play? DW
Gina Glantz is the founder of GenderAvenger. Learn more about the GenderAvenger mission at genderavenger.com.