What's wrong with this picture?
Near the end of February 2012, millions of Americans criticized a congressional committee for hearing a panel of witnesses on health care coverage of contraceptives and religious freedom that did not include any women.
But is that so unusual? Women are not well-represented in the U.S. Congress, but further, women are drastically and regularly under-represented in the news media, both as journalists and as subjects.
Take for example the picture above. This is how the March 5th, 2012 Time Magazine cover appeared to a subscriber who received it in the mail. At a glance, it appears to show 6 latina women and 12 latino men. The subject is who will decide the next presidential election. Why are there twice as many men as women?
Were they short on portraits of women, I wondered? Nope. Marco Grob photographed more than 150 latinos for this piece. The interior photo spread had an equal number of men and women. Perhaps there are fewer female than male latinos in the US, I thought. So I checked the 2011 U.S. Census. Our hispanic population is roughly 48% female. So that wasn't it, either.
In the complete illustration, in fact, there are 9 women and 11 men. The two faces that are covered by the postal address are female, and there is one face that turns out to be female on close examination, though the short hair and bow tie initially gave me the impression of maleness. Here is the complete illustration, without address label:
The cover designer knew, of course, which portion of the cover would be obscured by the address. On a normal basis nothing important is put in that area of the illustration. (It's not even an adress label; the address and other information in that block are printed directly onto the cover, so the location is completely consistent.)
So was the cover designer trying to give subscribers the subconscious impression that latino men are more influential in the 2012 presidential election than women? I don't know. But here's another fact for you: this is the first time a grown woman has appeared on the cover of Time (a weekly magazine) since the November 7, 2011 issue, which profiled Hilary Clinton. The October 31 issue shows an Asian woman blowing a huge bubblegum bubble, meant to represent the China bubble. Before that, the last time a woman was on the cover was when a female war veteran posed with four male veterans for the cover of the August 29 issue. So in the previous six months, only two women made the cover, one of whom was a nameless model whose pursed red lips are blowing a huge pink bubble. So maybe we should be grateful for the lovely portaits of multiple women on the March 5 cover.
(You don't have to take my word for it. You can browse the Time Magazine cover archive and look for yourself.)
While you're at it, look for women's names on the cover. There have been 7 in 6 months. Hilary Clinton, Tilda Swinton, Paula Deen, Chelsea Handler, and, appearing a couple times, economics columnist Rana Foroohar, the only female author who has been credited on the cover in the last 6 months. Oh, and Adele and Ellie Goulding, whose names appear over and over in small text in the background of the "2012 User's Guide" cover in January, along with the names of four men, and a number of headline-type phrases.
Well, ok, but the cover has a lot of prominence. What about inside the issue? Well, the March 5th 2012 issue begins, as nearly every weekly issue does, with the Briefing page, a collection of quotes, images, and factoids from the previous week's stories. This week that page names 8 men and shows images of 4 of them. No women are quoted, mentioned by name, or pictured on the page. This is not unusual. In a survey of Time magazine from mid-August 2011 to today, I found that most of the time that page names 5-10 men and 0-2 women. In 7 issues during those 6 months, no women were mentioned in the Briefing text at all. There were never fewer than 4 men named on the Briefing page in the same time period.
Well, I shouldn't say women weren't mentioned all of those 7 weeks. On January 23rd one of the all-male quotes was from Stephen Hawking, declaring, "Women. They are a complete mystery." And this week (March 5) one of the money quotes was from the lawyer of a beleaguered former bureaucrat; "I challenge you to distinguish a naked prostitute from any other naked woman."
I could go on (in fact I plan to when I get the chance to collate more data), but that snapshot might give you something to chew on. How do your favorite magazines (or websites/newspapers/etc) rate? Do they quote, name, and show women in their news coverage? And how much, in comparison to men? Women are doing amazing things all the time in the world, and in this country. They have opinions that matter, and do and say things I think people should hear about. But you wouldn't get that impression by reading the news. At least not if you're reading Time magazine.
As for coverage of the religious freedom and birth control issue, last week Time ran a piece on the subject by a conservative male commentator who posited that religious freedom was more important than medical coverage. I wrote in to complain about the lack of commentary by women. I imagine others did too, though it's hard to tell; there is no letters section in the March 5th issue. However, there were a few women polled on the subject, at least in Joel Stein's "The Awesome Column". The lack of female voices in U.S politics is apparently comedy gold. News? Not so much.