Commentary: Gender Gap in 2012 Election Coverage

Earlier this month, The Atlantic revealed just how delegitimized the female voice is in American politics with an iconographic of the gender gap in 2012 election coverage, using data from the 4th Estate media-tracking project. It’s relatively well-known that women are underrepresented in the media production world in general, but what struck me the most about The Atlantic‘s graph was the fact that men are considered most notable and quotable on women’s issues.  Reproductive rights have been a central point of debate in the 2012 election, sometimes seemingly more so than the state of the economy, and men have been granted the voice of authority over issues like abortion and birth control in the media. In fact, eight out of every ten commentators on abortion are male.

Why are men considered experts on issues intimately bound up with a woman’s agency over her own body and experiences that they will never live first-hand?  Frankly, because the male voice still carries a societal authority and privilege in the public sphere–especially when it comes to politics–which also qualifies it with control and power.  I was astounded by the extent to which The Atlantic’s graph indicates a privileging of the male voice and found it to be pretty disheartening, but the recent hyper-politicization of reproductive rights is one part of the explanation as to how men came to be such “experts” on women’s reproductive lives and choices. Patriarchal control over women’s bodies certainly isn’t a new happening either and this is just one of its many manifestations today.

The world of politics–both on the Hill and in the media–is still hostile to women and the media’s privileging of the male voice certainly doesn’t help open up the dialogue or space for more women to enter politics.  But the one thing I wonder about is if more coverage of elections on the part of women in media would in fact shift the negative coverage of women running for or in office.  A central tenant of the Women in Public Service Project is women helping other women and I find this mutual support to be lacking in many other spaces of women’s interaction.  Much of the media’s policing of female candidates is ignited by fellow women in media–a classic and shameful example of kyriarchy, a macro-system of interconnected and interacting systems of domination, within which a person oppressed in one context might become an oppressor in another. As the Women in Public Service Project grows in capacity and impact, it is my hope that its culture of women supporting women will grow to extend beyond the project’s borders and begin influencing the dialog between women in the media world and women in the political world.

Sara Alcid is a founding WPSP blogger who graduated from Bryn Mawr College in December 2011 with a degree in Political Science and Gender and Sexuality Studies. She currently lives in Washington, DC and works as the Programs and Policy Assistant at the Reproductive Health Technologies Project. See Sara’s first post for WPSP here.