Promoting Women: What you see is what you get?

8 Jan

Welcome to 2015 – many articles in the papers and on-line have talked about the success of feminism in 2014 (e.g. this Guardian leader) with social media rallying women to a variety of causes, and Malala winning the Nobel peace prize.

And indeed progress has been made, in spite of continuing concerns around objectification and trolling of women in public life. So, as the new year dawns we have been encouraged by an avalanche of articles and listicles to participate – and get ahead – in our new world of opportunities.

Optimistically, I dived into the Telegraph’s Women section to read a piece on ‘How to be promoted’. Couldn’t help noticing that the illustration showed the handshake of what were incontrovertibly two businessmen. The picture has now been changed to include women.

Then my attention was caught by a headline in the New York Times Opinion section – Nicholas Kristof on ‘How to get more women to join the debate’. Interested to find out, I clicked on the link and found that this piece is in fact by a young woman called Emma Pierson who has analysed around a million comments on the NYT website and found that women leave only around a quarter of the comments. They tend to cluster in areas of stereotypically female interest such as parenting blogs, rather than in stereotypically male areas of interest. There’s a discussion about how algorithms based on reader preferences may reinforce such stereotypes. All good stuff, but initially promoted under Nicholas Kristof’s name rather than the writer’s. When you click through the authorship is clear, and it is also clear that this blog includes pieces by writers other than the man himself, but it seems a great shame that this analysis of women’s role in public debate, written by a woman, is initially found under the man’s name. Perhaps we should accept that a wider readership will access it under the better-known Kristof name than her own, but this seems to amplify the very concerns that the article raises – that women face barriers in entering public debate, and most of what is written in the media is written by men. Couldn’t there be some formula for the opinion page click-through which credits the female author immediately as a contributor to the Kristof blog? Not that difficult really.

By sticking a picture of businessmen above an article on workplace promotion, and by promoting a woman’s writing under the name of a man, two newspapers show that we still have some way to go on the journey towards gender equality. We do need to move beyond what Grayson Perry so eloquently described as ‘Default Man’. Let’s hope that in 2015 women get to be seen to be full participants in working and public life.




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