Why keep interviewing men on women’s issues?

It was another Roe v. Wade anniversary and, as usual, the protestors on both sides of the debate were out in force on the grounds of the Colorado state Capitol. Both sides, of course, had their designated spokespersons who were available to talk to the press. This happened year after year.

On at least occasion during my mile-high years on the religion beat with the Rocky Mountain News I saw something amazing, yet rather predictable, take place.

The primary voices on the anti-abortion side were, as usual, mostly women. While I was interviewing some pro-life women who were talking about their own experiences with abortion, one or two television crews rushed by on their way to talk with a — sorry for the stereotype, but the shoe fit — a very large, very loud and very angry male Pentecostal preacher who was thundering away nearby, surrounded by a wall of very blunt and in some cases very ugly posters.

Sure enough, hours later that man’s face and voice dominated that side of the news coverage on that particular channel.

I remember thinking to myself: Don’t they know that this is — on both sides, at the activist level — an issue that is largely driven by the voices and experiences of women? Why not talk to the women? I mean, year after year, there are just as many, if not a few more, women who call themselves pro-life as those who flock to the pro-choice banner. Check the Gallup Poll numbers.

This is the point — kind of — of a story that ran the other day in the Style section at The Washington Post, appearing under the headline, “Women aren’t principal news sources on women’s issues, 4th Estate analysis finds.”

The contents of the story are rather sad and predictable. Here’s a sample:

Major news outlets, print and TV, turn mainly to male sources for their take on abortion, birth control and Planned Parenthood, according to a study by 4th Estate, a research group that monitors campaign coverage.

Women don’t even rate as the most common sources for reports about “women’s rights,” a catch-all category that excludes reproductive issues, the group said. Women accounted for less than a third, or 31 percent, of the sources in these reports, with men in the majority, 52 percent, and institutions and organizations comprising the balance.

On some topics, such as abortion, men were four to seven times more likely as women to be the ones offering an opinion, according to 4th Estate, an offshoot of Global News Intelligence, a company that monitors media sources for government agencies and companies. It concluded: “The gender gap undermines the media’s credibility.”

Like I said, the voices in this story are rather predictable, I am afraid, and it turns into a story in which liberal and/or feminist voices complain about this problem — as they have every right to do.

What is missing, however, is the fact is that this is a story with two sides. On the pivotal life issues, I have heard just as many conservative, moderate and liberal pro-life voices complain about the lack of female voices being featured in mainstream news coverage as I have heard pro-abortion-rights activists make that point. Reporters seem to assume that it’s really the men in charge, on the pro-life side, even though women are at the forefront of the movement.

The final quote of the story gets it, even if this quote is only talking about the left:

… Julie Burton, president of the Women’s Media Center — which was founded by activist Gloria Steinem, actor Jane Fonda and writer Robin Morgan — said 4th Estate’s research confirms her organization’s findings that women’s “views and voices” are missing in print, television, radio, online and in film. It “underscores the critical need to hold media accountable for an equal voice and equal representation. The problem is that the public hears only half of the story,” she said.

Right. Half the story.

Don’t take my word for this. As the liberal Washington Post columnist Lisa Miller noted only last year:

Recent news stories about the new vitality of the antiabortion movement and its legislative achievements — more than a dozen states enacting record numbers of abortion restrictions this year — have glossed over one crucial fact. The most visible, entrepreneurial and passionate advocates for the rights of the unborn (as they would put it) are women. More to the point: They are youngish Christian working mothers with children at home. …

Abortion rights activists, take note. These women represent a major strategic shift in the abortion war, and not just because they are generally more likable than the old, white fathers of the antiabortion movement: Jerry Falwell, Henry Hyde, Jesse Helms and Pat Robertson, who in 1991 accused Planned Parenthood of “teaching kids to fornicate, teaching people to have adultery, every kind of bestiality, homosexuality, lesbianism — everything that the Bible condemns.” Their approach to working and mothering — “I’m just doing the best I can, like you” — also reverses decades of harsh judgments from such female leaders on the right as Beverly LaHaye and Phyllis Schlafly.

So, why not interview the women? Where are the female voices, on both sides?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Thinkling

    Hmm, my own experience does not quite jive with that. I tend to see women well represented as faces of both sides of that issue.

    I am not claiming my perception is universal. Only that their perception isn’t either. Big caveat: I am not a woman. :)

  • Jerry

    a very large, very loud and very angry male Pentecostal preacher who was thundering away nearby, surrounded by a wall of very blunt and in some cases very ugly posters.

    Sure enough, hours later that man’s face and voice dominated that side of the news coverage on that particular channel.

    In this case, it sounds like the media went with the sensational coverage. Loud, angry and ugly is good for ratings. I’m sure the media could find large, loud, angry women with ugly posters if they tried harder. Or would the ratings suffer? After all, I read that the movie Brave had some concern attached to it because the star is a heroine and men would not be interested. Sigh.

    It would be interesting to separate the influence of sex from other factors but I’m not sure that it’s all that easy to do.

    And, yes, having more women speak on an issue which is so central to their lives would be a good thing.


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