In the past week, I have been reading through the 2010 report of the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP): Who Makes the News? (www.whomakesthenews.org) . The GMMP has been monitoring the presentation of women in the media since 1995 and, while progress has been made, many of the statistics are discouraging for those of us who continue to strive for gender equality.
What is especially disturbing is the fact that middle-aged women, in particular, do not figure prominently in the news. The report’s examination of the images in the media demonstrate that the women depicted are usually younger than the men and that “youth, looks, sexuality and fertility” are a woman’s most valuable attributes. As well, few women depicted in the media are professionals or have important points of view.
All of this flies in the face of the attitude that many have that we live in a post-gendered world. How can this be true when the largest group of women, those aged 50 – 64, is excluded from a domain as influential as the media? Think of the trends: men in this age range arguably have the strongest presence in the media and are often considered to be in the prime of life. Women this age are often depicted and treated as no longer relevant.
I do find personally that a surprising number of people will discuss issues with me as though my middle-aged female opinion is not as relevant as that of a younger colleague. On a one-to-one basis with people so disrespectful as to discount anyone’s opinion, I see little need to get into great discussions, preferring instead to roll my eyes in my mind and get away to a more hospitable environment. If the person happens to be a man my own age, I take particular comfort in the fact that I am likely to outlive him, extending my influence in a very tangible way. If the person is younger, I say a silent prayer that wisdom might overtake them sometime soon.
All in all, though, I take comfort from the ever growing influence of women my age, despite the odds. There are stunning international and national examples of middle-aged women of influence, who have made differences in the world despite being of “advanced” years. Angela Merkel showed more leadership than her male counterparts in Europe in finding solutions to the economic crisis of the last five years, despite harsh descriptions related directly to her sex. For example, another European leader (male) referred to Merkel as “unf*ckable”. As well, if you look up “Google images” for Angela Merkel, you will find a number of cartoons in which she is rummaging in her handbag, with one or another reference to the economic crisis.
Leaving Europe and coming to the United States, let’s think about Hillary Clinton, at the moment, her party’s front runner for nominee in the 2016 election. When have you heard that before? In an article in Time magazine, Clinton: A Matter of Fair Media, it was noted that Clinton was held to a different standard than her opponent at the time, Barack Obama. Negative campaign ads being the norm in the U.S., even KFC got into the act in a billboard ad for a “Hilary Special”: http://teamboldandbeautiful.weebly.com/gender-women–femininity.html. I know many people who travelled to D.C. for the Obama inauguration. I will be there when a woman becomes President, and I hope that this will be Hillary in 2016.
I am optimistic that the women of my generation will finally live to see the impact of the work we done in gender equality because we, like Angela Merkel and Hillary Clinton, are tough. We’re going to outlast our detractors and we have the assistance of many men and women of our generation who have also worked for gender equality, realizing that gender bias limits both sexes. If we are threatening to some men and women there is one generation to whom we are not threatening. The millennials (Generation Y, also called the Echo Generation) have begun to consider how they are limited by gender stereotyping. This generation is happy to plan for their future including middle-aged women and men in their dreams and plans, accepting their advice and counsel. The millennials are the children of the middle-aged and one goal they share with their parents is that they also want to challenge the status quo. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-m-jennings/our-kids-can-change-the-w_b_3868894.html)
Other than our optimism, the women of my generation must pass on our resilience. The equality we worked for has been long in coming and we will need another generation of tough old broads to see it through to the end.