Do you know which cable shows are bringing you a gender-balanced perspective on the 2016 election—and which are all but ignoring female voices?
According to Who Talks?, the latest project from GenderAvenger, Fox & Friends featured 11% female analysts last week. MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, meanwhile, had a far more balanced lineup, with women making up a full 50% of on-air analysts.
The inspiration for this project dates all the way back to the birth of GenderAvenger, which was first sparked back in 2012, when I was an adjunct lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and was faced with attending yet another all-white, all-male panel—this one at the school's high profile presidential campaign review event.
I took to Facebook to announce that I would not go. The barrage of “likes” and positive comments was immediate and overwhelming, and I realized I’d touched a nerve.
From that point on, it was impossible for me to ignore the paucity of women on stage at conferences, featured at cultural happenings, in the media, and in visible roles at political events. In 2014, I launched the GenderAvenger website to create a community that would harness social media to ensure that women are always part of the public dialog.
Then came this year’s election. As I tuned in to the cable coverage I became increasing annoyed as I watched the election being interpreted almost exclusively by men. When Morning Joe went to New Hampshire, not one woman appeared to discuss the election. That in a state where 57% of voters were women in 2008, the last time both parties had a contested race. I did some channel surfing and continued to find few women in political conversations. A lot of men talked about Donald Trump’s comments on Carly Fiorina’s face and about how loudly Hillary Clinton spoke. There seemed to be quite a few sports analogies. Women’s health appeared to be missing from discussions of various proposed health care policies.
Impressions are one thing. Facts are another—and GenderAvenger is all about facts. To know just how many female voices are making it onto the airways, it would be important to look across the spectrum and do so with academic rigor.
And with that, Who Talks? was born.
I turned to Eagleton Institute’s Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University to help us quantify the problem, adding credibility and eliminating “deniers.” The result is Who Talks?, a weekly tally and analysis of the gender balance among commentators discussing the presidential campaign on the highest-rated cable news shows. The results will be released every single week until the election this November.
And we’re not just counting the absolute number of men and women; CAWP is also tallying by appearance – how many segments feature men and women. All too often, women will appear in far fewer discussions over the course of shows than their male counterparts. With the terrific help of our partner, the Women’s Media Center, the GenderAvenger community informs producers, hosts, and bookers of the shows that viewers are watching for more than just news and poll results—they also look closely at who appears on screen.
Today, we report our second week results. Take a look:
We’re already seeing some trends—namely that there is a big, big difference between how the various shows fare in terms of booking women. Those differences remain relatively stable. Take Anderson Cooper 360. The show maintained an impressive gender balance in both weeks, with 49% female representation in week one and 43% in week two. On the flip side, Fox and Friends landed at the bottom of the pack, scoring 14% in week one and 11% in week two.
Who Talks? is designed to build on some of the things I learned earlier this year when I watched and detailed the gender balance of thirty hours of Morning Joe.
I found that the show’s representation of women never exceeded 25%—until we started a petition to press for change. The day after the petition launched, commentator Nicole Wallace began the first hour of the show by complimenting host Joe Scarborough on “the way you defend your female colleagues." And for the first time since I started tallying Morning Joe, the first panel featured an equal number of men and women! While the show’s ratio continued to be a bit better for a few days, it quickly fell back to its old male dominated pattern.
So, let it be known, the GenderAvenger community, along with CAWP and the Women’s Media Center, will be watching and watching and watching—every week—and expecting sustained change.
As our presidential contenders would say, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Gina Glantz is the co-founder of GenderAvenger.