Why are there less women experts quoted in the media?

Why are there less women experts quoted in the media?

Author: Ugnė Mažonaitė

In today’s world, equality is one of the most important challenges on a global scale. This is achieved at various levels – economic, political, human rights, gender, etc. It is the latter aspect that is still not sufficiently covered in the media. A study conducted by the Lithuanian Journalism Center (LZC) found that female experts are quoted three times less often in the media than their male counterparts.

The media, in carrying out its main mission, is in the form of disseminating information, reporting the most important news, and monitoring public opinion. Experts commenting on events and sharing their insights are presented on how authority is offered by professionals, as well as reflecting a gender decision in a particular field. If the news related to a particular area is more commented on by experts in the male field, it can be concluded that it is “masculine”, and if women experts speak, it is “feminine”. However, this is not always true, and the real situation may be radically the opposite.

Opinion formation

Gender equality expert Donatas Paulauskas believes that the factors determining the unequal distribution of experts are not always objective. “In Lithuania, women are one of the most educated in the EU, more women than men graduate from higher education and become professionals in their field. The question is, what happens to the media being mostly male experts? I have heard it said that the reason for this is women themselves, who could offer more, be more courageous, and so on. It’s really important, but the point isn’t here. In general, we are too prone to put the responsibility for gender inequality on women’s shoulders – as if there were no more efforts.”

The formation of public opinion is largely determined by the media, although the influence on the audience may vary depending on age, education, social level and other factors. According to D. Paulauskas, the essence of the problem may be the reluctance of the media itself and those working here to abandon more convenient, work-facilitating solutions. “I want to draw attention to those who have women’s representation in the media in their hands, to those who ultimately decide what one or another media product will look like. After all, the choice of experts and the “final picture” are decided by journalists and editors, who either try to make the insights of women’s experts known or not. I am talking about an effort, because the situation revealed during the investigation may occur when journalists are simply more comfortable talking to authoritative, well-known expert men who have been in the public sphere for years, know how to communicate with the media and automatically attract public attention. This is how the circle turns – well-known experts are talked more often because they are well-known, and the market for experts is shrinking even more.”

Equal Opportunities Ombudsman Birutė Sabatauskaitė states that although the efforts of the media to reduce gender imbalances are becoming more pronounced, there are still quite a lot of stereotypical portrayals. “I want to rely on gender-sensitive indicators developed by UNESCO – it is important not only who, how much, but also how and on what topics women and men are portrayed in the media. We can already find fewer articles that use epithets such as ‘the stronger sex’ or ‘the fairer sex’, but there are still cases in the media where the achievements are underestimated, the violence experienced is downplayed or the victims are even blamed, such as in cases of gender-based violence. Research abroad shows that men are more likely to comment on topics they do not fully understand, and women experts in some cases underestimate their knowledge of certain topics, believing that they still do not know enough. This has a huge impact on the imbalances.”

Science journalist Goda Raibytė agrees that quoting experts in the media is problematic and uneven, but does not think that journalists choose only men as interlocutors, thus deliberately avoiding talking to women. “I can’t speak for the entire media, but I don’t believe there are journalists who don’t call other interlocutors because they think men are better at teaching. I prepare science shows, I try to keep my balance, but I also don’t always manage to be fully representative. I like new, unspoken interlocutors, I like to discover and talk to scientists that are few have heard of yet.”

False representations

Science is one of the sectors in which, according to a study conducted by the LZC, women experts were not interviewed at all. In such cases, there may be an impression of the recognition of stereotypes and their development. It is for this reason that the importance and relevance of gender equality in the media is highlighted. Scientist, virus researcher dr. Gytis Dudas singles out some of the most important elements that determine gender inequality. “It is known in the academic community, especially in the Western world, that the gender ratio in the early stages of a career reaches or is close to 50/50 by the end of roughly doctoral studies, but as the career ladder thereafter changes, this ratio shifts towards male dominance. One of the components of this problem is children, for whose upbringing most cultures in the world expect an absurdly large contribution from women alone. Another obvious component is outright discrimination and subconscious bias affecting all areas. From personal experience, I can say that every woman older than me who has done research abroad has very often stood two or three heads above her co-workers and, for the most part, extremely mediocre men, but it is this inequality that is needed for women to be considered equal.”

According to G. Raibytė, the situation in the field of science is not as bad as it may seem based on the number of experts quoted in the media: “Eurostat data show that more than half of researchers in Lithuania are women, so to say that there are not many experts in the world just illogical. Of course, there are areas where there are probably fewer women scientists, and they are less likely to speak out in public.” The journalist recalls a case in which she approached a producer about a gender imbalance among speakers before attending a conference for children, but did not receive a response even after sharing her recommendations. “Finally, the program still remained very grim. Yet, I decided to participate, but to emphasize with examples – there are women in science, to tell about their activities, research, and that the program of the event does not represent the world of Lithuanian science. This example shows me that it is not just media citation that is problematic.”

Quantity versus quality?

According to B. Sabatauskaitė, the identification and reflection of media attitudes can influence the presentation of the topic. “If our goal is to create a society that is safer for all people, regardless of gender, it is probably important to talk about the role of the media, the choice of non-stereotypical portrayals of men and women, the promotion of multi-faceted imagery. The presentation can also be harmful, sometimes turn out even as sexist or otherwise neutral – but at the same time overlooking the sensitive and important gender aspects, which in this case are also not in line with the guidelines on gender equality. This ranges from topics about domestic violence or gender-based violence to depictions of male or female politicians. When women politicians are much more likely to discuss their appearance, family, and male politicians – they are neither asked nor discussed.”

G. Dudas is also critical of gender equality in the media. “It is very rare in my experience to meet a media representative who is not only interested in pushing as many articles as possible and getting as many clicks as possible, so investing all efforts in quantity rather than quality and in-depth topics is constantly on the path of least resistance. The same people are often interviewed without being interested in anyone else working in the same or similar field. Without even thinking too long several names of young Lithuanian women scientists come to mind – Ingrida Olendraitė, Miglė Gabrielaitė, Ugnė Stolz, Bernadeta Dadonaitė, Ieva Drulytė, Emilija Vasiliūnaitė and many others. No doubt that Lithuania would be proud to meet all of them. There are voices, all that is lacking is curiosity and effort to find them and give them a platform.”

The balance is still lacking, but the situation is gradually improving. From the perspective of time, many of today’s acceptable norms of social life, decisions made half a century ago, are considered questionable. The importance of patriarchal society remains, but the growing influence of feminism and the globalizing world promote gender equality. “I think this creates a democratic space for public debate, where the insights and ideas of women’s experts have equal opportunities to be noticed. We also know that both women and men have different social, cultural and economic experiences, so the greater the gender diversity in the media, the more different perspectives, attitudes, and less equal thinking. It is also important that women experts set an example to other women and girls that both women and men can be and are public opinion experts and opinion leaders in any topic.” – says gender expert D. Paulauskas.

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