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More Women Needed Behind and in Front of the Camera

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Julie Burton

This week we celebrate both the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s important book, The Feminine Mystique, and the premier of Makers: Women Who Made America a new three-hour documentary that tells the story of how women have shaped America over the past 50 years.

But when it comes to women and media, even though we know women are more than half of the population, we still don’t see or hear them in equal numbers to men. This holds for bylines by gender and for sources quoted in stories; for women in front of the camera and behind.

Media is one of the most powerful forces in our culture and in our economy. It tells us who we are and what we can be. We need to make sure that who defines the story, who tells the story, and what the story is about, represents women and men equally.

Right now, 96 percent of all clout positions in U.S. business – including media — are held by men. Last year, 88 percent of all TV episodes were directed by men and 85 percent of the writers were men. Of the top 250 grossing films in 2012, 91 percent were directed by men (9 percent by women), 80 percent of the editors were men (20 percent women), and 85 percent of the writers were men (only 15 percent were women).

On Sunday, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences came together to celebrate the film industry, the whole world saw them honoring men and mocking women. We can – and must  — do better. The Academy Awards telecast, hosted by Seth MacFarlane, featured tasteless and sexist jokes about women and people of color — including sexual innuendo at the expense of nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis and a “joke” about Rihanna’s violent beating at the hands of Chris Brown.

It’s time for a change. The sexist tone throughout the show indicates a critical need for the Academy to expand its talent pool of female writers, producers and directors.

Our newly released Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2013 report details point by point how women’s voices and stories are missing on all platforms of media.

The history of the women’s movement has been a struggle for women’s voices to be heard. The Feminine Mystique was a wakeup call for millions of women that a meaningful life extended beyond children, home and church. Much progress has been made, but we have a long way to go – according to Catalyst, it will take until 2085 for women to reach parity with men in business leadership roles.

It is time for us to send a message to the media industry that they are missing half the story, and to show them that by expanding the talent pool, they will change the face of media, level the playing field, give equal voice to half of their consumers and the whole picture to all their viewers.

We know that when we can see it in the media, we can be it.

Julie Burton is the president of The Women’s Media Center, is a longtime feminist leader and activist. She leads The Women’s Media Center in its efforts to create a level playing field for women and girls through media monitoring, research, training, advocacy, original content, and the promotion of women and girls as media experts.

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