Tracey Spicer: why 2016 was a red letter year for women in media

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Tracey Spicer

2016 was a red letter year for women in the media – and not just because of Donald Trump’s infamous “grab them by the pussy” remarks.

It was a year of low-water marks, not helped locally by comments from Eddie McGuire and Chris Gayle.

This string of incidents opened the floodgates to stories from other women about the harassment they sustain, culminating in a searing piece by Karen Middleton about the clutch of octopi in federal parliament.

These are the faces of our inaugural Women in Media report, which reveals more than half of female workers are intimidated, abused or harassed, with two-in-five trolled on social media.

The result of this research is a redoubling of our efforts to achieve equality in the media: for those working in and portrayed by it.

Broadly, these are the high and low points for women in the media – in Australia and internationally – for 2016.

Highlights

Michelle Guthrie becomes the first female managing director of the ABC, citing diversity as her top priority. This year, Q&A aims for a 50/50 gender balance.

2016 is the best year for women at the Oscars, both behind and in front of the cameras. Pakistan changes the law on “honour killings“, after the Oscar-winning documentary by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.

ABC TV journalist Sarah Ferguson wins an Our Watch award for her groundbreaking domestic violence documentary, Hitting Home. Meanwhile, feminist writer Jane Gilmore “fixes” headlines, which remove the perpetrator and – effectively – blame the victim.

The BBC pledges women will make up half the people who appear on its TV and radio stations – and in leadership roles – by 2020.

Amy Schumer becomes the first woman on the Forbes list of highly paid comedians, thanks to Trainwreck, Inside Amy Schumer and The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo.

Women in Media is expanded to five states and one territory. Thomson Reuters offers domestic violence leave and Fairfax releases a gender breakdown of pay per grade, after negotiations with the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance.

Disney’s latest heroine, the Polynesian Moana, is redrawn with a “realistic” body shape, after a study finds the images of Princesses Elsa and Jasmine “harm young girls’ self esteem”.

One of the few female heads of commercial media, NOVA chief executive Cathy O’Connor, is inducted into the Commercial Radio Hall of Fame.

Meanwhile, Noni Hazelhurst delivers an inspiring speech at the Logies, becoming the second woman to enter its Hall of Fame.

Oceans 8 is being made with an all-female lead cast, following the success of the remake of Ghostbusters.

Screen Australia allocates $3 million to female-focused projects in film and television, under the Gender Matters program.

612 ABC Radio Brisbane runs an all-female line-up of Terri Begley, Kelly Higgins-Devine, Katrina Davidson, Emma Griffiths and Sarah Howells when the regular male presenters are on annual leave.

Emma Watson narrates the short film Hurdles, which highlights legislation passed globally in 2016. “We’ve sacrificed, fought, campaigned, succeeded, been knocked back and succeeded again.”

Lowlights

Former federal opposition leader (and nemesis of taxi drivers everywhere) Mark Latham begins and ends the year by attacking Rosie Batty, the domestic violence campaigner whose son was murdered in front of her.

Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones quits Twitter after being trolled for starring in the all-female version of the film. Her website was hacked, with personal information posted online.

Broadcaster Eddie Maguire says on Triple M he’d pay to see journalist Caroline Wilson stay under a pool of iced water, to chortling from co-hosts.

Steve Price backs up his mate Eddie, while haranguing columnist Van Badham as “hysterical” on Q&A.

Sexist commentary soils the Rio Olympics: The husband of Katinka Hosszu is credited with her world record; three-time Olympian Corey Cogdell-Unrein becomes the “wife of a Bears’ lineman”; and NBC says women don’t like sports – they like reality TV.

Egypt’s state broadcaster suspends eight female television presenters for being “overweight”. Interestingly, no male reporters were suspended.

Chris Gayle asks sports reporter Mel McLaughlin on a date, instead of answering questions about his performance, during Channel 10’s live broadcast of the cricket.

Men dominate US media coverage of women’s reproductive issues. ‘”When it comes to stories about abortion and contraception, women’s voices are systematically stifled – as writers and as sources,” Julie Burton, president of the Women’s Media Centre, says.

Analysis of Disney animated films reveals, “Even when they have the starring role, women speak only a minority of the dialogue, and far less than they did in the films of the 1930s and ’50s”. Believe it or not, Frozen fails this test.

More than 70 per cent of finance stories are written by men, according to our Women in Media report Mates Over Merit, conducted with iSentia. Across all news categories, female reporters quote women in 31.5 per cent of cases, almost twice the rate of male reporters.

A study of 13,000 articles from 18 Australian newspapers finds the word “he” is the 16th most common word used, with “she” coming in 66th spot.

We’ve come a long way baby, to paraphrase the Virginia Slims commercial (which linked cancer sticks with feminism).

But there’s an awfully long way to go.

Tracey Spicer is the co-founder and national convenor of Women in Media. She’s also a judge in the Daily Life 2016 Women of the Year. Nominations are open till November 18.

 

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