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Older Women in the Media Are Dead, Gone or Never Were Special

By Carol Forsloff     Apr 21, 2009 in Lifestyle
I went to a meeting of more than 100 journalists not long ago and saw only one woman over 55. Yet there were a good number of men past retirement age. This is due to many factors, not the least sex typing years ago, and some of this continues.
Check your regular news channel, local and national or newspaper; and you may see, as I do, an array of young beauties as sidekicks for males in media. Much of the phenomenon comes from pre-1970 behaviors where newspapers and radio news agencies didn't hire women as a rule. If they did, women worked as typists most of the time and incidentally wrote health, society or religion news or the obituaries from the back pages where no reporter wants to remain. Women either didn't stay or grew old, mostly in back rooms waiting for some big assignment that never came. Or they worked for small-town newspapers becoming the editor, which primarily meant they checked the grammar just like their counterparts who went into teaching and other female-dominated fields. I know; I was one of them.
Time moved on, and the civil rights era ushered in changes, sweeping women with racial minorities into the equality hiring pot. But like the bringing minorities on board, newspaper institutions were slow to change. Women were hired gradually but seemed to have their place as an accessory to the crown but never the crown itself, at least that's how things appeared and what the limited research on sex typing says.
The practice remains, or so surveys show. At a United Nations conference for the advancement of women, one of the speakers, a woman from the media, said that if she were to speak just about older women in the media it would be an extremely short speech because there are relatively none. This is interesting because the fastest growing segment of the population are people over 50. It seems to be the case in the developing countries of Spain, France, England, Canada, the United States, the Netherlands, and Germany.
The archetype of woman in media has been the beauty or someone's mother, the latter shown briefly in an area related specifically to that age group. Even so it too is rare. The real archetype of the newsroom almost anywhere includes few, if any, older women.
Indeed there are so few older women in the news media that the research on them is limited. They seem to be relatively fewer than those old men honored at Pearl Harbor, only no one seems to notice when a blip goes across the television screen or the byline comes up. Furthermore since women wrote the back pages, reference material from early careers may no longer be readily available. How many newspapers, especially smaller ones, cling to minor stories on an engagement party in 1966 in their digital archives, just as example.
Not only are older women few in number in the news, but they can see themselves sometimes publicly put down or humiliated, as occurred with Chris Matthews. This is what he said in 2008 on Morning Joe:
If you talk to people, older women, and I don't mean older than me, but maybe my age and older, and you talk to them, and they get really angry at me, of course. ... They usually have a hard time figuring out what the fact I was wrong on, but that's OK."
Young women find journalism a struggle as well. These are the statistics as of 2002. They included 137 newspapers with circulation over 85,000: At the corporate level, men hold 82 percent of the top positions, while women hold onto only 18 percent. At individual newspapers, 86 percent of the publishers are men and 14 percent women. In the top editing position, 80 percent are male and 20 percent are female.
So if the young and the beautiful among journalists are relatively few in relationship with men, and leaving the industry at a more rapid rate than men, how much fewer are there older women who weren't given the jobs decades ago because some men used as an excuse “you could get pregnant.” How do I know? It's what I heard, and so did my friends of a certain age.
You do find women among citizen journalists like Digital Journal and other article writing sites. But these aren't the hot newsrooms of the industry, although they might be some day; and they pay by the pennies or not at all. Still these sites are administered by men, mostly under age 50.
I covered State of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's inauguration January 2008. There were swarms of reporters, and I could see no women in print media even close to my age. Young ones stood panting, excited beside men in suits, waiting for a Senator or Representative or even the Governor himself to pass by the ropes for a brief interview at a luncheon, one of the many events where media was invited. I stood alone, all dressed up and wondering, “Where are my folks?”
A local woman friend who got her degree about the same time as me taught journalism 30 years in California and hopes to incidentally write a story here and there for a small-town, local newspaper I edit just to keep her hand in. She told me she recognized the same problems I discussed during this article as relevant at the time she began her career and that's why older women aren't in the field so much and really didn't get into journalism until the 1980's. As for writing for the paper locally, she said, “At least I will be treated fairly.” Right, and I won't tell her at age 65 she could get pregnant.
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