This chart is hard to grasp even after you’ve spent some time with it, because it seems like it has to be wrong. But the message is clear in this infographic by 4th Estate: Women still fail to be properly represented in the media–and not just any media, but rather media about women’s issues.
It looks at 2012 election coverage, focusing on stories about women’s issues–topics like birth control and abortion. The results almost mock us in “it’s a boy!” and “it’s a girl!” blue and pink. Across all news outlets, print and TV, men are quoted between about 65% and 80% of the time. But women don’t make up the difference. It also accounts for endogenous organizations that are quoted (in gray), leaving women only roughly 15-20% of the space quoted space. Notably, Meet the Press and Time Warner are the best performers on the chart, but even there, women represent only ⅓ of the viewpoint.
At the same time, whereas a graphic attributes this phenomenon to media bias, there may be deeper forces to blame. For instance, imagine an article that quotes an OB-GYN on women’s health. If citing a doctor, it just so happens that “OB-GYN” is one of the most popular specialties for female doctors. But women are still the minority even in this field–at least until 2020–when it’s projected that there will be more female than male OB-GYNs.
The same could be said for quoting a politician. With under 20% of Congress represented by women, this leaves but a one in five chance for a reporter to pull aside a Congresswoman to make a quoted comment. (And what would you know? That’s right in line with the infographic averages.) In that light, Meet the Press‘s 33% attribution rate implies a particular intent in quoting female views in politics, even if it’s not enough to balance out the bias.
It’s also just a good lesson in the visualization of data. When we see that the “media” is underrepresenting women, complete with stats and clear color coding, it’s part of natural human cognition to place the blame there, to cite the information we see as both the cause and the effect. But in truth, women are underrepresented at our core, in positions of authority and power. The media is, most unfortunately, reflecting its reported society with a cruelly accurate mirror.