Feminism and the media- Looking at Europe

Despite the world witnessing the three waves of the feminist movement over a century, the quest for gender equality remains an unfinished agenda. In the 21st century, this agenda has further meshed with the unique context of the globalised politics of our digital age. Therefore, making public representation and narratives an essential component of the women’s movement.

Feminist rally taking place in the 60’s- McCain Image sourced from Spartan Oracle

In the case of Europe, the initial waves of feminism ensured legal equality for women when the European Union was created in 1993. Overtime, this legal equality has manifested in increased participation of women in the workforce, and improving gender relations, however socially, biases in form unfair promotions in workplace and gender binaries dictating masculine and feminine attributes still exist. The result of which is, in the European Union women still earn 16.4 per cent less than men in Europe, and there are only 37 per cent MEPs females elected.

A look at the track record of Gender Equality in the European Union shows that, in the period between 2005 and 2015, as per the European Institute of Gender Equality, has increased at an alarmingly slow rate of 4.2 per cent. Realizing this deficit, the European Parliament has set up diverse committees to look into the various facets concerning gender biases that still exist. One such study was on Gender Equality in Media, it was commissioned by the European Parliament’s Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs at the request of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. It examines key elements of the European policy agenda pertaining to gender equality in the media sector. It also reviews existing research on women’s representation within media content and the media workforce.

Here we can see the intersection of the digital age in the feminist movement, making results of this study become particularly important considering the role media and pop-culture play in defining narratives. Media houses across the world act as a medium of direct intervention, and hold a high degree of influence over the society, people and politics. Therefore, to tackle of the issue of the gender inequality, along with the policy and legal reinforcement, the role of media must also be positively applied. This then makes the internal structure of media sector an important area to observe study and analyse, and do to precisely this on January 24, the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, under the directive of the European Parliament, heard a presentation on gender equality both in media content and in the media workforce.

An analysis of the press in Europe shows that it has largely contributed to a more empowered citizenship and forms the backbone of a healthy and thriving democracy. As it ensures an inclusive and tolerant society with mechanisms of dissent and/or approval, however there exist discriminatory tendencies in the media that are extremely toxic for the society. This is particularly pronounced in the case of gender biases that are evident through the inaccurate representation of women. Not only are women less visible overall, but also when they are present, most often their portrayal is of sexist nature. With them being seen in stereotypical home and family-focused roles in either a sexist, auxiliary or supportive role, generally less authoritative, capable and serious than men. This is substantiated with data that shows that in 2015 only 5 per cent (falling from 9 per cent in 2010) of the stories actually talked about the women’s rights and about 3 per cent clearly challenged gender stereotypes.

A look at the gender composition of the media indicates, with only 37 per cent female reporters, indicates a very clear and deplorable disparity, with overall presence of women in news channels at 25 per cent in 2015, a figure that has actually declining in the period between 2010 to 2015; statistics further show that across Europe and across media types, women remain significantly underrepresented, particularly at the decision-making levels (only 16 per cent women). The majority of women, in the media industry, at work experiences widespread inequality of opportunities, including gender-based discrimination, sexual harassment, and insufficient provisions for parents with care responsibilities.

These discoveries make reformation in the media sector important. The report suggests various structural changes in from creation of quotas for women, to developing mechanisms to ensure equal pay; lessons here can also been taken from social media, which is largely in cognizance with the recommendations of the report. Acting as an equalizer, social media has been successful in aptly representing female narratives. It has singled handed acted as the most effective and efficient gender sensitizing initiative by introducing the existing gender inequalities into public discourse and creating a global community of support. Social media gives the platform to counter all sexist of misogynistic narratives, by providing alternative scenarios, which were previously not heard. As it is harder to retaliate or ignore reports when the pubic is watching, or dismiss women’s accusations when they are immediately bolstered by the stories of many more women. This can help counter the traditional media’s sexist portrayal of women, with them being seen in stereotypical home and family-focused roles in either a sexist, auxiliary or supportive role, generally less authoritative, capable and serious than men.

Along with introducing a feminist narrative, social media has also been successful in ensuring remedial response the problems that exist. The impact social media campaigns lead by women has been so far reaching that it lead to the European Parliament convening a session directly in its response – after the rise in allegations of abuse in Parliament and in the European Union’s offices in Brussels. The session resulted in the recognition of the issue at hand, with female MEPs sharing their own experiences, and resulting in a resolve to actively counter unsafe work environment for women. And successfully reinforced the resolve of the parliament to work toward one of the fundamental goal of the gender equality and women’s rights.

A combination of a progressive media and social media can help boost the gender equality not only in Europe, but the rest of the world as well. The simplest and easiest way to tackle this is to let women speak and represent themselves. This will not only prevent problematic content being aired but will also positively act as a medium of taking the feminist agenda further, and maybe achieving it in the near future. Failing to do so, traditional media can potentially become toxic, and defeat its tasking reflecting the society. This would make it irrelevant over time.

Varya Srivastava

Varya Srivastava

Intern at InPRA
Varya Srivastava is presently pursing her undergraduate degree in Political Science from University of Delhi. Her work with the United Services Institute, Global Youth India and SheSays has nurtured her interest in security studies, international relations, conflict analysis and feminism. As a part of her undergraduate research she is writing on the application Democratic Peace Theory as foreign policy tool and the conception of positive peace.
Varya Srivastava