In the wake of high-profile workplace sexual harassment accusations and movements like the #MeToo campaign, a wealth of research has come out to shed light on just how pervasive a problem sexual harassment really is in the workplace, in particular. And some of the latest research suggests that, while it's a prevalent occurrence for women especially, their voices are largely left out of the conversation.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a government agency responsible for processing sexual harassment complaints, says that anywhere between 25 and 85 percent of women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Nearly one-third of the 90,000 complaints received in 2015 included a harassment allegation, and an estimated 75 percent of all workplace harassment incidents go unreported altogether. Meanwhile, the Society for Human Resource Management has witnessed a spike in questions pertaining to sexual harassment from its members and, as a society, we’re having more of the critical conversations on the subject matter — conversations we’ve been advocating to have since the beginning of time.
But the Women's Media Center (WMC) found that during a 15-month period, men have mostly been leading the public conversations on sexual assault.
On the one year anniversary of The New York Times expose on the sexual assault allegations made against Harvey Weinstein, the WMC released a #MeToo report examining the press coverage from May 1, 2017 to August 31, 2018 (five months before and 10 months after the Weinstein revelations). Lauren Wolfe, director of WMC Women Under Siege, co-authored the report that analyzed headlines, bylines and articles in over 15,000 pieces of news content from 14 of the nation's most widely circulated newspapers.
"We did a report on rape on campus in 2015, and like sexual assault, we looked at media coverage," Wolfe told Broadly about how where the research all began. "We were already starting to do research for how media was covering sexual assault. So [the Harvey Weinstein news] kicked in at that time."
Wolfe and her other co-author, media analyst and data manager at WMC, Eliza Ennis, found that, during the 15 months they reviewed, men made up the majority of bylines about sexual assault. Male names comprised of 53 percent of bylines, therefore suggesting that men have been shaping the national conversation. Despite being adversely affected by sexual violence, women had six percent fewer bylines than men over the research period. Moreover, despite the fact that women of color experience higher rates of sexualized violence than their white counterparts, their stories are often missing from coverage entirely.
"We did see a measurable difference in the number of bylines that went to women on sexual assault coverage over the months," Wolfe told Broadly. "What was really interesting, at least, in this study, and I would assume it holds true here, women tended to speak to more women as sources than men did. Men spoke to more men; women speak to more women."
The research doesn't come as much of a surprise. According to “The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2017 Report” by the WMC, women receive just 38 percent of bylines and other credits in print, web, television and wire news. With regards to topics pertaining to women — such as reproductive issues and campus sexual assault — female journalists claim just 37 percent and 31 percent of stories, respectively. Likewise, women aren’t quoted as sources nearly as often as men, even on matters that largely affect them; for example, of the 12 outlets WMC researched, only three used more quotes from female sources in their sexual assault coverage. At 36 percent, women are quoted as experts more so than previous years (22 percent in 2005), but men’s names are still attributed to the bulk of quotes.
This is largely a result of the fact that 86 percent of American newsrooms are white with white men behind 55 percent of all outlets.
The lack of female voices in media is a deficiency that's detrimental to the health of our democracy — a deficiency that ultimately determines what issues we talk about, who talks about them and, therefore and most importantly, how we talk about them. But it's up to the newsrooms to start hiring more women.
"The idea is that if newsrooms aren't reflecting the people ... the way society is made up of different people of color, women, all kinds of minorities," Wolfe told Broadly. "If newsrooms aren't reflecting that, then their stories just aren't being told as much or possibly even as well because you do have a vested interest in maybe LGBT issues if you're a queer."
In partnership with The Female Quotient and Progyny, Fairygodboss conducted a survey of 400 men and women to get their views on home and work, and found that 78 percent of men and 75 percent of women say the #MeToo movement hasn’t made an impact at their workplaces.
“We’re always curious to see if what’s happening in the media actually reflects what everyday men and women are experiencing,” Georgene Huang, CEO and co-founder of Fairygodboss said. “While the #MeToo movement has captured national attention, our survey shows that there is a lot more work to do to make a real impact in workplaces across the country.”
As it turns out, the media isn't always reflecting what everyday men and women are experiencing — and possibly because most of the media has been curated by a demographic that isn't nearly as impacted by sexual violence in the first place.
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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report,