I didn’t set out intending to only read women writers, but when I did I found the issues I focused on shifted, and the number of publications I read broadened.
It’s easy to ignore the gender of the writers we read — if you’re prepared to suddenly realize the only voices you’re reading are male. Women may dominate journalism school enrollment, but the majority of high profile writers and editors remain men. According to a 2018 study by the Women’s Media Center, while women make up over half the population, they account for only 32% of the newsroom. Women of color are even more poorly represented in media at 8% of the print newsroom.
Even if you want to read more women journalists, seeking out female voices is not easy. There are no filters you can use on Google News, and unless you’re reading a print edition newspaper the gender of the journalists you read may not even be apparent until you click on an article. Most online newspapers and portals provide a headline and a brief overview, but don’t display the byline. The New York Times, for example, only provides a proxy indicator of gender on its opinion pieces. Finding female journalists and women of color in the media often involves seeking out voices in a wider range of media publications by necessity. (This list of 13 Women of Color in Journalism You Should Know, for example, includes a number of lesser known publications).
What do we miss when we don’t read women?
First, we obscure the broader problem of gender imbalance in the media. By remaining blind to the gender of the journalists whose coverage we depend on, and not demanding more balance, we perpetuate the problem.
Second, by continuing to rely on media accounts from authors who don’t reflect the populations of our communities we leave ourselves vulnerable to the inherent biases in coverage that come from under representation. We’ve seen the impact subtle sexism can have on political candidates, for example. Not including women (especially women of color) in our media diets affects which topics get covered and how. This includes who gets covered (internationally estimates are that only 24% of news subjects are women) and even the sources journalists rely on for coverage. It makes sense that male writers are more likely to know and rely on other men as sources.
There are plenty of male journalists and writers whose coverage I enjoy reading. But there are many equally powerful women writers, many of whom are less well known and enjoy smaller audience bases than the caliber of their work deserves. By passively consuming media without paying attention to the gender of the voices we consume, we’re missing out. So join me this week in reading more women.