Cristal William Chancellor On Portrayal of Women in Media
Cristal William Chancellor, a former award-winning journalist and currently the Director of Communication at the Women’s Media Centre, was down on a five-city tour of India recently. SheThePeople.TV listened in to her opinions on the Portrayal of Women in Media. Cristal also threw light on online harassment that has been growing in the US, specifically discussing how the #MeToo movement brought this to the foreground.
Here are some key takeaways from her address:
Early Career and Women’s Media Centre
Cristal started her career in the US as a reporter. She says, “As a journalist, I’ve done good, to inform the people but I was more inclined towards an advocacy role, in making sure that there are ample opportunities for women. My own experience in the newsroom was that there were many barriers; there were some traditional ways of doing things. You come across sexism, racism and a lot more. As such, I wanted to be associated with some firm that helps me bring out what is happening in media with regards to women and try to find out solutions that can help change the scenario. So, I joined the Women’s Media Centre five years ago.”
The Organization’s Role
Talking about the organizational role she said, “We are making sure that women are visible in the media, whether that is in News media (TV, radio, newspapers or digital platforms) and also the Entertainment media (films, advertisements, etc). We try to raise awareness in the public. In the US women consist of the majority of the population with 51%, but when it comes to media, they do not get the opportunities they deserve.”
In the US women consist of the majority of the population with 51%, but when it comes to media, they do not get the opportunities they deserve.
Statistics show gender disparity
The Women’s Media Centre produces a statistics journal, ‘The Status of Women in US Media‘. Cristal highlighted a few points from the research conducted by the group.
- Men tell and write most of the stories in the US media. 62% of the stories are told by men and only 30% are told by women. This also shows the gender gap in the media, as women up make the majority of the population in the US.
- It is not only about the numbers, but also about the way they are portrayed in the media. Women often objectified and stereotyped more often, shown as someone’s mothers, wives and having fewer aspirations. That has become our focal point and we are trying to educate the public as well as the media about the representations of women.
- There is a lack of women as sources of media. Many of the stories are from the perspective of a male expert or member. Newsrooms often come up with excuses that they can’t find women who can talk about economics, politics and so on.
She Source is a special project by the Women’s Media Centre that has around 1,400 women around the globe who can talk about various topics that the media wants to know. Whether it’s about politics, science, or any other topics, these women will share their perspectives on the same.
Cristal also threw light on Online Harassment that has been growing in the US in regards to the #MeToo Movement. To address the issues, the Women’s Media Centre in partnership has launched ‘The Speech Project.’ The primary aim is to address the growing menace of Sexual Harassment in the digital space, as it has become a breeding ground for hate speech directed towards women.
Cristal says the research in the entertainment media is conducted on both, the on-screen portrayal as well as behind the scenes, in terms of decision-making authorities. She remarks, “In the US currently the percentage of women as directors is low. Research shows that in the past 10 years, only 4 per cent of the blockbuster films are made by women directors. As such, the majority chunk comprises of men who shape the opinions and perspectives of the public.”
She added, “Two women who have been instrumental in shaping the perspectives in India and US are Vidya Balan and Ava Duvernay. Vidya Balan has been portraying the real side of women in films. Ava Duvernay is a well-known US director and works with Oprah Winfrey on ‘Queen Sugar’. She wants to make sure that women who have been marginalized get equal opportunities to show their talents as directors. Many of her directors are from the LGBTQ community.
Portrayal of Women
Cristal points out, “Around the globe including India, women have been portrayed as sexual objects, glorifying their beauty and focusing on their bodies. 25% on an average globally, women are portrayed as sexual objects. In India, the numbers have been slightly higher as there have been more portrayals of women with revealing clothes. While in the US the focus is more on Thinness, if the woman is thin she is considered to be beautiful.”
She highlighted that research shows that women only hold 26 per cent of leadership and decision-making roles across the globe.
Gender Pay Gap
Talking about the pay disparity in the US, Cristal said, “In the US women are often not paid at par with men. If a man makes a dollar, the woman makes 80 Cents only. And the conditions are worse for colour-based women. For a black woman, on the average, it is 63 Cents. This has a fairly wide-ranging impact, as the expenses remain the same for both, but the earnings largely are biased gender. But we closely work with woman organizations and NGOs to create an equal space of opportunities and progress for both men and women.”
Misconceptions around Feminism
Cristal also threw light on the misconceptions around Feminism. She said, “Feminism essentially means equality for everyone. No gender is superior, and everyone has equal rights to live their dreams and be a part of the society equally.”
Experience in India
Sharing insights about her tour in India she said, “Yesterday I visited a college in Chennai and the class consisted of fifty men against one woman student, who were going to be the future filmmakers. I was happy to see that the men for the first time understood that such a disparity exists in the media world. It is imperative to share the information, as then there exists a power to bring about a change.”
She added, “I also had a conversation with one of the students at the college. He was grateful to have an opportunity to know about the disparities that are going around. He said that now he has a chance to go back home and talk to his mother and particularly his niece and help them get what they deserve.”
Initiatives taken by the US organizations
She said that in Television and film media there is one parameter known as the Bechdel Test. This test has been around for years and it focuses on the portrayal of women in Television and films. She added, “In the US there has been a good awareness about the disparities, but there hasn’t been much about the solutions.”
Also, she spoke of the initiative, #SeeHer to make women visible on the media platforms. It revolves around the concept, ‘If you see her you can be her.’
Recent Research by Women’s Media Centre
Cristal also touched upon the recent research held by the Women’s Media Centre that focuses on Women of Colour in the US media. She said, “In the US there has not been much inclusion of Black women in the media. The statistics show that currently, women of colour in the US newspapers represent only 7.9 per cent, while in television the percentage is slightly higher i.e. 12.6 per cent and for Radio it is 6.2 per cent.”
Megha Thadani is an Intern with SheThePeople.TV
Picture Credit: US Consulate Mumbai