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August 26th is a big day in women’s history—that day in 1920 that Congress certified the Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the right to vote. When Congress passed the joint resolution 51 years later to commemorate the event with an annual Women’s Equality Day, it said the holiday would stand “… as a symbol of the continued fight for equal rights. So how much has changed in 45 more years? So far 2016 has seen the first female U.S. Presidential nominee representing a major political party (though not the first ever). And American women brought home more medals than their male counterparts at Rio 2016. But if you conduct some media monitoring and analysis—which we did—sexism still reigns supreme. Take a look at what we found.
In the late 1960s, cigarette-brand Virginia Slims launched an ad campaign with the tagline, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” Perhaps that was high praise coming from the misogynistic “Mad Men” of the time, but women everywhere recognized it as more of the same sexism they experienced daily. Fast forward nearly five decades, and as MSNBC noted in an article earlier this spring, “Different kinds of sexism have played an outsized role in the 2016 presidential race on both sides of the aisle.” The article goes on to cite Donald Trump’s past reputation coupled with more recent remarks about Megyn Kelly, Heidi Cruz and others, as well as criticisms of Hillary Clinton “for shouting too much and smiling too little.” Not exactly a tribute to equality, right? Awareness is on the rise, however, with organizations like Rutger’s Eagleton Institute of Politics and Center for American Women and Politics teaming up with the Barbara Lee Family Foundation to launch a nonpartisan project to capture the gender dynamics of Election 2016.
Awareness on social media hit new heights too—and it was in response to media coverage of the Olympics. To start, female athletes generally received less media coverage than males.
Worse still, much of the coverage hit new lows for our enlightened times.
For example, we searched for articles that mentioned ‘sexist’ or ‘misogynist.’ To be fair, the mentions were not wholly negative; some of the media coverage called others to task for their sexist commentary. When the Chicago Tribune tweeted, “Wife of a Bears’ lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics,” the newspaper catapulted to the top of the Organizations Mentioned chart shown above, coming under fire for turning Corey Codgell’s Olympic glory into a comment on her marital status and her husband’s job. The New York Times landed in second on this list because of their flub to attribute Katie Ledecky's success to her coach in an article: “His Latest Innovation: The World’s Best Swimmer.”
In addition, the media referred to the women competing at the Olympics as ‘girls’ 30 percent more often than it referred to the men as ‘boys.’
These are just a few examples, and there are many articles aggregating the offenses. Fortunately, the denizens of Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere—along with some media outlets—held broadcasters’ and publishers’ feet to the fire. While women’s equality remains elusive in some arenas, the backlash over sexist comments promises to keep gender disparities in the spotlight—and that’s worth celebrating.