Veranstaltungen: Dokumentation

5.9.2002

Forum 9: Media and Information Society

The wide spectrum of our media offers a clear reflection of our society´s values in relation to gender. Transforming negative images of women into those of role models, utilizing new technology to create forums to discuss gender and forging a new, more inclusive identity are some of the ways media can support gender mainstreaming.

Whether it's the morning radio broadcast or a heated Internet debate in a public chat room, media shape the ways in which we think. Positive role models, as well as stereotypes, are further amplified and reinforced on television, newspapers, and radio and over the Internet. Mass media´s sensory and information overload brings us a multitude of voices, but the loudest ones fail to represent the successes or realities of gender mainstreaming.

Turn on the nightly news and at first glance, the outlook for women´s on-air representation looks rosy. Television news moderators theoretically may support the idea that women can embody both beauty and intelligence, but panellist Jo Groebel, Director of the European Institute for Media (Düsseldorf-Paris), questions whether it´s a realistic depiction.

"Women in news media are not allowed to age. Yet we use them as examples of how one can be smart and attractive." Male presenters, on the other hand, are permitted to age naturally on camera, typically without the benefit of plastic surgery, a common stop-gap solution for older women who want to continue working on camera.

On the positive side, roles for women, at least in the fictional world, are increasing and changing with gender mainstreaming. Panellists discussed the introduction of popular female characters in German crime stories, such as the detectives and police roles played by actors Hannelore Elsner, Ulrike Folkers and Hannelore Hogen.

While the American imports "Ally McBeal" and "Sex and the City" may seem like fun, uncomplicated programming, examining such pop culture icons can be a useful tool for "latent learning," as described by Groebel. (Latent learning is the type of learning that occurs in everyday life but isn´t exhibited until there is reinforcement or incentive to demonstrate it.) And while the popularity of these programs may not directly promote gender mainstreaming, they prove there´s an economic incentive to air television to a market eager for programming that portrays women´s lives and relationships in an up-to-date fashion.

While shaping media identity is not strictly a top-down process, the lack of women in leadership positions leads to male-biased decisions in terms of content and representations of gender, agree the panellists. In the U.S., there are a few media companies led by women; in Europe, says Groebel, the situation is even more dire. He points to the lack of even one media, television or ICT company headed by a woman. On rare occasions can one find a female news director but it´s still uncommon. Even at the next level down, only 5 to 10 percent of managers are women, says Groebel. Men also benefit from the pressure to acquire power and status more quickly, while women must contend with the dilemmas posed by maternity leave and child care concerns.

Likewise, on the training-level, the lack of parity is clear. While women are fairly represented in the classroom at higher education institutions that concentrate on training media, when it comes to the number of female instructors, the gap is wide. In the Netherlands, for example, only 5 percent of such "Hochschul"- instructors are women; the student body, however, is more fairly balanced with approximately 50 percent female representation.

At the outset, the Internet was considered to be the breakthrough, gender-free innovation that would compensate for such imbalances, says Christiana Weidel, publisher of the women´s online magazine CeiberWeiber.at and founder of the Vienna-based organization, World of NGOs. "IT seemed to make the gender of online communicators irrelevant because invisible, allowing women and men to participate quite equally," says Weidel. In practice, however, new media and IT (Information Technology) have not proved to be as gender neutral or positive as hoped.

According to the panellists, the low numbers of women actually working in the IT sector is a problem born from the stereotypes society encourages – mainly about girls and their supposed inability to compete in technical fields, such as programming, software development and computer science. Women are well represented in website design and marketing, but relatively little power or money can be found within these "creative" or "people-oriented" aspects of new media. Gender mainstreaming initiatives have proved successful at encouraging girls and women to engage in the largely male world of hard technology.

Designing a new Net culture of and for women means starting with programs targeting women and girls, as well building forums to engage men and boys, showing them that gender mainstreaming is not "a female problem." The ideal medium, agreed panellists, is new media. With its ability to overcome space and time, the Internet can reach women who are otherwise isolated, e.g., in rural areas or homebound, helping build stronger communities across cultures and nationalities. However, getting universal Internet access to economically disenfranchised women is another matter – finding the resources to provide public Internet access, such as in libraries, poses a large financial challenge.

With less and less funding available from the public sector, financing sites with non-commercial content by and for women and girls is also proving a challenge for activists. Yet even with minimal funds, a little determination, a simple Website and a potential worldwide community of women can accomplish a great deal. As Weidel says, "They may be small changes, but they contribute to changing the bigger picture for gender mainstreaming."

Referentin und Referent:

  • Christiana Weidel

  • World of NGO´s, Wien, Österreich

  • Jo Groebel

  • Direktor des Europäischen Medieninstituts
    Düsseldorf, Deutschland


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