Stereotypes in the news media hurt us allBy Kathleen Parker
Special to the Sentinel
Published in The Orlando Sentinel on October 31, 1999.
WASHINGTON -- Author Warren Farrell came to the National Press Club Tuesday to discuss his new book, Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say, and to advance his theory that the news media are biased against men.
And . . . nobody came.
No one from the media, that is. The small audience consisted of the usual suspects from various men's organizations and a handful of panelists, including one member of the media. Yours truly.
For the record, because no one was there to report our discussion, I agreed with Farrell that the media are biased against men in certain areas but noted that the media are also biased against women in others. After more than 20 years in journalism, I have observed that men get short shrift in matters that traditionally were the domain of women -- family, children, health -- while women get short shrift in matters traditionally associated with men -- government, politics, business.
In other words, we ignore men's hearts and women's brains.
We pay little attention, for example, to the heartbreak of divorced fathers, while we exalt the single mother struggling to make ends meet. At the same time, we praise a male candidate's professional qualifications while we discuss his female counterpart's personality.
That last observation was reported last week in a new study released by the Women's Leadership Fund. In a study of media coverage of six political campaigns in 1998, researchers found that newspapers more often described women candidates in terms of their age, marital status, whether they had children and, of course, their hair. The same papers described male candidates more often according to issues and their professional record.
Despite advances in equality, we are, it seems, reluctant to let go of our old stereotypes: Men must be tough (protect women, hide their pain, be strong 'n silent); women must be attractive and nurturing (be devoted to a spouse, be fertile, have consistently good-hair days).
Meanwhile, we've added a few new stereotypes to the list, notably in the male column. Men today are also: stupid, philanderers, deadbeats, disposable, pedophiles, batterers, Sodomites, losers, to name a few. Farrell, whose earlier works include Why Men Are the Way They Are and The Myth of Male Power, does a good job of documenting the pervasiveness of these messages throughout the media and other institutions.
In his new book, Farrell devotes the longest chapter to what he calls "the lace curtain," the tendency of the media to shut out any opinions considered a threat to feminism. We accept without skepticism assertions by women's groups, said Farrell, whether the issue is affirmative action, rape on campus, domestic violence, deadbeat dads. By failing to challenge women's stories -- even to suggest another view -- the media have forsaken their obligation to fairness.
We also make light of abuses toward men that would never be tolerated were women on the receiving end. One of many examples in Farrell's book is a 1994 Associated Press story that carried this headline in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "Couple's Makeup Kiss Gets A Bit Nippy For Husband." The article began: "Helen Carson told her husband she wanted to kiss and make up after they had a fight. Apparently, she wasn't that forgiving -- she bit off the end of his tongue."
What a hoot! When challenged about the headline, the editor reportedly replied that the article was supposed to be "upbeat." It's hard to imagine any newspaper treating as upbeat a report about a man biting off his wife's tongue. We would have that boy shackled and hoisted on a poster faster than you can say "wife beater."
Some of Farrell's theories about male and female behavior surely invite debate (such as that women's anger toward men comes from their feeling of rejection as they age and become less attractive), but his documentation of the media's double standard toward men and women is irrefutable.
His book is worth a read -- and his comments Tuesday were worth a hearing. That no one bothered to show up may be all the proof his thesis needed.
[Posted 10/30/1999 6:34 PM EST]
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