Essay and a Woman’s Nation

I have just returned from the Los Angeles launch of A Woman’s Nation –an ambitious project and a unique report on the status of American women which includes an essay I co authored with Stacy Smith, Ph.D. and Amy Granados entitled Sexy Socialization: Today’s Media and the Next Generation of Women” PDF.

The Womens’ Nation initiative is produced by California First Lady Maria Shriver with partners including the Center for American Progress (CAP) and the CCLP and the multifaceted report –including a comprehensive national poll–is known as, The Shriver Report.

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The midday launch/lunch event was held at the Creative Artists Agency in LA and brought women from different ethnic groups and sexual orientation to listen to an explanation of the project provided by project director Karen Skelton of the Dewey Square Group and First Lady of California, Maria Shriver.

Yes, of course there was some Hollywood starpower there — Rita Wilson, a successful film producer in her own right and oh yes she is the wife of actor Tom Hanks, and the highly successful fashionista Donna Karen, and actress Heather Thomas, to name a few.

But, first some history: the last time this kind of research and a report on the status of the American Woman was done in this exhaustive way was 50 years ago, during the administration of Shriver’s uncle President John F. Kennedy and the chair was Eleanor Roosevelt.

This time, it’s a 500-page Shriver Report which is billed as a comprehensive study of the American worker who today –according to the report–is as likely to wear a heel as a boot.

That’s right, with this economic recession more and more women are becoming the breadwinner in the family but, it’s important to remember — each woman is still earning 77 cents for every $1 dollar a man earns and women are still less likely to be in leadership positions in corporate America.

The Shriver Report calls on the country to begin “a national conversation” about how America adapts to the way American families live and work today. It asks how the media and other key American institutions can modernize to catch up with the permanent new reality of American life that — one-half of all U.S. workers are women and mothers are the primary breadwinner or co-breadwinner in two- thirds of all American families.

You could say we were already a bit ahead on the media question here at the Center for Women in Communication Leadership at CCLP — at least in pointing out there seems to be little or no media modernization when it comes to adjusting to accurately reflect America becoming a Woman’s Nation.

My colleague Dr Stacy Smith has a body of work including published data and disturbing reports on the subject of media portrayals of women –content cited in the essay we wrote for The Shriver Report. After nearly 30 years in broadcast journalism I have anecdotal evidence and then later; I researched and produced empirical evidence illustrating that when women are in decision making positions in the media the content is dramatically different from their male counterparts, especially in war coverage where women tend to cover victims of war while males cover weapons. (Cinny Kennard and Sheila Murphy, “Charcteristics of War Coverage by Female Correspondents.” in Phil Seib ed., Media and Conflict in the 21st Century (New York:Palgrave and MacMillan, 2005).

Currently we are sharpening our focus and digging deeper to answer the media question posed in The Shriver Report. How can the media modernize in A Woman’s Nation? We are researching how many women are in key decision-making positions in the media in this Woman’s Nation? We are looking at the images and portrayals of women in A Woman’s Nation?

We currently have a study underway to answer these questions–stay tuned.