The special women’s section

The Guardian has a new women’s section, called She Said:

Bold, insightful and provocative, She Said is here to bring you a fresh perspective on what’s going on. The Observer’s female writers, and some occasional special guests, will post reaction to breaking news along with thoughtful, witty analysis and general musings on life. No topics are off limits – from politics and world affairs to sport and culture, food and fashion. Not to mention our daily irritations and celebrations.

Making an explicit effort to include women’s voices in the news is an excellent idea, but it is a terrible idea to put them in a special section that men will never read. It’s the same complaint I have about Daily Life (another complaint being that the content is often indistinguishable from the lifestyle and entertainment sections), and about the All About Women Festival at the Opera House, where well-off women will pay to see other well-off women talk about stuff they already agree with. Some of the festival will be interesting – Ilwad Elman and Mona Eltahawy are speaking – but is unlikely to lead to any real change because it’s pitched as an event for women. Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s a lot of benefit in women talking with each other about how to change things, and in writing for each other about our opinions and lives. We do that all the time, and I enjoy it and learn a lot from it. But if cultural change is the goal, then it won’t happen this way.

Events pitched at women and special sections on news sites would be fine if talks and conferences and tv panel shows weren’t just a parade of white men talking to white men. How often do you see episodes of QandA or The Project in which women outnumber men? And they’re just there talk about stuff, not necessarily “women’s stuff”? How many news stories in which women are expert voices on something other than parenting? As long media organisations continue to quarantine women’s voices from the “real stuff”, then they can kiss my arse.

The Guardian, like smh.com.au, has realised there are clicks in publishing women’s voices, but they clearly don’t see them as being a part of the “real news”. The news where men write 70 per cent of the front page stories, are the focus of 72 per cent of the stories, and appear as experts in 78 per cent of the stories (figures from The Blokeyness Index and to be fair, they pre-date The Guardian‘s Australian arrival). It’s not hard to find female experts, but it’s apparently too hard for most journalists to look for them. If news organisations were serious about including female voices in their news cycle, then editors would simply send copy back to the journo if it doesn’t include a female voice. It’s not rocket surgery. (And it might mean we stop seeing so many one-voice stories. But that’s another post.)

12 responses to “The special women’s section

  1. Having just returned from the UN Commission on the Status of Women as an NGO observer, it is striking how central to real issues (peace, security, economic growth, health) most countries now consider women’s rights and development to be. And the message is often given by male voices.

    That was quite impressive – the continued not only presence but influence of The Holly See was not (definitely only male voices there) nor was a move backwards by The African Union. Although eventually two countries from the African Union – Egypt and South Africa broke away from the pack to get a less regressive result – one represented by a women the other a man.

    There were sessions at the associated conference about how backwards the media is in pandering to gender stereotypes and enforcing them – vicious circle about demand and supply for Womens voices on so-called Womens issues.

    • Like women’s issues are the only thing women are able to speak about. Unless it’s reproductive rights, then men will speak for us.

      The UN Commission on the Status of Women must have been fascinating. Anything else you can share?

  2. My gripe is that women writers are often called on to write about the ‘little irritants in life’ as if we are too busy worrying about dinner to worry about world politics – hell, even local politics.
    If we removed all the reporters names from the top of their pieces you would not be able to tell if it is a male or female journalist in any ‘serious’ news piece.

  3. You know, it’s tiring. I’m tired of being told I have a special little piece of a website I can go to and read about pretty shoes alongside my often watered down politics. Because god forbid I read the man’s news, right?

    Why do we need to divide it? Why the hell do women need a special little space? Why can’t we read the hard news section and then skip to the fashion if we want to, why must it be sectioned?

    Maybe we wouldn’t need to worry about having and doing it all if we could save time by not having to sort out which news I was allowed to be reading!

    I’m a little grumpy today, forgive me, but I’m also a little sick of this.

    As an aside, I don’t love The Project, but I was watching one night when Bickmore did a piece at the beach and was wearing a maxi dress. One of the men commented on it, along the lines of it being inappropriate, and she snapped back “what, should I have worn a bikini?” That made me laugh way more than it should have!

    • The other thing that REALLY shits me about these special women’s sections is that so much of the content is just comment on things that are on other news sites or have been circulating on twitter. I go to bloggers for that because they are almost always more knowledgeable/funny/insightful.

      The Project is interesting, in that I appreciate what they’re trying to do and I think it’s needed (hell, I’m writing a fucking thesis on the topic), but I don’t want to watch it because it doesn’t quite work. For me, that is, and I know I’m not their target audience. Perhaps it’s because everything they’re talking about I’ve seen being discussed in greater depth on twitter? I’m still waiting for an Australian version of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart that is funny and intelligent.

  4. FYI the server here hates you, and keeps reloading your page. I think it’s the nipples (I was in Malaysia once when an article on sexual assault was blocked. Coz it mentioned Sex.)

    In anycase, I think they could be a great news source, and I know a lot of people watch them. Sometimes, I think they miss the mark – they seem to just stop short of really hitting harder articles. Maybe they just need to dedicate more time, or do a “feature” piece once a week or something? I guess part of that is trying to fit so much into a short space.

    • I agree, they do seem to stop short, and then switch to ‘hey, here’s a funny’. I think ALL news organisations should cover less news, so they can do it properly, instead of spending all their time re-writing other stories so that everyone has the same thing. People who want more news will always find it, but the effect of trying to cover everything is that it’s all so shallow, with so little real information.

  5. I haven’t been able to access the section without clicking from here.
    When they shut it down because no-one was reading it, who will get the blame? The boring women talking about stuff no-one cares about?

    The choice is between “a special section” or “nothing”. I’ll take the special section. Very crossly.

    • I found it because they were promoting it in the middle opinion column on the Australian site. But I went searching for you and it’s normally buried in “life and style“, for fuck’s sake. “Feminism”, “Women in politics”, “Women in media”, “Women in sport” are all lifestyle stories, apparently. Should have gone harder on them in this post.

  6. I will try to find time to share a little more about CSW 58 (the official acronym) but couldn’t wait to share that I took advantage of being in NYC to see the Stephen Colbert show filmed – tried for Jon Stewart but booked out way in advance.

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