Men Are Dominating the Media's Narrative Around #MeToo

The Women's Media Center found that during a 15-month period, 53 percent of sexual assault story bylines came from men.
October 9, 2018, 9:54pm
Photo by MEM Studio/Stocksy

Social movements —particularly ones that gain momentum on social media— are often hard to quantify. Topics trend, people have open discussions about them, but to truly measure the impact of a movement requires an examination of cause and effect.

On the one year anniversary of The New York Times cataclysmic expose on the decades of sexual assault allegations made against Harvey Weinstein, the Women's Media Center (WMC) released their #MeToo report. The report examined press coverage from May 1, 2017 to August 31, 2018, five months before and 10 months after the Weinstein revelations that sparked an international movement of sexual assault survivors sharing their experiences in public forums.

Co-authored by Lauren Wolfe, director of WMC Women Under Siege, the report analyzed headlines, bylines, and articles in over 15,000 pieces of news content from 14 of the nation's most widely circulated newspapers that included Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Newsday.

"We did a report on rape on campus in 2015, and like sexual assault, we looked at media coverage," Wolfe told Broadly about the beginnings of the research for the #MeToo report. "We were already starting to do research for how media was covering sexual assault. So [the Harvey Weinstein news] kicked in at that time."

Wolfe and co-author Eliza Ennis, the media analyst and data manager at WMC, found that during the 15 months they reviewed, men, who take up the majority of industry-wide reporting roles, held the majority of bylines about sexual assault at 53 percent — thus shaping the narrative of the national conversation.

"We did see a measurable difference in the number of bylines that went to women on sexual assault coverage over the months," Wolfe said about women having six percent fewer bylines than men over the 15-month period. "What was really interesting, at least, in this study, and I would assume it holds true here, women tended to speak to more women as sources than men did. Men spoke to more men; women speak to more women."

Other interesting notes they found:

  • President Donald Trump's name appeared more frequently than any other name —both in the headlines and the stories themselves— about sexual assault. Trump appeared in 1,020 headlines about sexual assault or #MeToo during the 15-month period, at an average of 92 stories a month. The second most common name mentioned in sexual assault and #MeToo-related stories was Weinstein, who appeared 424 times in the same period at an average of 39 articles a month.
  • October 2017 saw a small uptick of women writing about sexual assault (52 percent of total bylines), which was around the time of the NYTimes expose— suggesting women reporters pushed harder to cover these issues or editors assigned more of them to women.
  • Media attention tended to peak on sexual assault when big names were involved compared to "ordinary" people.
  • Despite women of color experiencing higher rates of sexualized violence than their white counterparts, their stories are often missing from coverage.
  • Coverage of sexual assault and harassment remains higher today than before #MeToo in almost every category examined (Hollywood, media, and politics) at 30 percent more than before October 2017.
  • By the end date of the study, August 2018, 35 percent of sexual assault and harassment coverage overall mentioned the phrase "me too" or the hashtag #MeToo.

"There's this infamous story about a male journalist walking into a refugee camp in Congo and yelling, 'Has anyone here been raped?'," Wolfe shared. "The fact that people would even do that is so shocking —but it's not uncommon. That's the way, I think, a lot of people … journalists go about getting these stories.

"The idea is really to understand the setting you're in. It's just not the same as plowing through a political interview or something," she continued. "There's a way to do it and a sensitivity, an extra sensitivity in allowing that person to want the conversation to happen."

WMC's 2017 report on The Status of Women in the U.S. Media found that 86 percent of American newsrooms are white with white men helming 55 percent of all outlets. Ultimately, their newest finding suggests that inclusion in the newsroom is imperative to wholly telling the stories of sexual assault survivors and acknowledging the pervasiveness of rape culture.

"The idea is that if newsrooms aren't reflecting the people … the way society is made up of different people of color, women, all kinds of minorities," Wolfe said. "If newsrooms aren't reflecting that, then their stories just aren't being told as much or possibly even as well because you do have a vested interest in maybe LGBT issues if you're a queer," she said.

"Again, if you're a woman, and people are talking about rape, and you've been raped, then that may have more of an interest to you and you may want to cover it."