Panel cites examples of gender bias in the media

Several of the panlists said women were part of the problem.


John Wright, dean of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, participates as a panelist at the Gender Bias in the Media debate in Pugh Hall on Tuesday evening.

Julianna Samper/Correspondent
Published: Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 31, 2010 at 11:42 p.m.

Participants in a panel Tuesday at the University of Florida cited national examples of gender bias in the media, like a Washington Post story on how U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan dresses and crosses her legs.

They also cited local examples, like former Gainesville Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan expressing frustration with a radio talk-show host talking about her weight. And while they had different perspectives on the problem and who's responsible, the eight panelists agreed that a focus on women's physical attributes in the media was a disservice to everyone.

"I should be judged on the education I have, the experience I have, what I bring to the bench - not whether I cross my legs at the ankles," said First District Court of Appeal Judge Simone Marstiller.

The Florida Commission on the Status of Women sponsored the panel, moderated by television host Ilene Silverman. Participants discussed the disparities between women in elected representation and pay, and whether gender bias in the media contributes to the problem.

Florida Federated Republican Women President Cindy Graves said the 2008 election demonstrated such as bias. There was a focus on the pants suits worn by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, she said, while the looks of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin received similar attention.

"She was a lot more than a mommy and a lot more than a person that used to be a beauty queen," she said.

Several of the panelists said women themselves were part of the problem. Women reporters tend to be harder on other women, said Seventh Judicial Circuit Judge Wendy Berger.

"One of the things we need to do as women is not engage in this type of behavior," she said.

Gainesville Sun Managing Editor Jacki Levine said a distinction needs to be made between types of media. Mainstream media outlets take responsibility to keep bias out of their coverage, she said, while bloggers and talk-radio hosts are not bound by the same concerns.

"It's not necessarily in mainstream journalism," she said.

State Rep. Jennifer Carroll, R- Fleming Island, said she thought the media focused on issues like the makeup of former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris because it attracted a bigger audience. Society is responsible for stopping such behavior, she said.

"It's up to us to have an uproar about it," she said.

Hanrahan discussed her own experiences being portrayed in editorial cartoons and on the radio, both of which she said exaggerated her weight. She said such problems may dissipate as today's college students grow older, because they have less of a problem with sexism, racism and other biases.

"They are so over all of these -isms," she said.

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com.

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