Here to stay

As the imbalance in female media representation persists, so do we

Central Michigan Life staff and alumni pose for a photo at the homecoming parade on Oct. 14, 2023.

How do we define the female experience? The positives? The negatives? The expectations? 

Any woman could tell you there’s plenty of each. 

More important to ask, though, is how to understand the female experience. As members of the media, we at Central Michigan Life know the responsibility we have: not just professionally, but personally. 

The way women are perceived, and even the way we understand ourselves, is impacted by the media we’re consuming, from books to movies, TikTok to Instagram, and, of course, the news. 

A lot of that perception is based on physical appearance; whether we’re conscious of it or not, a lot of women start to compare themselves to the person we see on screen. 

What that comparison fails to capture is that: first, we are real and the character is not; and second, the real women who fit into those roles spend their time off-screen with dietitians and personal trainers that the rest of us don’t have access to with time and financial barriers. 

A study published in the National Library of Medicine documented what happens externally when objectifying generalizations become “cultural ideals.”

“In turn, factors associated with exposure to these representations have been linked to detrimental effects on physical and psychological well-being,” the study explained, listing a few specific effects: 

Development of eating disorders 

Increased awareness of the body

Poor body image and

Lowered quality of life 

It’s not only about what we disproportionately see — thin, young, white women — but also what we’re not seeing — the diverse sizes, ages and races that women in the real world represent. 

At CM Life we have an editorial leadership team of nine students, six of those are women, two are gender non-conforming and one is a man. 

Our newsroom bucks the trend identified in a research partnership between Reuters Institute and Oxford University in 2023.

“Only 22% of the 180 top editors across the 240 (news outlets) covered are women,” the research showed. “In 2022, this figure was 21% across the same markets.”

CM Life hasn’t always been led by women. Like most newsrooms, this was a male-dominated space for a long time. Consider this: 

The first female director of student media was hired in 2022;

Ashley Birkness, CM Life’s sports editor in 2023, was the first woman in that position in 50 years;

We have seen two years of female leadership in the Editor-in-Chief position;

Kathy Simon is the first and only person to hold the position of assistant director and advertising leader, driving our financial success for over a quarter of a century; and

The first female member of the editorial board was on staff during World War II.

So what does this mean for our coverage? It means what we publish is filtered by individuals with an acute awareness of the impact our coverage can have on the people who read it. 

As editors, we instruct our reporters to talk to sources who don’t look like us, and our photographers to take photos of people who aren’t always represented.  

It means that as the people behind the media, we’re representing those diverse races, ages and sizes that so often go underrepresented in other newsrooms. 

One specific area of reporting is a more glaring example of inequity than the rest: sports. 

A survey by the Pew Research Center showed that despite a male-female split of 51% to 46% in overall reporters, the divide in sports reporters in the United States remains closer to 83% male to 15% female. 

Our sports desk has a 50-50 split of men and women, and their editor, Kaia Zimmerman, is the third female sports editor at CM Life. 

Why does she do it? The same reason the rest of us do our jobs here: Because she has a passion, and her knowledge could wipe the floor with the average fan of any sport. But she wouldn’t do that; she’s really nice. 

The same Reuters-Oxford research identified that male-dominant newsrooms are often the reason women disproportionately leave the profession before retirement age. 

But we are here to stay. We are here to represent. We are not here to be compared to our male counterparts, but to do something that matters. 

We are here to prove our merit not in the category of “women reporters,” but to the higher callings of truth, transparency and journalistic integrity. 

So what are we asking of you? The same thing we’re asking ourselves. When you’re in a room, take a look around. Notice who’s there, but also think about who could be missing. And then ask our favorite question: why?