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December 31, 2013

BEAM: A few good women

— The female sex needs a better publicity agent.

Now I’m not talking about those unfortunate publicists who handle Miley Cyrus and her twerking controversies or the Kardashian family and their cockamamie lives. But an honest-to-God PR guru that makes a product a household name. Say, for instance, the ones that brought fame to Smokey Bear or McDonald’s or the plastic bits at the end of shoelaces.

See, women have a problem getting their names in the newspapers, although there are exceptions to that statement. And no, I’m not counting the showgirl section at the end of certain local magazines. More than men, gals have a better chance of having the media pick up their stories if they are victims of a crime or scam. Otherwise, the odds of hitting the front page just aren’t in our favor.

Believe I’m just spouting off some feminist propaganda? Not today, buddy. Let’s take a gander at the numbers.

According to the Global Media Monitoring Project’s 2010 Who Makes the News study, only 13 percent of all media stories focus on women. Even when the article shifts to a nongender related subject, women are quoted as sources less than a quarter of the time.

Again, the study referenced above confirmed that “only 24 percent of the people heard or read about in print, radio and television news are female.” Men, who constitute 49 percent of the U.S. population, make up the remaining 76 percent. Basically, in three out of every four instances, a writer will choose a man as a reliable source over a woman.

Why does this occur? Most male reporters aren’t trying to be chauvinistic pigs. Part of the problem is that women don’t always occupy leadership roles in organizations. For example, females only hold 18.5 percent of the 535 seats in Congress. As for heading up a business, the 2012 Grant Thornton International Business Report stated that women make up 17 percent of all senior management roles nationwide, with less than 4 percent of Fortune 500 companies being run by females.

Naturally, many reporters, due to the preponderance and availability of men, find more of that sex to interview. Oh, and then there’s the fact that more men than women are also journalists.

The organization Media Matters for America released a study suggesting 62 percent of newsroom staffers were male. For whatever reason, men are more apt to interview other males. Studies, like one conducted by the organization The 4th Estate, suggest if you put a female reporter on the same beat, you increase your chances of seeing women as sources by more than half.

In addition, males dominate females in specific areas of journalism. According to The OpEd Project, a mere 20 percent of print publication columnists like me are women. Most ladies have a higher chance of dying from heart disease than writing about their take on the economy or the war in Syria or constitutionality of a bearded duck hunter’s suspension.

Enough of the statistics. What can we do to change these numbers and increase the opportunities for women to be better represented in the media?

For me, the answer is simple. Like other journalists, I can make a concentrated effort to write about individual women and their impact on society.

And this is where I need your help. Call it my New Year’s resolution, but I’m looking for a few good women. Well, OK. They all don’t have to be good. What they do have to be is real.

In 2014, I want to focus two columns a month on highlighting different women from Southern Indiana. Trailblazers, volunteers and both business and community leaders will, of course, be included in those pieces.

Yet to fully represent the spectrum of what it’s like to be a woman in this day and age, we’ll need to talk to everyday people with everyday problems as well. Ladies who are struggling to make ends meet. Gals who might be fighting an illness or addiction. And women the community perceives as different because of their jobs, religion or looks.

That’s the purpose of this pledge — to bring these perspectives that get buried for whatever reason into the light, and, more importantly, into print. If you know someone who should be featured, please drop me a line at the email address below.

This attempt might not make a danged bit of difference in getting more females bosses or even reporters hired. What it will do is show the world that women’s voices matter, every last one of them. And, hopefully by the end of the year, we can prove together our stories can make an impact too.

— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at adbeam47@aol.com

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