Re-writing the script: analyzing gender and religion in the media

By Blake Meller

Karri Whipple and Dr. Glory Dharmaraj

Photo by WACC staff

In a workshop held during the 2017 Religion Communicators Council conference, Glory Dharmaraj, the U.S coordinator for the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) of the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC), and media specialist, writer, and activist, Karri Whipple, presented the workshop, Re-Writing the Script: Analyzing Gender and Religion in the Media. This workshop focused on assessing the current state of gender and religion in media and provided ways to promote greater equity.

The workshop began with Dharmaraj presenting data on the disproportionally small voice of female reporters and presenters in the world of media and news. Dharmaraj said that according to the 2015 GMMP, only 38% of reporters are women in the U.S. Even more strikingly, “0% of these reporters covered religion.” Within the U.S., women are more favorably seen in positions where they talk about the values and responsibilities in the household, rather than talking about dimensions of their religious affiliation. Data does show that “5% of reporters report on religion globally.” This is a higher percentage than the U.S, but still shows a huge dilemma within cultures around the world, and how they motivate and accept women within the field of religious reporting.

In the second part of the presentation, Whipple presented a plan to transform the media to promote more equitable representation. The first thing that people must do, Whipple said, is to “learn and unlearn your biases.” What this meant is that we should recognize the implicit prejudices and biases we hold and how they shape our worldview. By recognizing these biases, we can then “improve our media literacy” and make better choices in how we consume and produce media. After recognizing our biases, people need to “think visually.” When we consume or produce media, we should ask ourselves, “Who is writing this? Who is being presented in the illustrations or photograph? Who is giving the credit, and receiving that credit?” By asking yourself these questions, you are analyzing the representation in your work as well as the media platforms you engage.

To deepen our understanding of how identity is portrayed in media, Whipple says that we should “think intersectionally.” This means that we should look at the various identities a person holds, whether it is race, ethnicity, class, ability level, sexuality, and/or gender expression. By applying an intersectional lens we can work to rewrite the script about who is in the media and how they are portrayed.

There are also ways in which organizations inappropriately try to represent diversity in the media that is only on the surface. Whipple says that we should “move from equality to equity,” from tokenism to a real commitment to diversity. This involves not only creating diversity of representation, but addressing systemic issues of sexism, racism, Islamophobia, etc. But as Whipple said, “organizations do not have to do this work alone.” Instead, coalition building is needed to address sexism and religious stereotyping in the media and rewrite the script on a global level.

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