Women in the Canadian Media

Doris Anderson was the editor of Chatelaine (Châtelaine) from 1957 to 1977, and was a highly influential feminist during her tenure (Image from CBC News).

In the history of Canadian media women have been under-represented in terms of employment; and misrepresented in terms of portrayal. Modern scholarship on the subject believes that the two are interconnected as can be observed by the rise in the employment of women in the journalism industry coincided with a fairer portrayal. Though equality in the industry is far from achieved the employment of women in journalism has grown since the 1970’s. The sole portrayal of women as wife and mother in the media of the post war years was challenged by the second wave of feminism in this period, and various figures shows progress but also consistency  in this area from the 1970’s to the 1990’s.

In the 1970’s around 60 percent of males in the industry had a bachelor’s degree compared to approximately 50 percent of females. This changed in the late 1990’s with 56 to 62 percent of females having a bachelor’s degree and 53 to 55 percent of males. Thus this period saw the reversal of educational advantages between the sexes. Even though the pool of female journalists almost doubled in this period they were still a significantly smaller portion of the industry than their male coworkers. According to a survey conducted in 1999:

  • Daily presses were 72.1 percent male and 28.9 percent female.
  • Radio was 76 percent male and 24 percent female.
  • Television was 62.8 percent male and 37.2 female.
  • Weekly publications were 66 percent male and 34 percent female.
  • News magazines were 70 percent male and 30 percent female.
  • Therefore the industry had an overall distribution of 71 percent male and 29 percent in terms of employment (Robinson 2005, p27).

However, this distribution of employment only tells a part of the story. In journalism, specifically print journalism, journalists are assigned various roles from generalist assigned to stories by the editors to “beat” reporters who specialize in certain topics or geographic locales. These “beat” reporters are considered the more prestigious position as they require a certain level of knowledge and experience to gain a “beat”. William Bowman in a 1974 US study tracked 30 categories of beats to determine which were dominated by male or female journalists. He found that:

  • 16 were male dominated, mostly in areas concerning government and politics, sports, business, and the economy.
  • 8 were gender neutral and these were concerned mostly general news, minorities, interest stories and personalities.
  • Only 6 were dominated by female journalists – lifestyle, consumer affairs, religion, social welfare, ecology, and health.

This reveals that traditionally females were limited to lifestyle beats more so than politics or economic ones, and represents the attitude of the place of women before equality began to progress. In 1995 women’s access to beats was substantially higher, male dominated beats were cut in half down to 8, much of the “high profile” beats became balanced, and an increase of female beats to 10. This shows that though certain topics remained gendered beats weren’t static and could change with time. Therefore, though certain conditions for female journalists and media professionals increased in the period from the 1970’s to the 1990’s, there still remains many obstacles to equality in employment.

Robinson, Gertrude J. 2005. Gender, Journalism, and Equity: Canadian, U.S. and European Perspectives. New Jersey: Hampton Press, Inc.

Patterson, Maggie Jones and Romayne Smith Fullerton. 2010. “Procrustean Motherhood: The Good Mother During Depression (19030s), War (1940s) and Prosperity (1950s).” Canadian Journal of Media Studies 8:1 1-28.



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