Media Narratives Paint a False Picture of Gender Equality, Argue Authors Rivers and Barnett

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Tuesday, February 18, 12 p.m. | Taubman 275

Caryl Rivers

Caryl Rivers

Rosalind Barnett

Rosalind Barnett

February 18, 2014 – In their book, The New Soft War on Women: How the Myth of Female Ascendance Is Hurting Women, Men—and Our Economy, authors Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett argue that while strides have been made over the years in the area of gender equality, there is still more work to be done. At the Shorenstein Center speaker series on Tuesday, they emphasized the discrepancy between perceptions of progress that the media often portray, and data that don’t always back up those perceptions.

Rivers, professor of journalism at Boston University, and Barnett, senior scientist at Brandeis University’s Women’s Studies Research Center, outlined three media narratives that have received significant buzz: Women “can’t have it all,” men who marry high-achieving women “will be miserable,” and women “opt out” and choose not to work their way to the top of the success ladder. These narratives are completely unfounded by data, argued Rivers and Barnett. According to legitimate science, they said, there “never was an ‘opt-out’ revolution,” men are not unhappy if they marry career women, and egalitarian marriages tend to be healthy. In addition, they pointed out, children of working mothers are as healthy and happy as children of stay-at-home moms, and high-achieving working women do not have more divorces, as is sometimes wrongfully reported.

News outlets push headlines that are provocative and buzz-worthy, Rivers and Barnett said, even when the articles that follow dilute or outright abandon statistics and facts. They issued a call to journalists to avoid the temptation to publish salacious headlines that do not convey accurate messages, and they encouraged consumers to constantly question the material they read, and “don’t take everything at face value.”

Article by Janell Sims, Shorenstein Center.