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Study Finds Gender Bias in Newspaper Stories

THE ``feminine mystique'' is back. Media coverage of the Gulf War proves it. As coined by Betty Friedan in her book of that title that some say began the modern women's movement in 1963, the term refers to women as defined by, or in relationship to, men: wife, mother, daughter, secretary et. al.

In a February study analyzing representation of women in the pages of United States newspapers, more than 85 percent of front page news and 70 percent of local, first-page news was devoted to men. The major newspapers studied were Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Chicago Tribune, Houston Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, The Miami Herald, The New York Times, St. Louis Post Dispatch, The Seattle Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.

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``The symbolic annihilation of women in the media reflects and contributes to the glass ceiling and backlash women are facing generally in the new world order of the 1990s,'' said Ms. Friedan, a visiting distinguished professor and co-chair of the Women, Men, and Media Project (WMAM) at the University of Southern California.

In a conversation before the study was released here last week, Friedan said she and organizers have been ``outright shocked'' at the low numbers in such studies, which grew out of a course she teaches at USC. ``We knew there had been backsliding since the gains of the women's movement got women off the fashion and food pages, but we never thought it was this bad.''

The establishment in April last year of WMAM as a permanent institution evolved from three successful conferences in Los Angeles and Washington D.C. since 1987. In a forum held last week at which the current study findings were released, US Marine and Navy officials, war correspondents, and media commentators discussed ``Macho and Media Coverage of the Gulf War.''

Among the observations:

The vast majority of stories were about men, their jobs, their weaponry, their opinions. Stories about female soldiers were rare, but when they did appear, they were more centered on the women's parental status. Quotes from female soldiers were seldom included and photos of females were most frequently of women at home showing concern for or grieving over loved ones who were involved.

Editorials and news copy about the impact on families were critical of mothers for going to war, expressing extreme concern about the impact on children. But there was not one article or editorial on the impact of a father leaving his children to go to war.

A widely circulated photo of Capt. JoAnn Conley, from Cavalier, N.D., showed the captain with a button picture of her daughter Stephanie affixed to her helmet. There were almost no pictures of women with their weapons or performing their duties, and none of men with pictures of their children during the study.

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One series of articles centered on what male soldiers carried to the front to remind them of home: mostly female underwear. The few female soldiers interviewed in subsequent articles indicated they carried pictures of loved ones.

``How women are covered by the media, and how we are hired and promoted within it shape our society,'' said Susan Lowell Butler, executive vice president of Women in Communications. ``Studies like this should encourage greater efforts for parity and increased cooperation between men and women to have the media accurately reflect our world.''

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