Working towards a Gender Equal Media in Scotland
Gender Equal Media Scotland (GEMS) was established in 2018 as an outcome of a series of RSE-funded workshops on tackling inequalities in Scottish news. It is a coalition of academics, journalists and media organisations working for women’s equality in Scottish media. We bring together existing expertise, highlight and develop new research, organise events and develop educational materials and other resources to support gender equal media. In relation to body image in particular, we have worked with colleagues at Healthy Social Media to produce free educational materials to support critical engagement with the media.
The media has long been identified as a key area of women’s inequality, and tackling gender inequality in the media is a strategic objective in the Beijing Platform for Action. This means both tackling gender inequality in the media industries (focusing on employment issues) and tackling women’s under-representation and over-sexualisation in media representations.
Women in Scotland are currently poorly served by our media; sexualised imagery and damaging reporting of violence against women, near-invisibility of women’s sport, and assumptions around which topics are of interest to women and men, mean that women’s concerns and voices are not given equal weight.
All of these issues are compounded for women who are facing multiple discriminations such as women of colour, disabled women, and lesbian, bisexual and trans women, who are less likely to see themselves represented in the media, or employed within the sector.
There is very little Scottish-specific research around women in the media and this is a clear data-gap which needs to be filled. To support the media to change, we need research into what currently exists, what methods have been successful in improving the media, and how best to engage with the media. These are the aims of Gender Equal Media Scotland.
From 2018-2020 Gender Equal Media Scotland has run with minimal funding, from the RSE, University of Strathclyde and other GEMS partners. The First Minister’s National Advisory Council on Women and Girls recommended the creation of a resourced women’s media body in Scotland and Gender Equal Media Scotland has a one year (2020-21) funded Development Worker post, based at Engender, to take this work forward.
The first step in thinking about the relationship between media and body image is to know which bodies are represented. According to the Global Media Monitoring Project only 24% of those who feature in the news globally are women. Scottish data suggests that our news media has lagged behind societal change when it comes to women’s representation: particularly in politics. And it’s not just news. Among the most striking findings are those relating to the continuing marginalisation of women in sports media: in 2019 in Scotland, women’s sport made up only 8% of newspaper and 16% of television coverage. We also know that survivors of sexual assault are poorly served: a recent study of young Scottish survivors found that 83.2% said their experiences were not well represented in the media, and 72.7% said the media had a negative impact on their wellbeing.
All of these issues are compounded for women who are facing multiple discriminations: although there is little Scotland-specific data on this, Pass the Mic have funding from Joseph Rowntree Trust 2020-21 to develop an evidence base on women of colour in the Scottish media. We already have some evidence about the invisibility of disabled women in Scottish news media.
It is not just that women in Scotland don’t see ourselves represented in our national media, but that when we do the picture is a distorting one. In this respect, the Scottish picture aligns with international studies. For instance, the media have long celebrated thinness as the most acceptable body shape for women and girls. Such messages are considered a risk factor for developing poor body image, which may trigger varied mental and physical health challenges over one’s lifetime. Social media is an integral part of this landscape for women of all ages. Research has shown that spending more time on visually oriented social media may influence negatively women’s appearance beliefs. In Scotland, the Healthy Social Media project is working to improve these experiences.
Please follow the work of Gender Equal Media Scotland, come along to our events, learn more about gender representation in the media, and share your own related research via or blog and resources pages. Healthy Social Media offers additional resources specific to body image and social media, and also welcomes blog contributions. Women of colour, please consider adding yourself to the Pass the Mic expert list, and look out for soon-to-be-announced commissioning opportunities by following our social media @EqualMediaScot.
Find out more
|Gender Equal Media Scotland (GEMS)
|Healthy Social Media