The ‘Lady who…’ genre of journalism

Too often, stories about female newsmakers are focused more on gender than news. This, according to journalist Christie Aschwanden, is especially true in science writing:

Campaigns to recognize outstanding female scientists have led to a recognizable genre of media coverage. Let’s call it “A lady who…” genre. You’ve seen these profiles, of course you have, because they’re everywhere. The hallmark of “A lady who…” profile is that it treats its subject’s sex as her most defining detail. She’s not just a great scientist, she’s awoman! And if she’s also a wife and a mother, those roles get emphasized too. …

We don’t write “Redheads in Science” articles, so why do we keep writing about scientists in the context of their gonads? Sexism exists, and we should call it out when we see it. But treating female scientists as special cases only perpetuates the idea that there’s something extraordinary about a woman doing science.

There is, however, hope. Aschwanden provides several examples of stories that emphasize the science, not the fact that the scientist is a woman. You’ll find links to those pieces in her excellent story.

The “lady who…” phenomenon isn’t limited to science. It happens in politics, sports and business, too. Miss Representation, an organization working to eliminate sexism in government, describes a good litmus test in this article about gender-bias in political coverage:

(It’s called) the reversibility test.  In short, if you wouldn’t normally see a certain story frame for a male politician in the publication you are reading, then it shouldn’t be used for a female politician. Simple as that.

Do you have any examples of “lady who…” journalism? Share them in the comments below.

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