September 3, 2014

Mic | The Guardian | Huffington Post

A sexist headline and lead greeted Rona Fairhead’s appointment as head of the BBC Trust, Sophie Kleeman wrote Tuesday for Mic.

From Kleeman’s story:

Instead of highlighting Fairhead’s professional accomplishments — the things actually landed her the job — the newspaper instead decided to highlight her maternal status.

The story’s lede just makes it worse. It gives the message that because she’s the first woman to hold the position, we must somehow use “feminine” characteristics to distinguish her from her predecessors; in this case, her motherhood.

Kleeman points out that the Web version of The Telegraph’s story uses a different headline. Actually, a few of them do. There’s “In Rona Fairhead, the BBC may have found the formidable chief it needs,” and “Businesswoman Rona Fairhead the preferred choice for next BBC Trust chairman”.

On Tuesday, Laura Bates also wrote about the story for The Guardian with the headline “Ability not fertility: why do we define professional women by their family?”

From Bates’ story:

The way the media reports on the careers of businesswomen and female politicians is vitally important, because it influences our societal ideas about women and their place, which in turn help to underpin unconscious bias in voters and employers, as well as girls’ aspirations. When press coverage can translate into voter confidence, what impact does it have to see Cameron and Osborne’s policies covered in detail on the front page, alongside a massive photograph of Theresa May’s shoes? When women already face high levels of maternity discrimination in the workplace, is it helpful to report on high-achieving woman first and foremost by referencing their family life?

Huffington Post’s Catherine Taibi wrote about the story on Sunday, pointing out all the other headline-worthy things Rona Fairhead has accomplished.

Being a mom is a part of my own identity (and it’s in my Twitter bio, as my editor and fellow parent Andrew Beaujon pointed out.) Since my 7-year-old was born, I’ve worked some combination of freelance and part-time and only started working again full-time at the start of this year for Poynter. So yes, being a mom is a part of my identity and it has impacted my career choices.

But for me and I imagine many other women, it’s generally not headline-worthy.

To help with the decision on whether or not to include motherhood in a headline, I’d like to offer this quick quiz.

1. Did the woman in the headline just have a child?

NO — Not headline-worthy.

YES — Then maybe this is headline-worthy. While women around the world have babies without headlines quite often, there are stories when famous and/or powerful women have children, and the story is probably about that woman having a child, but not about her getting a new job. Unless she does both those things at once, in which case, that’s an awesome headline.

2. Is the woman’s job somehow directly related to the raising of children or the being of a mom?

NO — Not headline-worthy.

YES — OK, that could be relevant, but I’d guess a lot of other details are, as well.

3. Are you going to use “mom” in every headline you write about women who also have children just because they happen to be women who also have children?

NO — Not headline-worthy.

YES — I give up.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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