Where Women Are Headed in 2013: Comedy, Politics, and Journalism

This story was originally published in Vitamin W on January 11, 2013, here. 


This article is the first in a series on where women are going in 2013.

Many lauded 2012 as “the Year of the Woman,” referring to the gains women leaders made in Congress, television, journalism, and other fields. While these successes should be celebrated, we should also view them as incremental — small but important steps toward addressing systemic gender inequity. Indeed, between the news of the cover-up of the rape of a 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio, to the GOP’s refusal to sign the Violence Against Women Act, it is clear that sexism persists, and that women face ongoing challenges in the year — and years — ahead. Here at VITAMIN W, we asked women thought leaders in various fields the following questions: where are women going in 2013, and what do you hope for women?

1. Comedy

Given the plethora of male comedians, male producers, and all-male casts (see: FX’s The League, The Hangover series, Louis CK, and the like), it was exciting to see women’s names in popular film and TV credits. Twenty-six-year-old writer and actor Lena Dunham led the charge with her uber-popular and hip HBO series Girls, which uses crude, honest humor to change how we see women’s experiences and bodies. Similarly, Mindy Kahling, known for her role as a writer and actor on The Office, emerged on the comedy scene with her memoir, Is Everyone is Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), and her own TV series, The Mindy Project.

Ellen DeGeneres, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler continue to remind us that our conception of humor spans beyond the all-male bromances we see in many Judd Apatow films and that women are continuing to rise in the ranks of comedy.

VITAMIN W spoke with Mary Phillips-Sandy, editorial producer of Comedy Central’s Indecision, a digital hub for politics and news comedy. When asked where she predicts women will go in comedy this year, she replied, “Wherever they want.” With the rise of social media, she said, “these days a lot of comedians are being very smart about the digital tools at their disposal, and that will continue to let women create their own shows, publish their own work, and build their own audiences, especially as the social web continues to grow and evolve. Look at Grace Helbig’s Daily Grace series on YouTube, Maria Bamford’s special on chill.com, and the success of Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson’s Broad City, which got picked up by FX after becoming popular online.”

She hopes that digital media can act as “a great equalizer.” She also said that although big media companies still wield a lot of power, she wants them to continue to cast, hire, and develop female talent, and for women to rise in the ranks of comedy as writers and producers.

In an oft-overlooked aspect of comedy, she wants what she terms the “lookist” element of our culture “to die a slow, painful death so funny women can get shows, gigs, specials, and deals no matter what they look like, no matter how old they are, and no matter what they’re wearing.” “Actually,” she said, “I want that thing to die quickly. And painfully.”

Finally, Phillips-Sandy hopes that women will support other women’s comedy: “Yes, you want your work to be seen by everyone, regardless of gender. But you are insane if you don’t realize that it is especially hard out there for women, especially when you’re just starting out. I want women who have achieved any measurable amount of success to mentor other women.”

2. Politics

2012 was a landmark year for women in politics, with a record 20 women elected to Congress and 78 women elected to the House of Representatives. In New Hampshire, where women already held the state’s two Senate seats, women also won the state’s two Congressional seats, making it the first state in U.S. history to send an all-women delegation to Washington.

Despite these victories, the beginning of 2013 has not been entirely kind to women, withHouse Republican leaders failing to advance the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. The Act would have extended domestic violence protection to LGBT individuals, undocumented immigrants, and Native American women.

We spoke with Mary Hughes, a longtime political strategist and the founder of the 2012 Project, a campaign that seeks to increase the number of women in Congress, about what 2013 will look like for women in politics. She said that “only a few states elect legislators this year, but it will be interesting to see if the uptick in women running and winning office in 2012 continues in these off-year elections.”

“The opportunities for American women in politics shift to the states in 2014, where a majority will be electing governors, attorneys general, treasurers, and other executive officers. For women already in public office and those in the private sector with expertise in law and finance, these are positions with significant policy clout,” she said.

In these off-year elections, Hughes said that she hopes women candidates will put the issues of gun violence front and center, framing it as an issue of child safety.

3. Journalism 

Journalism continues to be a field dominated by men, with women comprising just 36.9% of those working full-time at daily U.S. newspapers. Even though women are writing more op-eds than ever before, they are focused on “pink topics,” or subjects that women have traditionally written on. According to the OpEd Project, women wrote 38% of op-eds that appeared in college publications, 33% of those at new media outlets, and 20% at legacy outlets, accounting for only 20% of the op-ed voices in the nation’s leading newspapers.

Despite this byline gap, women did make strides this past year, tackling “hard news,” like the November elections. VITAMIN W spoke with Callie Schweitzer, director of marketing and special projects at Vox Media, who lauded 2012 as, “a huge year for women in journalism. Just think of the role female reporters played in election coverage: Candy Crowley and Martha Raddatz moderated debates, [and] Ashley Parker, Sarah Boxer, Emily Friedman, Juana Summers, Maggie Haberman, Maeve Reston, and Shushannah Walshe were absolute must follows for the cycle breaking stories left and right.”

She said, “my biggest hope for female journalists in 2013 is that we keep doing what we’re doing — changing the ratio in a field dominated by men. Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin, who became the first openly gay U.S. senator when she was sworn in January 3, recently said, ‘We’re best in a democracy when our legislative bodies represent America.’ The same is true for journalism. It’s so important that we pave the way for future generations.”

Next week, VITAMIN W will talk with leaders in the fields of tech, philanthropy, and advertising on what’s in store for women in the New Year.



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