TV network founder illustrates gender divide


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Photo by Wendy Chiapaikeo |

Alison Bernstein, director of the Institute for Women’s Leadership, left, listens to Oxygen Media founder Geraldine Laybourne yesterday on Douglass campus.


Oxygen Media founder Geraldine Laybourne and School of Communication and Information Dean Jorge Schement addressed gender and minority biases in the media world.  

They joined Alison Bernstein, director of the Institute for Women’s Leadership, who discussed the role of female leaders in the media to an audience of about 35 people at the Ruth Dill Johnson Crockett Building on Douglass campus.

Oxygen Media, a TV network, was created to provide a platform for women in media, said Laybourne, chair and CEO of the network.

Bernstein said through data collected from Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, it appears that women are not represented equally as major characters in major motion pictures as producers, directors or screenwriters for film, video and TV.

Blockbuster films continue to be produced to a teenage male audience despite the success of films like “Bridesmaids,” she said.

Bernstein said there appears to be little progress on these issues since the 1990s, with women representing less than 10 percent of directors in picture studios channels.

Laybourne said when she worked at Nickelodeon, she noticed that the network purposely hired more women to rectify the male-dominated system.

“Geena’s data shows — whether it was 1947 or 2012 — 17 percent of women are represented in a crowd scene in a feature movie. Seventeen percent were main characters. It never gets more than 17 percent,” Laybourne said. “Seventeen percent of Congress is women. Seventeen percent ends up being a really interesting thing.”

Laybourne said if people see that women are 17 percent of the corporation, women become accustomed to seeing the 17 percent as a workplace norm.

But Laybourne said if women get to 30 percent in the media, corporation or Congress, it would be a large challenge to gender norms.

“I take another stance — ‘Hey we just got to vote 100 years ago. We haven’t been in this that long, and we aren’t patient,’” Laybourne said. “[The social norms] take a lot of time to change.”

Laybourne said cable television has become a good platform for women in media, with a portion of women in charge of big television networks, including MTV and Lifetime.

Laybourne said the blockbuster movie landscape is changing with a new realm of independent films, which Harvey Weinstein introduced to the United States.

Laybourne said when we she first started at Nickelodeon, before her career at Oxygen, nobody wanted to run kid’s programming because it was not economically beneficial.

“[But] we figured out to make it economically right,” she said. “I think that they have a big machine, turn out toys and so now they are much more subject to the economic formula. They want to prove themselves to create the blockbuster films for the boys.”

Laybourne said it would take some time before women in charge of movie studios can have a confidence in the technical aspects of the field.

The similar statistics apply for male and female minorities in the media field, Schement said, with a lot of minorities getting degrees, but many unable to break into the industry.

The media landscape is changing but changing slowly with gays advancing in the media, Schement said.

Shaneez Tyndall, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said she found the presentation a great insight into the women in the media.

“I am a student of Institute of Women’s Leadership, and one of the reasons I came here is my policy as a student here is media and communications,” she said. “To watch a woman who has founded niche network for women … is really inspiring.”

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