It may seem as though stories about sexual misconduct are everywhere. And there’s a reason for that — when the #MeToo movement launched in October 2017, there was a record number of articles about sexual assault, groping, harassment, rape and other forms of misconduct that published over the course of a few months. The trend peaked in November 2017, when an average of 54 stories on the subject were published each day.
Though those headlines may have died down after an initial rush of information, there’s still more coverage of sexual misconduct now than before the movement ensued. According to a report by the Women’s Media Center (WMC), in August 2018, the categories of reporting they researched in regard to #MeToo “remained up overall from the beginning of our study, clearly showing that the media is paying more attention.”
But as a barrage of knowledge rains down on the American people, the WMC took the time to look at who gets to narrate #MeToo. And it’s not who you might think.
According to WMC’s report, between May 2017 and August 2018, 47% of the bylines on articles about sexual misconduct in 14 of the country’s most circulated newspapers belonged to women, compared to 53% that belonged to men. Before #MeToo hit in October 2017, the trend was even starker — only 45% of stories related to sexual misconduct were written by women. After October 2017, women wrote a larger proportion of relevant articles, but overall, the majority of bylines still belonged to men.
These statistics are actually more equal than the national average for the gender distribution of bylines in newspapers across all stories, where women rank around 40% of bylines, according to WMC. But it may still come as a surprise that women are not usually the ones writing articles about an issue that disproportionately affects them, especially as two-thirds of graduates with degrees in mass communications or journalism are women.
This breakdown becomes even more important to understand in context, with the realization that male and female reporters write very different stories when it comes to sexual misconduct. In a 2015 report, “Writing Rape: How U.S. Media Cover Campus Rape and Sexual Assault,” WMC found that women only wrote 31% of the bylined stories about campus rape. When they did, their reportage was often informed by a more victim-focused perspective.
“Women journalists interviewed alleged victims more often than male journalists, and a higher proportion of women journalists wrote about the impact of the alleged attack on alleged victims,” according to WMC. “Forty percent of women journalists covered this aspect of stories, versus 33% of male journalists. A higher proportion of male journalists used quotes about the behavior of our impact on the alleged perpetrator than did female journalists — 35% versus 32%.”
There are male journalists who have done some of the industry’s pioneering work on sexual misconduct. Ronan Farrow, the New Yorker’s investigative reporter, won a Pulitzer after he published an exposé on movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct. Farrow is known as one of the foremost journalists reporting on sexual misconduct today, and his coworker Jane Mayer recently said his supportive nature is often what makes survivors feel as though they can speak up.
And so men can clearly report about #MeToo in an impactful way, but research suggests their approach is still different from their female peers.
The #MeToo movement has opened up the floodgates for real conversation about sexual misconduct in the personal and professional spheres. Now, the question is, who’s leading the discussion?