"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Monday, March 22, 2010

Where We Put Our News: The Politics of Information Placement

A bunch of my Women's Studies 101 students just wrote papers in which they examined the differences between popular men's and women's magazines and analyzed how magazine content sends messages about gender roles. They overwhelmingly took notice of the fact that men's magazines contain a disproportionate amount of news and current events, while such content is rarely found in women's magazines, and they were especially good at explaining how this is problematic in that it makes news more accessible to men than to women.

Well, yesterday, I was reminded of another place that men tend to see the news and women don't. Public restrooms.


I remember the first time a guy I knew told me that it's incredibly commonplace for men's public restrooms to have the day's newspaper displayed somewhere within them. That it happens most often in restaurants, that it's typically the front page or the sports section displayed, and that it's usually placed right above the urinals. I was sort of shocked, because I wondered why men get to read the news while they're in the loo and we ladies have to stare at the boring inside of a stall door with no opportunity to enrich our minds with current events. Dan guesses the newspapers are there to encourage men to keep their eyes front and off each other's junk -- to provide a welcome distraction to ease the tension of an uncomfortable situation. And although I guess that's understandable, isn't there something sort of political about the fact that men have this extra, built-in opportunity to learn more about the world around them than women do? That, through no real effort of their own, they have this extra couple of minutes of absorbing pertinent information? Doesn't there seem to be some sort of age-old stereotype at work about men caring more about the news than women?

Be it tradition, stereotype, or mere distraction, it reeks of privilege to me. Thoughts?


Anonymous said...

I am intrigued. I have NEVER heard of this (I am female). I will have to ask some men I know. I wonder if this is regional.

Tracey said...

It's interesting to think about this being regional. The guys I know who have reported this to me are from Ohio and upstate New York. Still, it seems like it could easily be a midwestern thing to require reading material in the bathroom.

Unapologetically Mundane said...

Of course you only see this in the Midwest and in small-town New York, because that's where all of the gay-but-can't-admit-it folks live. They're naturally dying to look around, but they've also had sports love pounded into their brains, so they're torn.

Bachelor Girl said...

Surprisingly, I've rarely found myself in a men's room over the years, so I can't speak to what, if any, reading material they keep in there. In the ladies' rooms, though, I know it's becoming increasingly popular to post advertisements for restaurants, bars, clubs, radio stations, etc., on the insides of the stall doors.

Tracey said...

I've definitely noticed the advertising. I imagine that's showing up in men's rooms, too. it just amazes me that I've never seen a newspaper in a ladies' room and it's apparently so common for guys.

Ells (aka Serialmono) said...

I used to work at a bar in Oregon, and I had to put the sports page up over the urinals. I was shocked, too.

But really, men stand much closer to the back of a urinal than women sit to stall doors. I wouldn't be able to read newsprint that far away.

Of course, I'm also one of THOSE people (who works for the media (the man)) who gets called regularly and told that mistakes I make in my job are a result of intentional discrimination or bias rather than a result of oversight, carelessness, a difference of opinion, or some other reasonable explanation.

I do like UM's theory, though.

Tracey said...

Thanks for commenting, Ells and for confirming the practice.

The stall doors are a little far for newsprint, but the stall walls aren't. If these things were, say, just above or opposite the toilet paper, we could read to our hearts' content.

I really don't think the restroom setup is the reason for the discrepancy, though. Since it's most often the Sports page, I imagine that it's just assumed women don't like to read the Sports page. And if places of business tried to make things "equal" by giving us the Life or Arts section, the gendered nature of that would be suspect as well.

Ali Clarke said...

I'm a UK-based journalist who set up an online women's daily news service because of the bias towards men in the news (www.womensviewsonnews.org). Although I haven't come across the phenomenon you mention in your post, I wonder if you are familiar with the Global Media Monitoring Project? It does a global survey every five years and has just reported its latest findings - essentially that women are hugely underrepresented when it comes to news.

A socialist open to criticism said...

Oh yes definitely. Then you can this bias is furthered in the most absurd of ways. It is in fact used against us. It isn't uncommon for people to assign certain assumptions about our sexuality when the most dominant women's mags are based on fashion and gossip. It is used as an example of how superficial and bitchy we are. Absurd!

Please check out my blog, where I encounter this kind of thinking quite often.

bluzdude said...

I love having the paper tacked up above the urinal... we're already used to multi-tasking in the bathroom, so why not?

It also helps you focus if someone pulls in beside you and the "bashful kidneys" kick in.

They should most definitely put some reading material up in the ladies rooms... if the door is too far away from the seat, they can use the sides.

Tracey said...

Agreed! It's easy to look at the side of the stall. I'd really enjoy being able to skim some headlines and then return to the table with some new conversation material.

Anonymous said...

Please! The Girl's bathroom at my school gets fresh flowers in it. No one ever asked me if I would possibly enjoy the scent of fresh Geraniums to brighten my day! No one ever asked me if I would like to be pleasantly surprised once a week by seeing the new flowers they brought in, or have the opportunity to slowly watch them wilt ever so slightly until they are again discarded! No one asked me if I would like to be confronted by such a poignant and haunting reminder of my own mortality week after week! No one asked me whether I would like to experience the depression of no longer even being moved by such a sight, and wondering what was wrong with me! No one asked me whether two years hence I would like the opportunity for melancholy reflection upon the fact that I am no longer capable of such pure and unthinking joy from nothing more than a vase full of flowers! No one asked me whether I would like ten years hence to be able to look back on the memory of those flowers as marking the decline from my years of highest vitality! No one asked me whether I would like to be able to have a haunting reminiscence on my death bed of that image, and weep at the withered and embittered old man I have become!

Well, on the other hand, I suppose newspapers are probably better.