Misguided Media: Space Station History Takes A Backseat to Britney?

nasa-space-shuttle.jpg“The Right Stuff” vs. the wrong media coverage…when will it ever end?

As history was made with Retired Air Force Col. Pamela Melroy steering the shuttle Discovery in for docking in a 215-mile-high linkup with International Space Station Commander Peggy Whitson, I had to find it on page eleven of my morning newspaper.

Yep. Two female commanders breaking boundaries in space, serving as role models and inspirations, perfect for my Girls For A Change workshop, yet I had to scour ‘Google search’ to even find an MSNBC film clip, and comb women at NASA to get a decent profile page.

My international CNN homepage didn’t even give it bold type, and the major news carriers did a pre-press promo downplaying the occasion as “happenstance” to ensure it wasn’t perceived as a NASA ‘PR stunt’…The photos? Few and far between. Is this appropriate for a “first time ever” as “women rule space?”

What’s received stronger visual coverage instead? Britney’s custody battle and hit-n-run DUI charges, the SawIV slasher film franchise that I wrote about here last Halloween, and of course the devastating fire stories in SoCal and war in Iraq…all reported with spirit-eroding sensationalism to add a little ‘color.’

Maybe I’m just ‘too early’ in the blogosphere and mainstream coverage will kick in later…(meanwhile, this list of space blogs will no doubt cover the right stuff). It’s just disheartening to see the portrayal (and betrayal) of women heroes invisible when compared to mindless objectified ‘strut your stuff’ slop. It’s mind-boggling and surreal…

As I prepare my Girls For A Change workshops on media messaging and stereotypes for this Tuesday, I’ll be deconstructing this case in great detail, because it exemplifies the skewed prioritization of what constitutes worthy journalistic coverage. For example…

Who said, “I have this feeling that life is a spiritual adventure, and I want to make mine in the sky.”

Jerrie Cobb. She was a FLAT.

If you’re asking, “What’s a FLAT and who is THAT? –I will have made my point for this article.

You just don’t hear about heroes and positive role models enough…for girls OR for boys…

Jerrie Cobb was selected to be America’s first woman astronaut in 1959, after successfully passing all three phases of Mercury astronaut tests.

She was denied the opportunity for space travel along with the other dozen “First Lady Astronaut Trainees (‘FLATS’) as part of the original Mercury 13 due to NASA’s requirement for all astronauts to be combat jet test pilots. (And in fairness, here’s a ‘myths and legends’ deconstruction according to James Oberg, 22-year veteran of NASA mission control as well.)

I can’t help but hear my own hopeful refrain in my head, “But…but… that was then, this is now, right?”


Time and again, we see women professionals receive press coverage for their bodies over their minds, as it plays out in media, advertising, and endorsement deals daily.

From female athletes to mathematicians, lawyers, engineers, doctors, or liberal arts and sciences fields, no matter where you look in the media mix…‘Hotties’ over-ride ‘Heroes’ in ink on the page, digital downloads, and all aspects of media coverage.

Is it any wonder why girls today are conflicted about their self-worth when opportunities are negated by sexualization?

By robbing girls of dignified, aspirational role models, and enduring these absurd media machinations of body over mind, we’re sending a message akin to “that’s great that you have a brain, but what do you look like in a swimsuit, sweetheart?”

We’re telling boys that women are playthings repeatedly.

And if you film a documentary on a K-5 playground like we’re doing with “Body Blitz: Media, Shaping Youth” you’ll see that children universally are being dished toxic appearance-based behavioral cues and fed backwards media messaging of reverse ‘empowerment’ so profoundly it’ll make your head spin.

To deconstruct this with a fair, balanced, centrist point of view, I decided to delve deeper and remove the gender equation altogether to see if perhaps this mission just wasn’t rocket-launching intergalactic news, or if perhaps the ‘female’ angle was back-burned as ‘ho-hum’ for other reasons.

After all, it would be a GREAT sign if it signified that there’s such a gender balance of parity that it’s not a big deal, at NASA or anywhere in technological fields.

No such scenario…AP reports that when the two crews joined forces Thursday linking their ships, it kicked off “the biggest construction job ever attempted by a single team in orbit.’

That tells me that even if you took away the history-making female angle, the space and science objective is newsworthy in itself. So why did I have to hunt for this story?

Profit-driven media will no doubt maintain, “sex sells, science doesn’t”…does that mean we’re allowing news coverage that merits attention to be buried in search engines while vapid values and ludicrously shallow media spoon-fed us an alter and define our view of ‘reality?’

Not good. In deconstructing the actual verbiage in the news that DID run, I found my journalistic sensibilities tweaked by seeing the two astronauts referred to throughout the piece as “Mrs. Melroy and Mrs. Whitson.” No joke! Lookie here in this Washington Times article (by a woman, I might add).

I dare say we could use a resurrection of journalistic guidelines and best practices for consistency, folks.

In the Scotsman, new media’s integration of online reader commentary enables all voices to be heard, including belittling jerks making slams like,

“I think they’ll criticize the décor first” and “I hope they have a tea set up there.”—along with infantile gay rhetoric and dusting/cleaning jokes.

Seems we haven’t come ‘such a long way baby’ after all…

CNN makes reference to Melroy’s first ever command of the space station, “Before the launch, an official presented her with a traditional Kazakh whip to take with her. It’s a symbol of power, Whitson explained, because of all the horseback and camel riding in Kazakhstan. Smiling, she said she took the gift as a compliment and added: “I did think it was interesting though, that they talked a lot about the fact that they don’t typically let women have these.”

Then they editorialize, “At least it wasn’t a mop. The whip stayed behind on Earth.”

Whips? Mops? Humor? Do you see the media wink and nudge?

You can be a biochemist astronaut with a Ph.D like Whitson, and still be put in a situation where you’re either forced to put on your game face as ‘one of the guys’ to endure sophomoric jabs and imbecilic sexism or risk being cast in the media as a hard-nose without a sense of humor.

It’s exactly what She’s Geeky conveyed so brilliantly, as Susan Mernit, one of the organizers, explains in these session notes about women in technology with uber-brainpower being forced into role-play in their work personas that doesn’t authentically match who they are.

Who is making the news and controlling the power base? How is women’s invisibility quotient enduring? How do we teach children to sift through what’s being presented in the media to them as aspirational?

When media’s portrayal of powerfully positive female role models like these two astronaut commanders is negated by high visibility of women in T&A, writhing pole dancer mode, I’d say “Houston, we’ve got a problem.”

Am I in another galaxy? Am I too close to this because I have a daughter that I want to see star-struck by these astronauts instead of star-struck by trashy celebs?

How did this space station docking get covered in your town? Is it on your radar? Did you hear about it from the news? I’m curious. Ask your sons, daughters, friends, and family…Have they heard of this space mission?

Did it make the science class chats in school? How about lunch table talk?

I’ve been conducting an informal poll among men, women, and children who haven’t even heard of the space shuttle and station linkage, much less the two female astronauts making history. It didn’t even get a blip on the radar among peer groups here…

So far I’ve queried only a handful, none of who had heard ‘boo’…As we come upon Halloween, this is the scariest media ‘trick’ I’ve yet to encounter, history-making women invisible as Casper…

Don’t think women are “invisible” in the media?

Take a peek at some of these stats I put together for our media messaging workshop on stereotypes.

By the way, I’ll toss in the caveat, that I do NOT ascribe to the ‘numbers game’ of gender equity…I firmly believe harmful role depiction destroying children’s respect for one another and the social fabric as a whole should earn a negative value for ‘tainting humanity.’

In other words, I could care less if women have “50-50 representation” if that representation is toxic…Pussycat Dolls and prime time hoochie-mama stripper cues from Axe ads are not exactly the gender balance we’re striving for, know what I mean?

· Only 14% of the guests on Sunday morning news shows were women, and over HALF (56%) did NOT include even one woman at all. –The White House Project, 2005

· Ratio of male to female writers in national “general interest” magazines 581:190. (3 to 1) –WomenTK.com, 2006

· Men outnumber women appx. 3:1 in prime time. In commercials most of the talking is done by men, women typically have blonde or red/auburn hair over black/brown and ‘almost perfect’ bodies. Men over 65 are often cast in younger roles, whereas women are categorized as ‘elderly.’ Occupation is a large part of male characterization in prime time, whereas a quarter of the female characters cannot be classified by occupation at all. When equally classified as ‘professionals’ women are cast in lower status white-collar jobs. –American Academy of Pediatrics, Feb. 1998

· 96% of voiceovers in promotional announcements for television programs are male –Professor B. Carol Eaton, Syracuse University, 1997

· Male TV characters (41%) were more likely to be shown “on the job” than female characters (28%). Men were more likely to talk about work than women were (52% vs. 40%) and less likely to talk about romantic relationships (49% vs. 63%) –Children NOW and the Kaiser Family Foundation, 1997

· Gender roles for men on tv emphasize strength, performance and skill; for women, focus is on attractiveness and desirability. Males are shown as ‘rational, ambitious, smart, stable, violent, etc.’ while women are ‘sensitive, romantic, happy, warm, fair, etc.’ –National Institute of Mental Health, 1994

· Children who witness female characters on tv that are passive, subordinate to men or indecisive come to understand this is the appropriate way for females to behave. Reinforcement of traditional roles abounds; one study showed only 11% of female characters were NOT identified in terms of marriage and family, whereas this tag was unimportant for almost half of male tv characterizations. –National Institute of Mental Health, 1994

· Women are only 132 of the general managers of the 1,600 television stations in the U.S. –National Association of Broadcasters

Imagine if all bloggers and journalists began balancing out resources a bit using organizations like SheSource to give society some role models and perspectives from qualified leaders that happen to be women as well…One peek into their database shows the adage “there’s no one qualified to speak one this subject” a moot point.

There are plenty of high-caliber resources for quotable experts on most every topic imaginable…we just don’t see these heavy hitters in our daily dose of lopsided media coverage!

If we continue to see women astronauts and athletes as anomalies, with pundits and media coverage focusing on appearance even when they DO get to the top of the field, what are we saying to our children? It’s soul-eroding, humiliating, disheartening and misguided…

Dr. Karen Dill’s recent testimony to the house subcommittee regarding media, stereotypes and women attests to same and bears this out from an APA psychological standpoint…it isn’t pretty.

Her new nine-page report, “From Imus to Industry: The business of stereotypes and degrading images,” is ‘must see media’ for anyone involved in critical thinking skills, much less concerned with the future of our youth.

We’ve got kids being raised with nothing OTHER than this twisted reality of objectified gender roles and backwards media messaging…that’s what we’re working hard here to deconstruct at Shaping Youth, and shift into a healthier direction.

I know my choice for a worldview and global outlook that’s sustainable beyond the trash-n-trend media coverage…

When I meet with those young teens at Girls For A Change next week to squash some stereotypes and champion our collaborative space team, THIS is the photo I want them to take home in their mind’s eye…It really boils down to this, media colleagues…

Do we want to be ‘Shaping Youth’ as heroes? Or hotties?

You know my vote. Let’s get our priorities straight…there’s a generation of youth counting on it.

Related Articles/Resources

Commander Peggy Whitson’s Space Station Journals

Missions Mark Giant Leaps for Womankind

International Women’s Air & Space Museum

Meet the Space Women Who Never Reached Space
(There’s a ‘send Jerri Cobb to space’ site/petition which began in 1998, sponsored by NOW, fyi, here)

A Chronology of Woman Astronauts, Cosmonauts and Other Space Pioneers

NASA Images of Women Astronauts

Valentina Tereshkova: First Woman in Space, Russia, 1963



  1. Melroy has logged 562 hours in space. Whitson has 2,950 hours (ISS, remember = more than 122 days). And they ignore this?

  2. Sadly…yes. Even worse…I queried ALL of the kids in my ‘squashing stereotypes session’ at Girls For A Change (several adults, too, as well as our middle-school volleyball team for girls and NOT ONE, student, attendee, player, coach, athlete, etc. had heard ‘boo’ about this history-making moment for women in outer space.
    Oh…and I asked them what news they HAD heard?

    Get this…that Taco Bell was giving away free tacos to anyone who stole a base in the World series. Yep…that’s marketing, baby.

    Here’s more: http://www.boston.com/news/globe/living/articles/2007/10/27/taco_bell_promotion_is_off_base_to_some/


  3. Still hitting a great big goose egg in terms of ‘what’s happening in outer space right now’—Have now queried adults/kids at the Get Real tour…Childhood Matters event, and many more…

    Here’s a link everyone should see from UCBerkeley about the lack of science programs at younger levels…gee, maybe that explains the kids, but what about the adults? (and media coverage?) http://www.mercurynews.com/search/ci_7275593?source=email&nclick_check=1

  4. From article above, “Pupils in 80 percent of California’s elementary classrooms spend less than an hour a week learning science, and 16 percent spend no time on it at all, University of California-Berkeley researchers said Wednesday.

    In contrast, a national study in 2000 found an average of 125 minutes of science instruction in elementary classrooms.

    And 41 percent of California teachers said they did not feel prepared to teach their students science, according to the study done at the Lawrence Hall of Science.

    The study may explain California’s dismal scores on national science tests. The state ranked fifth lowest in the country in fourth-grade science on the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

    Only 46 percent of Bay Area students scored proficient or above on the fifth-grade California Standards Test in science.

    Limited teaching time provides one explanation for students’ poor performance.

    “If you don’t interest kids in the early grades in science, then they’re very unlikely to pursue careers in math and science,” said lead researcher Rena Dorph. “We’ve got to do something different.”

    The study was commissioned by an emerging consortium of Bay Area philanthropic foundations, universities and science museums who wanted to know how best to support science education in the region, said Mark St. John, the president of the educational research firm coordinating the group.”

    And so on, and so on…


  5. Be a Good Daughter says

    Hello your comment is funny.
    I like your site..
    thank you again

  6. Well, I’m assuming you mean the Taco Bell one…but hey, as the old saying goes, ‘you can’t make that stuff up!’ Were you in our teen workshop at GFC by chance? –a.

  7. hi im a 4rth year computer science student from earist cavite campus (e.c.c) manila philippines, would like to ask can manila philippines has the same space technology like russia korea, etc. through american advance space technology “nasa”for many of our youth here want to take part
    in universal space exploration

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