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Women (Not) In The Media

lmarshalls Icon Posted by Lucinda Marshall

June 17th, 2008

Due in large part to the hard work of many feminist media activists, gender issues are now assumed to be a regular part of the media justice discussion. But that is still a far cry from an actionable platform for making gender justice an integral part of the media reform agenda.

The implications of such a lack are damaging and manifest themselves in many ways. In a recent conversation with Mary Moss Greenebaum, the Founder of the Kentucky Author Forum, which brings noted authors to Louisville, Kentucky, I asked her why only 26 of the 96 guests in the program have been women. She said that while she was aware that was problematic, her main concern was diversity of topics, that she focused on having authors that could speak to a broad range of topics, which is really just a variation on the ‘we’d love to invite women on our show but we just don’t know any/there aren’t any qualified ones available, etc. Jennifer Pozner, Director of Women in Media and News elaborates on this tactic in much more detail and offers this nuanced list of the usual excuses:

A. We’d love to have a woman expert for this story, but there aren’t enough women in [insert whatever field is the subject of the news story or the op-ed] so we can’t find any good female sources or guests on [insert almost any topic other than child care, abortion, rape, fashion or celebrity/lifestyle];

B. We’d love to have more women as commentators but our shows “are not having long discussions about issues that are not at the forefront of the agenda” and “the object here is to deliver the news, not to get women on the air.” (Because media have no role in determining what’s at “the forefront of the agenda” and, alternately, women’s concerns are necessarily marginal? So, there are “newsmakers,” and then there are women? Who knew they were mutually exclusive?);

C. We’d love to have more women on our op-ed pages, but op-eds are combative and women are more hesitant about expressing their opinions (ie, “Women don’t shout. Women don’t like politics. Women shrink from intellectual debate. Women don’t try,” as Katha Pollitt astutely summed up — the handily debunked — here);

D. We’d love to have more women sources/writers/guests but we just don’t have time to find them.

Be sure to see Pozner’s full post where she debunks the validity of all of the above.

In another recent conversation, the host of a progressive community radio program in the Midwest proudly listed some of his many illustrious and mostly male guests. When I pointed out this imbalance, he said he hoped I wasn’t from the bean-counting school of feminism, chastising me for simplistically counting guests rather than complimenting him for addressing important issues and ideas. It obviously did not occur to him that indeed I am focusing on the issue and the issue is gender imbalance.

In Conspicuous By Their Absence, Miren Gutierrez addresses why women are systematically invisibilized by the media and the implications that has:

“Observe any summit picture - you won’t find many women. The mystery of female underrepresentation in the echelons of power persists: after so many decades of the feminist movement, why are women at the helm scarce? A look at the media sector may provide some answers.

“The media is a mirror on society so it needs to be a reflection of that society. If our newsrooms are male-dominated spaces, they will reflect a male-dominated world. That, for me, is not living true to our mission of creating non-racial (in the case of South Africa), non-biased, non-sexist societies,” says Ferial Haffajee, the first woman editor of the South African Mail & Guardian.

Media organisations are the gatekeepers of much of what is known in the public sphere, while journalistic stories contribute to perpetuating stereotypes, or changing them. It is quite revealing, then, to find out who is in the kitchen cooking the news.”

Miren goes on to present numerous examples from around the world documenting the problem.

So what is to be done? In the aftermath of the National Conference for Media Reform NCMR, I asked a number of feminist media activists for their thoughts on why gender justice needs to be a part of the media agenda, not just a topic of discussion. I present them here as a starting point for formulating an action plan to make it so.

“Without Women their is no such thing as Media Justice. If you care about
our mothers, daughters, and sisters then you must care about Media Justice. If
you care about violence against women, a person’s self image, and equality
for all women then you must care about Media Justice.”

–Deanne Cuellar, San Antonio Project Director, Texas Media Empowerment Project (Texas MEP); leadership team member of MAG-Net, the Media Action Grassroots Network

“Media has always been one of the chief conduits by which young people understand, identify with, and form their opinions about the world around them. A media that both reflects and prioritizes the lives and voices of women—all women—is crucial not only to the development of a well-informed populace, but to the development of a new generation of thinkers and leaders inspired to make media that’s open-minded, democratic, and challenging.”

–Andi Zeisler, Cofounder and Editorial Director, Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture

“Feminist participation is essential for any movement to be truly progressive; when women’s viewpoints are excluded, the resulting gaps in analysis inevitably result in works that falls short of its social justice goals. Because of its profound influence on our culture, nowhere is this more true than in the field of media.”

–Lisa Jervis, Founding Editor and Publisher, Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture

“The fact that the conservative forces in this country have been able to reframe almost every feminist issue through the media (feminism itself, late-term abortion, and welfare) was all the proof I needed to work for media justice. Without more feminist voices in the media, the feminist movement will continue to lose wars before the battles even begin, especially when the issues disproportionately affect communities of color. Media is a woman’s issue.”

Veronica I. Arreola,
Women In Media & News (Board Member)
Chicago Abortion Fund (Board Co-Chair)

“Until all forms of media and our communication rights reflect the diversity of women’s voices and solutions to critical issues facing our country and the world, media will contribute heavily to the manufacturing of misogyny, militarism, and violence we all face and organize to resist.”

–Jan Strout,
Co-director, Reclaim the Media
National Field Director, National Organization for Women

“As long as men are the most powerful and visible
voices in media, then we can’t heal this world fast
enough. Women don’t start wars, they care about
children, about mothers and the deepest love in all
its shapes and sizes and colors: between men and
women, women and women, men and men…women’s
perspectives are vital to changing the hateful
discourse that men have created and that so many women
are obeying. Without women at all levels of media,
there is no true media reform.”

–Barbara Renaud Gonzalez
Las True Stories From San Antonio

“One of the points I make in my presentations is this: Since the beginning of mass communications, so many aspects of shaping the discourse have excluded women: from outright ownership to meager participation opportunities, women just haven’t had a chance. With the advent of the new tools that drastically democratize media — wikis, blogs, social tools, etc — it’s absolutely critical that we participate and shape the conversation. It’s easier than ever, and the more the merrier.”

–Deanna Zandt, media technologist for Hightower Lowdown, AlterNet and GritTV with Laura Flanders

“Although I know attempts have been made to diversify the panels at NCMR, some of the topics were not as diverse. In addition our panel “There is no media justice without women” appeared at one of the most contested spots in the conference going against Amy Goodman. Diversity isn’t just about numbers and it doesn’t mean that if you get a woman and a man of color that you have included the women-of-color perspective. The conference can only only improve with the richness of multiple perspectives on any issue and not mirror big media.”

–Shireen Mitchell
Founder, Digital Sisters/Sistas Inc.
Vice Chair, National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO)
Chair, Media and Technology Task Force (NCWO)

“Media consolidation means more and more media outlets are run exclusively for profit, and more and more these outlets are therefore emulating or downright embracing the aims and modes of advertising. Advertising we know was set up by “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” to appeal to “Your Wife”—the ideal consumer. (As quaint as we may believe this language to be, “the housewife in Pawtucket / Davenport / wherever” remains the trope to which advertisers answer, as can be read daily in the industry press.) It’s critical, right now, to reposition women not as consumers of the products and services media touts, but as critics, watchdogs, owners, and producers of media—maybe even of media free of consumerist aims.”

Anne Elizabeth Moore
The Anti-Advertising Agency Foundation for Freedom

Author of Unmarketable

“There is no “media democracy,” no media justice, without women. Too often, the “universal” issues of structural and economic media reform are not understood as interconnected with (though not more important than) institutional biases around gender, race, class and sexuality in media content and in the media industry. Institutional biases including corporate media consolidation, the lack of gender and racial diversity within the industry itself, discriminatory media production, and access and distribution issues are of crucial importance for women (and people of color, poor people, LGBTQ people, immigrants and other marginalized communities), who find our identities and our concerns misrepresented, maligned or just plain missing from public debate. The good news is that women are leading the grassroots battle for fairer, more authentic, more democratic media, from producing independent journalism in print, radio, cable access and the feminist blogosphere, to waging policy battles around the digital divide, net neutrality, municipal broadband and ownership regulations.”

–Jennifer L. Pozner,
Founder and Executive Director, Women In Media & News, and Editor, WIMN’s Voices

This is a cross-post from the Feminist Peace Network blog and as I’m sure readers here will note, many of the quotes are from WIMN bloggers. Many thanks to all of you and especially Jenn Pozner for helping to facilitate this.

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