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Oprah bans “bitch” from new OWN network: WIMN and other women’s media activists respond

jpozners Icon Posted by Jennifer L Pozner

November 2nd, 2010

News spread yesterday that the most powerful woman in media banned the use of the word “bitch” on her new TV network, OWN. I spoke with Daily Caller political reporter Caroline May about Oprah’s positive symbolic step–and about why we’ll need more than symbolism to dismantle bias against women in all aspects of media, both within content and behind the scenes.

In particular, I suggested, we need institutional changes ranging from efforts to address the systemic marginalization of women and people of color as professionals in the industry, to structural changes to media policy and regulation that could result in increased diversity of ownership and perspectives setting the agendas for news and entertainment content, for starters.

The Daily Caller also spoke with Women In Media & News allies Yana Walton at the Women’s Media Center and activist and blogger Shelby Knox, for this piece:

Feminists laud Oprah Winfrey for banning the word ‘bitch’ from new OWN television network

Women’s groups are cheering Oprah Winfrey’s announcement that the word “bitch” will not be tolerated on her new network, but say that there remains a great deal more work to be done in the fight against sexism.

In a Thursday speech at Maria Shriver’s Women’s Conference, the media mogul told audience members that the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) would be “fun and entertaining without tearing people down and calling them bitches. Imagine that. Imagine.”

Oprah’s announcement comes on the heels of The View co-host Joy Behar’s rant against Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle, in which she repeatedly called Angle a “bitch.”

Yana Walton, communications director for the Women’s Media Center, told The Daily Caller that Oprah is helping to move the dialogue in the right direction.

“When an entire network makes such a positive step it will make a difference. She is using her power to make a change in the system,” Walton said.

Even if Oprah is making a symbolic nod toward respectful treatment of women, Jennifer Pozner, executive director of Women in News and Media and author of “Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV” notes that with women holding just 3 percent of the “clout titles” in media and telecom companies women still have a long way to go to get equality in the media

“I applaud Oprah for coming out with a standard. I think that most media companies should have standards that are transparent for what they consider appropriate and not appropriate for their airwaves,” Pozner said.

Despite Oprah’s influence, Pozner reminds that women are still facing an uphill slog against sexism. “Ninety-seven percent of the people who set agendas in media companies are men,” Pozner said. “So it becomes a little bit easier to understand in that context why many outlets don’t think it is a problem to call women ‘bitches.’”’

Amy Siskind, president and co-founder of the New Agenda, was thrilled about the news. “We are asking that other women in the media — maybe starting with Barbara Walters — on their shows, networks, blogs, websites, refrain from using that word in a demeaning way. That word and ‘whore.’”

Feminist blogger and creator of “The Education of Shelby Knox” Shelby Knox told TheDC that she believes women still have a way to go before they have absolute equity in media. However, Knox was pleased with Oprah’s stand. “She has taken a step forward to say she will not tolerate such attacks on her network and I think that is a great first step to take as she is starting off, [saying] ‘This is a safe space for women.’”

While Oprah has put smiles on the faces of many women with her announcement, they continue to say that their work is far from over. “Multiple problems require multiple solutions,” Pozner said. “So talking about the word bitch is a nice symbolic first step — although I tend to be more about discuss rather than censor — but that first step needs to be followed by a larger look at the many tentacles of sexism in media.”

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