WIMN’s Voices: A Group Blog on Women, Media, AND…

Carolyn Byerly

Dr. Carolyn M. Byerly teaches courses in research methods, media effects and communication theory in the journalism department at Howard University.

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Carolyn Byerly's Blog Introduction

Women, Media, AND... International Media Activism

Hello everyone.

In the months ahead, I will be exploring media policy from a feminist perspective. Through regular postings, I hope to bring to light a range issues and events related to media policies, both within the industries and at national and international public-policy levels. I will also emphasize events that need our involvement. Yes, the goal here is to actively engage more women (and men of conscience) in media policy reform that will better serve women's interests. For inspiration, I will spotlight some success stories from the annals of women's media activism.

My postings will draw from a lot of sources, including academic and government publications, grassroots newsletters and websites, speeches and conferences that I attend, my own academic research on women's media activism (check out my website and CV), and even my own history as a media activist.

Introducing myself

I am an associate professor and researcher on the communications faculty at Howard University in Washington DC, where I teach graduate courses and conduct research on mass media (see my website and CV). While most of my work fits into the niche of feminist scholarship, I also address race, ethnicity, class, sexuality and other signifiers of power, as these relate to media industries (both within the U.S. and globally). My role as a researcher and teacher grows out of a long, complex personal relationship to the media. I studied and practiced journalism and public relations for a number of years. Then, in the mid 1970s, friends in the anti-rape movement called on me to use my professional skills in activist ways – to write grant applications, to draft press releases and radio spots, to train staff and volunteers in rape crisis centers and women's shelters to develop working relationships with journalists, and to present testimony to the state legislature on emerging legislation (e.g., interviewing child victims and ending the marital rape exclusion), among other things.

In Washington state, where I lived then, we saw dramatic changes in both the amount and quality of reporting on violence against women during the 1970s and 80s, after feminists began to pressure news industries to give more accurate, frequent attention to these and other women's issues. In these same years, feminists in many other nations were also challenging the media to change their longstanding neglect and mistreatment of women. (Be watching for my new book with Karen Ross, Women and Media: A Critical Introduction, Blackwell, soon to be announced at www.blackwellpub.com),

The thing to keep in mind is that these activities have had very significant results, with many policy changes in newsrooms and other levels of media practice, e.g., the policy of not naming rape and domestic violence victims, and an end to sex-segregated job ads. Women in many nations also filed official complaints or lawsuits to end sexism in hiring and other practices – many of these ushered in new policies still in force today. Though the media's treatment of women is a long way from ideal, feminist impact on media policy has made a difference everywhere. We will be building on this tradition of standing up for gender justice in the media.

Taking a feminist stand

My contention is that feminists must now develop a deeper recognition that media content cannot be seen separately from media policy and economics. It's not that feminists should stop critiquing the content issues of women's portrayal or absence that have dominated our media concerns for several decades, but rather that we need to expand our thinking about – and action to address – the ways that content comes into existence. Content is a product of bigger forces – forces that increasingly reflect neoliberal philosophies of the global economy. Media and telecommunications industries, which have been described as the backbone and nervous system of the global economy, are dominated by increasingly smaller numbers of very powerful men (See http://www.takebackthemedia.com/owners.html for a number of good sources to media ownership and citizen action). But women are also part of this picture, not only as victims of the system but sometimes also as players in (and beneficiaries of) it see www.isiswomen.org/advocacy/media). Our task is messy and demands our honest scrutiny if we are to develop effective, socially conscious changes with the majority of women's interests in mind.

Therefore, feminist media reform strategies and action at local and national levels should be developed in such ways that women's interests are inserted at every level of policy – at what may be understood as micro, meso and macro-levels. Micro level refers to routine activities that result in the production of messages and other content. Meso level refers to management and decision making within industries. Macro level refers to the finance and governance – arrangements enabled by state, national and international policy. (For a good background on political economy of media, see www.chomsky.info/onchomsky/19890)

Feminist media policy reform also must take a multicultural approach by incorporating race, age, physical abilities, sexual difference, religious differences, nationality and other factors that have served to marginalize groups of people within and across societies.

Educating ourselves for action

My submissions will be aimed at demystifying what media policy means at these various levels, as well as where women's interests fit in. I will also show how and where women can get more involved. Feminist media activists are presently shaping both national media policies in several countries, and are working through a couple of international bodies to enact broad policy changes. I will be spotlighting these through the months ahead. To sneak a peek, though, see The Hoot, Network of Women in Media – India, National Organization for Women, and the Gender and Media Monitor.

Welcoming your insights

Please correspond with me if you have questions or suggestions for my column. You can reach me at: cbyerly@howard.edu.

Carolyn Byerly's Biography

Dr. Carolyn M. Byerly teaches courses in research methods, media effects and communication theory in the journalism department at Howard University. Her research focuses on the relationship between social movements and media in U.S. and international contexts, with respect to gender, race, nationality, culture, sexual orientation and other variables. Her recent work examines media activism in 20 nations, the role of alternative media in the global peace movement; and gender and media concentration.

A widely published author, her most recent work has focused on international women’s media activism for Women and Media: A Critical Introduction and Women and Media: International Perspectives, coauthored with Karen Ross (Blackwell Publications).

A complete list of Dr. Byerly’s publications and scholarship can be found in her curriculum vitae.

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