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

Andi Zeisler

Andi Zeisler is the co-founder and editorial/creative director of Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, which began in 1996 as an all-volunteer 'zine with a circulation of 300 and is now an internationally distributed quarterly magazine with paid staff and a circulation of 47,000...

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Andi Zeisler's Blog Introduction

Women, Media, AND... Feminism

Women, the media, and feminism is a subject that I have long been immersed in, both in my capacity as the editorial director of Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture magazine, and as a cynical-yet-idealistic media obsessive. The way that feminism and feminist thought is received by and discussed in the media is crucial to our culture’s conception of the word and all that it stands for and stands to achieve.

Our country’s mainstream media is grounded in assumptions and expectations that have long been troublesome for people who exist outside the status-quo position (really just a fancy description of “white men”). For feminists, this has been a particular problem. For all practical purposes, the media invents reality. And one of the most pernicious results of living with this reality is that it’s effectively silenced any voices other than those chosen by the media itself. Lip service is consistently paid to diversity in both news reporting and cultural analysis, but when “experts” are called upon in the media, we rarely see women. Furthermore, looking for an unequivocal feminist perspective in either news media or mass entertainment is like looking for a full-length flannel nightgown in Pamela Anderson’s closet.

Since the first moment that feminism began raising its voice, the media has been there to try and bully it into silence, declaring it dead, irrelevant, or dangerous. Let’s look at each of these in order.

The “feminism is over, you got what you wanted, stop whining” angle is a popular one in mainstream media. Stories like these usually take the form of a profile on an individual woman who has had the success and good fortune in her chosen field — most typically a male-dominated field — to reach its highest echelons These women are CEOs, film-studio heads, and entertainment figures. Their stories are held up as “proof” that feminism has worked, and is thus not really something less successful women should complain about. Using the language of empowerment rhetoric to tell these women’s stories, such media profiles infer that since this one woman has succeeded, all women, by extension, must have the equality we’ve been harping on for so long, and thus have no excuse for bellyaching about wanting equal rights, personal autonomy, and policy reform.

Then there’s the “feminism is irrelevant” tack. This angle is usually employed to talk about young women today who just don’t, you know, get the point of feminism. Though young women today grow up with feminism, as Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards put it in Manifesta, “in the water,” their participation in team sports, academic honors, and PhD programs do not de facto suggest that feminism is irrelevant to them. But media stories tend to concentrate their efforts on profiling the young women who reject feminism.

By far the most common angle on feminism in the media, though, is the scapegoat angle. When the terrorists attacked on 9-11, whose fault was it? Feminists, who shamed their country and left their families. When boys start falling behind girls in academic achievements and college degrees, who gets the blame? Feminists, who concentrated on girls at the expense of boys. When women are gripped by panic about having sacrificed their best childbearing years to their careers, who is taken to task? You get the picture. The media seems to delight in placing the blame for all manner of societal ills and shortcomings on a doctrine that they paint as not about female equality but about scary, succubus-like female superiority over and emasculation of men. (Which, of course, invariably turns to bitter disappointment when women realize that they were “tricked” by feminism into getting careers and forgoing babies and emasculating their sons and mates.)

Naturally, these angles could be countered by the women in the media who are pro-feminist and intent on pointing out the media’s willful misrepresentations of feminism. But that, of course, is another problem — the most visible women in the media are often the ones who not only support the media distortions but are only too happy to pile right on. (Hi, Ann Coulter and the Independent Women’s Forum!) Women represent a tiny percentage of guest commentators on news shows, talking heads on talk shows, and opinion-page writers in newspapers.

With that in mind, my plan to cover the, uh, coverage of feminism in the media will include instances of the above treatment of and slights to feminism, but will also include the bright lights of hope that pop up from time to time on opinion pages and weblogs, and, hopefully, in more and more stories informed by true, vital feminism and not the repudiation of it.

Andi Zeisler's Biography

Andi Zeisler is the co-founder and editorial/creative director of Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, which began in 1996 as an all-volunteer 'zine with a circulation of 300 and is now an internationally distributed quarterly magazine with paid staff and a circulation of 47,000. A longtime freelance writer and illustrator, Andi's work has appeared in numerous periodicals and newspapers, including Ms., Mother Jones, BUST, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Women's Review of Books, and Hues. She is a former pop-music columnist for the SF Weekly and the East Bay Express, and also contributed to the anthologies Young Wives' Tales and Secrets and Confidences: The Complicated Truth About Women's Friendships (both from Seal Press). She is the coeditor of an anthology of articles from Bitch that will be published in 2006. A New Yorker by birth and temperament, she lives in Oakland, CA.

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