An Addendum: More Stuff You Should Know About Feminism in the News

It occurs to me that perhaps my last post needs an addendum. I gave you one example of the poor treatment of feminism in the news, but my point was not to hold up a lone article and say "Wow, how lousy is this?" Rather, I wanted to make the point that there is a fairly consistent resentment towards feminism present in mainstream media.

I could site articles such as Feminism or femininity, the abhorrent treatment of the murder of Tracey Lynn Kelsh by our own Windsor Star, the statements of Anne Cools' which were quoted on International Women's Day (apparently, women are the cause of male violence) and many more such happenings; there's a lot to choose from. But not only is "feminism" degregated; women themselves are often "othered."

What I mean by that is this: when a man does something, it is reported as good old fashioned news. When a female does something, it's often explicitely stated that she was a she. We talk about gunmen, robbers, businessmen, whatever. And then we have stories about the female shooter, the female robber, the business woman who overcame the odds. The man is normalized and the women is othered. Sure, when it's a small turn of phrase, it isn't a huge deal, but it points to something: the fact that we, as a society, take masculinity as the standard, and feminity as the other, the secondary, the non-standard.

In many papers they'll have a women's section, with tips on cooking, celebrity news, house and home information. The suggestion is that what is news to women is different from what is news to men. The implication is that maybe women just aren't interested in business, sports, world politics. In this way, they're again marginalized and othered. And the gender binary is perpetuated.

In part, I suspect that this has to do with the fact that women are notoriously lacking from newsrooms. Let's take ABC for example: in 1991 female correspondents numbered 14, or 19% of the total. In 1998, the number was 26, or 39% of a smaller news roster. Not very significant numbers. And yet, at the time, they were lauded by the TVtimes for their progression. I always find it strange when we celebrate women making up, say, 1/3 of something. It speaks to how normalized our lack of presence is. We make up more than 50% of the population, but we're thrilled when we account for 27% of new hirings.

Speaking for black women, the Internation Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) said:
There are now more women of color working in the U.S. news media than ever before…. The unfortunate reality, however, is that in all but a few rare cases, women journalists of color are not positioned to make decisions about what becomes news. In effect, women of color have established a presence in the news gathering process, but they have very little influence over news content or product. As a whole, these women are present, yet they are without power and without a voice.
The same is true of women on the whole. Though female presense is increasing in the newsrooms, it is still miniscule in the positions that count. A story that any female report writes can be edited, re-worked, clipped, nipped, and tucked by her editors. The same is true for male reporters. Until female presense at the head of the newsoom gets a lot stronger, we can probably expect much of the same.


posted by Ashley Girty @ 10:35 PM, ,

"Oh, for the love of Betty Friedan!"

That's what you would have heard me exclaim if you'd been sitting next to me as I looked over my regular news sites Friday morning. The cause of my issued expletive? An article in the Times Online entitled "Madonna syndrome: I should have ditched feminism for love, children and baking."

"Oh, this'll be good," I thought, as I began reading the article by ex-"feminist," Zoe Lewis. I was not disappointed. Lewis, in part, cites the life of Madonna as evidence that women who strive to make it big eventually revert back to a desire for children and a traditionally matronly life. The rest of the article is a mix of pseudo-science and sexism. Here are a couple clips from the article:
"I was led to believe that women could “have it all” and, more to the point, that we wanted it all. To that end I have spent 20 years ruthlessly pursuing my dreams - to be a successful playwright. I have sacrificed all my womanly duties and laid it all at the altar of a career. And was it worth it? The answer has to be a resounding no."
"I thought that men would love independent, strong women, but (in general) they don't appear to. Men are programmed to like their women soft and feminine. It's not their fault - it's in the genes."
"As I write this I feel sad, as if the feminist principles that my mother brought me up on are being trashed. Am I betraying womanhood? No, I am revealing a shameful truth. Women are often the worst enemies of feminism because of our genetic make-up. We have only a finite time to be mothers and when that clock starts ticking we abandon our strength and jump into bed with whoever is left, forgetting talk of deadlines and PowerPoint presentations in favour of Mamas & Papas buggies and ovulation diaries."
Excuse me while my head explodes, messes up the floor, and then the little bits of my exploded head explode again. Let's take a look at what this article really says about women.

1. The article forgets the reality that there are a vast array of feminisms (pl.), from womanists, to new feminists, to post-feminists, to marxist feminists, to amazon feminists, and so on and so forth, all with different agendas, ideas, and standpoints. The plurality of feminisms are widdled down into a single all-encompassing 'feminism,' which is portrayed as the simple choice between 1) being a working woman or 2) fufulling one's so-called "womanly duties" by being a stay-at-home mom.

Employment equity is forgotten about, physical abuse is forgotten about, rape is forgotten about, the struggles of racialized women are forgotten about, religious inequality is forgotten about, issues surrounding contraception are forgotten about, the culture of eating disorders emerging in young and college age women is forgotten about.

By suggesting that feminism is singular and merely represents the choice between work and motherhood, Lewis and the Times are completely degrading all that the word encompasses. The 'feminism' that they are talking about is nothing more than a caricature.

2. Since when does having a child, baking, or being in love preclude you from being a feminist? Since when is it one or the other? Gee, I guess that batch of oatmeal squares I made last week was more politically loaded than I thought.

3. I don't even know where to start with this idea that "men like their women soft and feminine." For one, Lewis is blatantly assuming a heteronormative standpoint. Let's wave as the voice of lesbian women, third gendered persons, and two-spirited persons are thrown out the window, shall we?

And then, excuse me, but holy genetic determinism, batman! You're telling me that what men like is programmed by their genes? Oh, right, the 'I want a soft woman gene,' that's right next to the 'I like plaid gene.' I mean, seriously? There are plenty of men -- I know plenty of men -- who dig fierce women. And who said that as soon as you become a mom you have to become "soft" or "feminine"? If you think that, you've obviously never met my grandma.

4. And what's this shameful truth that once that maternal clock starts ticking "we abandon our strength and jump into bed with whoever is left"? Alright, so I'm 21, and nothing on me has started ticking yet, but I still feel pretty confident in stating that this is ridiculous. Not every woman goes batty for babies when she's on the heels of menopause.

The average number of children per woman has been going down since the mid-30s and, at the same time, the number of couples who are childless by choice is increasing. That's not to say that some women don't decide that they want children when their period of fertility is drawing to a close, but it certainly isn't universal.

As for "jumping into bed with whoever is left," that's most sexist things I've heard in a while. It suggests that women's biological desires are so strong as to completely incapacitate their rational judgement, that baby-mania is enough to drive a woman to hop in the sack with someone who is otherwise abhorrent. Thanks Zoe, that's a really flattering summation of my 'biologically-determined character'!

To be fair, though, Lewis does offer a few points of balance in her article. She says "wife and mother should be given parity with the careerist role in the minds of feminists." I dig that. she also states "I wish a more balanced view of womanhood had been available to me. I wish that being a housewife or a mother wasn't such a toxic idea to middle-class liberals of yesteryear." Again, a very valid point. But these moments of validity are quickly followed and invalidated by outrageous sexist statments, and are thrown in at "the back of the bus" -- or the end of the article, which most readers don't get to.

All in all, this article represents the common misrepresentation of feminisms offered by the mainstream. Moreover, when you're done with it, you can read other articles from the "Explore Women" section of the Times online, which include Fashion, Beauty, Diet & Fitness, Relationships, Family, Celebrity, Body & Soul, The Way We Live, and Horoscopes. Oh yes, we're a complicated sex.

Now, will someone please pass me the sports section?


posted by Ashley Girty @ 1:56 PM, ,