Jan 1 1994

Women ARE the News

From the Women's Desk:

In 1990, the executive editor of the New York Times responded to a critical study of his paper by saying, in effect, that when women were making the news, they would be in it. But women are making news daily. Usually, they are the news, yet Frankel and his colleagues, as Jane O’Reilly would say, still “don’t get it.”

When young women organize against rape and claim their right to sex on their own terms, Newsweek calls it “Sexual Correctness,” and asks, “Have We Gone Too Far?” When Antioch College supported a student initiative to promote consent-seeking rather than blame-assigning in sex, it becomes a media laughing-stock.

On the medical front: According to the New York Times, some 194,000 people in the U.S. have died of AIDS since 1980; 450,000 have died of breast cancer. Yet when ABC in September produced a special on breast cancer, it was called “The Other Epidemic.” When women organized for increased federal funding for research into breast cancer, the New York Times‘ Gina Kolata reported (10/20/93): “The question is not whether breast cancer is worthy of research. Instead, it is whether the nation benefits when vocal advocacy groups get their way.”

As for lesbians, the media’s favorite minority of 1993: Where was Vanity Fair and Newsweek in 1992, when an African-American woman was burnt alive in her home by skinheads who hated her for being gay? Hattie Mae Cohen’s death received barely a murmur. In September, Sharon Bottoms had her two-year-old taken away from her by the Virginia supreme court because she made her family with another woman. “The mother’s conduct is illegal and immoral and renders her an unfit parent,” said Judge Duford M. Parsons. Is this what the media call “Lesbian Chic”?

And as ’93 came to a close, the biggest headlines had to do with genital mutilation. Not the kind that affects more than 100 million women in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia who are ritually mutilated before adolescence. The mutilation that became a media magnet this autumn was the castrating act of Mrs. Bobbitt. She hacked off her husband’s privates, and newspapers from coast to coast picked up the sordid story. In New York’s Daily News, a full-page headline screamed the brilliantly incisive, “It Really Hurt.” Cutting off a penis is a crime…but so is this coverage.

The same outlets that present feminists as hysterical whiners and lesbians as having all the fun routinely shut women’s perspectives out of most of their reporting. Women are made invisible, along with all our differences,our difficulties and our points of view.

Consider almost any major issue up for debate today–you’ll find that women are at the heart. Take NAFTA: Women are the workers already employed in huge majorities by the transnational corporations most likely to expand in Mexico. They’re also the ones last-hired, first-fired in the textile and electronic factories most likely to be displaced here in the U.S.

When you talk about welfare and the poor, you’re talking predominantly about women; 90 percent of the adults on welfare are female. Those who most use the health system and are most devastated by it–women; the elderly, the education system–the same. They are precisely the voices that, according to FAIR’s studies, are often excluded–even from discussions addressing issues, like abortion or family leave, that have been deemed legitimate “women’s” affairs.

On Oct. 18, the New York Times ran a story on a massive demonstration protesting U.S. and U.N. actions in Somalia. The accompanying picture featured a woman at the head of the demonstration. Writer Douglas Jehl explained that the thousands-strong demonstration was made up “mostly of women and children.” Did Jehl think to speak to a woman? All the named sources were male; all but one, a U.S. or U.N. official. The women were seen, but never heard.

When FAIR complains about the coverage of women, we’re not looking for special coverage or special supplements–where advertisers can sell us things to keep us young, content and in the home. We’re calling for accurate coverage of what’s actually going on, and that includes women. Not just as the acted-upon, but as actors and as analysts: not just as those who have experiences but among those who have expertise.

To Newsweek‘s question, Have We Gone Too Far? Yes. Way too far to go back.