Apr 18 1999

Where Gender Issues Are Concerned,

Does PBS Stand for "Promoting Biased Stories"?

It might as well. Throughout April, the PBS program National Desk is presenting a three-part series on “the gender wars,” in which they aim to address “whether the advancement of women in virtually all areas of society can be achieved without a retreat, in some way, on the part of men.”

This manipulative framing of gender politics is clear throughout the first installment of the series, “The War on Boys,” which opens with the following quote: “If we don’t start changing how we treat our boys, we are going to be heading toward Gender Armageddon.” Hosted by omnipresent right-wing pundit Fred Barnes and underwritten by the right-wing John M. Olin, Lynde and Harry Bradley, and Sarah Scaife Foundations, the program showcases undocumented conservative commentary by right-wing ideologues and pundits.

Worse, many of these critics are on the payroll of the same foundations bankrolling this slanted series–for example, “The War on Boys” relies heavily on the opinions of conservative author Christina Hoff Sommers,who was paid six figures by the Olin and Bradley Foundations to publish the antifeminist tract, Who Stole Feminism?: How Women Have Betrayed Women.

The second part of the series, on “Politics and Warriors: Women in the Military,” due to air on April 16, will be hosted by arch-conservative pundit Laura Ingraham, who already has her own program on cable channel MSNBC.

And the title of the third segment, which will air on April 23rd, illustrates the bias inherent in the series: it’s called “Title IX and Women in Sports: What’s Wrong With This Picture?” Hosted by another conservative–talkshow host and columnist Larry Elder–this episode attacks the federal law designed to ensure equal access to education and extracurricular activities. Among the dubious assertions of the series(as well as in the National Desk‘s publicity materials) is the idea that “despite all good intentions” by larger society to solve sexist injustice, “some things have gone terribly wrong”–and feminism is now leading our culture down a “dangerous path” to female dominance and male subordination.

National Desk‘s “gender wars” series is based upon a seriously deficient definition of human rights: one in which there aren’t enough human rights to go around, and if women want their fair share, men naturally have to buckle under. The American Association of University Women (AAUW), much maligned in the series, dispute this zero-sum game understanding of gender issues. According to AAUW Association Director Amy Swauger, “We don’t think pitting boys against girls to determine who is the biggest loser is the way to help children get a good education. This is not a war anyone wants to win.”

No one, that is, except the conservatives funding a massive campaign to roll back gender equity laws and retract the gains that women and girls have achieved in the last thirty years. Want to know why a group of right-wing foundations are allowed to not only buy airtime for this series but also supply “experts” already on their payroll? How about why the so-called “alternative” public broadcasting network refused to find a single host who does not already have a regular media platform? Interested in finding out if or when PBS plans to offer a series about gender issues hosted by feminists?

ACTION: One person who should have those answers is Ervin Duggan, president and CEO of PBS. You can call him at 703-739-5015, and fax letters to 703-739-0775. Let Duggan know that it is not feminism, but PBS programming, that has “gone terribly wrong.”

You can find email contacts, phone numbers, and mailing addresses for your local PBS station at: www.pbs.org/voice/.

Note: Local PBS affiliates might air the series at different times; check your local listings for times and dates in your area.