Women of Media and Their Influence on Social Structure
Their influence on the social structure
Race, Gender and Class in Media
USF St Petersburg
Anna Liisa Covell
June 24, 2010
Women of Media and Their Influence on Social Structure
The Roaring 20’s marked the beginning of a movement for social change with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Women were finally given the opportunity to vote after nearly two decades of protests through the Women’s Suffrage Movement – a movement that universally swept the globe (Exploring Constitutional Conflicts). In 1928, a group of Women Jurists in Frances formed a non-governmental organization (NGO) to protect women from discrimination and human rights abuse (Women’s Rights Law). That same year, the suffrage movement prevailed in Britain to make men and women equal (Scholastic).
American media began to recognize the contribution women made to society in the 1920’s by offering career advancements. But the transition was slow to include females in any primary roles of media. There were only a few positions of authority open to women in the early years of radio. As time progressed, women began tapping on the glass ceiling. The 1960’s was the springboard for women’s empowerment in the job market which included the media. Modern day women are still focusing on society’s responsibility for equal access in media roles (Donna Allen).
The founder of NBC radio was the first to allow a woman into a position of authority. David Sarnoff promoted Bertha Brainard to program manager of NBC Radio Network in 1928. Sarnoff gave Brainard free reign to fill the airwaves with quality programming – programming that included shows like the Rudy Vallee Hour and The Goldbergs, the first family sitcom on radio. She also introduced the Metropolitan Opera to her radio listeners which is still on the airwaves today. Brainard focused her attention on quality programming with women’s interests in mind (The Paley Center).
Brainard followed her instincts throughout her career to sign quality talent. Using her knowledge as a former theater critic, she produced programming that appealed to women – programming like the Rudy Vallee Hour. Her keen instinct for attracting the female listening audience was her signature trademark – one she proudly wrote about in the New York Times (The Paley Center).
As chairwoman of NBC’s programming board in 1937, Brainard commanded one of the highest salaries in radio. Her success didn’t come without criticism (The Paley Center). Major newspapers ran stories about her life style that emphasized the manner of her dress, the color of her hair, and her petite figure. Her descriptive features were publicized in a New York Times story titled “Woman Builds High Place in Organizing Air Programs” in 1939. The story also included personal information about her penthouse living arrangement with her sister in New York (Women in Communication).
Brainard’s instincts paid off in her radio career. She understood that women did not care for the mechanical aspects of radio, but were attracted to the media when they began to enjoy the programming offered by Brainard (The Paley Center). She left NBC in 1946 to get married and died later that year after suffering a fatal heart attack (Women in Communication).
In the years following WWII, the media was completely dominated by males. In the 1950’s, news stories were framed though the eyes of men. Women were discriminated in the workplace and in the educational realm of society. They didn’t have the ability to own independent news media outlets to convey their message. They were stereotyped as homemakers – homemakers who didn’t have an independent source to air their perspectives in the public arena. Hegemony existed with male-only media outlet ownership. (Donna Allen).
Everything began to change in the 1960’s when television came into the American home. The Civil Rights Movement was a significant factor for equal rights – equal rights for women and minorities. Male hegemony of mass communication began to be challenged by women. President John F. Kennedy’s appointment of the Commission on the Status of Women in 1963 was instrumental to highlight the discrimination women faced in the media (Donna Allen).
Women marched forward even faster with the advent of the birth control pill. Gender roles began to balance out. The revolutionary years of the 1960’s saw women picketing bare-breasted. They burned their bras in public to smash their stereotyped image (Sanford). It was a generation in conflict. The women’s movement took center stage right beside the civil rights movement. Women finally had the choice to determine the course of their life, without being saddled with unwanted pregnancies to inhibit their careers (Gibbs).
The ownership of media outlets began to change in the 1970’s when women challenged the licenses of male-only broadcast stations with the FCC. Equality was demanded though the women’s Media Accountability Movement – a movement that established independent outlets for women to underscore stereotyping and sex discrimination through their own mass media (Donna Allen).
Women pushed for media accountability. The Media Accountability System (M*A*S) was formed by women in the United States for oversight of media resources – resources needed to highlight the diverse interests in the country. M*A*S distrusted the hegemonic mass media dominated by males. Women argued that men had been hostile in their description of females in all media forms – forms that included unflattering feminine descriptions in school books, history, art and music. Women fought against these male media outlets for their personal dignity. They resented being depicted as having an inferior intelligence to their male-counterpart (Donna Allen).
Women picketed major media organizations by conducting sit-ins as a form of protest against discrimination. They barged into stockholder meetings to demand equal air-time for women in broadcasting. CBS was one of their targets. The gender-specific practices of hegemonic male media outlets were met with lawsuits filed by women demanding accountability in hiring. (Donna Allen).
In 1972, the FCC released a report that outlined prior discriminatory practices against women and minorities. The report was based on an Equal Employment Opportunity inquiry to the commission. The FCC’s determination made it possible for women to gain a foothold in the media with new rules regarding equal opportunity in hiring practices (FCC). Later that year in Chicago, Jane Pauley was asked to join the staff of WMAQ-TV (DePauw University).
Pauley described her start in broadcasting as being in the right place at the right time. Three years after she began her broadcast career in Chicago, she was invited to co-host the Today Show – the first female co-host for NBC. As a pioneer in broadcast media, Pauley interviewed the first female astronaut, the first female Indy 500 driver, and the first woman on the presidential nominating ticket – candidate Geraldine Ferraro (DePauw University).
The broadcast image of women in the media began to change. Female broadcasters portrayed the image of working women – women who were able to hold down jobs and still be housewives and mothers. Pauley came to work while she was pregnant with twins and made it look easy for her viewing audience. Previously, women’s pregnancies had been prohibited from being broadcast on television. Just by acting naturally, Pauley was able to show her audience a woman’s perspective on life (DePauw University). The male-only media was being infiltrated by a realistic depiction of women which gave a more balanced image of society.
The M*A*S served to protect and promote the rights of women. Their committee determined the importance of having a public platform to air gender-related issues critical to promote democracy within society. Women had the right to know about issues – especially issues that directly affected them. The M*A*S even brought domestic violence out of the shadows.
Health-related problems associated with the female body were a major focus of M*A*S to equalize the hegemonic male media. The disturbing statistics of death and injury from the use of a contraceptive device known as Dalkan Shield opened women’s eyes. Women had needed the media to alert them of health risks related to this device. But the male-dominated media only mentioned the deadly device in the business section. Women were not told about the trauma caused by using the Dalkan Shield until it was too late (Donna Allen).
The age of women broadcasters became a factor in 1989 when Pauley was replaced by the much younger Deborah Norville. The NBC audience quickly made their opinion known about the replacement of Pauley. NBC’s Today show’s ratings dropped – dropped, that is, until they hired Katie Couric in 1991 to replace Norville (Soylent Communications). This age-related replacement of Pauley was rated as one of television’s 25 biggest blunders (Futon Critic).
As the co-host of the Today show, Couric’s public image mirrored her family life. Her pregnancy in 1995 became a topic of discussion. When her husband died of colon cancer in 1998, the viewers mourned with her. Couric urged her viewers to get themselves checked while she underwent an on-air colonoscopy (Soylent Communications).
In 2006, Couric broke through the glass ceiling to become the nightly anchor on CBS News to replace Bob Schieffer. She is the first female in media history to go solo as a prime-time anchor without having a man sit at her side (Soylent Communications). She commands one of the highest salaries for a broadcast anchor which is estimated at $15 million-a-year (Business Insider).
Over the last 82 years, women have fought to ensure a more equal representation of society through journalism. The advancement of equality in America’s society was a slow process that began with the Women’s Suffrage Movement (Exploring Constitutional Conflicts). The Women’s Movement of the 1960’s esculated equal rights to the forefront of society (Donna Allen).
Women in media have fought hard to win concessions – concessions to make media outlets recognize the needs of everyone in society. They have fought for equal access with media because democracy demands on it. Women have found their voice to speak for themselves. With this new voice they have focused on society’s responsibility – a responsibility to understand that society is fluid and to always recognize the needs of women and minorities for equality (Donna Allen).
Business Insider. Katier Couric’s Salary; http://www.businessinsider.com/cbs-president-silences-rumors-of-courics-salary-cut-2010-2. 03 Feb. 2010.
DePauw University. Pioneer Broadcast Journalist Jane Pauley; http://www.depauw.edu/news/?id=23392. 17 April 2009.
Donna Allen, PH.D. Media Accountability. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/12/AR2007041201007.html, 1990.
Exploring Constitutional Conflicts. http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/nineteentham.htm.
FCC. FCC 36 F.C.C.2d 515; http://www.uiowa.edu/~cyberlaw/FCCOps/1972/36F2_515.htm. 28 July 1972.
Futon Critic. 25 Biggest TV Blunders; http://www.thefutoncritic.com/news.aspx?date=03/02/10&id=20100302tvguide01. 02 March 2010.
Gibbs, Nancy. Time magazine: Love, Sex, Freedom and the Paradox of the Pill. 3 May 2010.
Sanford. Sanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-approaches/. 31 October 2004.
Soylent Communications. NNDB Tracking the World; http://www.nndb.com/people/487/000025412/. 2010.
The Paley Center. Bertha Brainard, Radio Executive; http://www.shemadeit.org/meet/biography.aspx?m=17.
Women in Communication. Bertha Brainard: Breaking Broadcast Boundaries; http://www.nywici.org/features/blogs/aloud/women%E2%80%99s-history-month-profile-%E2%80%94-bertha-brainard-breaking-broadcast-boundaries
Women’s Rights Law. http://www.hg.org/women.html