Many Thanks, From Carol Jenkins
November 13, 2009In January of 2005 I was called to a meeting in Gloria Steinem's living room. Gloria, Jane Fonda and Robin Morgan were gathered there with some of the leading feminists and women in media in the country. We left that day committed to creating an organization that would fight sexism in the media--and I was tasked with the job of putting the pieces together. What we've accomplished in this short time is the formation of the country's largest women's media advocacy organization...a powerful voice for women everywhere. It has been my pleasure to serve as the WMC's leader in this primary phase -- and I am now officially turning the job over to Jehmu Greene, who will run the next leg. When we created the WMC, there was no Katie Couric anchoring the network news, nor the prospect of Diane Sawyer joining those ranks, tipping the balance in favor of women. Rachel Maddow, Christiane Amanpour, Andrea Mitchell did not host serious hours of news and talk. Since then, Katharine Weymouth has become publisher of The Washington Post, and Vivian Schiller has taken over as head of NPR. Shonda Rhimes of Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice and Tina Fey of 30 Rock have proven that women can create and produce compelling television. Meryl Streep and the women who produced and directed Mama Mia! demonstrated the capacity to make a film that made hundreds of millions of dollars around the world. Lynn Nottage won a Pulitzer Prize for her Off-Broadway smash, Ruined, in the process telling the urgent story of the women victims of war. And yet, you can be assured that these are still pretty much exceptions...in the executive suites, men still call the shots and get the money for projects. Only 9 percent of our major films are directed by women. And I wonder where we would be if there were not specific categories in entertainment, "Best Female Actor..." In the last few weeks we have seen an unprecedented news focus on women: The New York Times magazine cover story excerpting the work of Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn in Half the Sky, their new book examining the often destitute lives of women around the world; Maria Shriver's multi-platform A Woman's Nation was accorded unprecedented airtime at NBC and the cover story at Time magazine. And yet, I heard the editor of Time call it their "women's issue." What most people do not grasp is that if we had a fair, inclusive media, this is what every day of television, print, and online media would look like. I call it "stunting"...a shock of inclusion of women -- like Meet the Press that one Sunday with all women reporters -- and all black analysts after that--followed by paroxysms of gratitude from women, so elated over a crumb of attention. Mainstream media is paying a heavy price for its policies of exclusion: near extinction. And while newspapers love to blame Arianna Huffington and new media for their troubles, it is not only technology at work -- it's irrelevance: the absence of women, people of color, immigrants, diverse gender identities in the making and reporting of the news is as much, if not more the reason for failure. If you talk about efforts to save them, let's have some talk about fixing these imbalances...otherwise, I'm not sure they're worth the effort. And for a real conversation about the future of media, women and people of color must be invited in. There should be a rule at CSPAN: we won't run your "Future of Journalism" conference if only privileged white men are allowed to pontificate. The election of 2008 was as sharp a picture of the media's Neanderthal status as one could imagine: even though a woman and a man of color were running for president, the Presidential Debate Commission and the networks chose white men to anchor all debates; the Sunday morning talk shows still have not been able to produce a diverse anchor -- either woman or man of color--to host a show, even though we've found candidates to run the country. At the WMC we ran campaigns highlighting these outrages -- and demanding change: I thank you for joining us. We still have much work to do: women and people of color are nearly completely shut out of ownership of television and radio--in both cases, in the single digits. There remains a troubling digital divide. Most importantly, elevating the stories of women in the daily discourse of American life has to be priority number 1 for us all. And it's not just because we love the abstract intellectual exercises that predominate -- media so often means the difference between life and death. I look forward to joining up with you, Jehmu Greene and The Women's Media Center in any and all future efforts to equalize our status in media...and once again, I thank you so much for your support. With warmest wishes, Carol Jenkins PS -- Keep in touch! As always, you can also follow my tweets by clicking here. You can also find me on facebook or reach me by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.