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"The New Gender Apartheid of Online News Magazines"

June 22, 2010

Ruth Rosen's provocative proclamation that there is a "new gender apartheid of online news magazines" had me thinking about my own news RSS feeds. True to her thesis, my feed reader consists of a folder labeled "Feminism,"  where I received my latest news that discussed gender--one that was distinct from "General News." Sure, the folder is constantly full of high-quality pieces written from a feminist angle, so much so that I am having a hard time keeping up. Yet, is the increase in number of stories alone an adequate measure of the success of women's visibility in the media? Surveying the coverage of women's news in the media in the past 40 years, Ruth Rosen finds good news and bad news. While stories of women are no longer just about lifestyle, housekeeping and entertainment but increasingly pertain to substantial issues in politics, business, and society, they are seldom featured as mainstream news. Even as publications are devoting more pages to stories about women, they tend to segregated off into separate sections to target a particular demographic (read: women) rather than presenting it as news that needs to be consumed by readers in general. What Rosen wonders is whether feminists and progressive media sites may have inadvertently contributed to this trend themselves:
I’m concerned that all we have gained after four decades are stand-alone feminist online magazines and web sites and the “right” to have separate women’s sections embedded in other magazines. These are the women’s pages of 1969 redux, even though these sections promote a broad array of serious subjects from a strong feminist perspective. Nor are all the editors of these online men who have cast women as “the other.” Many are feminists who, for whatever reasons, have created these special women’s sections.
As Rosen herself points out, the creation of women-oriented niches often points to a symptom of the rigid hierarchies of power within news media institutions, where editors are reluctant to view "women's issues" as "regular news" and where carving a space to write from a feminist perspective in the mainstream news is battle enough. Rosen is also mindful that the burden of gender equality should not be shouldered by women alone, but is a responsibility that ought to be embraced especially those who are in positions of power. However, her article also raises interesting questions for progressive feminist media practitioners, especially those who have established sites and generated a following. Feminist movements can be--and have been--guilty of exclusivist practices, playing women identity politics to exclude people of color, as well as queer and trans- communities. As feminists, how do we ensure that our media practices are inclusive of diverse points of view and sensitive to often marginalized voices? What aspects of our media work unthinkingly capitulate to the cultural logic of late capitalism, which encourages the fragmentation of society into distinct and separate cultures conducive to the proliferation of segmented markets (consider how your local magazine stand is organized according to gender, ethnic and cultural categories) without necessarily addressing the power hierarchies that govern their relations? What's clear is that the sites that we turn to for our news often become spaces where we find community. As women began to carve their own niches in the news media, whether by choice or by circumstance, how do we foster a space that is conducive to highlighting issues affecting sidelined groups that affect us all?

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