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Changing the Landscape With Women's Media

| October 26, 2011

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To have truly positive media images of women readily available, says media justice activist Ariel Dougherty, we must marshal our power as consumers to support the rich feminist mix out there now on the airwaves, newsstands and internet—start with 13 of your choice!

From the Documentary Club post film discussion last week after the OWN Channel presentation of Miss Representation, some opportunities to broaden consciousness about empowering media slipped through the ether. The bombardment of negative imagery from corporate media is surely extensive. Director Jennifer Siebel Newsom has done a monumental job presenting and analyzing that pervasiveness.

There is, however, a vibrant feminist media culture that has despite all odds evolved—though it remains seriously under capitalized—to counter the false banter of commercialism. Thousands of such entities started during the early days of the women’s liberation movement. Among those that remain, a few examples are Sophie’s Parlor, a D.C.-based weekly radio show that has aired weekly since 1972 on WPFW, Women Make Movies, the distributor of well over 500 films from across the globe, and the better known Ms. magazine. This cacophony of media has been deeply enriched by new works with a gender justice frame from a younger generation through such venues as Make/Shift, a provocative print magazine examining “feminisms in motion,” the daily radio show Uprising out of Los Angeles on KPFK and the dynamic media works and analysis of INCITE Women of Color Against Violence.

Well over a thousand women-owned gendered media businesses, non-profit organizations and projects stretch across the United States today. As there is no glimmer of this rich and empowering media mix in the film, Miss Representation, and more significantly none of it was referred to during the discussion, I make this proposal.

I have a request of us all.  Each and everyone of us must take individual responsibility to learn the details of women-lead media justice organizations and outlets. In 2011, with so much women’s history behind us, we cannot merely dwell on society's problems. As Judy Norsigian, executive director of the globally popular Our Bodies Ourselves, says, “This is feminism 101, providing solutions.”  Each one of must also learn about and become spokeswomen about women directed media. I suggest we each start with 13. Become familiar with what those 13 media groups do and how they do it. Listen/watch/read their programs/publications. As Geena Davis says, “Surround yourself in empowering media.” You’ll start to media heal yourself.

Make sure that at least one of these media you learn about is a broadcast program, a radio or television show that originates over the airwaves. Some examples:  “Every Woman” in Kansas City, Missouri, "Her Turn" from Madison, Wisconsin, “Women’s Focus” and “Voces Feministas” out of Albubuerque, New Mexico or the wholly women owned station on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in Southeastern South Dakota just to highlight some women’s media in the “fly-over” sections of the country. Anna Weick did a great blog in August on women’s radio. While there is a sprinkling of women’s radio, sadly we can count women’s broadcast television shows on one hand: “To The Contrary,” “Democracy Now” and maybe “GRITtv” if it returns as hoped via PBS channels. There is also the incredible series “Women, War & Peace” airing on Tuesdays now through November 8. Will this series return for another season? I suggest programs over the airwaves, because we all need to understand our broadcast rights. (Learn more details here and here.)

Also among your selection of 13 media groups ensure that at least one of those is local or regional and that a third covers international news/issues. We all need local media to discuss issues from the perspective of community people, yet have that amplified out to the world. Too many holes poke through the national women’s media map. Over time maybe we can begin the critical work to fill some of those holes. As Americans we all need to be better informed about our sisters and their struggles around the globe. WINGS/Women’s International News Gathering Service has been doing a weekly, syndicated radio show since the mid 80s.  A number of on-line publications have emerged in recent years. Among those is Women News Network. Based out of Colorado, WNN has a core of over 25 journalists working around the globe and an impressive list of partners.

Women’s media ownership is a vital question and challenge for us all. The remarkable success of Oprah Winfrey is well known. Even Oprah once started small. A part of her achievement is that she always held a large vision. All these organizations and outlets I discuss here are women owned. New Moon is a publication for and by young girls.  Beyondmedia Education in Chicago teaches teenage girls production skills to make their own films. Women’s Review of Books is another great example. The list goes on and I haven’t gotten into great blogs that come by the thousands. Jennifer Pozner, director of Women In Media and News, mentions numerous other venues and action tools in her blog “Welcome to the Media Justice Movement.”

Lastly, open up your purse and support these risk takers who are on the front lines documenting women’s and girl’s lives, bringing authentic women’s voices before the public. So many of the young women in Miss Representation and those making comments via social media are aware of the emotional costs of this vapid, sexualized media. They are hungry for positive imagery. A funder of Miss Representative, Jacki Zehner of Women Making Millions, is an proponent of women acting with their pocketbooks. First, she urges, “Stop purchasing media that is unbalanced.”  But more significantly she extols, “put your investment capital behind ventures that could change the landscape.”  That’s the best way we can build an empowering women’s media movement. 

The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.

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