The First Amendment; Feminist Journalism
The First Amendment and the Free People Weekly examination of civil liberties in the media in the 1970s produced by WGBH radio Boston in cooperation with the Institute for democratic communication at Boston University. The host of the program is the institute's director Dr. Bernard Gruber.
What I'm delighted to have is my guess through this program Wilma Scott hidey the former president of the National Organization for Women. She's one of the original drafters and signers of the Declaration of interdependence and imperatives of the Women's Coalition for the third century which is the vice president currently. Ms Hyde he is writing a book which he has entitled feminism for the health of it she is extraordinarily well known in the women's movement. Among her articles and speeches are those entitled racial justice and feminism a proposal to liberate the broadcast media. She has risen which was a sermon at Wellesley College Chapel research priorities from a feminist perspective. Society and in regard to how American Nurses Association Convention members should look at it look on it women and minorities in corporate positions and so on. My co-host is Carol Rivers professor of journalism at Boston University School of Public communication and well-known writer on many many subjects including the women's movement and novelist to care.
Perhaps I'll open this discussion by asking you the most trite of all possible questions. Wilma Scott Heinie from your perspective. This is so trite it's impossible to answer by the way. From your perspective where is the women's movement now. And from that point how do the media treat it.
Just 25 words or less 25 words or less. You're right it's impossible to answer.
First I think it should be clear although people even in the media ask is a movement that the movement is of a five I think and thriving and moving although not always as publicly as it has at some earlier points in time. I do think some of the most important things have not been brought to the attention of the public prints and so I would like to see things like women's studies. Very exciting things going on in campuses and high schools and the junior highs and beginning and grade schools dramatized on the public media on radio and television and also that there would simply be more responsiveness I say to the general media has been more responsive to last several years than earlier in our 10 years or so of this rebirth of feminism. But I still think that we have the criteria for what is newsworthy for what is considered interesting to people and in the human interest. Still disadvantages. Women in general and feminists in particular because there is such a thing that there has to for something to be dynamic people have to be in conflict and that it tests mean visible conflict confrontations or or liberate a microphone or sit ins or something like that. And we've certainly done and continue to do those things. But some of the things are very quietly exciting in ways that affect people's lives. But I think that's that's really a consequence not surprise you know of what can variously be called a patriarchal system of male warrior and in the male dominated system it's simply the life experiences of the other half of the population are either unknown or devalued except maybe a Mother's Day just like that.
Just a follow up question before I turn to Carol on the same theme. What makes you particularly angry about this.
Well let me start out with something to make a suggestion.
One of the things and it's hard for me to pin it on but one of the things is the English language that some of us call them English this sexist language that you know accurately Kerrick characterizes a man he his and him as the generic for people or the individual sex unknown or unspecified First of all most of humanity are female. Well that's true in every country. And so therefore false in relation to the individual now. We are told sometimes that this is a trivial issue but there are more important things but I don't agree with that because language not only communicates about behavior reflects behavior language is behavior and anything that excludes from the imagery possibilities over half the population has profound effects on our consciousness and the time we were first aware of language. So I said I'd make a suggestion. Let's us here at least today and on this half hour I'm not even talking last centuries. If we talk about the individual let's refer to XI which includes He and heard said of his or him. And if we're talking about people in general it's a woman that includes man. And I find that when people have that experience then they become aware of it. While this is really more inclusive of that how we really have excluded people so that this means this this has an impact on the consciousness of girls and women in terms of possibilities and what's assumed to be the norm. And it has another kind of effect on boys and men in terms of unrealistic expectations and images of possibilities. So that's one of the things for openers that I think has a very important and in the context of of this program generally what I'm trying to figure out how I can ask Carol for oh I can ask her for her question.
Yes and I agree with you completely Carol.
Well getting back to the first question you talked about Bernie that is how the media is changing. One thing that I see as a writer is that. The discrimination if you will call it that is more subtle that what tends to happen is people's causes have been raised to a certain degree whereas you will find an editor for example who every four or five months will feel somehow we've got to have our women's piece to fill our quota but it won't be the piece that he's really excited about he's excited about the piece about the oil in the Gulf. Or he's excited about a political peace and the peace that has to deal with women's issue which may be sort of a more fundamental issue affecting more people will be a piece of sort of a token kind of peace. So I think there isn't enough of an awareness in the media that these are not just issues that you've got to throw in once in a while but they're really the burning questions that we're talking about.
This is probably the most thriving movement however quietly that's that's really going on the movement today in the world today and it may indeed have more profound effects alternately.
And we do have to take a look. I'm a short but along with you on the lives of people in the quality of life and our values then many people yet seem to realize that I think Carol's quite right that's the tokenize in the. They're still the blatant discrimination but there are also some of the moving into the more subtle and there's there's also the peripheral risin of issues. Let me give an example. Just as it's current Now in terms of something that's going on right now you know as people listen in this program the concert consequent to the International Women's share proclaimed by the United Nations in 1985 and the unanimously adopted world plan of action and the way I find out if people know about something is going on that I think is in the interest of everybody in the Commonwealth as I check with people in stores and shops and so forth who who aren't involved in something and said you know about this going on and no one I've talked with that isn't already involved has even heard about it and I know that our public relations people have put out releases constantly they send it out to all the media the print media and there has been very much shown up and I thought maybe it was just because I've been out of the country or out of the state and it's not that I think people are finding the same thing.
Now this is the one of the purposes of news conferences this is to find out it's historic or what some would call her story to vent that is happening the same thing happened on. International Women's Year. The reporting on that and the misreporting and the lack of reporting was really abominable. I was in Mexico in 1985 both Trivium for the non-official representatives and credit as a journalist at the conference and was probably the most well the largest collection of women. Many leaders in and out of government ever in the history of the world a significant thing. And yet it was often characterized as if it was something sort of insignificant peripheral and one of the points we tried to make at that and we want to make it our and our conference in the state and national is that while we talk about women's issues in terms of a focus that hasn't happened before. So we have to remember they're all human issues or women's issues or human issues. This gets back to what Carol said that that we need and we need particularly the perspective of feminists which is different. On on all issues so that when when when things are raised the point of being considered of importance generally. What we really have to I think ask us the so-called experts who often been part of the problem have always often indicated by virtue of it that they are incapable of conceptualizing little and solving the problem.
Bring in the people who are change agents and that certainly has got to go I know Imus I know that when I gave my course this person mastered in communication in national development I use the two volumes which had most of the papers from the Mexico City meeting and also this is the second volume had the complete PBR Griffy on articles about women and books about women. But. I'm sure I was one of the very few people in the United States to give cause a national development in which the emphasis was. At least you know major sense equal to two men women and women as thinkers in national development.
Well and this one the points the goals of international image. You're now the decade were equality development in peace and what we were saying or tried to say was that there could not be development of a people and their economy and their institutions without the full participation of women. And furthermore for from the viewpoint of many of us are there is not likely to be peace in many enduring sense without bringing in the life experience of those of us who don't have to prove our manhood among other things.
But you know you it's interesting you look at certain policy issues and things connected with childcare and child welfare is a good example we do tend to pretend that we are a child centered country that we do a lot for children but when you actually look at say the money we spend on programs that involve mothers and children our rate is way behind most Western European countries. A maternal death rate is terribly high and that we do not live up to the part of stations that we make in Turkey have no childcare centers and all the rest.
It wasn't an issue if it does we could do it and we do analysis of what our public values in terms of policy either implicit or explicit or both. And we find that the things that women have done in and outside of the home where they are recognized as such or not are precisely the things that are devalued or considered inflationary are not considered in the in the human interest.
I think I could. I think I could make the case and I tried it some years back but not recently and in working with the ace and in the issue of the American Civil Liberties Union that one could make the case that he did not. Or the limited access of women and the certain cause particularly feminist to the public media that are license presumably in the public interest may be considered a denial of First Amendment rights of free speech and I think that we ought to litigate in that way and it would serve a very educational benefit at the race. But we have difficulty even with the civil libertarians. Being this way when one's called creative or imaginative or provocative or whatever the case I think could be made. And after agreeing to be on the program I went back and re read the First Amendment and. Now the First Amendment has been an important influence I think in our national life. I also think it's been interpreted very narrowly. For instance that this can be abrogated only in the case of clear and present danger. That has been interpreted more often than not as somebody armed and hostile on our shores or nearby. There's a clear and present danger to the fact that we have not heard very much from women we really even in this movement just begin to cur throats. There's also the fact that the kinds of information that many people need in the David Innes of our life. For which women have been delegated a lot of this responsibility is simply not known to people and it's an insidious kind of way that people are endangered our life from her health and we can make these connections. We seldom have an opportunity to talk about it publicly.
I think we should litigate this and we are talking about litigation and the reluctance to say ACLU type to do something like this. I think it's because there is important discrimination. As for is as often the mail word world is concerned in any important discrimination in an important communication is that which involves women and this was really graphically presented to remember once when I was in Washington and I was at a meeting of the National Press Club I was there covering something at that time the press club would not not we would not admit women members but it insisted that women reporters who covered events had to sit in the balcony. You know so I was covering a speech. The only person that badly by Carl Roland who was the head of us I mean the time when he was saying how when he was a boy in Tennessee he had to sit in the balcony of the movie theater and all these media reports just come back in the South was he right. Gee isn't that terrible. Had to sit in the balcony.
There I was right there in the in the balcony here and nobody even noticed that was you know what I thought it was terrible that I was thinking about that that's one of that's one of the things we should bear Are we aware of about this phenomenon there so.
They're so normal. Not the same as natural so normal and happened so much and so often the people soon are natural they're taken for granted and they are questioned. Let me give an example from my own experience from now on November 1st 1972 that I was then president of NOW. I wrote an open letter to Richard Nixon an open letter meant it was released to all the media in the country raise 20 points questions including questions that were not being raised generally in the media about Watergate and what happened and that this was a serious thing and that it shouldn't be a softball. As far as I know not a single print or broadcast media carried that letter.
Now that is strange because the only thing would carry the letter now in my mind because you were head of a large organization I want you to hear about.
Well I don't know.
I don't and I think if it if whoever would be my counterpart in any other movement had written such a better was such a recent would have received at least some attention. I mean at least on the back page somewhere. I think a far more flamboyant person nurse a bit more attention to making me into a store or something like that. I think it was enough that you know here somebody representing the largest feminist organization the world had written something and I consider myself a responsible person but it was totally ignored and somehow I presume I mean I don't know what goes in the heads of all the media people and people make the decisions.
I supposably to follow also so there might have been some attention or if we had taken over the White House I'm sure there would have been. But these were serious questions. Arbitrary 20 it could have been a hundred and they race things and I released it on November 1st because I frankly one of people to think about right before the election I mean they're going to disagree with everything but and they're the I can give so many examples of this kind of thing at year's end. When Now they have token women generally when they're you know there's a round up of what's happened in the year. One year Eric Sevareid said I don't understand the women's movement I couldn't agree more. He doesn't or Howard K. Smith said he can't see you can't see. This is one cause that he can understand women suburban there's no such thing as live that's another thing that's very annoying. Live is a is a is a flippant in the shorthand way of attempting to trivialize a serious movement. It also by the way in an unabridged dictionary happens to mean castrate. And you can ask almost anybody anywhere what they think of when they think a castrating they think of men being castrated. Well actually it's a word that refers to. Removing the gonads of either sex and it and and diminishing the vigor of a person. It's a generic word and it is the vigor in the participation of women so it's more appropriately should be thought of but see these are some of the. Have so many sayings it's difficult for us to even have an opportunity to talk about women in war except in very limited time constrained way women as a group of organized people like any other group of organized people usually make progress through specific demands.
Is it possible that part of the women's movement and a bigger idiot to the general person of the public is that the demands are not clear and that their every now they're clear enough to people in the movement but the emphasis to the through the media which I accept the point that they don't report accurately emphasis through the media is not clear.
Now I can but I wouldn't say that there's never been or is a demand that's not clear.
But isn't there.
That is their over emphasis for example on lesbian ism and leaders of the women's movement who are merely one part of the totem movement don't think that most of the play from most of the press.
Well that's certainly happened a lot but it but it's also true that the demands have been stated and demands and requests and urgings and all sorts of things have been stated have been car fied have been made available to the to the media.
Communications have been made. They all go to people in corporations and you know or institutions. So I don't think that's what Curdie demands it is true that the media has acted for any number of predictions to bring out the things that might be considered the more sensational or the insulating. Or. Or from boy or or attractive or quite the other way around quite unattractive that sort of thing kind of has the relative extremes. But even even in those instances where that's happened I think that there's responsibility of media to do enough of their homework or find people who have done it so that the issues that are being raised by whether the whether these people or the others boast can be heard and the people have a chance to think about it.
One thing that I think needs to happen too is that they have to be more constant presence of people with a feminist consciousness in the media because many things happen many things get written many things get ignored particularly because someone makes a decision and says that is not important. And there has to be a continuous presence there in the decision making process to say hey look story a more important story be. We're looking over copy and saying you know you can't say that that is unfair that is it is not correct. And I think until. You get more women in the policymaking areas of New There are lot of women who were writing. There are more who are now moving up into decision making positions but you have very few women who are managing it.
Very few women who are city editor aside from that I think it's it's not only women I think it requires just different perspective which economical feminist. We have we have recommended generally to the media in various ways in our Writings and are speaking to an army deeds and so forth that there are ought to be what I would call a feminist presence at every studio and at a quarter of all the networks and this is what this is a person who should be in a position who's that is recognized as either called a consultant or whatever the title of the title is going to make a difference in terms of personally listen to them one size a title that doesn't interest some of us as much what we're interested in is having the presence and it should be more than one but at least. But if we if the absence of that or even if there are women there they're afraid to speak up.
Say that because there is a Jeopardy. There is a risk to this little letter saying he's not that popular.
I don't think you want people there if you goodman a consultant position they are peripheral I think you're much better off in having that feminist conscience as a pleasant person who is part of the staff who is not seen as all the special interest somebody is looking over a shoulder I think somebody splicing the tape is very important somebody with a blue pencil is very important somebody who says let's put this art there's a paragraph in this piece I was already there.
Right I think you're right a consultant can be an advisor and can be ignored and that really depends upon how much should the administration need to be where the tape is spice where the program societies were decided where what this going to be carried or not how where home you're going to go in on particular issues is is decided upon in other words you know every aspect every aspect of the operation for time represent kiss in the stationer. The publishing whatever it is and and what the my find out I think are pretty time that it requires more than one is really a responsibility of everybody who works.
I could make the case I think of feminism as a bona fide occupational qualification for any human endeavor that anyway has to do with people because whatever the intent the extent that one isn't one is sexist and that does damage to people in ways so that means a lot of people be out of work. If we you know applied that immediately because most people are not qualified but I think we have to to think quite honestly and make the case for that move in that direction. I can't think of anything any institution of our society that needs it more than the present.
What is solid from what you say that we need more women doing the jobs that people do.
In other words the presence of women ought to be just. Ordinary are you.
But I've also said also that that there are many women for understandable reasons have had to and still accommodate to century male oriented view. I'm also talking about a different consciousness too.
Well are you were there with my nose my head against Are you confident that that we're going to see a number of women emerge. Who on a competitive level make their demands personal demands to get involved with the media to get involved with the law to get involved where it really close.
I think we I think we have been making those those demands not to demand something.
Are you going to get a spread of people who are competitive enough to force their way in even though the gates are locked.
All right one of the problems is that that being competitive in ways that very often many have been is is is that is is not comfortable to many of us so we have to be rigorous. We have to be assertive and we have to be aggressive to achieve goals but not competitive in ways that are damaging to the people and that makes us vulnerable and that makes it more difficult. But it is a matter for integrity and the values that we believe in. We also saw that's going to take us longer for some of us now there are others. I mean not all women agree not all families agree who say look. It's there in the other way I'm going to get it is to do with the amount of time and I could do the same thing. And on the basis of simple justice one can make a case for that. I'm speaking for myself and about some others when I say for some of us we're not going to. But the process is part of what we do how we do it and how we relate to people is an important part of how we do it. And we aren't. We may get some short term made chief some short term things but because the values of this and the quality of our interrelations are so important we individually will not do anything that is necessary simply to get it but we're obviously we want a humane good person.
Are there women in the movement who are not as humane as you and others don't share that those values.
I don't know if I want to say but there are there are those who don't share those values or to to the same extent. And I'm not sure that I could live up to them every second. But I'd like to think I am trying.
One thing that is happening I think is that as women move in greater numbers into these areas in the media certainly it becomes safer to differ if there are more of you you can start arguing an alternate position and not feel so isolated.
It's part of changing the climate to numbers what I call reaching the critical mass because I think these questions are not questions. It's just when and how.
Well so much of what we've been discussing really is to change the psychological orientation of people so they are bolder they are more daring they are more independent and they will represent whatever they think a lot of what they are men or women. For every person will have different thoughts we're not going to agree. But I'm I'm agreed on one thought and that is that it's been a great pleasure having you will misguide Heidi and giving us some very profound ideas about this and I'm also want to thank my colleague Carol rivers for joining me on this program.
This is Bernard Rubin saying good night.
The First Amendment and a free people a weekly examination of civil liberties in the media. In the 1970s the program was produced in cooperation with the Institute for democratic communication at Boston University.
I w GBH radio Boston which is solely responsible for its content. This is the station program exchange.
Have. Have. Have. Have.
Have. Thank you.
This transcript is machine-generated and has not been corrected. It is likely there will be errors.
- The First Amendment
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