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 Rubin. [Rubin] Well, I'm delighted to have is my guest through this program Wilma Scott Heide 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 she is the vice president. Currently, Ms, Heide is writing a book which she 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" 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 too, Carol. [Rivers]: (laughs) Unpublished. [Rubin]: Perhaps I'll open this discussion by asking you the most trite of all possible questions, Wilma Scott Heide, 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? [Heide]: Just 25 words or less? [Rubin]: 25 words or less. [Heide]: You're right it's impossible to answer. First of all, I think it should be clear although people even in the media ask is the movement dead?
The movement is alive, 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. For instance, 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 in grade schools dramatized on the public media, on radio and television, and also that there would simply be more responsiveness. I think the general media has been more responsive in the 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 a thing that there has
to for something to be dynamic people have to be in conflict and that it tests, I mean visible conflict, confrontations or or liberating 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 surprising you know of what can variously be called a patriarchal system, male oriented, and in a male dominated system. Simply the life experiences of the other half of the population are either unknown or devalued, except maybe on Mother's Day. [Rubin] just [Heide] like that. [Rubin] Just a follow up question before I turn to Caryl (Rivers) on the same theme. What makes you particularly angry about the--? [Heide] Well let me start out with something to make a suggestion. One of the things, and it's hard for me to pin it to one, but one of the things is the English language that some of us call Manglish, this sexist language
that you know inaccurately 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, that 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, of possibilities over half the population, has profound effects on our consciousness from the time we are first aware of language. So I said I'd make a suggestion. Let's us here at least today and this half hour, I'm not even talking about centuries. If we talk about the individual let's refer to "she" which includes he, and "her" instead of "his" or "him". And if we're talking about people in general let's say "woman", that includes
man. And I find that when people have that experience then they become aware. While this is really more inclusive, 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 is very important and in the context of of this program generally. [Rubin] What I'm trying to figure out how I can ask Caryl for, I can ask her for her question. Yes and I agree with you completely. Caryl? [Rivers] Well getting back to the first question you talked about, Bernie (Rubin) 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 consciences 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 of Acupoco, or he's excited about a political piece and the piece that has to deal with the women's issue which may be sort of a more fundamental issue, it affect more people, will be a piece of sort of a token kind of piece. 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 key questions that we're talking about. [Heide] 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 ultimately. And we do have to take a look, not only the short but the long view on the lives of
people in the quality of life and our values, than many people yet seem to realize and I think Carol's quite right, that's the tokenizing. There's still the blatant discrimination but there's also some of the moving into the more subtle and there's there's also the peripheral rising of issues. Let me give an example, just as it's current now, in terms of something that's going on right now. As people are listening to this program, the concert-- consequent to the International Women's Share proclaimed by the United Nations in 1975 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, is I check with people in stores and shops and so forth who aren't involved in something and said "do 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 it hasn't 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 having these conferences is to find out it's historic, or what some would call herstoric event, 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 1975 both Tribune for the non-official representatives and credited as a journalist at the conference and was probably the most, 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, we have to remember they're all human issues are women's issues, all human issues. This gets back to what Caryl 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 to the point of being considered of importance generally, we really have to, I think, ask us the so-called experts who've often been part of the problem have always, often indicated by virtue of it that they aren't capable of conceptualizing little and solving the problem. Bring in the people who are change agents and that certainly has got to include feminis-- [Rubin] I know, I know that when I gave my course this past semester in communication and national development, I used the two volumes which had most of the papers from the Mexico City meeting and also the second volume had the complete bibliography 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 course on national development in which the emphasis was, at least, you know, in a major sense, equal to to men upon women, and women as figures in national development. [Heide] Well and this is one the points, the goals of international women's year, now the decade, were equality, development, and 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, there is not likely to be peace in any enduring sense without bringing in the life experience of those of us who don't have to prove our manhood among other things. [Rivers] 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. Our maternal death rate is terribly high and that we do not live up to the protestations that we make in terms of -- [Rubin] we have no childcare centers and all the rest. (talking over each other) [Rivers] It wasn't an issue [Heide] We could do and we do do an analysis of what are the 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 whether 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 in working with and in the ACL-- the American Civil Liberties Union that one could make the case that the denial
or the limited access of women and this certainally includes, particularly feminists, to the public media that our 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 least. But we have difficulty even with the civil libertarians. Being this, whether one wants to call it 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 clear throats. There's also the fact that the kinds of information that many people need in the dailyness 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 and our health and we can make these connections. We seldom have an opportunity to talk about it publicly. I think we should litigate these things. [Rivers] We're talking about litigation and the reluctance of say ACLU types to do something like this. I think it's because there is important discrimination. As for as often the male world is concerned, and unimportant discrimination and unimportant discrimination is that which involves women. And this was really graphically presented to, I remember once when I was in Washington and I was at a meeting of the National Press Club, I was there covering
something, and at that time the press club would not not only 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 in the balcony, by Carl Roland who was the head of USIAID at the time. 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 male reporters had just come back in the South were saying, "Gee isn't that terrible. He had to sit in the balcony." There I was right there in the in the balcony here and nobody even noticed it. [Heide] Yup, I know. [Rivers] No one thought it was terrible that I was sitting in the balcony. [Heide] That's one of that's one of the things we should beware of about this phenomenon, they're so normal. Not the same as natural, so normal and happened so much and so often. When people assume they are natural, they're taken for granted and they aren't questioned. Let me give an example from my own experience from on November 1st 1972 I was then president of NOW. I wrote an open letter to Richard Nixon, an open letter meant that it was released to all the media in the
country, raised 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. [Rubin] Now that is strange because normally they the would carry the letter simply because you were head of a large organization. [Heide] No, I think if I were, Well I don't know. I think if whoever would be my counterpart in any other movement had written such a letter with such a release, it would have received at least some attention, I mean at least on the back page somewhere. I think if I were a more flamboyant person, or if there had been more attention to making me into a star or something like that. I think it was enough that you know here's somebody representing the largest feminist organization in 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 the people making decisions. I suppose if we had filed a lawsuit 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. Arbitrarily 20, it could have been a hundred and they raised things, and I released it on November 1st because I frankly wanted people to think about it right before the election. I mean they could've disagreed with everything, but-- and they're-- 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," well I couldn't agree more. He doesn't . Or Howard K. Smith said he can't see-- This is one cause that he can't understand, women's lib. There's no such thing as "lib" that's another thing that's very annoying. "Lib" is a is a is a flippant 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 of 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 the 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 many things that's difficult for us to even have an opportunity to talk about and explore except in very limited and time constrained ways. [Rubin] 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
ambiguity to the general person of the public, is that the demands are not clear-- [Heide] They're clear enough. [Rubin] They're clear enough to w they're clear enough to people in the movement, but the emphasis through the media, which I accept the point that they don't report accurately, emphasis through the media is not clear. [Heide] Now I, I, I can't-- wouldn't say that there's never been or is a demand that's not clear. [Rubin] But isn't there, over emphasis, for example on lesbianism and on leaders of the women's movement who are merely one part of the total movement, don't they get most of the play from most of the press? [Heide] 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 clarified, have been made available to the to the media. Communications have been made available to people in corporations
and all our institutions. So I don't think that it's a lack of clarity in demands. It is true that the media has elected for any number of reasons to bring out the things that might be considered the more sensational or titillating or flamboyant or attractive or quite the other way around, quite unattractive that sort of thing kind of thing, 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, both can be heard and the people have a chance to think about it. [Rivers] One thing that I think needs to happen too, is that there has 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 that decision making process to say "Hey look, Story A is more important than Story B" or 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 news, there are a lot of women who are writing, there are more who are now moving up into decision making positions, but you have very few women who are managing editors, Very few women who are city editor. [Heide] Aside from that, I think it's it's not only women I think it requires a different perspective, which I can only call feminist. We have recommended generally to the media, in various ways in our writings, and in our speakings, and in our meetings and so forth that there are ought to be what I would call Feminist Presence at every studio and of course at all the networks. This is a person who should be in a position who's--
that is recognized as either called a consultant or whatever the title, if the title is going to make a difference in terms of the person being listen to, then we'll emphasize the title, that doesn't interest some of us as much, what we're interested is having the presence, and it should be more than one, but at least. that if the absence of that or even if there are women there, they're afraid to speak up. Because there is a Jeopardy, there is a risk to this. (talking over each other) [Heide] not that popular. [Rivers] I don't think you want people there, if you put them in a consultant position, they are peripheral. I think you're much better off in having that feminist consciousness as a person who is part of the staff, who is not seen as "oh, the special interest, somebody is looking over our shoulders." [Rubin] 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- this paragraph in this piece" (talking over each other) [Rivers] He's already there. [Heide] Right I think you're right a consultant, it can be an advisor, can be ignored and that
really depends upon-- [Rubin] but your principle is correct. [Heide] --how much should the administration. The need to be where the tape is spliced, where the program's decided, where what is going to be carried or not, where whom you're going to call in on particular issues is is decided upon. In other words in every aspect, every aspect, of the operation, if we're talking about broadcasting the station, the publishing, whatever it is and and what they might find out, I think over 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, that does damage to people in ways. So that means a lot of people would 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 press. [Rubin] It follows then, 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-- [Heide] But I've also said also, that that there are many women, for understandable reasons, have had to and still accommodate to essentially the male oriented view. I'm also talking about a different consciousness too. [Rubin] That was my question, 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 counts? [Heide] I think we, I think we have been making those those demands. [Rubin] not those demands. Are you-- we going to get a spread of people who are competitive enough to force their way in even though the gates are locked? [Heide] All right, one of the problems is that that being competitive in ways that very
often men have been 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 of our integrity and the values that we believe in. We also-- so that's going to take us longer for some of us. Now there are others, I mean not all women agree, not all feminists agree, who say look "It's there and the only way I'm going to get it is to do what the men have done and I'm going to 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-- 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, we may achieve 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. We want-- [Rubin] But we're obviously a very humane person. Are there women in the movement who are not as humane as you, in other words don't share that-- those values? [Heide] I don't know if I'm one to say that 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. [Rivers] 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 alternative position and not feel so isolated. [Heide] It's part of changing the climate, the numbers, what I call reaching the critical mass. Because I think these questions are not questions, it's just when and how. [Rubin] 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 no matter what they are, whether they're 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, Wilma Scott Heide and giving us some very profound ideas about this, and I'm also want to thank my colleague Caryl Rivers for joining me on this program. This is Bernard Rubin saying good night. [music] [Narrator] 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 by WGBH Radio Boston, which is solely responsible for its content. [music] This is the station program exchange. [silence] [music]
- The First Amendment
- Feminist Journalism
- Producing Organization
- WGBH Educational Foundation
- Contributing Organization
- WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- On this edition of The First Amendment and a Free People, Bernard Rubin, cohosting with journalist Caryl Rivers, talks with Wilma Scott Heide, former president of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Heide discusses the disparity in coverage of mens and womens issues and emphasizes that womens issues are human issues. She also talks about the role of language in shaping our perception of gender and gender roles, the pointlessness of tokenizing, and the necessity of raising the general consciousness of journalists towards women in order to get fairer coverage.
- Other Description
- "The First Amendment is a weekly talk show hosted by Dr. Bernard Rubin, the director of the Institute for Democratic Communication at Boston University. Each episode features a conversation that examines civil liberties in the media in the 1970s. "
- Talk Show
- Social Issues
- Media type
Guest: Heide, Wilma Scott
Host: Rivers, Caryl
Host: Rubin, Bernard
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
Production Unit: Radio
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: 79-0165-00-05-001 (WGBH Item ID)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- MLA: “The First Amendment; Feminist Journalism.” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 6, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-36547qr1>.
- APA: The First Amendment; Feminist Journalism. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-36547qr1