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Amplifying Women’s Voices
S hould we try to infiltrate mainstream media or put our considerable energies into creating our own communication channels? An energized group of 200 women writers, radio producers, and critics debated this and other questions during the second annual Women and Media conference sponsored by the Center for New Words in Cambridge, Massachusetts on March 18-20, 2005.
While conference participants tended to answer the “inside or outside” question toward the “build alternatives” end of the spectrum, a good deal of energy focused on the nexus of the two options, specifically increasing women’s by-lines in mainstream op-ed pages. A long-standing question of why women, especially feminists, aren’t better represented in the mass media was cranked to a new level of intensity this winter by Susan Estrich’s recent campaign to pressure the LA Times to increase its percentage of women editorialists. Women average between 10 and 25 percent of op-ed writers in the largest U.S. dailies.
While figures on rates of rejection by gender are not widely available, a number of op-ed page editors have asserted that women submit only one-tenth the op-eds and letters to the editor that men do. Feminists contend that this reflects patriarchal training for females to defer to the leadership of men and their general lack of access to time and other resources. The supposition that there is a biological basis to women’s reticence was given little credence by WAM participants, though that angle has been well represented in dozens of articles on the controversy published in March and April. Groups such as Women in Media and News are developing a detailed database of experienced women writers to ease the expansion efforts of mainstream editors who are trying to include more women’s perspectives.
One of WAM’s key purposes is to give women the skills and support to amplify their voices in all sorts of contexts. “Ms.musings” blogger Christine Cupaiuolo led a workshop on setting up your own blog, which succeeded in meeting its advertised goal of having everyone make their first post to their new blogs within the workshop itself. Conference workshops addressed the politics and infrastructure of community radio, cartooning, book publishing, newspapers, and magazines and zines, in addition to electronic media, such as blogging and podcasting. Issue-oriented sessions included those focused on Muslim women, lesbians, women of color, the right wing, poor and low-income women, and pop culture.
ambitions of WAM participants ranged from the independence of blogging
to the collectivity of public relations for movement groups. With
scores of organizations represented at the conference, and given
the existence of related conferences such as the Journalism and
Women Symposium (JAWS), one recurring theme was the need to minimize
overlapping missions and competition for resources. Coordinating
the timing of WAM and JAWS was proposed, along with the potential
of regional WAM gatherings. Many participants cal- led for electronic
coordination between feminist media groups, envisioning something
like a “Craig’s List” for resource sharing among
feminist media activists and producers. Women’s E-Media Center
(www.womensemedia.org) offered to serve as a resource listing site.
Another recurring WAM debate weighed the pros and cons of nonprofit versus capitalist structures for our enterprises. The nonprofit model dominated, as seen in the fact that an entire panel was devoted to fundraising. But even nonprofit advocates urged women to create strong business plans identifying diverse funding streams, pointedly noting that “foundations will not fund revolution.” In a follow-up meeting on funding, Filipina activist Mavic Cabrera- Balleza, Communication Program Officer of Isis International-Manila, noted that grant money for women’s projects is tighter than ever but that feminists could find funders for information and technology projects.
Women even debated the old question of whether or not to use “feminist” as a descriptor of their projects. The Minnesota Women ’ s Press, a bi-weekly newspaper, is unveiling a new masthead this season, dropping the word “feminist” from its tagline in the hopes of expanding beyond their loyal feminist readership to include less politicized readers. In an editorial announcing the change, editor Editor J. Trout Lowen writes, “We think this change will resonate with young women, many of whom don’t identify as feminists first and foremost. Many of them have told us they see themselves and their lives as bigger, bolder and more complex that any single label.… Sadly, we must also admit that…there are some women who share the feminist values of equality and justice for women worldwide who don’t feel comfortable sharing our feminist identity. We hope they find kinship in our independent spirit,” as expressed in the new tagline “Independent news of independent women.”
The paper is funded largely through advertising by Minneapolis-Saint Paul women’s businesses. Lowen, in a follow-up posting to the Women and Media listserv, used the recent editorial change at Ms. Magazine to reflect on the economics and politics at the heart of “inside/outside” debates in whatever movements and contexts feminists and other social change agents face, “Can we afford to talk only to those who think just like us?”
Advocacy aimed at pressuring mainstream media to more fully represent and include the perspectives of women and other mar- ginalized communities was another prominent theme at the conference. In one workshop entitled “Root Causes, Our Cures: Women’s Activism for Media Justice and Reform,” women detailed today’s mainstream media mess and discussed the problem’s roots in capitalism and the structures of oppression which limit people’s ability to challenge the mainstream and create alternatives.
Inja Coates, one of the workshop leaders and director of Media Tank, described the work of the Philadelphia Grassroots Cable Coalition to hold Comcast and other cable companies accountable for their legally mandated support of public access resources. Noting communication is recognized by the UN as a human right, the Philadelphia coalition is remarkable for the diversity of its constituents including welfare rights, labor, and consumer advocates—such as the Kensington Welfare Rights Organization, Communications Workers of America, and PIRG. The Coalition has issued a Code of Conduct that calls on Comcast to set an example for smaller cable companies by adopting public interest positions in areas such as consumer pricing, customer service, worker rights, community access TV, and open access internet.
Jill Nelson, freelance journalist and author of Volunteer Slavery: My Authentic Negro Experience , gave a well-received keynote address slamming mainstream media’s capitulation to Bush administration deception. Citing a friend’s decision to withdraw her commentary from NPR when a producer challenged her contention that Bush is a liar, Nelson urged those of her audience who work in the mainstream to be prepared to find other ways to make a living rather than submit to political whitewashing. Neither did she hold out any hope for change under a potential Democratic president in 2008. The Democrats are “losers” and the system is “broken,” she declared. Even if someone with the personal and political integrity of South African Nelson Mandela were somehow to win the U.S. presidency, Nelson noted that no one person would be able to fix the chaos that has become our national predicament.
Nelson, an African American, characterized the years of the George W. Bush administration as a time when more and more people have become “niggerized.” Referring to 9/11 as an event that taught white men what it is to know fear, Nelson welcomed into the “niggerized” community those women who have not experienced the fear that people of color, gays, and poor people have lived with for all or most of their lives. Nelson urged white women to “anticipate the higher price that people of color pay for speaking out radically” and act in a solidarity informed by close scrutiny of white supremacy and white privilege.
Nelson’s admonition to build a “human cloak of fearlessness” and to create our own media resonated with the crowd. From blogs to news wires to newspapers to op-eds, women strategized the multiple ways to increase the power of feminist opinion and institutions.
ColorLines senior writer Daisy Hernandez led the closing strategy session of the conference. Urging feminist writers to understand that journalism is the work of community, she listed several insights she credited to her mother. Among others was “la que sabé, sabé,” (the one who knows, knows) which Hernandez elaborated to mean get the grassroots story, find out what people are talking about on the bus, and know what’s happening on the block.
WAM organizing committee member and Beacon Press editor Gayatri Patnaik noted she was “so completely taken with the conference” after attending the inaugural WAM in 2004, that she eagerly joined the organizing committee with the goal of seeing women of color participating more in the 2005 conference. Noting presentations by radio activists Sonali Kol- hatkar and Deepa Fernandes, journalists Daisy Hernandez and Jill Nelson, and book publisher Jill Petty, among many other women of color, Patnaik felt that the goal had been “absolutely achieved.”
Argentinian American Rita Arditi echoed the sense of determination that was palpable throughout the weekend when she recounted a saying by one of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo: “La unica lucha que se pierde es la que se abandona” (“the only struggle you lose is the one you abandon”). Judging from the huge burst of postings to the WAM listserv after the conference, the energy harnessed by WAM is being put to good use.
Loie Hayes is a freelance book editor and writer living in Boston.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.