But Ruth Rosen's article Gender Apartheid Online (link via Echidne of the Snakes), though focused on a certain effect of gender politics, is indeed relevant to our discussion about bearing witness and trying to open public discourse to people like ourselves. She begins:
Forty years ago, feminists demanded that special "women's pages," which featured fashion, society and cooking, be banished from newspapers. Instead, they insisted, newspapers should mainstream serious stories about the lives of women throughout their regular news.Particularly relevant for our discussion is this:
Forty years later, the new media have re-segregated women's sections. The good news is that they are no longer about society, cooking and fashion. Most are tough, smart, incisive, analytic,and focus on events, trends or stories that the mainstream online news still ignores. The bad news is that they are not on the "front page" where men might learn about women's lives.
Consider the Inter Press Service, which describes its mission as "giving a voice to the voiceless" - acting as a communication channel that privileges the voices and the concerns of the poorest and creates a climate of understanding, accountability and participation around development, promoting a new international information order between the South and the North."Well to tell the truth, I myself didn't know that IPS Gender Wire exists (though I read stories from IPS all the time). I find myself wondering why stories about women are considered gendered at all. I suppose it's one of those (gendered!) applications of metonymy that are so pervasive in most cultures. Rosen's point, of course, is about women's status: "Success," she says, "will come when women's news is mainstreamed." (This is exactly what I've been saying (for at least 15 years now) about the sf that women write: that we won't need a feminist press when work by women is a routine part of the conversation.) But what interests me particularly is this:
Women, however, do not appear on the regular Inter Press Service. Instead IPS Gender Wire, a separate magazine, provides outstanding news about women's lives around the world. In each issue, IPS Gender Wire repeats the fact that "Women do not get half the media's attention, or an equal voice in expression - only 22 percent of the voices you hear and read in the news today are women's. In its stories IPS redresses this huge imbalance - covering emerging and frontline issues while asking an often forgotten question: What does this mean for women and girls?
The news stories that appear on IPS Gender Wire have focused on political opportunities for women in Senegal, investigated whether Namibian women are being sterilized, discussed women's debates in Lebanon about whether to don the hijab or bikini, and exposed sexual assaults against detained female immigrants by guards in Texas. And it never stops reminding readers that women are "Half the world's population, but not with half the share of wealth, well being and opportunity."
Think about it. Many of these sections are terrific and cover wonderful stories. They are not about fashion, cosmetics and wrinkle cream. But do men read them when they are clearly "marked" for women? I don't know, but the party line from writers and publisher is "of course." True, some of my male journalist friends know about some of these sites. But I can't find many ordinary men who regularly read these online magazines who even know that IPS Gender Wire exists, or who regularly click on Broadsheet. And most of my female friends have never even heard of the New York Times' Female Factor.
The quality of the writing and analysis in these "separate sections" is quite high. So what's my problem? My concern is that gender equality will only emerge when men are educated about women's lives and when women stop being quarantined as "the other." Why aren't stories that explore women's responses to the Taliban or Islamism, reproductive health issues, new forms of contraception, the growing majority of women in American higher education, or the estrogenic impact of cosmetics on women's health mainstreamed on the "front page" as part of the news about foreign policy, national security, ecology, pollution, or health care?
News about women is linked to the health of the planet, the education of half the world's population, the reproductive opportunities for or constraints on half the world's people, the hidden injuries of sex, the violence against girls and women, and the poverty of women and children.Thank you, Ruth Rosen.
By now, most international organizations have embraced the fact that elevating women's status though education and reproductive choice results in a higher living standard for an entire population. Sadly, that widespread and obvious consensus has not yet penetrated the news media. We will know we've succeeded when every magazine asks of every news story, as IPS Gender Wire does, What does this mean for women and girls?