Saturday, November 22, 2008

The evolution of “women’s issues"

by Chloe Angyal

On Thursday, I had the privilege of attending the Wellesley Center for Women conference, “Post Election: What’s Next for Women in the Media?” The WCW, based on Wellesley’s campus, is a research institute that, since its inception in 1974, has conducted “interdisciplinary studies on issues such as: gender equity in education, sexual harassment in schools, child care, adolescent development, gender violence, and women’s leadership—studies that have influenced private practices and public policy.”

The purpose of Thursday’s conference was to discuss the relationship between gender and the media, particularly during the 2008 campaign. On the panel were Diane Sawyer, Michelle Bernard and Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, all of whom are established television journalists. The discussion was moderated by Wellesley alum and ABC journalist Lyn Sherr.

The discussion covered topics ranging from whether or not Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton were treated fairly by the media, to the importance of introducing paternity leave policies so that women’s careers (in the media and in all fields) are not put indefinitely on the backburner by the decision to take time off to raise children.

Most fascinating to me was the discussion of the difficulty that women reporters often have when they’re trying to pitch stories about “women’s issues” to editors or producers who are often hesitant to run them. Bernard is the CEO of the Independent Women’s Forum, an organization whose slogan is “all issue are women’s issues,” and who stated on Thursday that she also believes that “women’s issues are everyone’s issues.” She said that when she was starting out as a journalist, if she mentioned women’s issues to a producer, they would immediately assume that she wanted to discuss reproductive rights or sexual harassment. In response, Lyn Sherr, who is in her mid-60s, replied that when she was starting out, “women’s issues” meant cooking and cleaning.

This interaction shed some very welcome light on the evolution of public discourse by women and about women, and Bernard and Caruso-Cabrera, the youngest members of the panel, also provided some insight into where we need to go next. The IWF is committed to ensuring that women are informed on all the issues, and that everyone is informed on the issues that concern women. This seems like an excellent, and completely necessary mission, and Caruso-Cabrera took on the first point in her response to a question about the current financial crisis.

Caruso-Cabrera, a finance journalist who reports for CNBC, stressed the importance of women being financially literate. She noted that, in these trying financial times, one of our goals should be to overcome the old stereotype that balancing a family budget is the only involvement in finance of which women are capable. That’s goal she is contributing to simply by being a woman in the public eye whose job is to explain concepts like credit default swaps and mortgage-backed securities. Fifteen years ago, she noted, that a woman would be doing what she does (a Hispanic woman, no less) was unthinkable.

More from the WCW conference soon!


At November 22, 2008 at 8:40 PM , Blogger Courtny said...

Sounds like a really cool conference. Keep posting about it, please! Also, congratulations to the Equal Writes bloggers for a month of interesting and engaging posts. I've added this to my bloglines feed and look forward to reading more in the future.


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