Gender Apartheid Online
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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.
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.
Does this trend signal success or failure? As an early activist in and scholar of the women's movement, I'm concerned that all we have gained after four decades are stand-alone feminist online magazines and web sites and the "right" to have separate women's sections embedded in other magazines. This is the women's pages of 1969 redux, even though these sections promote a broad array of serious subjects from a strong feminist perspective. Nor are all the editors of these online men who have cast women as "the other." Many are feminists who, for whatever reasons, have created these special women's sections.
Salon, for example, has Broadsheet, which produces excellent stories about issues or trends that affect half the population. Slate has Double XX, which recruits talented and thoughtful women to write stories that offer an important feminist perspective. PoliticsDaily.com has a "Woman Up" section that is a collective women's blog. OpenDemocracy, a British online magazine, has 50/50, a separate section that focuses on news stories about women around the world.
The list is long. Many are web sites or magazines that have their own special women's section. Even the New York Times, to the surprise of many journalists, has an online series called the Female Factor. Here you find fascinating articles that belong with the regular news about women in corporations, political news from Germany, or problems faced by the newly retired. But because they focus specifically on women and are online, they are mostly unknown to readers of the print version of the New York Times.
Some online magazines have no obvious special section. In order to access news about women on Truthout, for example, you have to go to "issues" and then click on "women." (When did half the population turn into "an issue?") The Huffington Post tends to place blog posts about women and "women's issues" in the Style or Living section.
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.
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."