Jennifer L. Pozner

Can Melissa Harris-Perry Remove the Race and Gender Blinders from Cable News?

On Friday, Fox News host Sean Hannity assembled more than a dozen religious leaders for what Jon Stewart dubbed “the world’s holiest sausage fest.” The subject? An Obama administration plan to require contraception coverage in health insurance plans. As The Daily Show described it, “a diverse panel of experts… Catholic men, Jewish men, Baptist men, black men, white men, absolutely everyone who might have something relevant to say on women’s reproductive health” confirmed Hannity’s fear that there is “a war now on religion in America.”

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Why Fixing the Media System Should Be on the Feminist Agenda

This essay was adapted for Reclaim the Media and NOW's NW Organizing Project from an essay in BitchFest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine.

Ask a feminist to identify what the most important issues are facing women, and she might mention reproductive freedom, violence against women and children, the disproportionate burdens women bear in light of the growing gap between rich and poor in America or the many ways in which war specifically impacts women. Chances are she wouldn't immediately point to the media. But she should.

Without accurate, non-biased, diverse news coverage and challenging, creative cultural expression it is virtually impossible to significantly impact public opinion of women's and human rights issues or to create lasting social change. Indeed, corporate media are key to why our fast-moving culture is so slow to change, stereotypes are so stubborn and the power structure is so entrenched. Pop culture images help us determine what to buy, what to wear, whom to date, how we feel about our bodies, how we see ourselves and how we relate to racial, sexual, socio-economic and religious "others."

Journalism directly links and affects every individual issue on the socio-political continuum in a national debate over the pressing matters of the day, from rape to racism, hate crimes to war crimes, corporate welfare to workplace gender discrimination. By determining who has a voice in this debate and who is silenced, which issues are discussed and how they're framed, media have the power to maintain the status quo or challenge the dominant order.

And how have media used this power where women are concerned? With a vengeance.

Let's start with female politicians. Ever since the midterm Democratic upset, media have been exclaiming over Democratic Representative Nancy Pelosi's new position as the first female Speaker of the House, a position which puts her only two steps away from the presidency -- but few outlets have noted that in 2006, we still lag behind many other developed countries in electing women to the highest political offices.

Ever wonder why American women are still stuck with only token representation in the House, the Senate and the Supreme Court, or why the closest a woman has come to the Oval Office was Geena Davis on a short-lived ABC drama? In part, it's because women audacious enough to seek political office are routinely dogged by double-standard-laced news coverage that focuses on their looks, fashion sense, familial relationships and other feminizing details that have nothing to do with their ability to lead -- as noted in a previous TomPaine.com commentary, "Commander In Chic."

From headlines speculating about whether or not New York Senator Hillary Clinton "had millions of dollars of work done" to make her look less "hideous" to the New York Times likening Pelosi to a nagging grandmother, this sort of coverage implies that women should be taken less seriously and are less electable than their male counterparts. (Of course, their male counterparts aren't helping to dispel such stereotypes, as when Dubya said, in his first post-election press conference, that his "first act of bipartisan outreach" he "shared with [Pelosi] the names of some Republican interior decorators who can help her pick out the new drapes in her new office.")

Even the most powerful women in America suffer this media indignity: When Condoleezza Rice wore black leather boots last year, the Washington Post described the Secretary of State as a "dominatrix"; on the day she was chosen as America's first African-American female national security adviser, a front page New York Times story reported that "her dress size is between a 6 and an 8," and she has "a girlish laugh" and "can be utterly captivating -- without ever appearing confessional or vulnerable."

Media content matters, and not just to women at the highest echelons of power. In fact, the more vulnerable women are, the more hostile media coverage becomes. Young, low-income mothers of color have been derided for decades by a bigoted and misogynistic press as "promiscuous," "lazy moochers" and "brood mares" supposedly popping out babies for welfare checks. A Newsweek editor once even insisted that "every threat to the fabric of this country from poverty to crime to homelessness is connected to out-of-wedlock teen pregnancy." The end result of this scapegoating? Punitive welfare reform that decimated the social safety net for poor women and children.

As feminists, we need to prioritize media among our top political concerns. Is sexual assault your most urgent issue? Media still imply that women "ask for it," as when a Wall Street Journal column blamed rape and murder on "moronic" women who don't have enough "common sense" to keep themselves safe. Think anti-abortion violence is a threat to women's safety and to our reproductive freedom? An American anti-abortion fanatic attempted to blow up a women's health clinic in Iowa on September 11, 2006, yet only one newspaper in the entire Nexis news database deigned to report this terrorist attack. Against the war? When three pretty, blond country singers are called "Dixie Sluts" by major magazines and TV news reports, banned from airplay by ClearChannel, Cox and Cumulus Radio and censored with radio-funded CD-stomping spectacles simply for expressing anti-war sentiment, it's a safe bet that corporate media won't be giving much press to Iraqi women who complain that their safety and autonomy are now curtailed by new Sharia laws imposed by the U.S.-approved Iraqi Constitution.

Sexist, racist media content is fruit from a poisoned tree. The demonization of women and the near invisibility of progressive feminist perspectives in American media are the result of institutional factors, including the financial and political agendas of mega-merged media monopolies; the pandering of news networks and entertainment studios to advertisers' profit motives without regard for the public's interest; the limited access of women, people of color, low income people, LGBTQ people, Native people, immigrants and other marginalized constituencies to the means of media production, distribution and technology; decades of right-wing investment in media messaging, production and advocacy; and, funding restrictions of independent media alternatives.

Also at play is the systemic underrepresentation of women and people of color in content (on op-ed pages, network newscasts, cable debate shows, as hard news reporters) and in the industry (as top-level executives, board members and owners in news and entertainment companies), as dozens of depressing studies document.

Luckily, a vibrant movement for change is gaining steam at the grassroots level, and there are plenty of ways to begin to fight for a feminist vision of media justice and reform . Here are just a few places to start:


  • Pressure public officials to defend the public interest in media policy: The next Congress will likely have the opportunity to weigh in on media and communications policy issues which will reshape the ways we can make use of our first amendment freedoms for decades to come. These issues include Internet freedom, media ownership consolidation, privacy rights, copyright reform and more. Progressive media policy reform by itself won't make the media more just but it's a necessary step. Look into your local and national representatives' positions on media and telecommunications issues -- or ask them for their stance if their views aren't public knowledge -- and urge them to support media policy that prioritizes the public's interest rather than corporate profit.


  • Debunk media bias, amplify public interest voices and demand accountability from corporate media: Become an engaged, critical media consumer. Women In Media & News debunks media sexism and inaccuracy through multimedia presentations on college campuses, an online alert list and a women's media monitoring group blog and conducts media skills-building workshops to give women's and progressive groups the tools they need to propel their messages onto the public stage. Groups like Youth Media Council, Third World Majority and GRIID conduct media trainings, release reports and provide organizing tools to women, people of color, youth, immigrants and other underserved populations. FAIR's Extra! magazine and CounterSpin! radio show are invaluable resources.Center for Media & Democracy and Commercial Alert can help you fight corporate and governmental propaganda in the form of video news releases (VNRs) that masquerade as independent news. Send letters to the editor, conduct your own studies and organize public protests.


  • Defend the public interest in telecommunications policy: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has all but abdicated its responsibility to regulate the U.S. media industry in the public interest. Urge Congress to fight against media concentration and support legislation for diverse, local, independent and uncensored media alongside Reclaim the Media, the National Organization for Women, the Center for International Media Action, Free Press and other national and grassroots campaigns. Learn more and develop action plans at the National Conference on Media Reform


  • Demand open access to existing and emerging media technologies: It is crucial that existing and emerging media communications technologies remain broadly accessible as a public good. Join the fight for Network Neutrality at SaveTheInternet.com. Stand up to internet censorship and control, protect bloggers' rights, advocate privacy protections and work to close the digital divide between wealthy, white Americans and low-income people and people of color with help from the tech-savvy Electronic Frontier Foundation, the D.C.-based Center for Digital Democracy or the grassroots United Church of Christ's Media Empowerment Project.


  • Claim the cable systems and radio airwaves for your community: Challenge cable license renewals and equitable service to low-income communities with models from Reclaim the Media, and help press for better pricing and programming through the Grassroots Cable Coalition. Organizations such as Prometheus Radio, WINGS (Women's International News Gathering Service), Media Access Project, National Lawyers Guild and Community Media Services can help you set up low power microradio stations, advocate fairer radio spectrum regulations that support diversity and access and demand accountability from ClearChannel and other powerful radio conglomerates.


  • Protect the future of feminist and independent media: Subscribe, donate to and give Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, Ms., World Pulse, Women's Review of Books, New Moon and Teen Voices as gifts to your friends. Support nonprofit advocacy groups like WIMN, the WAM (Women, Action & Media) project, the Women's Media Center and others working to propel women's voices onto the media mainstage. Independent news sources such as ColorLines, In These Times, The Nation, Stay Free, Clamor, Democracy Now!, Uprising Radio, WomensEnews.org and AlterNet.org are crucial to our ability to inform ourselves, educate others and effectively work for social justice. Remember, if you don't like the media, be the media!


  • More tips on how you can reclaim, reframe and reform the media are available at http://www.wimnonline.org/action/ and at www.reclaimthemedia.org.


The fight for media and gender justice needs you. The right has prioritized media messaging, production, policy and ownership since the 1970s, which is in large part why the American political and media landscapes have become as problematic as they are today. If we truly care about women's rights and social justice, we cannot afford to be overwhelmed by the scope of the problems in our media system -- we must simply roll up our sleeves and begin to tackle them.

A Culture of Rape

Fresh from the media's trusty "Feminism is responsible for every evil thing that can happen to a woman or a man" files, is a new one: Feminists cause rape. That's the premise of an April 14 Wall Street Journal opinion piece headlined, "Ladies, You Should Know Better: How Feminism Wages War on Common Sense."

In a rehash of some of the oldest blame-the-victim nonsense, Naomi Schaefer Riley declared that, although sexual assault is bad ('natch), many women are bringing it on themselves by "engaging in behavior that is 'moronic'."

Upon learning that DNA evidence links Darryl Littlejohn -- the bouncer charged in the gruesome, high-profile rape and murder of graduate student Imette St. Guillen in New York -- to a prior sexual assault, Schaefer Riley's ultimate conclusion is not that American culture and law needs to find real solutions for punishing serial rapists or, more importantly, preventing men from perpetrating such criminal behavior in the first place. Rather, she declares that this brutal attack should serve as a cautionary tale for women, who should "use a little more common sense" lest they go out and get themselves raped.

"Ms. St. Guillen was last seen in a bar alone and drinking at 3 a.m. on the Lower East Side of Manhattan," Shaefer Riley wrote, and "more than a few of us have been thinking that a 24-year-old woman should know better."

If you're wondering who are these "more than a few of us" who'd look at a brutal assault such as the one against St. Guillen and think, "Wow, what a stupid dead girl," it's worth noting the company this Wall Street Journal opinion writer keeps. Her prior work on religion was financially subsidized by the John M. Olin Foundation, a right-wing foundation which -- before it closed shop -- placed hundreds of thousands of dollars into media programs designed to convince the public that feminists whine too much about rape, that date rape is a "myth" and that the Violence Against Women Act is unnecessary. (For example, Olin was a major funder of Christina Hoff Sommers' error-filled screed "Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women," a highly inaccurate, widely debunked polemic that nevertheless garnered a heap of press coverage about feminism's supposed failures.)

Now that we've played "follow the money" for a bit of instructive backstory, it's time to get back to the WSJ commentary, which wasn't content to blame just one victim for her own demise. After dismissively referring to the heated public debate surrounding the alleged gang rape of a 27-year-old North Carolina Central University student and exotic dancer as "much hand-wringing about the alleged rape of a stripper," Schaefer Riley writes that, since the woman didn't anticipate the possibility of being attacked and [didn't] refuse to work the Duke University lacrosse team's party, "A stripper with street smarts is apparently a Hollywood myth."

The trouble with this sort of drivel is not simply that it's insensitive and insulting to the victim and, indeed to all women -- it is -- the problem is that under the guise of advising women about ways they can keep themselves safe, Schaefer Riley promotes dangerous misperceptions about the nature of rape in American culture. While there's certainly something to be said for women (and men) to thoughtfully evaluate the social choices we make with an eye to personal and public safety, staying sober and staying home will never inoculate women against sexual violence.

But keeping women safe wasn't Schafer Riley's real goal -- nor were St. Guillen and the woman at the center of the Duke U. firestorm her ultimate targets. In a typical rhetorical argument often offered by conservatives who lobby against feminist anti-violence efforts, the WSJ's opinion writer claimed that feminists have created a culture of female irresponsibility by telling female college students that:

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Commander in Chic

EMILY's List, the fundraising PAC for pro-choice Democratic women, turned 20 last month. Founded one year after NBC's Tom Brokaw described vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro as a "size 6" at the Democratic National Convention, the group has since helped to elect 80 female governors, senators and representatives, and hundreds of women to state offices.

Their anniversary comes at a time when America seems fascinated with the concept of female political leadership, from the fictional ("This fall, a woman will be president," proclaimed towering billboards publicizing Geena Davis's ratings-smash Commander in Chief) to the fantasy (pundits salivating about a potential Hillary Clinton/Condoleezza Rice horse race in 2008 on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, NBC's Meet the Press, and ABC's Good Morning America).

Two recent Gallup and Roper Public Affairs polls show overwhelming support for female politicians among the general public: between 79 and 81 percent of Americans say they would feel comfortable with a female president, and similar numbers believe a woman would handle homeland security and foreign policy issues as well as or better than a male president. So, if the public is ready for a female president, why is it that the closest a woman has come to the Oval Office is Geena Davis on a Hollywood backlot? And, for that matter, why are women still stuck with token representation in the Senate, the House, and the Supreme Court?

In part, this continued inequity can be traced to a media climate still mired in outmoded attitudes echoing Tom Brokaw, circa 1984. Women audacious enough to seek political power are routinely dogged by gender-specific coverage that focuses on their looks, fashion sense, familial relationships and other feminizing details that have nothing to do with their expertise. Which brings us to the failed Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers -- who, according to the Associated Press, bakes a mean sweet potato pie.

Well before Miers' withdrawal, a lengthy AP profile informed readers (often via quotes from relatives and colleagues), that Bush's embattled sycophant "likes to play tennis, run and take in a movie," is "not somebody who is a gossip," "always remembers everybody's birthday," and that "her royal blue suit shined with a brooch her mother gave her" when her nomination was announced in the Oval Office.

No news to date from the AP on what dish Bush's new nominee Samuel Alito might bring to a SCOTUS potluck, or whether Antonin Scalia's cufflinks carry sentimental value. The AP was hardly alone. The Los Angeles Times referred to Miers as Bush's "work wife," described her mother's recollection that she was "a blond-haired 'perfect angel'" as a child, and quoted her preacher as saying she is "a gracious, Christian lady" who embodies the word "meek" (apparently, he meant that as a compliment).

Meanwhile, in "The Eyes Have It," the Richmond, Va., Times Dispatch called for Miers to get a "makeover" because she "succumbed to the Whoopi Goldberg Eyebrow Theory: It's better not to have any." Tongue-in-cheek tone aside, there's nothing funny about statements such as "It's entirely possible that Miers figures it's more important to lawyer good than to look good. That would be wrong, of course. When the eyes of the public are upon you, nothing is more important than how you wield instruments of beauty. Well, nothing other than accessorizing. And maybe shoes."

But the top prize for misogynistic Miers mumblings goes to the San Diego Union Tribune, whose columnist (and former congressman) Lionel Van Deerlin wrote, "In judging persons for public office, there are certain routine tests... in assessing a feminine prospect, I have to wonder -- would I wish to be married to her?" It's difficult to imagine more chauvinistic and irrelevant criteria for vetting a candidate for the nation's highest court. Yet while the Beltway buzzed about Miers' political opinions and crony status, Van Deerlin labeled her unsuitable not because of her lack of judicial experience but because, as a workaholic, "she doesn't meet my exacting standard"... as a potential wife! "Can it be any wonder she's single?," he asked, "What relationship could flower with a woman who works from 4 a.m. to 10 at night?"

If Harriet were named Harold, it's likely the Union Tribune would have praised Miers' long hours as proof positive that Hard-Working Harry would make a dedicated jurist. Instead, we got a regressive screed about a professional woman doomed to a life of solitude because no man should want such an ambitious wife.

Nor did W do his nominee any favors when he called her a "pit bull in size 6 shoes" -- a phrase that quickly made its way into headlines. Oh, how that size 6 has haunted women leaders in the press, from Brokaw cutting Ferraro down to size in '84, to the day Condoleezza Rice became America's first African-American female national security adviser -- and a front page New York Times story reported that "her dress size is between a 6 and an 8." And earlier this year, after Rice happened to wear tall black leather boots, here's how the Washington Post described the single most influential woman in the current administration:

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Young Feminists Fight Back

Reviewed: The Fire This Time: Young Activists and the New Feminism edited by Vivien Labaton and Dawn Lundy Martin. New York: Anchor Books, 2004, 346 pp., 14.95 paper.

For the past decade, mass media and young women have been duking it out over whether feminism still has a pulse. Corporate media seems pretty sure that it doesn't, proclaiming that feminism is either "dead" (Time cover story, 1998) and a "failure" (Newsweek, 1990; New York Times Magazine feature, 1988), or, alternately, that "Women's Issues Face a Tough Sell" (Florida Sun-Sentinel, 2002) in our "golden age of post-feminism – Wonderbras, not burning bras" (London Independent, 1995). As far back as 1982, the New York Times Magazine claimed to have identified a "post-feminist generation" who supposedly rejected the quest for equality as irrelevant and passe. Young women, the media tells us, are apathetic about their rights, preferring the watered down version of "girl power" hawked in Hollywood chicks-kick-ass products like Alias and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and bare-booty music videos from L'il Kim and Foxy Brown.

The Fire This Time: Young Activists and the New Feminism, edited by Vivien Labaton and Dawn Lundy Martin, is the most recent entrant in a 13-year effort to refute these misrepresentations. Mid-'90s anthologies, such as Barbara Finden's Listen Up: Voices From the Next Feminist Generation (1995) and Rebecca Walker's To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism (1995), offered generational and identity-based perspectives on young women's political ideology and activism. By 2000, Manifesta, Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards' optimistic call-to-arms, had become a women's studies staple. Each in its own way, these texts proved that – as I wrote in the anthology Catching A Wave: Reclaiming Feminism for the 21st Century (2003) – "postfeminism is a fiction. Far from the media spotlight, girls and young women are undertaking exciting, creative, and uncompromising activism every day.

The Fire This Time attempts to advance a broader concept of what the third wave is and what it can become. Martin and Labaton are, respectively, the cofounder and first executive director of the Third Wave Foundation, the country's only national, multiracial, multi-issue, young women's philanthropic and activist organization, created in the mid-'90s to make feminism "hot, sexy, and newly revolutionary." They may not have commandeered "hot and sexy" from airbrained, miniskirted GOP pundettes like Ann Coulter and her ilk, but they have spent a decade on the front lines of a multicultural movement informed by antiracism, queer rights, labor organizing, and international justice. Their contributors are mobilizing to protect the rights of undocumented female laborers; securing legislative victories for transsexuals; and challenging male hierarchies in hip-hop culture. These young women and men are splitting open the borders of feminism so that, the editors write, "race, sexuality, nationality, and geography can move beyond being simply 'tolerated' or 'included.'" The result is "a new movement evolving from one in which there is a dialogue about feminism and race to a feminist movement whose conversation is race, gender, and globalization." The strongest illustration of these new open borders can be found in the essay in the book by Katherine Temple, "Exporting Violence: The School of the Americas, U.S. Intervention in Latin America, and Resistance." This hefty and powerful essay that should be required reading for every American studies student. The author embodies the multiplicity of priorities and strategies embraced by the third wave: she has done community development work in Guadalajara, Mexico, was challenging corporate corruption years before targeting Starbucks was cool, and currently serves on the board of a rape crisis center in North Carolina. A painter, Temple uses fine art, civil disobedience, and media to raise national awareness of the role the School of the Americas (SOA, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation),, a US-funded combat center, has played in training, arming, and propping up military war criminals who commit violent massacres in Nicaragua, Mexico, El Salvador, Panama, and other Latin American countries. Applying tools she acquired through working in a shelter for battered refugee and immigrant women, Temple develops a "Corporate Globalization Power and Control Wheel" to illustrate the impact of structural adjustment policies, anti-democratic trade agreements, and military aggression on millions of individuals, numerous governments, and the environment:

"Like batterers, those who design U.S. foreign policy understand that someone who is strong and self-sufficient cannot be easily controlled... Like individual abusers, U.S. foreign policy makers, multinational corporations, and international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank use tactics that compromise and limit the internal resources of Latin American countries. At the same time, these countries increase their dependency upon international lending bodies and U.S. aid and currency. Domestic and global abusers use tactics of relabeling violence, inverting blame, and renaming the victims. Soldiers who rape and stab children call their victims 'little guerrillas.' A man who batters and rapes his girlfriend calls her 'slut.'"

Noting that women and children bear the brunt of the malnutrition, disease, health care shortages, denial of education, and violence that accompany these tactics, Temple completes the analogy by describing how SOA manuals instruct soldiers to use rape and torture "to target people who are threatening to empower themselves to 'leave' the abusive relationship" through union organizing; protests against companies, dictators or the US; preaching liberation theology; or using nonviolent civil disobedience.

Fire is most effective when contributors, such as Temple, use a women's rights framework to go beyond those issues traditionally associated with feminism. However, this is, as the editors say, "not to suggest...that a new set of feminist issues is supplanting the old. Sweatshop labor and police brutality are not new, and the defense of reproductive rights is certainly as necessary as everYoung female activists are bringing a feminist sensibility to wide-ranging social justice work, but their gender is not necessarily what brings them to the movement.Contributors' execution of these ideas is inconsistent. Some pieces – such as Joshua Breitbart and Ana Nogueira's "An Independent Media Center of One's Own: A Feminist Alternative to Corporate Media", Ai-Jen Poo and Eric Tang's "Domestic Workers Organize in the Global City", and Robin Templeton's "She Who Believes in Freedom: Young Women Defy the Prison Industrial Complex" – deliver research-intensive analyses that show the underexamined relevance of various progressive topics for women. Others offer mostly recaps of information the educated progressive already knows. When an anthology's title includes the words "activism" and "new," it would be fair to expect each piece to offer significant insight into innovative organizing efforts. But where Elisha Maria Miranda's heartfelt essay outlines the impact of US colonialism and bombings on the people and environment of Vieques, and immerses readers in the author's personal connection to the subject, she has very little to say about the role of young women in this struggle, whatever that may be. And Syd Lindsley's useful history lesson on the cooptation of environmentalist rhetoric to advance hateful anti-immigration agendas leaves many important questions unanswered: How are young progressive women taking action against "the greening of hate"? What are some of the initiatives that have worked, have failed, can stand as models for others? A little less on the history of eugenics and a little more on contemporary political responses would have been illuminating.

One interviewee told Templeton that while her youth education group employs a feminist leadership structure, "'Traditional feminist issues... have not been on the same level of priority for me as building a movement against racial and class oppression.'" Ironically, the broadening of feminism's boundaries could have one unintended consequence. If second wave feminism's biggest weakness was its failure to fully prioritize a plurality of race and class issues, third wavers must be careful not to replicate this problem in reverse: Young female progressives who eliminate themselves from more "mainstream" battles like abortion, rape, and equal pay risk leaving fundamental rights undefended or, similarly problematic, in the hands of centrists who do not share their belief in the interconnectedness of social justice concerns. But if Fire's contributors are any indication, our "feminist future is not 'either this or that' but 'this and' that," as Labaton and Martin write. Judging from the million or so women who participated in the March for Women's Lives in D.C. last spring - a third of whom were young women - the fire this time is being fueled by queer leaders and anti-war protesters, environmentalists and sexual assault survivors, mediamakers, radical cheerleader bootyshakers, and every young activist fighting for a world in which women matter.

Fire's wide-ranging table of contents reads like what The Nation could look like if the lefty weekly's index page was less pale and less male and its subject matter a little less stale. If you're looking for a book focused primarily on the hows and whats of young feminist organizing, some of the essays may leave you wanting. But as a primer about the ever-broadening domain of progressive feminist ideology and activism, Fire succeeds well enough to warrant inclusion in Women's Studies 101 reading lists, where it should spark debate about the future of feminism.





Gender Immigrant

Broadcast TV bookers seem to think transsexuals are flaming, cheating sadsacks on Ricky Lake and Jerry Springer, murdered victims of brutal hate crimes on lurid nightly news segments, or pathetic, selfish husbands who break the hearts of angry, grieving wives and children in order to become female. In a February special titled "Scenes from a Marriage," Dateline NBC spent a year following a woman named Joyce and her husband David, who was in the process of becoming Victoria. A year's worth of footage was edited to highlight Joyce's pain and loss, and to downplay the couple's commitment to one another, leaving audiences with the implication that their marriage was doomed to disintegrate, despite having survived "so far."
All this makes transgender author, comic novelist and English professor Jennifer Finney Boylan's contribution to our political climate particularly important. Since the publication of the New York Times bestseller She's Not There: A Life In Two Genders, a memoir about Boylan's sex change at age 42, she has made the media rounds, her humor and savviness as an interviewee resulting in a relatively rare phenomenon: coverage of transgender issues that educates rather than exploits. Light on political theory but brimming with anecdotes about the ways gender politics trickle into our daily lives, She's Not There is subversive, poignant and funny. The book's working title was "Gender Immigrant": Boylan has traveled from the culture of men to the culture of women and has emerged with insights extraordinary yet distinctly relatable.


Jennifer Pozner: The subtitle of your book is A Life in Two Genders. Having lived most of your life as a man, what were your expectations about becoming female?

Jennifer Finney Boylan: It's important to understand that if you're a transsexual, you're not changing genders in order to get a better deal. Having lived in this culture and having been a professor for many years, I had a pretty clear sense of the realities of being female, but what I most wanted was a sense of peace. And that is absolutely what I've found now that my gender and my spirit match. As I go through the course of my day there are things that are aggravating about being a woman and many things that are wonderful -- but I can wake up in the morning without having to wonder "what gender am I?" or worry about what to do about a struggle that to most other people is incomprehensible. That is the particular dilemma for transsexuals: The main thing that is required to understand the condition is imagination.

JP: During your transition, you noticed yourself gaining food issues and body image anxieties along with your new breasts and hips. You say the culture had its hooks in you to the point where you felt like you were oppressing yourself. A lot of women can relate to that feeling. Did being socialized with a male sense of confidence for four decades prepare you in any way to reject negative, external judgments?

JFB: Initially, I had to go through a second adolescence, and it was a time of real awkwardness and narcissism for me. Most post-operative transsexuals eventually become rather unexceptional men and women who go on with the business of their lives unnoticed. People don't look at them and say "Hey, wow, there's one of those transsexuals I've heard so much about." We think, "There's a mother, an English teacher, a musician." You asked whether 40 years of maleness in any way prepared me for this. I was not socialized as a woman and didn't suffer firsthand the slings and arrows that women have to experience. Those 40 years did give me a certain strength and patience, and I needed that to endure the indignity and awkwardness of changing genders. It's possible in a strange, ironic way that the male life I lived gave me the courage to surrender it. Being trangendered is not about masculinity and femininity, it's about maleness and femaleness. I'm female now, which is to say I have a female body, but I'm feminine in some ways and not in others. I have the right to decide on any given day, just as all women do, where I fall along the femininity spectrum -- with Dolly Parton on one end and Janet Reno on the other.

JP: There's a way most people "do" gender -- we mimic what we're taught: shave our legs, apply eyeshadow, flick the blush brush. Then there's the way you had to do gender: As a man, you started out wearing your mother's and girlfriends' clothing, and eventually underwent therapy and hormone treatment and surgery to become female. Now that you're a woman, do you find that you spend more or less time "doing" gender?

JFB: You could argue that all gender is "done." The question is, how consciously? That's the definition of what we go through as adolescents, a time when, through trial and error, we're doing not only gender but our whole character. Trying on our whole persona, finding which songs, fashions, and interests feel comfortable, what creates the effect we desire. We call ourselves adults when all that stuff becomes less conscious. I would say that at some point most of our behavior is performative. I shave my legs now, and what's interesting is that back in the old days when I was a guy, I felt that this was something very powerful I was doing. I'd sit there thinking, "I am crossing a divide here, I'm being daring, feminine, powerful." And now I think of it only as something tedious, annoying, and inevitable.

JP: You have this great joke in the book about the effects of estrogen pills and testosterone suppressors: "One pill makes you want to talk about relationships and eat salad. The other pill makes you dislike the Three Stooges." Part of the reason it's funny is because it gets at deeply held notions about nature versus nurture. From your unique experience, how much of male/female behavior do you believe is innate, and how much is socialization?

JFB: I'm nervous about declaring "The Truth" about nature versus nurture even from my own perspective. I am a storyteller, not a sociologist. Here's what we know: There is a physical, neurological genesis for transsexuality. To get technical on you, the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis of the hypothalamus is 40 percent larger in women and in male-to-female transsexuals than it is in non-transgendered people born male. It's not caused by hormone use, it doesn't have anything to do with being gay, lesbian, or straight. It's there your whole life. That's real. Now that I've said all that, I'm going to contradict myself. People in the "genderqueer" community are saying a very different thing. They say it is our duty or at least our prerogative to mess with accepted notions of gender, to turn every assumption upside down. They're particularly suspicious of some kind of hypothalamus litmus test to judge whether you're "really" transgendered or not. They say it's wrong to imply that there's just one thing that makes us this way.

JP: That sounds similar to the debate in the gay community about whether finding a "gay gene" would help end discrimination by showing people it's not a "chosen lifestyle," or whether it would give fundamentalists a way to isolate the "cause" of homosexuality in order to "cure" it.

JFB: From the research I've seen, the biological components of transsexuality seem to be a lot clearer than those involved in the genesis of homosexuality. But even if people could choose to prevent transsexuality, I hope they would not. As difficult and painful as it was, in many ways I consider myself to be very lucky. It is a great gift, this ability to see into two worlds. Nurture, nature -- the short answer is that a lot more is nature than any of us would like to think. We live in a patriarchal culture that we have to resist. I agree with that. But, hormones and genetics help to make us what we are. This makes us uncomfortable because it seems to take away our free will. It doesn't do us much good to cover our eyes to facts, and one of the facts I know is that hormones do matter. But when I found myself worrying about my weight and ordering salad -- that had nothing to do with biology and everything to do with culture. So, I made damn sure to stop acting like an idiot and eat the baby back ribs if I wanted them. In some ways, some things have become more complicated than they used to be. I don't have a constant internal battle about gender anymore, but I do have to make a conscious decision to have the ribs for lunch in a situation when people are going to notice and perhaps disapprove.

JP: One thing that comes across in your book is the sense of surprise you felt during your transition when bartenders started trying to offer Jenny sports insights Jim already knew, car dealers tried to hustle you, and neighbors addressed you as "just" Jim's sister. Was it really that surprising to you?

JFB: When I went to New York for the first time as Jenny, the level of harassment just walking down the street was amazing. I'm a professor of culture studies, and I've been a guy, and I have two eyes. What was the big surprise? It was everything that I knew to be true, but it was happening to me, not someone else. Faced with that aggressive attention, I felt scared, singled out, vulnerable, and angry. But here's the kicker -- there was some part of me that thought, "Well... looking good today, Jenny Boylan." I was in a bar with a friend and she's a pretty hard core feminist. But she said "see that guy over there -- he's checking you out. I'm so jealous." You're jealous? She said, just a little. There's just enough adolescent in us to look to men for... what is that? JP: Validation?

JFB: Yes, it's exactly that. Validation. I'm in bars sometimes with my band. This guy came up to me last week and his first question was, "Can I French kiss you?" Just like that! I shrugged and said, "Well, no!" And my friends asked me, "Why didn't you say 'Go screw yourself?'" You know, I don't have a long history with that. There is nothing in a man's experience that is like that.

JP: In one of the most powerful scenes in your book you describe a guy in a bar who stared at you all night, followed you into the parking lot, and tried to attack you. That scenario would be familiar to far too many women. You fought him off, got to your car, and escaped. You called it "immersion learning," and gave readers a glimpse into your mind after the encounter: "What did I do to him, why does he hate me so much?"

JFB: I was terrified. I hadn't done anything other than to be attractive to him and then to say no, and suddenly I was an object of fury, lust, and loathing. I was on the receiving end of a hatred I'd never imagined before. It's no surprise to me that such moments exist for women, but it had never happened to me. I was never particularly physically intimidating as a man, but I wonder, if I had not had those years of male assurance, when he came at me would I have shoved him away, would I have fought? Or would I have already surrendered, just hoping to get through the situation without being killed? Sometimes I think it was because I still had enough male history in me that my first instinct was self-preservation. I went on this journey to find peace, but it has also brought me all the burdens that women have to bear in this culture and none are more heinous than this sort of violence.

JP: Drawing distinctions between sexual orientation and gender identity, you write that the main thing gays and lesbians have in common with transsexuals is "that we get beaten up by the same people." As a woman and as a transgendered person, how do you cope with being at risk in public space?

JFB: How does any woman deal with it? What do you do, both as a woman and as a visible transgendered person, if you want to live your life? You swim against the tide until you get tired, and then you swim with the tide until you get your courage back. I pass pretty well, so some of the violence that is reserved for people who are visibly transgendered is not shown me. In general people leave me alone. Rural Maine, where we live, is a wonderful place. Yankees generally respect each other's privacy. I have not been on the receiving end of much cruelty or stupidity yet -- most of the burden I've had to shoulder is the result of being female in this culture, not because I'm transgendered.

JP: How did you feel about media coverage in general?

JFB: One thing about transsexuality, it takes a lot of explaining. It's not a great topic for short TV segments. At least on Oprah I got a whole hour to myself, and then I was a panelist when she did a second show. That's an eternity compared to the Today Show, where I had 6.5 minutes. And one of the minutes is always devoted to, "So, are you gay?" while another is always, "How sad is this for your poor wife?" The thing I hate about these short little shows is that they don't give me room to be funny. I don't get to be myself. I feel like I'm doing a book report: "How I Changed Genders on My Summer Vacation." One particularly stupid radio show, all they wanted to talk about was "So, are you going to start having sex with men? What's that like?" These shows can be brutal. It feels like, "Welcome to the Morning Asylum with Benito and Adolph." It's very hard to have an intelligent discussion in these forums, because it's always okay to make fun of transsexuals -- we're seen as pathetic and freakish

. JP: Media must have a harder time plunking you into their pre-written "family heartbreak" stories, since you and Grace have stayed together.

JFB: That's the thing people are most uncomfortable with -- they're telling me, in effect, what people have told women for decades: I won't be a "real woman" until I find a nice man and marry him. Even people who have dealt with my transition in a very sophisticated way are uncomfortable with the fact that we are two women living together and legally married. Somebody said to Grace, "Don't you understand? You need to get a divorce and move on with your life." And Grace -- this is how phenomenal she is -- Grace said, "No, you don't understand -- this is my life."

JP: You seem to have gone to great lengths to make sure everyone around you was okay with your transition, not only your close family and friends but also Colby campus administrators, faculty, and students, as well as any number of current and former acquaintances. And your book seemed to be written with that same care. Why has taking care of other people's adjustment to your transition been so important to you?

JFB: I wanted to bring as many people along with me as possible. It's sadly true that most people, including liberal, compassionately minded people, don't understand transsexuality. They think it's some nutty lifestyle, or that it has something to do with being gay or lesbian or wanting to be "feminine." Alas, many people think that male-to-female transsexuals define themselves as women in terms of skirts and makeup and high heels and sponge cake. Why was it so important to educate people? Because I wanted them to understand. Because I wanted people to recognize that in me, as a woman, they would find someone who is generally familiar to them, that as a woman my issues are pretty similar (although, admittedly not identical) to the issues of women-born women. It's also fair to say that some people will never get it. In which case, what can you do? You move on.

JP: You mentioned once that you don't want to be a "model transsexual." But your wit and your articulate style seem to have made you a bit of a media phenom. Are you actively involved with the transgender movement?

JFB: I am not involved in the transgender "movement," which is not a movement but a series of different groups of people doing different things. I've decided I can do the most good by concentrating on what I do well, which is telling stories, and just going about my life. It seems as if that has connected with people in some way, though, and maybe that is its own revolution. I guess that for a little while I'm going to be a transgendered spokesmodel. There will be other people. I don't see myself being defined by this for the rest of my life. I'll write other books. I'll go back to fiction. But I'm glad to be in the public eye for the time being, because we need more good role models. I'm tremendously proud of my book, because it did something I've always wanted to do in my writing, which is to stay in that zone between the tragic and the comic. This book has connected with a lot of people, and surprisingly so -- my publisher, Random House, certainly didn't expect it. I like to think that this book connects to such a wide audience because the main question I'm asking is not, "How do you have a sex change?" but "How do you live an authentic life?" That's a question all people ask themselves, or should. The book isn't long on obscure gender theory or on gory details about the surgery. People don't necessarily want to know about that. They want to know about how they can be true to themselves, and what will the cost of that truth be to them and to the people they love. At the heart of the book are very mainstream questions: How do I tell the truth? How do I live my life with honor?

Jennifer L. Pozner is Executive Director, Women In Media & News, This interview originally ran in the Women's Review of Books, along with a full review of She's Not There.

In Whose Image?

At the NAACP’s 33rd "IMAGE AWARDS," -- billed as Black America’s answer to the Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and Pulitzers and broadcast on Fox earlier this month -- one radical moment pierced through the Hollywood fanfare, fashion follies and celebrity thank-yous to "G-d and my agent."

It came when cartoonist Aaron McGruder accepted the Chairman’s Award for "The Boondocks," one of America’s only black-themed -- and politically progressive -- syndicated comics.

McGruder faced the television cameras and said, "I created the strip because I wanted to create a radical Black voice that the United States government could not kill." To audience cheers, he continued: "My politics, for those of you who read the strip, are well known. I don’t like the president; I don’t like the war... The strip is about getting people to challenge what they tell you. Because they are lying."

McGruder brings this defiant, unapologetically anti-racist voice to hundreds of newspapers every day. A biting satirist, he’s a perfect choice for NAACP honors. But not half an hour after the cartoonist encouraged opposition to official lies, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume presented another Image Award to one of the government’s biggest propogandists -- National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.

Mfume described Rice as "an honest broker" between international warring factions. In reality, Rice has been a key information censor for Bush’s war machine, pressuring the networks to suppress information unflattering to the administration. Mfume also raved about Condi’s influence in the White House, unprecedented for an African-American woman. But blanket ascension to power should not be the main requirement for civil rights honors -- socially relevant work should be.

The President’s Award, according to the NAACP, is supposed to honor those who "advance the ideals of the NAACP through image, personal achievement and service to all people of color."

But, as McGruder noted in a scathing Boondocks strip, "She works for a man who disenfranchised thousands of black voters!" and "She personally wrecked the world conference against racism!" In fact, a more appropriate name for Rice’s commendation, McGruder scoffed, would be "President Bush’s Most Embarrassing Black Person" award.

It is self-destructive, if not politically masochistic, for the NAACP to lavish praise on someone whose work runs counter to their civil rights mission. Instead of showcasing "those who strive for the portrayal of positive images and meaningful opportunities for African-Americans," the NAACP’s annual media love-fest seems to prioritize fame, power and real-politic over substance.

Sadly, the NAACP isn’t alone. Too many left-liberal groups share this shortsighted media strategy when it comes to awards.

For example, the GLAAD Media Awards nominated Newsweek for excellence in overall coverage this year. But some good gay and lesbian-themed stories notwithstanding, I question the judgment of a liberal media watch group rewarding a magazine that has often exploited women’s sexuality on its covers, and has prodded single women toward marriage and motherhood with repeated reports about feminists becoming unhappy, childless spinsters in their old age.

For the last two years the National Organization for Women has ranked "Ally McBeal" among the top shows in their Feminist Primetime Report, in part because the program includes women characters in strong professional positions. Yet the show’s fictional females are unhealthily skinny neurotics who say they’ll never be happy without husbands.

And let’s not forget the lesbian magazine Girlfriends, which once named Chevron and Monsanto two of the "ten best places for lesbians to work." Apparently human rights violations and environmental exploitation aren’t that big a deal if corporations offer domestic partnership benefits.

Public interest groups should know better.

The NAACP has done extremely important work on media issues. In fact, new programs with African-American casts -- such as "The Bernie Mack Show" and "My Wife and Kids" -- owe their existence in part to the NAACP’s successful campaign to pressure the networks to create more leading primetime roles for black actors.

Over the years GLAAD’s visibility efforts have resulted in more and better news and entertainment coverage of the lesbian, gay and bisexual community. And NOW won increased opportunities for women in newsrooms in the 1970s, challenged unhealthy beauty ideals in the '80s and misogynistic shock jocks in the '90s, and is currently fighting corporate media consolidation.

These media efforts are crucial to the success of social justice movements. They shouldn’t be compromised by self-defeating awards to people and projects that run counter to their causes.

Jennifer L. Pozner is a media columnist for the feminist newspaper Sojourner: The Women’s Forum and is organizing a non-profit, Women In Media & News (WIMN), a media monitoring, training and advocacy group.

Whatever Happened to the Gender Gap?

Let's call it "The Case of the Missing Gender Gap." Ever since September 11, corporate media have denied that men and women have significant differences of opinion on terrorism and war, despite contradictory evidence in polls conducted before and after we dropped our first bomb on Afghanistan. To solve this mystery we have to start at the beginning of George W. Bush's new world order -- when, in the president's words, anyone who did not support America's "war on terrorism" would be judged to be in cahoots with "the evildoers."

Following the devastating attacks, major news networks subjected a shocked nation to video clips of the Twin Towers being struck by planes, exploding in flames and collapsing, often accompanied by "Oh my God!" audio, on repetitive-loop day and night. (Talk about a recipe for post-traumatic stress disorder.) These painful images sometimes appeared in split-screen while anxious anchors interviewed current and former White House and Pentagon officials, security experts and CIA spooks, who presented military retaliation and civil liberties rollbacks as necessary and inevitable. While such sources made up more than half the authorities appearing on NBC, ABC and CBS in the week following the attacks, experts from the international law community who could advocate legal, non-military responses to crimes against humanity were nowhere to be seen on these programs, according to a survey by the media watch group FAIR.

Feminists and progressives who dared give the question "Why do they hate us?" an answer more substantial than the ubiquitous "because we love freedom" -- say, by noting that the Arab world has never forgotten Madeleine Albright's 1996 comment on CBS that half a million dead Iraqi children were "worth the price" of US sanctions -- were quickly labeled traitors, or worse.

When Susan Sontag sinned in the New Yorker's first post-9/11 issue by noting that US foreign policy might have contributed to the vicious anti-American sentiment behind the attacks, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter blasted her in a scathing column titled "Blame America At Your Peril." It was "ironic," Alter hissed, that "the same people always urging us to not blame the victim in rape cases are now saying Uncle Sam wore a short skirt and asked for it."

And when a small but vocal peace movement called for the US to "prosecute the criminals" rather than bomb innocent Afghans, their dissent was either ignored or distorted by a derisive press -- as when the New York Times reported a late September anti-war action in DC under the headline "Protesters in Washington Urge Peace With Terrorists."

Amid this "with us or against us" feeding frenzy, poll stories proliferated, with headlines like the Washington Post's September 29 "Public Unyielding in War Against Terror; 9 in 10 Back Robust Military Response." The numbers seemed overwhelming: the "9 in 10" figure measured Bush's approval rating, while upwards of four-fifths of the public generally supported some sort of military action. According to the Post, Americans were "unswerving" in their support for war and unified in their "demand for a full-scale response."

But were they, really? Buried at the end of the 1,395-word story was the striking information that women "were significantly less likely to support a long and costly war" then were men, and their hesitant support might develop into "hardened opposition" over time. In fact, though 44 percent of women said they'd favor a broad military effort, "48 percent said they want a limited strike or no military action at all."

The gender gap appeared again in an October 5 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, which found that 64 percent of men thought the US "should mount a long-term war" and just 24 percent favored limiting retaliation to punishing the specific groups responsible for the attacks -- but that women were "evenly divided -- with 42 percent favoring each option." Though 88 percent of women and 90 percent of men support some military action, women reconsider in greater numbers as soon as conditional questions are asked, Gallup's analysis showed. For example, only 55 percent of women said they would support military action if a thousand American troops would be killed, whereas 76 percent of men would still support a lengthy war under these circumstances; women were also much less likely than men to support war if it would continue for several years, bring about an economic recession, or provoke further terrorist attacks at home.

When presented with only two possible post-9/11 alternatives -- "drop some bombs" or "do nothing" -- it's not surprising that majorities of the public would choose the former. What's alarming is that politicians, pundits and the press first roundly ignored the Post and Gallup data about women's more conditional approach to the "war on terrorism," then claimed the traditional gender gap familiar from the Persian Gulf and Kosovo crises had disintegrated with the Twin Towers.

Polls whose results seemed to confirm the media's image of a flag-waving, Rambo-embracing populace met with a much warmer reception. When an early November poll by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Pew Research Center for People & the Press found that women's support for increased military spending doubled from 24 to 47 percent after September 11, and that the same number of men and women (64 percent) now favor the creation of a missile defense shield, a front-page Christian Science Monitor story reported that "Women's voices are resonating across the country and doing away -- for the first time in recent history -- with the gender gap on many military issues." The article was headlined "In this war, American women shed role as 'doves'" -- even though separate Gallup data, also from November and referenced in the same article, showed that women were more than twice as likely as men to be "doves." The Pew research was featured in outlets from leading dailies to tabloids (e.g., the Daily News), debate shows (e.g., The McLaughlin Group) and the conservative press (e.g., Insight on the News). The Washington Post crowed, "When it comes to attitudes toward the military, men are from Mars, and so are women," while a Washington Times op-ed praised "Missile Defense's Feminine Mystique."

While polls were covered selectively, news content about women and war was often opportunistic. Outlets seized on the restrictive burqa forced on Afghan women as a symbol of the Taliban's cruelty and a reason why they should be vanquished, and ran triumphant visuals of women removing their coverings upon the Taliban's ouster -- yet only rarely devoted serious attention to the history of extreme violence and sexual assault committed against Afghan women by the US-endorsed Northern Alliance, or asked whether they might oppress or violate women once installed in the Afghan government. On the domestic front, the Bush administration was portrayed as a bastion of women's empowerment. Andrea Mitchell began a late November MSNBC segment this way: "In the war on terrorism, American women are playing a major role at almost every level, especially the top. It's a striking contrast with the way women have been treated in Afghanistan." Republican bigwigs like Condoleezza Rice, Karen Hughes and Mary Matalin are "not only making the strategy; their gender is part of the strategy, a weapon to attack the Taliban's treatment of Afghan women," Mitchell said. As a result, a Republican official told the Washington Post in early January, George W. Bush "has not only erased any question about legitimacy, he has also erased the gender gap."

Perhaps the gradations in women's support for or opposition to the war didn't make the news because focusing on simple, surface-level "do you or don't you?" questions requires less research and investigation -- always premium in our profit-driven, time-is-money media climate -- and provided sexier numbers. Certainly women's differing degrees of dissent might have seemed inconsequential to some of the country's most powerful -- and pro-war -- journalists. Time magazine's defense correspondent Mark Thompson confessed to warm fuzzies for tight-lipped military leader Donald Rumsfeld, telling the Chicago Tribune that "Although he has not told us very much, he has been like a father figure." With stars (and stripes) in his eyes, CBS' Dan Rather actually volunteered to suit up, telling Entertainment Tonight that if George Bush ever "needs me in uniform, tell me when and where -- I'm there." ABC's Cokie Roberts unself-consciously admitted an almost blind faith in our boys at the Pentagon: "Look, I am, I will just confess to you, a total sucker for the guys who stand up with all the ribbons on and stuff," she told David Letterman. "And so, when they say stuff I tend to believe it." (This eager journalistic acceptance was surely music to the ears of the unnamed military official who told the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz that lying would be an integral part of the Pentagon's press strategy.)

But to find the simplest reason why women's perspectives were missing or misrepresented by media, forget all this cerebral posturing. A college-style drinking game will do the trick. The rules are simple (and almost guaranteed not to get anyone drunk). Grab a few friends and the remote control, start flipping between network news broadcasts, pour a drink every time a female expert is interviewed about terrorism and war. I promise you, you'll end up parched -- and peeved.

Take the Sunday morning talk shows on ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and Fox, for example. According to a study released in December by the White House Project, a nonpartisan women's leadership group, women were a measly 11 percent of all guests on five of these influential, agenda-setting programs from January 1, 2000 to June 30, 2001. As if this wasn't dismal enough, that number fell to just nine percent for six weeks after September 11. And women fared no better in print: in the month after the terrorist attacks, men wrote a whopping 92 percent of the 309 bylined op-eds published by the New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today, according to a survey I conducted for FAIR.

To Nancy Nathan, executive producer of NBC's "Meet the Press," the underrepresentation of women on programs like hers is irrelevant. "I don't think the female viewpoint is different from the generic, overall viewpoint," Nathan told me. There's no conspiracy to suppress women's voices, she said, it's just that men hold most power-positions in Washington, so they are the most sought-after guests. Women might have unique perspectives to add to health care or reproductive services discussions, she added, and with those sorts of stories the talk shows might be able to book people outside the male-dominated pool of officeholders. But programs like "Meet the Press" "are not having long discussions about issues that are not at the forefront of the agenda." The White House Project study's authors can "advocate more women on the air," Nathan said; "but the object here is to deliver the news, not to get women on the air."

Nathan's perspective perfectly echoes one of journalism's most entrenched conventions: news is what the powerful say and do, not what the public experiences. But Sunday morning talk shows move the public debate by framing certain topics as cutting-edge and others as unimportant -- if they were to address reproductive rights or health care regularly, those issues would be at the forefront. Not to mention that women are invested in all issues, not just abortion and breast cancer; women are ninety percent of the world's sweatshop workers, for example, and are doing groundbreaking work in feminist economics -- meaning that journalism and those who rely on it suffer when women are overlooked as sources for stories on globalization, labor and world finance.

The news-follows-power principle not only eschews diversity, but its self-perpetuating cycle prevents change. Social and political issues will continue to be filtered through a primarily white, male, corporate lens, thereby reinforcing their authority and sidelining women, people of color, labor and all marginalized groups and issues.

Washington Post columnist Judy Mann ended the year with this reflection:

"...a society in which women are invisible in the media is one in which they are invisible, period... Women are a majority in the United States. By rights, in a democracy, we should occupy 50 percent of the slots on the op-ed pages of America's newspapers. We should occupy 50 percent of the top editorships in newspapers. We should be allowed to bring what interests us -- as women and mothers and wives -- to the table, and I don't mean token stories about child care. I mean taking apart the federal budget and seeing if it is benefiting families or the munitions millionaires. I mean looking at the enormous amount of money we've squandered on the "war on drugs" and asking the obvious question: Why are we building more prisons instead of rebuilding broken lives? I mean challenging the miserly foreign-aid budget and raising hell because we are not doing our share to educate women and girls in emerging countries. The Taliban could never have taken root in a society that educated and empowered females."

This is the type of insight Mann has offered the Post for 23 years; the column, published on December 28, was her last. Mann -- the first journalist to use the term "gender gap" in the press -- is retiring right at a moment when women's voices are being thoroughly drowned out on the op-ed pages and the public stage.

Mann's final headline read, "A Farewell Wish: That Women Will Be Heard." For that wish to become reality, we need to force the issue. Write the Post and encourage them to replace Mann with an analytically and politically savvy feminist writer. Pressure the Sunday talk shows to interview female experts, and to recognize that women's concerns focus on cutting-edge issues, but will only be seen as such if they are subject to healthy debate in prominent forums. Contact local news outlets when women are ignored, distorted, or covered in opportunistic ways. Conduct studies calling attention to the gender breakdown of particular outlets' bylines and sources, then hold press conferences, release reports and attempt to meet with editorial boards to discuss ways to improve. Organize around the concept that journalism has a responsibility to cover a variety of perspectives, not just those of people in power.

Media conglomerates are not magnanimous; they will not change their priorities without major incentives. In the 1930s, Eleanor Roosevelt would only speak to female reporters at her press conferences, forcing newspapers to employ women journalists. In the 1970s, newspapers and TV networks had to be sued before they'd stop discriminating against women in hiring and promotion; feminist columnist Anna Quindlen began her decade-long run on the New York Times op-ed page as a result of one of those class-actions, and proceeded to write about gender, race, class and sexuality issues as if they mattered.

It's time for us to reprioritize media as a top feminist issue. Today, Quindlen's spot at the Times is filled by Maureen Dowd, who's often as inclined to write about high-society balls as feminist concerns. Today, right-wing women like Ann Coulter, Kathleen Parker, Peggy Noonan, Mona Charen, Amy Holmes and Laura Ingraham maintain a high profile in the mainstream media, while progressive feminist writers like media critic Laura Flanders or journalist Barbara Ehrenreich are most often heard in the Left press. And today, NBC darling Katie Couric's astronomical new salary notwithstanding, women still have little power inside the media industry: according to various studies (cited in "Power Shortage for Media Women," Extra!, August, 2001), they are only 13 and 14 percent of radio and TV general managers, 20 percent of news executives in Fortune 1000 news companies, and 12 percent of corporate board members in media/entertainment companies.

We need to ask ourselves: What are we going to do about this, today?

Jennifer L. Pozner is the founder of Women In Media & News (WIMN), a new women's media monitoring and advocacy group. Formerly, she was Women's Desk Director for FAIR. She wrote this piece for the Women's Review of Books, which accepts letters at www.wellesley.edu/WomensReview/comment.html.

Bush Dupes Media with Abortion Disinformation

George W. Bush celebrated his first working day in office -- and the 28th anniversary of Roe. V. Wade (1/22/01) -- by reinstating the Mexico City Policy, a Reagan-era rule that bans U.S. family planning aid to overseas groups that provide abortions or referrals -- even if they do so with private, non-U.S. funds. Under the rule (lifted in 1993 by Bill Clinton), U.S. aid recipients cannot use their own money to discuss abortion as a medical option, lobby their own governments for legal reforms, or conduct "public information campaigns" about the procedure.

Long condemned in family-planning circles as the "global gag rule," the ban has wide-ranging implications for the health and free speech of women from Albania to Zimbabwe, 78,000 of whom die annually from unsafe abortions, according to the World Health Organization. In countries where abortion is legal, organizations that receive U.S. aid must refuse to advise women about their reproductive rights or relinquish the U.S. population funds they rely on to provide contraceptive programs, maternal care, AIDS prevention and other crucial services. Where abortion is illegal, recipients must give up the right to encourage democratic reforms that would save thousands of women's lives.

Since this speech-squelching policy isn't exactly soundbite-friendly, the White House employed a careful misinformation strategy when discussing the gag rule with the press. In a memo to the U.S. Agency for International Development (U.S. AID), Bush justified his move by saying, "It is my conviction that taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for abortions or advocate or actively promote abortion." That is a concept for which "there's, frankly, widespread bipartisan support," press secretary Ari Fleischer insisted. These quotes dominated news coverage on the first two days after the administration announced the ban.

Irrelevant Rationale

But the White House rationale hasn't been relevant since 1973, when Sen. Jesse Helms (R.=N.C.) passed an amendment preventing U.S. aid from directly financing foreign abortion-related services. Though not one U.S. dollar has been spent on such purposes for 28 years, outlets across the country uncritically repeated Bush and Fleischer's mischaracterizations in front-page stories, with headlines such as "Bush Halts Funding Used for Abortions" (Houston Chronicle, 1/23/01).

Many initial reports either failed to correct Bush's error or repeated it in their own words (e.g., CNN, 1/22/01; Washington Post, 1/23/01). What corrective information there was often appeared in passing near the end of the story or came in the form of quotes or paraphrases from reproductive rights activists: Three paragraphs from the end of its front-page story, the Boston Herald (1/23/01) reported that "U.S. Rep. Martin T. Meehan (D.=Lowell) asserted that U.S. funds are not directly used for abortions," presenting the fact as an assertion of opinion rather than a matter of public record.

Not every outlet made those mistakes. Some, like the Los Angeles Times (1/23/01), got the facts right from day one, reporting in two front-page stories that the gag rule restricts how foreign groups spend their own money.

But few news reporters made the effort to substantively examine the gag rule's international implications, preferring to focus on how imposing ban might affect Bush's image as a "uniter, not a divider" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/23/01). This tendency to view abortion from the standpoint of Washington politics was typified in the Washington Post (1/23/01), where three prominent stories examined reactions of American abortion rights supporters and opponents, but gave no insights into the rule's impact abroad.

More News in Editorials

While the gag rule was reported primarily as a political football, editorials and opinion pieces dissected Bush's spin, cited UN and World Health Organization maternal mortality statistics and checked the historical record, providing a depth of information missing from most news sections. Many newspapers noted that the U.S. has not funded abortions abroad since 1973; several branded Bush "disingenuous" for implying otherwise (e.g., New York Times, 1/24/01).

And where reporters didn't spill much ink on the gag rule's anti-democratic underpinnings, the Washington Post (1/25/01) editorialized that it "would be unconstitutional on free-speech grounds in this country." The Baltimore Sun (1/24/01) called it "an attempt to legislate for other sovereign countries."

Some editorials drew connections with other administrative priorities, questioning how Bush reconciled the gag rule with his initiative to give taxpayer funds to American religious charities. Perhaps, the Wisconsin State Journal (1/24/01) pondered, Bush should "demand that they never mention God, even on their own dime." (In fact, as the Washington Post reported on February 1, Bush privately linked "the executive order I signed about Mexico City" -- i.e., the gag rule -- to his Office of Faith-Based Social Services, referring to both as part of "a larger calling...about changing the culture of the country" against abortion rights.)

First Impressions

Despite the corrective editorials, subsequent news coverage of the gag rule was only sporadically more accurate -- and in-depth, analytical follow-up continued to be hard to find.

There were exceptions. The Washington Post made a particular effort to set the record straight, running a correction (1/24/01) and a detailed page-2 story (1/26/01) that noted, "the rhetoric accompanying the latest round of debate has added to confusion over what U.S. policy actually has been, and what it is now." Finally, Post ombudsman Michael Getler acknowledged (1/28/01) that the paper "fell short...on providing the background, meaning and alternative view of what was taking place, and in critiquing the White House statement."

Commendably, a handful of outlets filed excellent stories from Mexico (Christian Science Monitor, 1/25/01), South Africa (Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/25/01), Guyana and Cambodia (Chicago Tribune, 2/7/01; 3/14/01), exploring how the gag rule will practically affect family planning efforts and social, economic and health issues in those countries.

As strong as these pieces were, none was carried on page one, and none carried the weight of those initial news reports. Well after editorials cleaned up reporters' shallow and misleading stories, papers like the Seattle Times (1/26/01), the Baltimore Sun (1/28/01) and the Christian Science Monitor (1/29/01) were still publishing letters from readers on whom the administration's inaccurate spin left a lasting impression. "No matter what your position on abortion, it is simply wrong to use taxpayer money to fund abortion clinics or operations. A woman's right to choose is not affected by the denial of taxpayer funding," one Los Angeles Times reader wrote (1/25/01).

The White House knows how important first impressions are; "You only get one start," Ari Fleischer told the San Diego Union-Tribune (1/29/01), "and the tone you set sends a strong message to the American people." By sticking to the White House line on the gag rule, media helped Bush "set the tone" during a crucial period. No wonder Bush told reporters (Atlanta Journal and Constitution, 1/28/01) that he found the press "very hospitable" as he settled into the White House.

Jennifer L. Pozner is Women's Desk Director for the media watchdog group FAIR - Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting www.fair.org. She can be reached at jpozner@fair.org.

SIDEBAR: Misleading the Public Is "Not a Correctable Error"

When a New York Times front-page story (1/23/01) misleadingly repeated Bush's "conviction that taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for abortions" overseas, Center for Reproductive Law and Policy's Julia Ernst asked co-author Frank Bruni for a correction. She didn't get one.

"If you're accurately reporting what a public official is saying, and the public official is, to some ears, misspeaking, that is not a correctable error," Bruni told Extra!. Besides, he added, "Bush said it was his 'conviction' that our taxes shouldn't pay for abortions. He wasn't necessarily referring only to the rule itself. He could have been speaking more broadly."

But since Bush offered that "conviction" to justify a specific foreign policy shift, doesn't a failure to clarify that the explanation doesn't match the policy risk confusing the public?

Bruni thinks not: "Where's the error? The error you and [Ernst] divine is in the president's words. It wasn't in our words. We never said that tax dollars pay for abortions. Perhaps it would have been best if we'd made that clear given what his quote was, but we never said he was correct."

"Now, we could have a conversation about whether there should have been more paragraphs of context about the history of the rule, what the rule embraces, what it doesn't. And if we had all the space and all the time in the world," Bruni told Extra!, "in a perfect world it might have been good to include more information.... I did tell [Ernst] that she brought up some interesting points that would certainly inform anything I would write about it in the future."

But, Bruni acknowledged, "I never wrote about the gag rule again," except briefly in a Week in Review piece (1/28/01) that was "just about the political maneuverings Bush was making, not what the ins and outs were."

In fact, Bruni's original gag rule story was also less about policy than about Bush's political maneuverings, as when he and co-author Marc Lacey wrote, "The change in abortion policy quickly diverted attention from the new administration's theme of the week, education, which had been chosen in part for its promise of creating the kind of bipartisan coalitions Mr. Bush may need to push legislation through a Congress narrowly divided along party lines." The policy's impact on women's physical, mental and economic health was evidently of less interest.

Bruni didn't need "all the space and time in the world" to make sure his gag rule story was not misleading. While other newspapers corrected Bush's quote with just one sentence (Los Angeles Times, 1/23/01), Bruni and Lacey devoted 17 paragraphs to Bush's tax cuts, education plans and Beltway dealings.

It doesn't take a "perfect world" to cover abortion accurately and comprehensively -- it just takes a priority shift. As Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler wrote (1/28/01) in his apology for his paper's initial reports, abortion is a volatile, emotional issue that "requires explanations, context and questioning understandable to the general reader and not just to activists and politicians." -- Jennifer L. Pozner

Cosmetic Coverage

In a bizarre attempt to link Florida secretary of state Katherine Harris' fashion faux-pas to her job performance, Washington Post Style reporter Robin Givhan (11/18/00) wrote: "She seems to have applied her makeup with a trowel. At this moment that so desperately needs diplomacy, understatement and calm, one wonders how this Republican woman, who can't even use restraint when she's wielding a mascara wand, will manage to use it and make sound decisions in this game of partisan one-upmanship."

It wasn't Harris' connections to George W. Bush's presidential campaign that made Givhan doubt her impartiality, it was that she "believe[d] the magazines when they said that blue eye shadow was back. She failed to think for herself. Why should anyone trust her?"

In the weeks following the election this insulting invective was echoed by a multitude of media voices, including Givhan's Style section colleague Tony Kornheiser (Washington Post, 11/19/00), who derided Harris as "the Junior League Blind Date From Hell!" Taking their cue from late-night comedians and partisan pundits, news reporters and columnists alike relentlessly ripped into Harris' appearance, turning her hair, makeup and clothing into a national joke.

To their credit, some journalists expressed outrage that Harris' looks had become a major topic of public debate. L.A. Times columnist Mike Downey (11/22/00) compared the abuse to media personalities' mean-spirited savaging of Janet Reno's height, Monica Lewinsky's weight, Hillary Rodham Clinton's legs, Paula Jones' nose and Linda Tripp's body. "Why are only women fair game?" Downey asked. "I don't hear a lot of comedians saying on TV: 'And then did you see what that bald-headed Bill Daley did?'" This sort of media treatment may be a barrier to women vying for office, Downey wrote: "Wonder why more women don't run for president? How would you like your physical appearance ridiculed seven days a week, for four to eight years?"

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorialized (11/22/00), "Amazing how quickly the nation's anger over a frustrating election morphed into a full-scale attack on one woman's appearance.... Sophomoric cracks about [Harris'] appearance should be out of bounds. Criticize her for how she applies herself to her job, not how she applies her mascara."

A Girlish lady

Too bad the "newspaper of record" didn't learn from this advice. When George W. Bush tapped foreign policy expert Condoleeza Rice to be the first female National Security Advisor, a front-page New York Times story (12/18/00) reported that "her dress size is between a 6 and an 8... because of 'muscle mass.'"

Times reporter Elaine Sciolino also felt compelled to mention that Rice has a "girlish laugh and gushes of Southern charm" and "can be utterly captivating -- without ever appearing confessional or vulnerable." At times the piece read like a game of "one of these facts is not like the other":

"She eats either a bagel or cereal every day for breakfast. She is always impeccably dressed, usually in a classic suit with a modest hemline, comfortable pumps and conservative jewelry. She keeps two mirrors on her desk at Stanford, apparently to check the back as well as the front of her hair. ('I do try to make sure everything is in place,' she explained.) She has an oil supertanker named after her, a result of being on the Chevron Corporation board."

It is significant that the woman chosen to shape American foreign policy has direct ties to a company implicated in serious human rights abuses overseas (Democracy Now!, 9/30/98). The newsworthiness in Rice's bagel breakfasts, sensible shoes and haircare regimen is harder to discern.

Salon.com's Fiona Morgan (12/18/00) found the "retrograde gender imagery" laced throughout the Times' profile "shocking." As Morgan noted, "We read nothing about her experience and positions on national security until the story's 27th paragraph, not quite the very end." But the Times did find space to quote Colin Powell in the 14th paragraph, reflecting that "Condi was raised first and foremost to be a lady," and to tell us in the 16th paragraph that her father "still calls his daughter 'little star.'"

Discussing the Times' treatment of Rice on CNN's Reliable Sources (12/23/00), pundit Jack Germond said, "Well, you know, I'm not notoriously sensitive. But even I when I read that thought, 'What a thing to do.' What you're not going to do is, you're not going to describe Colin Powell [that way]. How many mirrors does Colin Powell have? I don't know."

You Are What You Wear

Media coverage that trivializes women in politics is certainly outrageous, but it is far from new. Condoleeza Rice is not the only record-breaking woman in politics to be noted for her dress size. Reporting from the 1984 Democratic convention (7/18/84), NBC's Tom Brokaw referred to Geraldine Ferraro as "the first woman to be nominated for vice president -- size 6!" Earlier that year, when the Democrats were first flirting with the notion of a woman on the top ticket, the Washington Post reported, "Ferraro lost 25 pounds on a careful diet, down from a size 10 to a 6."

In the 15 years since the news informed us of Ferraro's diet techniques, Americans have grown more accustomed to and respectful of women in the political realm. Media are still catching up. Journalists are obsessed with cutting political women down to size, whether elected to office or propelled by marriage into the peculiar role of first lady.

A search of the Nexis database turns up no essential details about Dick Cheney's inseam or the length of Trent Lott's trousers -- but it does reveals that before she became senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton "whittled her figure down to a fighting size 8" by "touching little more than a lettuce leaf during fund-raisers" (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6/4/00). The incoming first lady was also praised by the New York Daily News (1/1/01) for her minimal appetite: "Laura Bush apparently isn't the type to reach for the Haagen-Dazs when the going gets tough. During the 36 days of Indecision 2000, she kept her hands out of the cookie jar and didn't gain any weight." Perhaps it's this restraint that keeps Mrs. Bush "a curvaceous size 8" who "maintains her weight beautifully" (Washington Post, 1/8/01). First daughters Jenna and Barbara Bush are "size 6 sisters" (Los Angeles Times, 1/8/01), Katherine Harris "wears a size 2" (New York Times, 2/5/01), Tipper Gore resembles "a barrel shape, though she's only between a size 8 and 10" (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/22/97) and former Attorney General Janet Reno's "dress size is 'rangy'" (Chicago Tribune, 7/7/94).

Often gendered descriptors appear out of nowhere in hard news articles, with no apparent purpose beyond reminding readers that a politician is female. Reflecting on Hillary Rodham Clinton's senatorial victory, the New York Times' national desk ("First Lady's Race for the Ages: 62 Counties and 6 Pantsuits," 11/8/00) painted a strangely patriarchal image of an early campaign moment between the candidate and "Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the retiring institution, who walked her down the road to a gauntlet of press like a father giving away a bride."

When Ruth Ann Minner was sworn in as Delaware's first female governor in January, an A-section New York Times story (1/4/01) described her as "stopping well short of tears" as she thanked the crowd. Had Ruth Ann's first name been Richard, it is unlikely the Times would have found it necessary to mention that the governor managed not to cry during his speech. Just as incongruous was a front-page story about Arizona's 1998 gubernatorial race (Arizona Republic, 11/1/98) that opened with this description of the incumbent Gov. Jane Hull's arrival at a campaign stop: "A grandmotherly redhead dressed in a sensible suit climbs out of the back seat and strolls into the hotel."

Quantifying the Double Standard

In an online analysis for Women's Enews (11/29/00), Caryl Rivers explained this phenomenon as "an unspoken fact of media life: Men's appearance is almost always unremarkable and unremarked upon, while women's is nearly always to be remarked upon, often to the exclusion of other qualities."

In a study called "Framing Gender on the Campaign Trail: Women's Executive Leadership and the Press" (10/99), the Women's Leadership Fund (WLF) quantified this double standard. After evaluating how several statewide races were reported in 350 stories in nine major dailies, WLF found that while male and female gubernatorial candidates received about the same amount of coverage, "newspapers paid more attention to female candidates' personal characteristics, such as their age, personality and attire," while they "received less coverage outlining where they stood on public policy issues."

Additionally, WLF found that reporters quoted male and female candidates differently. "Because male candidates were more likely than were female candidates to be quoted supporting their claims -- whether it be justifications for welfare reform or a defense of current education policy -- they may have appeared more informed and qualified," the study concluded. The only exception WLF found to this practice occurred when two women, Democrat Patty Murray and Republican Linda Smith, competed for a Washington Senate seat.

As widespread as it is regressive, pigeonholing of political women has significant consequences to female leadership. By focusing so consistently on irrelevant personal, gender-specific details about female security advisors, attorneys general and congressmembers, media outlets imply that they are "ladies" first, major political players second.

SIDEBAR: Not Sexism? Not Likely

Just as an outcry began to arise over unfair media coverage of Katherine Harris, several outlets went out of their way to rationalize or dismiss complaints of a double standard. The New York Times (12/3/00) consulted evolutionary psychologists to explain the media's spotlight on Harris' looks as a function of biology, not bias. "Appearance rules," reporter Janny Scott wrote; that "simple truth" is "how the brain works." According to Scott, this isn't a double standard at all, since "not only women but also men" are affected.

Time reporter Karen Tumulty (CNN's Reliable Sources, 12/23/00) offered a similar argument about the New York Times' "modest hemline" profile of Condoleeza Rice (12/18/00): "Let's face it. I mean, we can no longer say this is just sexist when every suit change that Al Gore made in the last campaign, his makeup for the first debate, engendered all sorts of comments. So I don't think you can quite pull the sexism."

In a media climate in which Saturday Night Live sketches and clips from Letterman approximate political commentary on news shows, all politicians face an increased amount of superficiality, regardless of gender. But men's balding heads, beer bellies, wrinkled jowls and decades-old suits are generally spared intense journalistic scrutiny. Certainly male politicians' attire or appearance are rarely the news peg for an entire story -- unlike a Larry King Live (6/1/99) panel discussion about whether Hillary Rodham Clinton could be an impressive campaigner for the Senate despite being "bottom heavy" with a "bad figure." (Extra!Update, 8/99).

One notable exception was the widespread ribbing Al Gore received after he paid neo-feminist Naomi Wolf to beef up his image as an "alpha male." For the first time in recent political memory, the news was dominated for several days by journalists lashing into a male legislator's wardrobe and make-up. The talk show circuit and the op-ed pages teemed with sarcastic jibes implying that Gore was somehow feminine (e.g., "Feminist Wears the Pants on Team Gore," New York Post, 11/1/99) -- unfortunately still an insult in the media and in politics.

Articles attacking Gore for placing an emphasis on his appearance only served to reinforce the differing expectations media have for male and female politicians. One New York Times article (11/21/99) quoted evolutionary psychologist Lionel Tiger as insisting that "when a candidate has to be told what kind of trousers to wear is when you realize that this is an insane system." The Times went on to elaborate on Tiger's theories that "male dominance is vital to social stability." Almost a year later, Times columnist Maureen Dowd (10/25/00) was still referring to "the spectacle of a woman instructing a man how to be a man."

Journalists who rationalize away the stereotyping of Harris, Condoleeza Rice and others as equal-opportunity frivolity might try to imagine Andrea Peyser's satirical description of Gore team lawyer David Boies (New York Post, 12/5/00), modeled after the Washington Post's "who would trust her?" profile of Harris, as an actual newspaper article: "Boies' pallid cheeks were marred with curious eruptions that resembled nothing so much as dimpled chads.... His off-the-rack suits and knit ties [are a] style meant for the anonymity of the office, not a national television audience.... How can we trust that a man as slipshod in his daily toilet as David Boies will exercise due authority when it comes to our lives?"

Of course, this type of description of David Boies would never be considered journalism. So why is it acceptable when the news subject is female? Reporters and editors should use their sense of fairness (and their common sense) before embarrassing their outlets by measuring political women by their measurements.

Jennifer L. Pozner is Women's Desk Director (www.fair.org/womens-desk.html) for the national media watchdog group FAIR - Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. She can be reached at jpozner@fair.org. This article appeared in the March/April 2001 issue of FAIR's magazine, Extra! (www.fair.org/extra/index.html).

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