Sheila Gibbons

Should the First Lady Get a Paycheck?

Here we go again: another inauguration, a new president and a new first lady facing the challenge of defining her new role even as pundits and reporters rush to do it for her.

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How Advertisers Psychologically Mug Women

As a journalist who writes about issues of interest to women, I receive a steady stream of pitches from public relations and marketing agencies:

Secrets of discreet feminine hygiene. Products that will eliminate pounds and years. An "age-defying lift" brassiere. Another bra that makes you look like you have cosmetic breast implants (who knew that was desirable?).

For Mother's Day, there was the Love Doctor dispensing romance advice for single moms. For Valentine's Day, there was the condom paper weight and a PR rep offering an interview with America's Love Doctor.

The problem with pitches like this, many of which trade on women's anxieties, is that they seem to assume women are mainly in the business of buying trifles. And that extends to the general marketplace.

"While marketers may be aware that women are major spenders on the so-called small stuff -- groceries, apparel, kids -- they are not fully aware that women are the majority of buyers of new cars, consumer electronics and home improvement," says Marti Barletta, CEO of the marketing consultancy TrendSight Group, who was a keynote speaker at last week's annual M2W marketing conference in Chicago, which debated how marketers could improve their appeals to women.

Women's Purchasing Power is Green, Not Pink

Marketers, Barletta says, "are worried that marketing to women means making it pink and that would horrify men. ... They don't know what marketing to women is."

While marketing campaigns often seem to assume men are more technologically oriented than women, Barletta, a veteran marketing and advertising executive, says that when Best Buy analyzed its patrons, it found the majority of those cruising the aisles were men, but at the cash register, the majority of buyers were women.

Even though women make 85 percent of all consumer purchases, Barletta says the pay gap, which leaves women earning 76 cents for every dollar earned by men, creates the impression that women don't have or control much money. In fact, "Women bring in more than half of household income," Barletta says. "In a partnered household, a woman spends not only her own paycheck but most of her spouse's or partner's as well."

Much has been said and lamented over the years -- including by me in columns in this space -- of marketing that gets women to open up their wallets through a sort of psychological mugging. Ads target us with the self-improvement message. One example that comes to mind is Nutrisystem's touting of going from an already modest dress size to an even smaller one ("I went from a size 10 to a size 4!"). The relentlessly repeated premise is that we're inadequate. Unattractive. Unworthy.

Reality Check

Then there's the reality. Barletta describes women now between 50 and 75 -- a group virtually ignored by marketers -- as "the healthiest, wealthiest, most educated, active and influential generation of women in history."

If marketing reflected this -- instead of picking away at our fears about our complexions, our weight and the elasticity of our skin -- it might go a long way toward countering ageism and boosting the confidence of young women who look to older women for role models. Who knows, it might even help close the incredible gender gap in the U.S. Congress and corporate board rooms.

But Barletta says even sophisticated marketers are half a step behind where women are right now. "They'll say, 'We're offering these tools to empower women to take control of their lives, to give them more freedom and flexibility.' That's language from the 1980s and 1990s. I keep telling them women are empowered and they need to be thinking about serving women."

Barletta singled out the already highly-praised "Dove Campaign for Real Beauty" as the best women's marketing campaign of 2007. The campaign's ads for Dove soap featured "real" women -- in other words not fashion models -- of various ages, shapes and sizes, and was intended to widen the definition and discussion of beauty. (A May 12 New Yorker article about a photo retoucher quoted him as saying the Dove models had in fact been a bit retouched but he has since clarified that he "was directed only to remove dust and do color correction -- both the integrity of the photographs and the women's natural beauty were maintained.") Dove says women's response to the campaign has been overwhelmingly positive; nearly 2.5 million visitors have visited the site at Campaignforrealbeauty.com. Parent company Unilever's first-quarter revenues exceeded its forecast for the first time in six years, in part because of increased sales of Dove products.

But Dove's campaign was hardly typical. Most beauty and apparel products are fronted by skinny, extensively airbrushed models few real women relate to. According to a Dove-commissioned study of women in nine countries, the majority of women believe that if media were reflective of the population, a person would likely believe women over 50 do not exist.

"Most businesses fall into the trap of believing in the 'ethereal woman,'" write Michele Miller and Holly Buchanan in "The Soccer Mom Myth" (Wizard Academy Press, 2007). "They see her as an intangible, emotional being with mysterious traits like intuition and nurturing behavior."

They consider mothers "the most stereotyped women in advertising," and I can believe it after the outpouring of ads in the newspaper last week about giving "her" jewelry and other expensive baubles for "all that she does." The message of these ads is that women with children labor quietly in the shadows most of the year to emerge Cinderella-like, once a year, to play the princess at the magical Hallmark ball.

New Blood Could Improve Marketing Tactics

A new generation of marketing execs might stop the industry from undervaluing and patronizing women.

An intriguing initiative is 3iying, a New York City agency. Its staff is media-talented young women 15 and up who sniff out marketing ploys that lack authenticity and relevance to them and their peers.

Miller and Buchanan say 3iying founder Heidi Dangelmaier "makes a point to contact these girls before they get into a traditional agency setting. She wants to reach them before they are forced to give up their natural instincts to conform to the more traditional, and often male-dominated, world of advertising."

The early influx of young women into the advertising and marketing scene could lead to more accurate female images.

Even with single women heading so many households, authors Miller and Buchanan say the majority of today's advertising still depicts the traditional mother-father household. "The traditional family unit may not be as reflective of reality, but it's a whole lot more comfortable territory for advertisers," they say.

And that's the real point. Women have worked hard to make social gains but the consumer P.A. system seems intent on denying us our hard-won advancement. It would help everyone -- companies and their female customers alike -- if marketers would just catch on.

Stop the Press Spree Against Working Moms

Elizabeth Vargas, banished from ABC's World News Tonight co-anchor seat last May after announcing she was expecting a second child, returned to TV broadcasting last week.

While Vargas may no longer be "with child" in the biological sense, her first 20/20 story on Nov. 10 -- a report on working mothers, featuring herself as one -- is pregnant with the growing sense of working mothers' indignation.

In May, Vargas and the network said that, when she returned from her leave, she would co-anchor the Friday night news magazine, but would not return to the prestigious nightly newscast.

Though Vargas said publicly that it was a mutual decision, the nature of her come-back segment fuels my impression that her reassignment was a demotion and a negative signal to working mothers.

Vargas began her report with references to news articles about her being "dropped" from "World News Tonight" with shots of Vargas cuddling her new baby and discussing story angles for an upcoming project with a colleague.

From there she delved into the stories of three other working moms holding down demanding professional jobs, raising active kids and engaged in a daily "exercise in exhausting compromise."

Included was tape from a talk radio program, in which a female caller said her company avoids hiring working mothers or women they think will get pregnant.

Part of a Rising Tide

Vargas' segment is part of a rising tide.

Last Friday, the same day of Vargas' return to TV, Judith Warner, author of "Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety," appeared in the op-ed pages of the New York Times to challenge Nancy Pelosi and other politicians to throw their political weight behind the broad spectrum of working mothers and their families. "At every point on the socioeconomic spectrum now," Warner wrote, "it seems that American families are cracking at the seams."

The 16th annual Unscheduled Absence Survey by CCH, a leading provider of human resources and employment law information, bears Warner out. Almost 2 out of 3 employees who fail to show up for work aren't physically ill, the report finds. Twenty-four percent, for instance, are handling family issues.

As mother-of-five Pelosi takes her post-election victory lap as presumptive speaker of the house, other high-profile moms are pushing through status barriers throughout the world.

Mother-of-four Segolene Royal, another example, is currently putting the strongest pulse in the preliminaries for France's 2007 presidential election. Comfortable and confident as new heads of government are mother-of-three Michelle Bachelet of Chile and mother-of-four "Iron Lady" Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson in Liberia.

As working mothers such as these win the limelight, they can only help to illuminate the contrastingly dark realities of so many other women with children.

Off-Kilter Reporting

Off-kilter news reporting on the reasons women leave jobs, laced with amateur psychology and traces of biological determinism, have been creating a false impression about women's employment patterns, says an attention-getting report last month by the Center for WorkLife Law, a research and advocacy group at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

"'Opt Out' -- or Pushed Out? The Untold Story of Why Women Leave the Work Force," released Oct. 17, analyzed 119 newspaper articles (excluding commentary) about women leaving the paid work force between 1980 and 2006. A great deal of this journalism, the authors find, understates the severity of the economic consequences for women who are forced out of jobs by inflexible employers and those who believe working mothers are bad for the bottom line.

Most insidious, says the report, is that reporters often depict women abandoning the workplace as a matter of their personal preference, not a symptom of a nationwide crisis for which employer rigidity and lack of family supports are largely to blame.

The "opt out" stories overwhelmingly focus on white, affluent women with white-collar jobs, a skewed demographic from which to draw conclusions about a majority of working women, given that only about 8 percent of women hold such jobs.

The articles also pinpointed the pull of family life as the main reason women quit, whereas a number of diverse sources collected by the Center -- an in-depth study of fast-track women, census data analyses, and its own research, including its 2006 report on family responsibilities discrimination, "Litigating the Maternal Wall" -- add to the mountain of evidence that affirms most women cite workplace "pushes" (such as inflexible jobs) as a key reason for their decision to leave.

Framing stories about the tension between women's work and family lives as a problem of women failing to "balance" their commitments is spurious at best, sexist at worst. By making the individual responsible, and not corporations or government, the "Opt Out story line sends the reassuring message that nothing needs to change," the report says.

In addition to the narrow framing of women and work that the Center for WorkLife Law documents, I'm convinced that much recent journalism about work-life issues fails to consider a wide range of other social concerns.

Take a good look at any one -- the alternative minimum tax, originally targeting affluent taxpayers, now inflicting pain on tens of millions of households; layoffs; poor nutrition as a result of our eat-on-the-run society; the divorce rate; traffic congestion; wage levels -- and it will likely lead you to a woman on the verge of packing it in (and no small number of men, too).

Data to Inspire Realistic Stories

The authors do not merely chide reporters. They also offer data to inspire journalists to start telling more nuanced and factually based stories that look critically at the societal effects of women's "personal" decisions about leaving the paid work force.

A 2005 Cornell University study of employers, for instance, found that 84 percent of the participants said they would only hire a woman who had no children. Only 47 percent said they would hire a woman with an identical resume who had children and that woman would be offered less in starting salary.

The authors also praise stories that probe the issue in a serious way. One example: A May 2 CNN story reported by Paula Zahn about a corporate communications executive fired while on maternity leave. Her bosses contacted her repeatedly with work-related requests while she was on maternity leave and challenged her commitment to the job before eventually laying her off before her leave ended. Her lost income cost her the house -- literally; unable to keep up her monthly payments, she lost her home.

"Simply telling reporters that they are telling the wrong story does not give them new stories to tell," write authors Joan C. Williams, Jessica Manvell and Stephanie Bornstein. "Reporters need ready access to accurate data to paint a complete picture."

In other words, the issue of employer bias against working mothers, up to now thinly explored in the press, should be a wellspring of news stories based on documented facts and trends.

Women on the List

What do Queen Elizabeth II, J.K. Rowling and Oprah Winfrey have in common?

Answer: They're all on Forbes magazine's July 28 list of The World's 100 Most Powerful Women.

The women on Forbes "power rankings" are chosen according to three elements. There's the resume (a prime minister trumps a senator). There's the size of the economic sphere over which a leader held sway (large national treasuries and corporate coffers count for more than smaller ones). And then there are the blips on the media radar, which Factiva, a Dow Jones company, tallied for Forbes.

Like all lists--top 100 movies, top 100 books, top 100 cities--this has an inherent taxonomic interest. After all, we all want to know who's who and what's what so it's instructive to know that Forbes--aided by Catalyst, the women's business research outfit, Laura Liswood, secretary general of the Council of Women World Leaders, and Elizabeth Ryan of Worldwit, a women's business group--thinks Condoleezza Rice leads the pack of alpha females. And who knew that Susan Berresford, president of the Ford Foundation, would pop up in 93rd place?

The list also includes women who are partners of powerful men, such as Laura Bush (No. 46), Cherie Booth Blair (No. 62) and Queen Rania of Jordan (No. 80).

It's also interesting--in the ghoulish way of reality TV elimination shows--to see who's disappeared since Forbes compiled the list for the first time in 2004. Gone now is Megawati Sukarnoputri, the former president of Indonesia, who lost her re-election contest in September 2004. Carleton (Carly) Fiorina, forced to resign as the head of Hewlett-Packard this past February, is also off the list.

Assessing Power the Old-Fashioned Way
But the odd thing about a list like this, which assesses power the old fashioned way--by economic clout and media attention--is that it mainly serves to show how few women are actually at the pinnacles of power.

To test this theory, just cast your eye over the top 10:

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Almost Laughable?

As an avid newspaper reader, I am constantly scrutinizing editorial cartoons for a ticklish take on the day's sobering topics.

Rarely do I see a cartoon drawn by a woman.

With our powers of observation sharpened by millennia of child-rearing and society shaping, and the wit and humor we've acquired to cope with those tasks, you'd think editors would be pounding on our doors to hand us paper and pen. So why aren't they?

This question emerged as a part of the latest outbreak of concern about the paucity of women on leading opinion pages. This one was triggered by a nasty row that broke into public in March between news commentator Susan Estrich and Michael Kinsley, editorial and opinion editor of the Los Angeles Times.

While onlookers were left divided about Estrich's zealous attempts to get a steady pundit slot from Kinsley, the incident did call attention to the dearth of female bylines on op-ed pages. Only about 24 percent of opinion writers at the biggest syndicates are women, according to a survey by Editor and Publisher magazine.

Less Than 4 Percent

As disappointing as that number is, consider this: Women are less than 4 percent of those same syndicates' editorial cartoonists.

They are Ann Telnaes, who draws the "Commentoon" for Women's eNews and until recently was syndicated by Tribune Media Services; Signe Wilkinson of the Philadelphia Daily News and the Washington Post Writers Group and Etta Hulme of the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram and Newspaper Enterprise Association.

Ten years ago, the same three women constituted all the women drawing for major syndicates, according to Editor and Publisher.

"Since I was hired at the San Jose Mercury News in 1982, only one other woman has been hired as a full-time cartoonist at a major daily newspaper," Wilkinson wrote in the Winter 2004 Nieman Reports, "and that was in 1994 when I was hired at the Philadelphia Daily News."

Satire is a potent weapon. Editorial cartoonists use it to grind big axes, to prick the egos of the arrogant and to illuminate injustice, greed and dishonesty. It makes no sense, from a journalistic or societal perspective, that pens this powerful are in the hands of so few female cartoonists.

Few Women on Smaller Papers

There are female editorial cartoonists who work on a freelance basis or draw for smaller-circulation newspapers, but there aren't many of them, either. Just over 6 percent of members of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists are women.

Telnaes said the nature of the craft may pose special difficulties for women. "It's forceful, in your face. I don't think women were encouraged to do things like that, at least when I was growing up."

Strong women speaking their minds are not popular, said Telnaes, pointing to negative media coverage of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Teresa Heinz Kerry. The same resistance, she said, carries over to an opinionated woman drawing strong cartoons.

"Originally, I thought the coverage of Hillary and the type of woman she was had more to do with her personally, but now I'm beginning to see it's not her; it's the type of woman that America, and our media, have a problem with."

But more female cartoonists, says Telnaes, could help editorial pages hit far more funny bones. "I just spoke to editorial page editors at the American Press Institute, and what makes guys react to a cartoon is different from what makes a woman react."

One Full-Time Slot in Canada

Sue Dewar is editorial cartoonist of The Ottawa Sun. Her cartoons are syndicated to major Canadian dailies and mid-sized community newspapers. She estimates that five women currently contribute editorial cartoons to Canadian news organizations, but she is the only one with a full-time newspaper job -- a position that wasn't easy to come by.

"I went to the Globe, and I heard them talking about me behind the partition, saying they didn't want any women," Dewar recalls. "I went to the Star, where they told me I was too left-wing for them, although the paper itself is to the left." Ultimately, she met Andy Donato, editorial cartoonist at the Sun, at an art opening.

"He told me to come up with three cartoons before he finished his wine, and I beat him. I went home and inked up one of them and it went into a slot in the paper on the one day the staff cartoonist didn't work, when other cartoonists' work could then be featured." That break led to Dewar's being hired as the editorial cartoonist of The Calgary Sun, and later, at the newspaper in the Canadian capital. Dewar signs only her last name to her cartoons, so many of her readers don't realize she is female. Her cartoon depicting Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin admiring U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's breasts, drawn as missiles, drew ire from readers who complained about "Mr." Dewar's sexism.

"I can get a little looser than some of the men can," she says.

Another outlet for social commentary was Dewar's four-year collaboration with Wiley Miller (who draws the nationally syndicated "Non Sequitur" comic strip) and later with Milt Priggee on "Us and Them," a strip syndicated by Universal Press in which "the idea was to irritate the opposite sex, really."

Dewar would draw the strip one day, Miller the next. Each would feature the other's characters and advance the situations created by Mars-Venus differences.

She's unhappy that chances for jobs like hers are few. "The newspaper industry has cut out so many cartoon jobs that there isn't a natural evolution for women to move into them," she says.

Cyberspace Offers More Openings

The internet has done a lot of good for a lot of cartoonists, Dewar says. "You can get your work out and people can see it. And you can be risque on the internet. You don't have to contend with newspaper readers who are trying not to show your horrible cartoons to their children!"

The internet and alternative publications have offered outlets for cartoonists such as Mikhaela B. Reid, a Brooklyn-based political cartoonist for the Boston Phoenix. Self-syndicated, she is featured as "cartooning's angry young woman" in the 2004 anthology Attitude 2: The New Subversive Alternative Cartoonists.

Reid's day job is as an information graphics designer at a daily newspaper.

Let's consider that — a feisty female cartoonist stuck behind the scenes drawing charts and graphs. What's wrong with that picture? The situation is an editorial cartoon in itself, speaking volumes about how our continent's female cartooning talent gets sidelined and wasted.

Political Barbies

The women married to presidential and vice presidential candidates have become increasingly active in their husbands' campaigns and policies over the last century. But despite growing recognition by the press of their broadened role, some recent coverage doesn't seem to have caught on. The women are too often treated as decorative add-ons whose field of operations rarely extends beyond the strictly personal.

In the July issue of Washingtonian magazine, for instance, Russell Warren Howe chooses to emphasize Teresa Heinz Kerry's entertaining skills. "One place where tradition prevails is an old mansion on the 3300 block of O Street. You can sit down there at a table covered with fine linen – a table to which servants bring cuisine on heated china plates, and where the hostess, Teresa Heinz Kerry, chooses the menu and directs the kitchen."

Howe, a former president of the Foreign Correspondents' Association of Washington, then goes on to compare Heinz Kerry to Pamela Harriman and manages to slight another influential woman by recalling Harriman as a legendary hostess and consort to famous men rather than in her role of a lifetime: ambassador to France.

In a June interview with the Kerrys, CBS News' Byron Pitts homes in on the couple's amorous side. Instead of getting Kerry to talk about the kinds of endeavors his wife has supported, or the kinds of interests that must hold such a power couple together, we hear Kerry describing his wife as "Saucy. Sexy. Brilliant." Heinz Kerry concurs. "I am sexy. I have got a lot of life inside," she tells Pitts. Pitts then manages to rub in all that ageist stuff about women over a certain age.

"You do not hear many 65-year-old women say they are sexy." Unfazed, Heinz Kerry pleasantly zings him back. "How many women of that age have you asked?" she said.

In her May 3 cover story for Newsweek, reporter Melinda Henneberger chooses to worry that the Kerrys aren't sticking closely enough to gender-role scripts.

"Does he [Kerry] worry that she communicates a perhaps too-European brand of confidence in herself as a 'lot of woman' – at a time when he is being derided as 'looking French?'" This is psychological silliness and a strange fixation on appearances at a time when serious and substantial policy issues, such as how long U.S. forces are going to be in Iraq, might actually be on readers' minds.

Later in the article, headlined, "Teresa: Is John Kerry's Heiress Wife a Loose Cannon-or Crazy Like a Fox?" Henneberger quotes Vanessa Kerry, the candidate's daughter, as rejecting the notion that her stepmother should be "muzzled." Speaking for many women, Vanessa Kerry said, "How offensive to her and to all women."

Even CNN's Judy Woodruff, a seasoned political journalist from whom we usually receive top-flight analysis, offered a disappointing take on first ladies. In a piece for "Newsnight with Aaron Brown" that aired the day Kerry selected John Edwards as his running mate, Woodruff reduced recent first ladies to labels. She spoke of "controversial Hillarys," "glamorous Jackies" and "demure Lauras." Then she went on to assess one who could be next: "Teresa breaks the mold . . . she's always outspoken . . . hard to package and impossible to rein in . . . Some in the senator's campaign says she speaks her mind too much."

Then Woodruff wrapped up the segment by commenting on the difference between Heinz Kerry's pumpkin spice cookie recipe ("different, an acquired taste") and Laura Bush's oatmeal chocolate chunk cookie recipe ("traditional") in a Family Circle readers' contest.

It's almost surreal that someone like Woodruff, who has carved a distinctive role for herself as a judicious journalist, would resort to the implication that cookie-recipe ingredients are metaphors for the women themselves. In the present strained geopolitical climate, weren't there other observations to be made about the important advisory and quasi-ambassadorial role played by the presidential partners?

Why the "qualifications" for first ladies get treated in such a narrow way confounds those of us who have considered their role.

In their review of the treatment of first ladies in textbooks on government and the presidency ("sporadic, spotty and sometimes non-existent"), Anthony Eksterowicz of James Madison University and Robert P. Watson of the University of Hawaii found that the activities and influence of the first ladies have become more overtly public and political over the 20th century.

"First ladies wield influence in private as behind-the-scenes advisors and in public as hostesses, advocates of charitable projects and as political operatives," they say.

Nevertheless, more than 200 years after Martha Washington originated the role, and more than 100 years after Edith Roosevelt became the first lady to obtain formal staff assistance, some reporting continues to pen these women into a no-win situation.

If she attends her husbands' cabinet meetings, as did Rosalynn Carter, there's a suspicion that she's meddling in policy. If she chairs a policy committee, as did Hillary Rodham Clinton, she's labeled "co-president." If behind her interest in fashion and decorating is a single-minded devotion to her husband and a role as his closest advisor a la Nancy Reagan, she's a dragon lady who is to be feared.

But if she's absent from the campaign trail and occupied with her own pursuits, as physician Judith Steinberg Dean was during the Democratic primaries, the press speculates on her capacity to take on the role of first lady.

And if she's reserved and keeps her opinions to herself, that's noted as well, but only with the faintest of praise. Detroit News columnist Laura Berman, writing in 2001, said, "No first lady has ever seemed more blandly appropriate for the position than Laura Bush. If the cliche of the first lady is that of the supportive wife enhanced by careful dress, Mona Lisa-like smile, aptitude for background poses and well-chosen causes, Laura Bush fits and then some."

The media's critical and wary coverage of these women implies that independence and critical thinking in first ladies may be liabilities for their husbands and, by extension, the nation. It reflects a fundamental discomfort with women ascending to power at the sides of men who, by all accounts, need and love them for their smarts and their hearts; not their zipped lips and cookie recipes.

Women Deserve More

More, the magazine that promotes itself as "the one magazine that celebrates women over 40," seems a bit ambivalent for such self-appointed trailblazing.

Occasionally -- in apparent defiance of the cosmetics advertisers that pay the way of most women's magazines -- More actually dares to depict older women, some of them larger-sized, with little or no makeup and without designer duds. Yet a few pages away, readers will readily find tips on how to disguise their true ages and slither into a size 8.

Instead of selling itself to older women, the magazine sometimes just sells them out. And in the process it risks following in the footsteps of Mirabella, another magazine that tried and ultimately failed to address itself in a consistent way to older readers. Even though More "celebrates" an older audience, its mind often seems to be on a younger demographic. Like many women's magazines, what More really celebrates is the inner teen in all of us.

Despite articles that are often appropriate to its target audience, More's cover lines are interchangeable with what you could expect to see in Seventeen or Glamour: "Beauty Secrets: Psst! 59 ways to more radiant skin;" "Style Smarts: Sexxxy Suits-The hottest shoes in town;" "Best makeup, top tricks for a flawless face;" and on and on. The "celebration" of age, with its dependence on "secrets" and "tricks," has an undercurrent of guile.

Many of More's ads, especially those for makeup, skin care, hair color, weight-loss programs and cigarettes, also appear in Self, Redbook and other magazines marketed to younger women. So even when More addresses its older audience in its editorial content, a substantial number of the ad images beam out the young-is-best message.

It's an ambivalence that hasn't escaped the notice of at least one of the magazine's own celebrated subjects. Jessica Lange, interviewed in December on Ellen DeGeneres' talk show, commented wryly about the airbrushing that her photograph on More's December-January cover received. The subtext: Yes, we celebrate your being past 40, but you shouldn't look too far past 40 to pass muster at the newsstand. Lange is 55. Her cover shot depicts a fine-looking woman who looks closer to 33 or 34 than 55.

To its credit, More also publishes true-life stories of interesting women confronting the challenges that arrive with one's fifth decade. These are accompanied by photographs of women who look a lot more like the ones I know than the celebrity cover faces and the models for Clarins, Estee Lauder and Bee-Alive products.

Articles on dating after divorce, starting a business, managing a serious health issue while maintaining high performance on the job, an end-of-year guide to female-themed philanthropic opportunities, are well done. A keeper is former Ms. magazine editor Suzanne Braun Levine's article, "No More Ms. Nice Guy," about how aging has enabled her to give up perfectionist fantasies and terminal politeness.

Perhaps its best-known feature on the reality of the over-40 female image was instigated by actor Jamie Lee Curtis. In 2002, at 43, Curtis challenged More to run a completely un-retouched photo of her. Curtis knew she no longer had the body she'd exhibited in films and wanted to make a point about that.

"I said to them, 'Let's take a picture of me in my underwear,'" Curtis told CBS News' "48 Hours" last year. "No makeup. No styling. No hair. No clothing. Pretty brutal lighting. The whole goal for me was that people would look at it and go like this, 'Oh, I get it. She's real. She's just a person like me.'"

More Magazine's editor Susan Crandell told CBS that reader response was "100 percent positive."

But while More's editors often demonstrate this kind of sophistication and flair, they can also get tangled in the old diet-indulge-diet-indulge dictates of women's magazines. Take, for example, a feature story on Cybill Shepherd.

"At home with Cybill and yes, she's lost 25 pounds!" That cover story was followed in the February 2004 issue by Shepherd's recommendations for the best martinis and the best dessert (banana-bread French toast with ice cream) in her hometown of Memphis.

The message: Have Cybill's cocktail and Cybill's dessert, then go on Cybill's diet.

I became curious about More after I received an invitation to subscribe, but it took five trips to drug, grocery and book stores before I located a copy. Kristen Severs, More's newsstand manager, said that More targets affluent women everywhere and blamed wholesalers' lapses for its absence.

But the scant presence of More on sales racks groaning with women's titles made me wonder why it's that hard to find. After all, parent company Meredith Corporation owns 17 magazines, including behemoths Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies' Home Journal, so it knows its way around newsstands.

Could it be that More has not moved out far enough from the rack pack to establish a unique identity and find a following?

The now-defunct Mirabella magazine also tried to be an intelligent, if trendy, vehicle for a more mature reader until it began to alter its content to please advertisers who believe that younger consumers are less brand-loyal and therefore more receptive to ads. Its editorial voice became less distinct, and ultimately, it was closed down; its demise helped along by the launch of More in 1998.

Seems like there's a lesson for More's staff to remember: If your target audience truly is the mature reader, respect her. Find someone more compelling than a hair colorist to the stars to follow around for a day. Dare to tinker with the celebrity-dominated editorial balance and show us the grace and guts of women who, along with the actresses and recording artists, are doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers, accountants, journalists, business owners, athletes, moms, sisters, daughters, wives and girlfriends. A lot more of them out there could use more from More.

Sheila Gibbons is editor of Media Report to Women, a quarterly news journal of news, research and commentary about women and media. She is also co-author of "Taking Their Place: A Documentary History of Women and Journalism," Strata Publishing, Inc., and of "Exploring Mass Media for A Changing World," Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Show Me The Clout

What must it be like to be a woman reporting on the economy and the national gender pay gap, knowing you're a victim yourself? And knowing that the longer you work, the less will be your compensation compared with the guy at the next desk? And that down the road, your pay gap will create a pension gap?

After reading the latest report about the shatter-proof glass ceiling in communications companies -- in the December report from the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania -- I can only assume that plenty of female employees out there are entertaining such bitter thoughts.

Yes, we can continue to rejoice over individual successes of executives such as Carol Leigh Hutton, who this month becomes the first female publisher of the 172-year-old Detroit Free Press. But such stories are scarce.

According to the Annenberg report, women still constitute just 15 percent of executive leaders and just 12 percent of board members in top communication companies. The numbers are virtually unchanged from the previous year.

Tokenism at the Top

"With few exceptions," said former Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Susan Ness at the report's release, "we have not moved beyond tokenism in the number of women in top leadership positions or serving on the boards of communications companies. Men still hold the vast majority of positions. The glass ceiling is firmly in place."

The study examined board members and top executives at the 57 communications companies in the Fortune 500. The 57 comprised 25 telecom, 18 publishing and printing, 11 entertainment and 3 advertising companies.

For executive positions, this year's report showed that the presence of women varied from as high as 50 percent at the Scholastic Corporation to nonexistent at seven -- or 12 percent -- of the 57 companies. Those with no women in their top jobs included McGraw-Hill, Fox Entertainment and the advertising giants Omnicom and Grey Global Group. For boards, the range went from 31 percent at the New York Times Company to zero at Fox Entertainment, Grey Global Group and a host of entertainment and telecom companies. Ten of the 57 -- 18 percent -- had no women on their boards. No company had boards or executive teams with a majority of women.

To assess influence, the Annenberg study counted how many women had "clout" titles (senior vice president up through chief executive officer). Of 1,247 executives in these companies, a paltry 68 women -- 5 percent -- had such titles.

Pay Gap Wider Than in 1980

The paltry female presence in the executive ranks correlates with the stalling out of women's pay gains in the broader working world. A congressional study in November 2003 confirmed that U.S. working women earn 79.7 cents for every dollar paid to men. By this measure, women were doing a tiny fraction better nearly a quarter of a century ago: In 1980, women were earning slightly more, 80.4 cents to every dollar for men.

An analysis released in December by the National Association of Female Executives considered salary studies in a broad range of fields and confirmed a substantial pay gap for women in media. The organization reported that U.S. women in advertising made an average of $20,000 less than men in comparable jobs. Female print journalists made $9,000 less a year than their male colleagues while female television news directors made $4,000 less.

The gap widens as women log more years on the job and become more experienced, a sort of reverse reward system. Take magazines: Male managing editors out-earn female managing editors by less than $3,000, according to CareerJournal.com, but male senior editors earn an average of $66,472 while senior editors who are women pull down $55,602, a disparity of nearly $11,000, or 20 percent.

The trend line is just as dismal among journalists reporting for newsmagazines, radio, newspapers, television and wire services. The American Journalist survey released in April 2003 showed that female journalists' median salary in 2001 was $37,731, about 81 percent of men's median salary of $46,758, the same percentage as in 1991. Male and female journalists with less than 15 years of experience have comparable median salaries, but for those with 15 to 19 years' experience, the gender gap is $4,425. Among those with 20 or more years of experience, the gap is $7,314.

The annual study by the Indiana University School of Journalism also finds that the number of female journalists isn't increasing overall; they are still only one-third of all full-time journalists working for the traditional mainstream media (the proportion they have been since 1982), even though since 1977 they have been the majority of students graduating from journalism schools.

The frustration these female professionals experience running into a compensation wall is extremely high. Many deal with it by leaving the business just when they could be making the biggest contribution to it.

For example, a 2002 survey of top U. S. newspaper editors by the American Press Institute and the Pew Center for Civic Journalism found that 45 percent of women (but only 33 percent of men) interviewed anticipate leaving the newspapers where they now work, either for another newspaper job or something outside the industry altogether. Men also are more likely to anticipate moving up at their current newspaper (42 percent of men vs. 33 percent of women).

It's sheer folly for media companies to lurch along this way, given the plentiful data documenting the female pay gap and the brain drain it sets in motion. It's costly to lose a long-time employee, and employers who are pleased with a cheaper new hire are just kidding themselves. The smart media employers will protect their people assets and reward men and women equally.

Sheila Gibbons is editor of Media Report to Women, a quarterly news journal of news, research and commentary about women and media. She is also co-author of "Taking Their Place: A Documentary History of Women and Journalism" (Strata Publishing, Inc).

Return of Gendered Language

Let's call it exclusionary language creep--the re-emergence of masculine words to describe people who may be female or male. Despite years of effort by women's groups, linguists and educators to encourage speakers of English to adopt words that are gender-neutral, they note, and I note, a lapse into lazy terminology that excludes women. This slippage is occurring even at major newspapers, where their executives should know better.

A few examples:

"For seasoned NEWSMEN, trained to see though political spin, the spectacle is cringe-making." Richard Spertzel, "Iraqi Mind Games," The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 4, 2002.

"There's nothing to connect to the reader or enable HIM to feel a real part of a public debate." Jay Harris, the former San Jose Mercury News publisher, complaining of news media failure to engage ordinary citizens in discussions of public policy. Quoted by David Shaw in The Los Angeles Times, Nov. 24, 2002.

"[Desmond] Morris was the British zoologist who in 1967, when most scientists and philosophers were still trying to draw distinctions between MAN and beast, shocked everyone by declaring that Homo sapiens, hairlessness notwithstanding, was still an ape and thought and behaved like one."

"In the years since Morris, meanwhile, a number of other scientists have been working to erase the MAN-animal distinction from the other end--to suggest, for example, that language might not be unique to humans, and that primates may have culture, something we also believed was uniquely ours." Charles McGrath, editor of The New York Times Book Review, in "Gone Ape: What Does It Mean That Orangutans Have 'Culture'? That, Like Us, They Just Want to Play," The New York Times Magazine, Jan. 19, 2003.

"Journalists losing touch with the MAN on the street." Headline on a David Shaw article, The Los Angeles Times, Dec. 8, 2002, although the phrase does not appear in the article itself.

Wall Street Journal readers criticized a reporter, Tara Parker-Pope, for referring to a married couple as "man and wife." Mary Temple of New York wrote to say the phrasing "denotes possession of the wife by the man, not an equal partner . . . I know this is a subtle point, but your wording does send a message of inequality" (Aug. 20, 2002).

So did an article in the twice-weekly county newspaper I receive. This paper, the Enterprise, owned by The Washington Post Company, described an auto accident that injured a "man and his wife," repeating the reference to "his wife" until halfway through, when the story finally gave her name.

"Lawmen" has found new favor not just among headline writers, who might like its brevity, but among reporters on the police beat. I noticed more frequent use of the word during the Washington-area sniper crisis last year.

And "fireman/firemen" was everywhere after 9/11. The Associated Press Stylebook, most journalists' vade mecum, says that while "fire fighter" is preferred, "fireman" is an acceptable synonym. Not to Rosemary Bliss, retired fire chief of the Tiburon Fire Department in the California Bay Area, who made history when she became the state's first career female fire chief in 1993. "This can be a very touchy issue with many women working as fire fighters and in other male-dominated trades where language can be very exclusive," she says.

Serious Movement Derided as 'Feminazi' Propaganda

A little history: The editors Casey Miller and Kate Swift homed in on the problem in 1970 when they copy-edited a junior high school sex education manual and were troubled by the use of masculine pronouns (his, him) throughout. Their concern led them to write "Words and Women: New Language in New Times" and later, "The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing for Writers, Editors and Speakers." In "Words and Women," they demonstrated the importance of using gender-neutral forms: "The way English is used to make the simplest points can either acknowledge women's full humanity or relegate the female half of the species to secondary status."

In his tribute to Miller after her death in 1997, Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd said: "Postal worker, artisan, police officer and restaurant server are just some of the words that enter the glossary of modern English because of Casey Miller. While many falsely see these words as political correctness gone awry, they in fact represent a genuine effort to place America's women on the same linguistic standing as men."

Journalists gradually incorporated these sorts of gender-neutral forms into their writing. Don Ross, senior editor at the Newseum in Arlington, Va., wrote the USA Today style guide when he was the newspaper's copy desk chief in 1990. He developed a special section on sexism that offered examples.

"Part of it is that as a group, the USA Today staff was largely, with a few exceptions, a bunch of 30-somethings," he says. "They were very attuned to these kinds of issues, not just sexism, but ethnic references, disabilities, homosexuality, ageism and all that. It was very much in the forefront . . . a hot-button issue at that time."

Educators got into the act as well. In 1975 the National Council of Teachers of English composed "Guidelines for Gender-Fair Use of Language" to "help educators see and correct language that silences, stereotypes or constrains others." The organization's Women in Literacy and Life Assembly released a revised version last year, updating the examples and offering suggestions on gender-fair course materials and teaching methods.

A number of recent books dissect conversational conventions that are hurtful and demeaning to women. One is "Wimmin, Wimps and Wallflowers: An Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Gender and Sexual Orientation Bias in the United States." Author Philip Herbst, provides pages of analysis of words that "objectify, silence, belittle, or debase women and even sometimes dismiss their existence."

A discussion of the degrading words used to refer to women will have to wait for another time; I'm concerned here with the problem of exclusionary language in mainstream periodicals and why vigilance seems to have waned. Even after 30 years of attention on this issue and no lack of guidelines for inclusive language, we still hear and read the old forms: "Manning" battle stations, snowfall estimates from the "weatherman," political prognostications from "Congressmen," and lectures about the achievements of "mankind," even though plenty of research exists to show that people who hear and read these words picture males, not males and females. Some of these usages stem from habit--others are stubbornly adhered to by those who scorn repairs in the fundamental biases of English, believing it's a silly exercise proposed by "feminazis."

When exclusionary terms such as those above appear in newspapers whose own stylebooks discourage them, I can only conclude it's from a lack of genuine respect for women and girls. If you care, you remember to do things correctly, just as you check facts and double-check figures. Journalists, whose profession requires completeness and accuracy, and whose word choices influence millions of readers each day, should be the ones to fix the problem of gender-biased language--not perpetuate it.

Sheila Gibbons is editor of Media Report to Women, a quarterly news journal of news, research and commentary about women and media. She is also co-author of "Taking Their Place: A Documentary History of Women and Journalism," Strata Publishing.

Female Correspondents Changing War Coverage

Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's Enews.

(WOMENS E NEWS) -- As the number of women war correspondents approaches critical mass, they appear to be focusing more clearly on the toll that today's wars take on the civilian population -- the women and children -- who have little or no say in the decisions that lead to mass killing and wounding.

War reporting dominated by tactical questions, political infighting and policy disputes can obscure the trauma experienced by women who live in areas targeted for attacks. These noncombatants find their survival depends on fleeing to marginally safer ground or to the hell of a refugee camp, where their safety is by no means assured. In recent conflicts, civilians -- read mothers and children -- accounted for as many as 90 percent of all casualties, compared with 65 percent in World War II and 5 percent in 1900, according to Save the Children's annual report on mothers, released in May.

The stories of this type of pain and displacement are most often brought to the fore by women reporters whose contributions are changing the fundamentals of war reporting. Their voices are rising now in the forms of a collection of memoirs and an awards presentation, both forcing us to recognize that war causes protracted suffering in cities, villages and hillsides, the dwelling places of those who have little or no voice in the decision to wage it.

The memoir is "War Torn: Stories of War from the Women Reporters Who Covered Vietnam," written by nine longtime journalists who reported from Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. The prizes to be given today, Oct. 16, are the Courage in Journalism Awards, sponsored annually by the International Women's Media Foundation.

The physical threat to civilian women, and the destruction of their lives, is achingly obvious in conflict after conflict, says Kathy Gannon, The Associated Press bureau chief for Pakistan and Afghanistan, one of this year's honorees.

"In every war, the worst victims are the women," she says. "In the Balkans, who are the biggest victims? The women. In any conflict, you'll find that's the case, if you just look." Afghanistan is heavily mined and its roads are patrolled by warring factions, Gannon says, so moving about for even the most innocent of purposes can be risky for civilians and the journalists who work among them.

Before 1970, only 6 percent of foreign correspondents were women. Today, The Brookings Institution estimates that more than one third are female and they have increasing influence on the content and tone of war coverage. They have paid their dues: Around the world, 18 women journalists were killed between 1993 and 2001, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. And now it is important to listen to their views on how wars should be covered.

Several of the "War Torn" authors who were panelists at a National Press Club discussion in Washington said they would give the personal toll of war much more exposure if they were writing today. In Vietnam, women were determined to prove they could go into combat and get their reporting on the front pages and the 6 o'clock news.

"We were trying to prove we could do what the men were doing," recalls Denby Fawcett, then with The Honolulu Advertiser. Bored with her job in the women's section -- "where I covered parties the society editor didn't want to go to" -- she went to Vietnam. The first time she asked to accompany a unit into combat, a lieutenant colonel told her: "I could never let you do that. You remind me too much of my daughter." After such experiences, Fawcett acknowledged she was leery of being stereotyped if she did a "woman's story" about the impact of war on women, families, communities and the survival of ordinary people. Today, she wouldn't hesitate, she says.

The others agree that now that women are accepted as part of the press corps, they might want to fight for the right to do the job a little differently.

"I regret very much that I never wrote a story about the Vietnamese," says Jurate Kazickas, at the time a freelancer. "It was an 'American' war and people wanted to read about their boys." Ann Morrissy Merick, a former ABC-TV producer, says, "I think what we missed was history and economics. We over-covered combat and the personnel side."

Edith Lederer is The Associated Press's chief correspondent at the United Nations. She went to Vietnam in spite of the foreign desk editor's firm opposition to having women out there. She remembers being told that "the only way I could get a story in print on the impact of war on Vietnamese civilians was to find a woman who had lost a lot of children. So I did." Lederer's subject had lost three of four sons in the war and had no idea where her husband was.

Lederer ran AP's operation in Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf War. She will be involved in whatever happens next. Her plan for covering conflict now is to "be more balanced in trying to put forth the notion of the other side, the impact on ordinary people, or to delve more deeply, if possible, into what American soldiers really believe. That is the hardest, because the U.S. military can bottle up and control access and spin what soldiers say to people like us."

That means that journalists' access to civilians as well as military people could be difficult, even impossible. The relatively free rein given to media in Vietnam brought us the searing photo of a Vietnamese girl running naked after a napalm attack. Kate Webb, then UPI's Cambodia bureau chief, still remembers "the terrible innocence of children running toward the pretty napalm." Webb and her colleagues would tackle them to keep them away. "It is one of many terrible images that stayed with me," she says.

Those images evolve to today's: burn victims in Bali, carnage in Manhattan, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon; bombing sites in Afghanistan; funerals in the Middle East. Journalists interpret these events to the best of their ability, but making sense of it all is very hard. Few whose home becomes a battleground will understand why it is happening.

"Because the Taliban didn't allow television, people in Kabul were glued to their radios after the Sept. 11 attacks," Gannon says. "They had no idea what the World Trade Center was. Even today, a lot of people aren't clear about what it meant. They just know that a lot of people died."

President Bush says the United States is "a friend of the Iraqi people," who will be the first beneficiaries of a regime change. But bombing Baghdad will make it difficult for them to appreciate his cost-benefit ratio. Women who write about war believe there will be a lot of explaining to do to the people on the ground -- especially to the noncombatants, the women and children -- and the women journalists may take the lead in doing it.

Sheila Gibbons is editor of Media Report to Women, a quarterly newsletter of news, research and commentary about women and media. She is also co-author of Taking Their Place: A Documentary History of Women and Journalism (Second Edition), published this summer by Strata Publishing, Inc.
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