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Women in the Media: From the Margins to the Mainstream (February 2020): Gender Equity

by Camille McCutcheon

Gender Equity

In the twenty-first century, most now consider the newspaper term (and concept of) “women’s page” antithetical to “gender equity.” In the media industries as elsewhere, gender discrimination is a hot-button issue,  and one can find several outstanding books recounting discrimination of yore—among them two about gender discrimination cases. In 1970, forty-six women at Newsweek sued the magazine for sex discrimination, in so doing becoming the first women in the media industry to sue for gender inequity. This case laid the groundwork for other women working in the media industry to file similar complaints. In 1975, Lynn Povich, one of the Newsweek suit plaintiffs, became the first woman senior editor at Newsweek. In The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace, Povich provides a personal account of the discrimination complaint and profiles many female colleagues involved in the suit. Povich’s book is very important to the literature on women in journalism and to journalism history more broadly.

Recipient of the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing and a former New York Times reporter, Nan Robertson conveys the history of the paper’s discriminatory practices against its female employees in The Girls in the Balcony: Women, Men, and the New York Times. Robertson discusses, among many other things, the 1978 class-action lawsuit Elizabeth Boylan v. The New York Times Company, which claimed gender inequity in pay and access, and was settled out of court (not to the satisfaction of the complainants). Robertson profiles well-known women who worked at the Times over the decades, including Anne O’Hare McCormick, Charlotte Curtis, and Ada Louise Huxtable.

Judith Marlane published her award-winning Women in Television News in 1976. In 1999 she published Women in Television News Revisited: Into the Twenty-First Century, which explores the gains women made in broadcast journalism over the intervening two decades. Both books are based on interviews with leading women journalists, and some of the seventy women she interviewed for the more recent title were also interviewed for the earlier book. The more recent book reveals many professional successes for women in broadcasting but also ongoing obstacles, among them ageism, sexual harassment, emphasis on appearance, and salary inequities. But improvement and change continue into the twenty-first century. The Edge of Change: Women in the Twenty-First Century Press, edited by June Nicholson et al., presents critical perspectives by prominent female newspaper journalists on the status of women in newspaper journalism through the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century. The book also looks at previous achievements by women journalists, the obstacles they have faced, and the future for women in the news industry.

Kristin Gilger and Julia Wallace’s just-published There’s No Crying in Newsrooms: What Women Have Learned about What It Takes to Lead provides a retrospective of women in newsrooms since the 1970s and an analysis of the current state of women in the media. Gilger and Wallace interviewed approximately one hundred women in leadership positions in the mass media, and those women share advice about dealing with sexism, ageism, and work/life tradeoffs, and ponder what the future holds for women in the media. They note that although women journalists have made great strides over the last several decades, they face some of the same career challenges previous generations of women journalists did

Works Cited