Around the world, newspapers and magazines, cable and satellite television programs, radio broadcasts, documentary film, and more recently Internet sites produced by, for, and about women have been crucial to the process of resisting dominant conceptions of women, celebrating oppositional visions of womanhood, and adopting lives as “new women.” Until the 1960s, such journalism outlets rarely used the term “feminist.” Nonetheless, “feminist media” usefully describes media that consistently advocate expansive political, social, and cultural roles for women and expose gender oppression (interstructured with oppression by sexual orientation, class, “race,” ethnicity, and religion). By definition, these largely women-run media enable them to redefine news, exchange information unavailable in mainstream media, and nurture a feminist community. Participants experiment with alternative working styles, organizational systems, and ethical standards, and develop their media skills.
First And Second Waves
Historically, feminist journalism was an outgrowth of efforts on behalf of other causes, such as the abolition of slavery and moral edification, as well as ones important specifically to women, such as health and dress reform, and especially suffrage or voting rights. Already in the mid-eighteenth century, especially in the US and UK, feminists published papers advocating equal rights for women, universal suffrage, abolition, liberalizing of divorce laws, birth control, and free education. Other feminist journals advocated quite different causes, including free love, anarchy, and socialism.
Notably, not merely mainstream media but also radical countercultural movements of the 1960s, and their periodicals, marginalized – if they did not altogether ignore – feminist issues and the so-called second wave of feminism. The 1970s, therefore, gave rise to literally hundreds of feminist periodicals. Some lasted only for a year or less, given the economic, physical, and time burdens of production. There were feminist magazines specifically for different races, ethnicities, religions, professions, ages, as well as for “goddess-minded wimmin,” Marxists, prostitutes, and celibates.
In the 1970s, a few leading women’s liberation magazines genuinely aimed at a general readership. Spare Rib, in the UK, originally limited the ads to nonsexist messages for crafts, but then was relaunched for the same reasons with a glossy cover and new style. In the US, Ms. quickly generated 26,000 subscriptions after its 1972 launch but also faced financial instability. For a time it solved advertiser resistance by rejecting all advertising. Since 2002, the Feminist Majority Foundation has owned Ms. as well as operating a quarterly newsletter and Daily Feminist News, a news website. Canada’s Herizons, which dates back to 1979, claims to be “a unique hybrid” of nonprofit business (with revenue from subscriptions, donations, advertising, and sales of music and clothing), feminist publishing and advocacy journalism, but attempts at this combination are common.
Second wave publications innovated along several dimensions. They sought grants from private foundations and government agencies to send issues free to prisons and mental hospitals, and to train women in publishing. Evolving distinctively feminist ways of working often was equally important, although developing collective, noncompetitive modes proved difficult. The Washington DC collective that has published off our backs (oob) since 1970 continues to make decisions by consensus. Exemplifying feminist journalism’s explicitness regarding activism and advocacy, and disdain for conventional journalistic principles, oob says: “We intend to be just; but we do not intend to be impartial”.
Most feminists disdained professionalism, which smacked of hierarchy and elitism, and even bylines. In particular, second wave feminists experimented with alternative formats and innovative organization, often nonhierarchical collectivities or rotating jobs. To avoid editing, several published everything submitted. Some limited the kind of advertising they would carry or declined all advertising. As a matter of political education, some feminist papers charged men more for than women. Likewise, some lesbian periodicals charged extra for brown papper wrapping. Some rejected information from straight people and/or gay men, or declared, “TO BE SOLD TO AND SHARED BY LESBIANS ONLY”. Others referred to “wimmin” to avoid the word “men.” Still, the major problem, as well as the final straw, is nearly always that costs exceed revenues. Furthermore, most feminist periodicals can only be found at independent or feminist bookstores, a dying breed.
Nonprint And Third Wave Journalism
The US-based Pacifica network is known for its leftist and pacifist perspective; but Pacifica, founded in 1946 by an outspoken pacifist as the first listener-supported radio network, also carries some feminist radio. The women’s international news gathering service (WINGS), also based in the US, produces global-minded news programs about women for noncommercial radio stations and the Internet. Feminist television is even more infrequent, since television production is more difficult, complex, and expensive than radio. Even with relatively low production values, public access shows – such as New Directions for Women, produced since 1994 by a New Jersey collective for public access channels – require the coordination of many trained people, who end up concentrating on processes (not content).
Arguably, the Internet is a more accommodating space for feminist journalism, especially if the goal is not financial profit. The low production and distribution costs and design plasticity allow cyberfeminists to experiment in the name of individuality, self-expression, and choice. Nearly all feminist periodicals also maintain an Internet presence, but increasingly feminists abandoned other media forms, given the relative expense and the availability of online feedback and interactivity. Operating on their understanding that “the personal is the political,” feminist online media often tie personal experiences to larger structural principles, illustrating how personal problems transcend the individual.
Still, it is rarely profitable. Some feminist Internet sites have been co-opted by corporate agendas and a few feminist standalone sites cease altogether each year. Korean feminists have successfully operated Unninet (Sisters’ Village) since 2000, using metaphors of home-like spaces to welcome young feminists to their critiques of the gender politics of everyday life, but their attempt to establish a profit-generating corporation failed.
Beginning in the late 1980s, a third wave of feminism and of feminist media emerged, both as a response to the second wave’s tendency to essentialize women and to defend the second wave in the face of a popular backlash. Typical of third wave feminism’s concern to avoid defining itself in terms of the experiences of upper-class US white women, Expository Magazine bridges the gap among various feminisms by remaining cross generational, cross-cultural, and cross-theoretical, but it frantically pleads for donations and feminist advertising to help “raise awareness about the plight of women worldwide”.
However, this generation of feminists is also concerned with the micro-politics of everyday life, so most of the emerging opportunities for third wave feminist journalism emphasize edginess, or at least funky humor, even when they aim to sustain a visionary global women’s network. And for some, sassiness is the point. “Girl power” and “girl culture” are more about fashion and marketing than social change. Unlike many western second wave feminists, who refused to answer to “girls,” US-based Bust magazine and its online “Girl Wide Web” are “for women with something to get off their chests.” Bust describes itself as “the voice of the new girl order.” Likewise, Bitch magazine, publishing from Portland, Oregon, critiques media images of femininity and feminism and highlights “girl-friendly” media. Katha Pollitt, reporter for The Nation, has described Bitch magazine as “cheerfully attitudinous updated feminism”.
Many US websites provide a platform for young women to speak on their own behalf, such as Feministing. Online “zines” or magazines are also available for older women. Crone Chronicles, a zine which began in print, highlights the aging process. Moreover, serious print and online sites are continually emerging. Trivia, which appeared in print from 1982 to 1995 before going online, addresses the pattern of relegating women’s most important concerns to the margins of patriarchal history. The Women’s Space provides news and commentary from “radical feminist” and “distinctively and unapologetically woman-centered” perspective. The F word, a UK-based site launched in 2001 for young feminists, now emphasizes “contemporary” feminism.
According to Altar Magazine, since problems are not monolithic, neither are solutions; it therefore calls for socially progressive women and men fighting on many fronts against racism and heterosexism, and for feminism and economic justice. Azizah reflects the experiences and perspectives of North American Muslim women. Among the few journals managing to bridge the gap between activists and scholars is Manushi, founded in 1978 by two Delhi scholars to cover South Asian women’s issues. Several lesbian magazines are published in Europe, especially in Germany, and in the US; some are highly politically edgy, others much flashier.
Few are genuinely international. Launched in 1975 as a quarterly emphasizing development, human rights, and especially, female genital mutilation, Women’s International Network (WIN) News is “a world-wide open participatory communication system by, for, and about women of all backgrounds, beliefs, nationalities, and age groups.” Since 1999, using freelance writers from around the world who are committed to professional standards but paid in free copies, Women’s eNews has distributed news about women’s issues globally to individual subscribers and commercial media. In 2003 Women’s eNews launched an Arabic language version. Scum Grrrls, “a 100% feminist energy magazine,” appears in French and English. Nonetheless, most US, European, and Asian outlets, including online, are available in only one language.
Directions For Research
Scholars seldom analyze feminist media. Suffrage papers have drawn historians’ attention, but historians often use periodicals as sources of data about the early women’s rights movement, rather than subjects deserving analysis themselves. In particular, Internet sites warrant study. They seem to avoid most of the problems that plague feminist periodicals and broadcasting, although feminist sites have died when participants were diverted by other causes, new jobs, or families, or because of personality and political rifts. Whether the content producers and audiences of feminist Internet sites can enjoy the kind of camaraderie that sustained first and second wave feminists is unclear. That is, the extent to which feminist websites will sustain a feminist community remains to be investigated.
- Daily Feminist News. Feminist Majority Foundation. At www.feminist.org/news/newsbyte/uswire.asp, accessed October 12, 2006.
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- Expository Magazine. At www.tcdesign.net/Expository/, accessed October 12, 2006.
- At www.herizons.ca/, accessed October 12, 2006.
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- Off our backs: The feminist newsjournal. At www.offourbacks.org/, accessed October 12, 2006.
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- At www.unninet.net/, accessed October 12, 2006.