Theorizing about gender and organizations has proved a complex challenge, resulting in a body of literature that is “patchy and discontinuous” (Ashcraft & Mumby 2004, xiii). Yet, around the globe, feminist scholars tend to agree on one universal impediment to gender equity: reality emerges from the male standpoint, which shapes organizations and meanings. For the past 50 years, few organizations have attracted more scholarly attention with regard to gender dimensions than those of the mass media industry.
Fundamentally, the relationship between gender and media organizations affects individual consciousness and collective social life (Tuchman 1979), so that the organizational milieus in which media products are created invite serious feminist analysis. Women’s limited share in the ownership and control of media organizations, combined with their low employment in key decision-making roles, underscores why gender inequality undergirds the media industry worldwide (de Bruin 2000; Watkins & Emerson 2000). As a minority in the middle-and senior-management media workforce, women are unable to effect significant organizational change, shape media content, or influence hiring and firing decisions (Weaver & Wilhoit 1996). They want to keep their jobs, so they must please those with more power inside and outside of the organization. Overall, Milkie (2002) suggested that too little research systematically examines the struggles and processes of gendered media systems – the workings of cultural power.
For example, while the number of women employed in US media organizations’ lower-level positions may have improved in recent decades after federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) legislation was enacted, scholars argue that the socioeconomic organization of media and its routines and conventions, which reinforce sexism, have not. Social, technological, and economic change since the 1970s has forced media organizations to reinvent themselves in order to consistently show a profitable return on global conglomerates’ investments – often by modifying strategies appealing to the female labor force. Also, mass media workers’ routines shape media content, reinforcing gender stereotypes by constructing symbols and images that define gender and ultimately women’s identities.
Women In Different Media
Women’s marginalized workplace status and gender-stereotypical messages permeate a wide variety of mass media organizations. In particular, feminist scholars have been highly critical of five general mass media organizations and products: news, advertising, television, motion pictures, and magazines.
First, newsroom gender issues have culminated in numerous sex-discrimination lawsuits and out-of-court settlements. De Bruin (2000) described a “macho culture of newsgathering” – an environment that often excludes women journalists and positions them as inconsistent with the “true news professional.” Since the 1970s, female workers’ relegation to “women’s pages” and support staff functions has been widely noted. Bagdikian (1990) argued that concentrated power and focus on profits detrimentally affect news content and inspired the news media’s shift to entertainment mode. Importantly, this trend seems to offer women more opportunities in journalism – even though many researchers have noted gendered salary discrepancies and female reporters routinely assigned to cover soft news such as famous women with cancer (Corbett & Mori 1999).
Second, the symbiotic relationship between advertisers and corporate media organizations has drawn sharp criticism from feminist circles. Advertising’s omnipresent messages and images demean women and perpetuate their disadvantage. Clearly, media organizations are heavily dependent on advertising revenues, so they work hard to woo advertisers. Strategically, media organizations package content that fosters a “buying mood”: commodities that avoid upstaging the ads (Gamson et al. 1992). As a shortcut to satisfying advertisers, media organizations reproduce past practices, prevent innovation, and maintain the status quo. For women, this results in reinforced stereotypes, or “symbolic annihilation” (Gerbner 1972). Women’s disadvantage is created and maintained through such narrow, harmful images that “enter everyday practices and discourses” (Milkie 2002, 839).
Third, television in the 1970s saw an employment spurt for women – yet gender equity continues to elude television organizations. The foundation of television programming is gendered, in terms of structured time and space coordinates that determine network programming schedules (e.g., daytime, prime time, late night). A narrowcast philosophy of programming means that networks green-light content that will capture specific demographic audiences during specific time parts – and women represent a significant portion of network viewers. In addition, genre forms and character types are gendered – so much so that televisual representations of gender have changed modestly since broadcast radio created the family sitcom and detective shows, gendered work roles, and character types such as dumb blondes and brawny males (Watkins & Emerson 2000). Unfortunately, television writers and executives invite only the most liberal of feminist traditions in sanctioning content that will appeal to advertisers and viewers. For example, a television sitcom’s female character may work as a lawyer, but she works a second shift as primary caregiver to her children.
Fourth, feminist scholars also have closely examined the motion picture industry, both as an employer of women and as a mass medium communicating gendered messages. Women may have dominated the screenwriting profession in Hollywood during the silent film era, but men have controlled corporate channels of production, distribution, and exhibition since filmmaking became more industrialized. Consequently, numerous Hollywood actresses have reported limited career options. Rosanna Arquette’s documentary Searching for Debra Winger features interviews with international awardwinning actresses – all of whom tell of gender and age discrimination, resolving that greater diversity in onscreen female types can occur only when women assume roles behind the camera and in film studio executive suites (Walters et al. 2004). Film actresses’ sentiments concur with the findings of feminist scholars who report that the organizational structures and routines of the film industry are more likely to reward those individuals whose work appeals to masculine sensibilities. In her seminal essay “Visual pleasures and narrative cinema,” Laura Mulvey (1975) introduced the notion of “the male gaze” in feminist film theory. Mulvey argued that the male point of view is privileged; that the masculine perspective shapes the film-viewing experience and socializes women into identifying and complying with patriarchal ideologies that reinforce women’s marginalization.
Finally, a rich body of feminist scholarship has examined women’s magazines. Many US consumer magazines target a particular gender group, since marketers promote their products as gender specific. Researchers have found that editorial pages of women’s magazines focus more on dieting and weight loss than serious health problems. Fashion magazine covers, ads, and editorial content imply that being thin is associated with being happier, sexier, and more loveable (Malkin et al. 1999). Thus, magazines may propagate a slender ideal that – at best – elicits women’s dissatisfaction with their own bodies, and – at worst – influences unhealthful behaviors. On the other hand, women’s magazines tend to employ a large number of women – who claim to have little control over the images and page content. For example, editor gatekeepers described a “symbolic constraint” wherein photographers and artists set the standards for aesthetic judgment of femininity (Milkie 2002, 854). Magazine editors also have blamed advertisers and “culture” for establishing readers’ expectations. In fact, feminist and magazine publisher Gloria Steinem (1990) said she battled constantly with advertisers before dropping advertising from the pages of Ms.
Race And Class
Feminist scholars have illustrated how gendered organizational forms also are raced and classed (e.g., Ashcraft & Allen 2003). Ashcraft & Mumby (2004) suggested that in gender– organization studies, gender becomes relevant to organizations only when (white) women enter them. In terms of television programming, feminists suggest that the liberal tradition often fails to acknowledge the race and class differences between women because it is defined mostly by white, middle-class women (Watkins & Emerson 2000).
Moreover, Hochschild (1990) argued that the mass media offer women and other marginalized groups extensive cultural prescriptions in the form of advice about how to look and act to please powerful groups – without considering harmful outcomes. Indeed, mass-mediated messages about disadvantaged groups may frame a gender or racial order as natural (Hill Collins 1991).
Governments And Nongovernmental Organizations
Both governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in recent years have recognized women-and-media issues around the globe. At the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (UNGASS) was adopted and signed by nearly 200 governments, identifying significant areas of concern – ranging from increasing women’s media access to eradicating gender discrimination. In 2000, a Global Women’s Media Team was organized at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session to review implementation of UNGASS. Worldwide, women also have formed NGOs in order to improve the position and portrayal of women in media. For example, NGOs work with and use media to promote women’s human rights across Africa, to encourage gender-fair reporting in Asia and the Pacific, to research the status of female media workers in Australia, to integrate a gender approach to policymaking in Arab countries, to support gender-sensitivity journalism training in Canada, to “invade” the Internet with media by and for women in Europe, and to monitor mainstream media’s gender perspectives in Mexico.
In sum, greater awareness of media organizations’ gendered nature is warranted – as is a systematic theory of deeply embedded gender and organizations. Importantly, it must be recognized that the creation of sexist media content is not gender specific. It has been argued that change happens far too slowly because organizational structures in industrial capitalist societies are erroneously viewed as gender neutral. Gender is not an addition to ongoing processes; rather, it is an integral part of those processes, which cannot be properly understood without an analysis of gender (Djerf-Pierre 2005). According to Creedon (1993, 79 – 80), “[T]he cutting edge of feminism is no longer about convincing anyone that sexism exists . . . Women want to name their experiences on their own terms; they want to have their voices heard and make their own meaning.”
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