The term “feminization” tends to be used in communication studies in two basic ways. On the one hand, it describes any increases in the proportion of women working in a particular media profession. On the other, it refers to a process in which communication norms, values, and behaviors coded as “masculine” are becoming gradually modified, if not replaced, by others associated with the “feminine.” Some communication researchers use the notion of feminization to refer, for example, not only to increases in the number of women working in particular media but also to what they regard as a trend toward media organizations gradually acquiring a “feminine image,” i.e., undergoing a shift toward norms and values coded as feminine, with their attendant lower professional status.
The association of the two meanings of feminization can be traced back to the concept of the “feminization of culture”. Huyssen (1986) gives a striking description of how the increasing presence of women in cultural production starting in the late eighteenth century led to a fear of culture being feminized and losing its character as a male construction. This cultural ideology, in which women are equated with lower-status mass (popular or low) culture, while men are associated with a superior, high culture (fine arts and serious media), today forms the implicit subtext of the concept of feminization (Spigel 1992/1997). It is precisely these gender-based dualisms that deconstructionist approaches seek to challenge to prevent their confirmation. In this, the seemingly inevitable, natural connection between gender and gendered attributions is questioned and decontextualized.
There are many dualisms in media studies that are gender based. Well-known gendered binary hierarchies, read as chains of equivalents for masculinity versus femininity, include: public versus commercial broadcasting, serious papers versus tabloids, national and international politics versus local interest and gossip, public versus private or personal issues, public versus aesthetic interest, information versus entertainment, facts versus opinion, hard news versus soft news, factual reporting versus feature writing, objective versus emotional style, and high versus low credibility. In all of these, the dimension coded as masculine is regarded as the norm, conferring prestige and professional status, whereas the dimension coded as feminine carries low prestige and is equated with a lack of professionalism.
In feminist media studies, the claim that in recent years there has been a marked feminization of media professions and media content has been the focus of much critical analysis and commentary. One point around feminization has focused on news and journalism. It was not until the second wave women’s movement, which emerged in many western countries from the late 1960s onwards, that the underrepresentation of women in journalism met with sustained criticism from communication scholars. Within the profession, some feminists began to call for hiring quotas for women in order to redress gender imbalances and schemes to promote women journalists and media workers so as to challenge sexual discrimination within media organizations (Carter et al. 1998).
Initially, it was hoped that as more female journalists were hired, the underrepresentation and discriminatory portrayal of women in media content would change as a result. Taking the claim of a “feminine journalism” as their starting point, researchers investigated whether women practiced a “different” journalism to that of their male colleagues. This claim has not yet been substantiated; however, it does appear that, similar to other counter-hegemonic discourses, the gradual emergence of feminist public spheres, and feminist publications catering to them, is influencing and challenging sexism in the mainstream media (Klaus 1998, 190ff.).
Some feminist researchers have concluded that increases in the number of women journalists from the 1980s onward has not led to a different style of journalism. On the contrary, according to van Zoonen (1998, 45), it may well have been changes in media genres and content produced in part by increasing commercialization and a growing market orientation, with its emphasis on human interest and soft, emotional, or sensational news, that has paved the way for more women entering the field of journalism. Those who point to its Eurocentric assumptions have called this hypothesis into question. Researchers point out that there has long been a high proportion of female journalists working in (formerly) socialist countries such as China or the eastern European states (until their recent transformation, in any case). Some suggest that this situation can be explained by the greater role accorded to gender equality within the state ideology of these nations. Examining media in such countries thus provides examples of organizations with large numbers of female journalists working in newsrooms where media content primarily was focused on politics, and was noncommercial and nonmarket-driven (Lünenborg 1997).
As in other professions, it has been the emancipation of women generally that has led to more women gaining admission to journalism and related fields. This has been reinforced by a growing media differentiation, such as public and commercial broadcasting, local and transnational coverage, and new formats in the print media, public relations, and online journalism. In this process, the employment opportunities open to men and women have not been equal. In the newer professions, e.g., in public relations and various newly emerging commercial media, there have been certain areas where men had not yet “staked out their claim,” thus making it easier for women to enter them. In these areas, as in online journalism, the share of women has been growing at a much faster rate than in the more traditional and prestigious media, due mainly to a greater demand for new labor. The debate about “feminine values,” a “feminine style,” or “new” genres merely served to legitimize the continually increasing share of women in the field (Dorer 2005). Nevertheless, gender-based horizontal and vertical segregation remains a reality in these occupations. Female journalists more often work on less prestigious news beats and departments, they still earn less than men, and they more rarely rise to the top of the profession (Neverla & Kanzleiter 1984; Chambers et al. 2005).
The interlinked meanings of feminization produce an associative link between the two, thereby constructing a hierarchic dichotomy based on gender, with the masculine assigned a higher and the feminine a lower social status. As long as this discursive link remains unchallenged, existing gender differences can be reproduced and confirmed instead of being subjected to critical questioning and deconstruction.
- Carter, C., Branston, G., & Allan, S. (eds.) (1998). News, gender and power. London: Routledge.
- Chambers, D., Steiner, L., & Fleming, C. (2005). Women and journalism. London: Routledge.
- Dorer, J. (2005). The gendered relationship between journalism and public relations in Austria and Communications, 30(2), 183 –200.
- Huyssen, A. (1986). Mass culture as woman. In T. Modleski (ed.), Studies in entertainment. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, pp. 188 –207.
- Klaus, E. (1998). Kommunikationswissenschaftliche Geschlechterforschung. Wiesbaden: Westdeutscher.
- Lünenborg, M. (1997). Journalistinnen in Europa. Opladen: Westdeutscher.
- Neverla, I., & Kanzleiter, G. (1984). Journalistinnen. Frauen in einem Männerberuf. Frankfurt: Campus.
- Spigel, L. (1997). The suburban home companion. In C. Brunsdon, J. D’Acci, & L. Spigel (eds.), Feminist television criticism. Oxford: Clarendon, pp. 212 –234. (Original work published 1992).
- van Zoonen, L. (1998). One of the girls? In C. Carter, G. Branston, & S. Allan (eds.), News, gender and power. London: Routledge, pp. 33 – 46.