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Mass Media and the Shaping of American Feminism, 1963-1975

Mass Media and the Shaping of American Feminism, 1963-1975

Patricia Bradley
Copyright Date: 2003
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    Mass Media and the Shaping of American Feminism, 1963-1975
    Book Description:

    Beginning in 1963 with the publication of Betty Friedan'sThe Feminine Mystiqueand reaching a high pitch ten years later with the televised mega-event of the "Battle of the Sexes"-the tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs-the mass media were intimately involved with both the distribution and the understanding of the feminist message.

    This mass media promotion of the feminist profile, however, proved to be a double-edged sword, according to Patricia Bradley, author ofMass Media and the Shaping of American Feminism, 1963-1975. Although millions of women learned about feminism by way of the mass media, detrimental stereotypes emerged overnight. Often the events mounted by feminists to catch the media eye crystalized the negative image. All feminists soon came to be portrayed in the popular culture as "bra burners" and "strident women." Such depictions not only demeaned the achievements of their movement but also limited discussion of feminism to those subjects the media considered worthy, primarily equal pay for equal work.

    Bradley's book examines the media traditions that served to curtail understandings of feminism. Journalists, following the craft formulas of their trade, equated feminism with the bizarre and the unusual. Even women journalists could not overcome the rules of "What Makes News." By the time Billie Jean King confronted Bobby Riggs on the tennis court, feminism had become a commodity to be shaped to attract audiences. Finally, in mass media's pursuit of the new, counter-feminist messages came to replace feminism on the news agenda and helped set in place the conservative revolution of the 1980s.

    Bradley offers insight into how mass media constructs images and why such images have the kind of ongoing strength that discourages young women of today from calling themselves "feminist." The author also asks how public issues are to be raised when those who ask the questions are negatively defined before the issues can even be discussed.

    Mass Media and the Shaping of American Feminism, 1963-1975examines the media's role in creating the images of feminism that continue today. And it poses the dilemma of a call for systematic change in a mass media industry that does not have a place for systematic change in its agenda.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-051-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-2)

    This is a study of the intersection between mass media and the second wave of the women’s movement, a period I have defined as ranging from 1963, the year of publication ofThe Feminine Mystique, to 1975, when the initial energy of the movement was over, at least as far as mass media was concerned. I have represented the high point of media attention as the Billie Jean King–Bobby Riggs tennis match in 1973, a popular culture event of national proportions that provided the media definition that the women’s movement was most about permitting women entry into the male...

  5. 1. The Legacy of The Feminine Mystique
    (pp. 3-28)

    In 1962, the editor-in-chief of the New York publishing house W.W. Norton and Company was skimmingHarper’s Magazinein a routine trolling for possible Norton writers. What caught George Brockway’s eye was an article predicting the consequences of a meltdown of the arctic ice cap—not such an odd subject for a nation already poised for the nuclear equivalent. “The piece was well organized and well written,” he later wrote. “I thought Betty might have a book in her, although perhaps not on this particular subject. So I wrote her”(Brockway 1998).

    What later arrived on Brockway’s desk was the prospectus...

  6. 2. Marching for the Media: NOW and Media Activism
    (pp. 29-47)

    In taking to the public stage to marketThe Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan not only contributed to the success of the book but became famous herself, and the line between marketing the book and taking on the mantle of leadership of a burgeoning women’s movement began to blur. In moving from a writer on social issues to a popular leader, Friedan is equaled only by Ralph Nader, whoseUnsafe at Any Speed(1965) projected him to the leadership of the consumer movement. But elevation from best-selling author to reform leader is not the usual path for writers on social issues....

  7. 3. The Left at Center
    (pp. 48-76)

    For mainstream activist women such as NOW’s Muriel Fox, mass media coverage of the women’s movement was a desirable goal, to be achieved by methods that melded corporate public relations with the organized protests of the early civil rights movement. But for the radical women who became known as the “politicos,” in the jargon of the day, the lessons and culture of the antiwar Left provided the media training ground. In the hands of these radical women, efforts to achieve mass media attention became increasingly dramatic, as they chose to confront symbols of systemic female repression rather than the concrete...

  8. 4. The Practice of the Craft
    (pp. 77-103)

    In her “pre-feminist days,” as she was to call them, Letty Pogrebin, later a founder ofMs. magazine, voiced a common perception. The ideas of the women’s liberation movement were “great,” she wrote in her 1970 self-help bookHow to Make It in a Man’s World. But they were being ignored because “people are offended by the strident attitude assumed by feminists. Men . . . dismiss these demanding ladies as the lunatic fringe and respond to the whole movement only with ridicule” (Pogrebin 1970: 239).

    Women activists, whether radical or not, were quick to blame media bias for perceptions...

  9. 5. August 1970
    (pp. 104-122)

    As the end of her term as president of the National Organization for Women, Betty Friedan was beset by criticism from the radical women, beset by criticism from within her own organization, and beset by criticism from the lesbians within and outside of activist circles. The Congress to Unite Women had failed. Seeking to conclude her term in a memorable way, she proposed a women’s “strike for equality,” a twenty-four-hour period when women would walk off their jobs on the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, 26 August 1970. In a stirring moment, the announcement was made...

  10. 6. Media and Mitigation: Soothing Sexual Angst
    (pp. 123-142)

    For organizers of the 1970 march, its New York success lay in the notable achievement of bringing together thousands of women of difference into one symbol of unity, not so different from the famous March on Washington that was such a strong memory for women of the era.

    There were important differences from the civil rights march. The feminist march did not get flattering coverage in all venues, particularly network television, whose commentators tended to counter its visual messages of solidarity with critical commentary. And events in the rest of the country were not as successful in media terms as...

  11. 7. Gloria Steinem
    (pp. 143-166)

    The year Friedan publishedThe Feminine Mystique, Gloria Steinem also published her first book,The Beach Book, a frivolous and elaborate coffee-table production that celebrated the urban, educated, white adult. Published by Viking, one of the new firms that Michael Korda describes as not askance to marketing books as product for particular audiences,The Beach Bookensconced an ephemeral and satirical style in the permanency of a coffee-table format—a kind of satire on the format itself. Steinem’s ability to attract the rich and famous even in this venue was already apparent. The amusing introduction to the paean to the...

  12. 8. Ms. and the Success of Liberal Feminism
    (pp. 167-193)

    In 1969, Shana Alexander, who was the first woman staff writer and columnist forLifemagazine and who achieved additional celebrity through her weekly appearances on CBS’sSixty Minutes, was offered the job of editor of the nation’s largest women’s magazine,McCall’s. Friends urged caution: the magazine was in difficulty and needed a figurehead. Like most of the mass magazines of the time, the circulation ofMcCall’s was dropping—a loss of a million readers during the second half of the 1960s. For Alexander, who as a writer had never had to be concerned with the business side, the twenty...

  13. 9. Efforts to Reform the Media: Print
    (pp. 194-221)

    Ms. magazine not only was an instrument calling for reform but also sought to prove that new content, new management style, new demands on advertisers, and new employment opportunities for women could exist in a mass media setting. In its first years, its success could only encourage the goal of media reform.

    Most women activists considered reform of media essential to the success of the women’s movement. Some women radicals believed that mass media, the “tools of the master,” could neither be an instrument for reform nor be our backsdevoted its statement of purpose to the impossibility...

  14. 10. Reform Redux: Broadcast
    (pp. 222-246)

    The assumption that once on the inside, women would be able to influence the news agenda was as strongly felt among broadcast reformers as among those in print. Terry Gross, later the host of National Public Radio’sFresh Airinterview program, began her broadcast career on a woman-staffed feminist radio program. “It didn’t matter that I had no radio experience. The producers were almost as committed to training other women as they were to getting the program on the air. They were convinced that the mass media would continue to ignore or misinterpret the women’s movement until women were in...

  15. 11. Rise of the Opposition
    (pp. 247-272)

    Phyllis Schlafly was one of those women writing books in the early 1960s. The self-publishedA Choice Not An Echo, supporting Barry Goldwater for U.S. president, elevated her to the first ranks of conservative leaders and set the way for her to become the nation’s most vociferous and public opponent of feminism. When the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was defeated on 30 June 1982, its extension for ratification having finally run out, it was her moment of glory, which she recalled in 1997 in an article for the magazineGeorge. The magazine’s editors, even thirty years...

  16. Conclusion: A Moment of Triumph
    (pp. 273-286)

    The biggest television audience that had ever tuned in for a feminist-related event had nothing to do with organized feminism. It is not noted in histories of the second wave or even in the biography of Roone Arledge, the man who made it possible in seeking to solidify his position as a producer of popular content at ABC. Yet the 1973 Billie Jean King–Bobby Riggs tennis match, the “Battle of the Sexes,” transfixed forty million U.S. television viewers (twice the number that tuned in for the Williams sisters’ 2001 U.S. Open final), and its audience of more than thirty...

  17. Works Cited
    (pp. 287-308)
  18. Index
    (pp. 309-322)