By Donna Allen & Dana Densmore, 1977
The time has come for a radical re-evaluation
of the role of mass media in our society -- politically.
We all experience the power of mass media over our decisions due to its massive outreach. Yet we know that no democracy can survive where a few men have such immense political power relative to others.
The Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press is dedicated to expanding the ability to communicate and to finding ways to enable each of us to speak for ourselves instead of being the passive recipients of information chosen by the few and distributed one-way to us. Without a means of communication, we are not participating in self-government; we see instead that the political decision making is being done by those with the greatest outreach.
The following is a total, detailed and thoroughgoing analysis -- though briefly presented here -- of the role of communication in our lives. This analysis produces a new philosophy of communication, one that is gentle and peaceful, respectful of all people, and politically equal, three requirements for an analysis to be both feminist and radical. It would bring about the necessary restructuring of existing communication systems.
Section I. Women's Progress Correlates
with Their Having A Means of Communication
Part 1. Media: The Source of Power and Key
to Women's Progress
A. Source of Power. (1) Power is the ability to move something in a direction you want- a physical object or an objective you wish to attain. (2) The more people working with you, the more power you have and the better and faster you can move your object or objective. (3) The more people you can reach with your information, the larger the number who will find your goal is also their goal and join with you in attaining it. Thus, having a means of reaching people is crucial to increasing your power. Owners of mass media reach millions frequently; women's media reach thousands infrequently. Thus, power (the ability to move things your way) depends on the number of people you can reach with your information. The source of power (where you obtain it) is media (i.e., having a means of communication ). More people we reach, the more power we have.
B. Key to Women's Progress. (1) Progress is doing better today than yesterday in the pursuit of your interests or use of your abilities. (2) The more options one has, in political, economic, social, and personal areas of life-without social or economic penalties-the more will be taken up and the greater the resulting progress-the larger the number making better use of their abilities, the greater the benefit to society and to other women, as well as to the individuals taking up the options. (3) The key to the progress, therefore, is having means to communicate options . (4) The owners of mass media select and repeat, to the millions they reach, all options they think are important for people to know about. (5) If others are to be offered, they will have to come from elsewhere, primarily from women themselves, communicated through whatever media they own or are able to use. Thus the key to women's progress is having media to communicate as wide a choice as they know.
C. Women's Movement Arose to Communicate New
(1) 1950s : No Women's Media, No Women's Progress . (a) Women had virtually no media of their own during the 1950s. Research is needed on the extent of women-owned media (for and about women) in this period. (b) Male-owned media offered and repeated one role, based on a psychological theory that women were by nature subordinate to men and labeled "unnatural" roles other than housewife and mother. Research needed on extent this role was heard in 1950s compared to number of people (circulation and audience figures) hearing contradictory evidence. (c) As the 50s and 60s proceed, fewer and fewer women entered, or advanced in, other roles. Research: This correlation needs study and documentation, especially by occupation ("Girls-can't-be-doctors" repetition correlated with drop in applications). (d) Some women believed the psychological theory, seeing confirmation in their own experience, and others, hearing no dissent and thinking that media mirrored society, concluded they were alone in not believing the theory and did not try to communicate with other women. Some were eventually persuaded against their own first hand information because the repetition of the theory from a wide variety of sources created the impression of confirmation of it. If no dissent is heard, opinion is accepted as fact. Research: Document by cases.
(2) 1960s: Women Create Own Media, Progress
Begins . Communication (and the Women's Movement) began when,
for growing numbers of women, their (a) FIRST HAND INFORMATION
ACCUMULATED sufficiently, showing the inferiority/superiority
psychological theory to be false. This caused - (b) ANGER,
the natural response to discovering you were lied to, and aroused
women to correct the lies, thus causing - (c) COMMUNICATION (this includes organizations; the purpose of all organization
is to communicate something) by creating media to communicate
their new and corrective information in these ways: 1) person-to-person
contact, wherever they met-conferences, meetings, consciousness-raising
groups ("What! You feel that way, too? I thought I was the
only one."); 2) starting women's media: journals, newspapers,
magazines, making tapes and films, writing books and songs; 3)
getting their information into mass media (by demonstrations,
Ladies Home Journal sit-in, broadcast license challenges, etc.) This communication then caused - (d) ACTION, by
women who saw new roles in this new information and took up some
of those options. This caused - (e) PROGRESS, resulting
from talents better used and providing new role models for still
more women, and leading to - (f) EXPANSION OF THE MOVEMENT
FOR WOMEN'S PROGRESS. Extension of the progress to all
women requires as a first step protecting the existence of
women-controlled media to prevent a return to the 1950s, and secondly,
to expand all forms of communication for women's information-in
mass media, women's media and more person-to-person meetings.
Research: To document this function of women's media.
Part 2. In History, Women Made Progress When They Had A Means of Communication
Study is encouraged, for any country and any period, of the extent of the correlation between women's having a means of communication and making progress. For example, in this country consideration may be made of these four major times that women had media of communication for their information:
A. Abolition Movement. (1) Women working in the church abolition societies obtained media when welcomed into the men's abolition movement and encouraged to write for the abolition press (such as the Liberator ) and speak on the lecture platform. (2) They used these media to convey information not only on abolition, one of the women's issues, but on other women's issues, such as women's rights. (3) Progress resulted as new options were offered to women: writing, editing, publishing newspapers, public speaking, political activity, organization, conventions, etc. (4) Seeing this, men withdrew their media from use by women to communicate these options and described the women in terms which inhibited others from associating with them; men could reach more people with their information than the women could reach to correct it.
B. Progressive Movement/World War I. Women, particularly active in the reform movements of the late 1800s were given media for reform articles, for example in the "muckraking" period of early 1900s when mass magazines were devoted to exposes to obtain certain reform legislation. This made their names known and created an audience for whatever they wrote. Example, Ida Tarbell. (2) Now able to reach the public, women used the media to provide information on their issues of peace and women's rights, as well as humanitarian, economic and political reforms. But before men could take back the media they had provided (as they did do on the peace issue), World War I was on and they extended their media further to encourage women to take up new options outside the home in new fields of employment replacing men going to war. Women used their access to the public through these media for a concentrated drive for suffrage. (3) The resulting progress, after so extended a period of being able to reach so many of the public, was the 19th Amendment granting the right to vote to women and wide dissemination of the option of political activity, including running for office, which a great many women did (and won) in 1920 and the next few years. (4) Male-owned media were withdrawn for this information in the 1920s; women activists were described as radicals, and a new psychological theory was popularized portraying women as sex objects. Unable to communicate their own information, including the information that many women were exercising their new political rights, especially running for office, women's political activity began to diminish for lack of support. Fewer heard the options and still fewer took them up. Most women, and most people, heard only that these women were "radicals" but no information from the women themselves.
C. World War II. (1) Again media were extended to women to recruit out of the home into war employment in a variety of new fields. (2) Women used the media again to talk about women's issues, new options for women in economic, political and social life, calling for 50% women at peace table, etc. (3) A new women's movement began to arise. Women kept their own names after marriage, a new high number did not marry, as some women took up the new options in personal and professional life offered. (4) Between 1946 and 1947, media dropped its coverage of women abruptly and increased its domestic and parental articles and news coverage of women as belonging in the home. Family size increased, women dropped out of public life, fewer entered new fields, and employed women made no further advances.
D. The Present. (1) Women established their
own media and obtained mass media coverage of some of their information
by demonstrations, sit-ins, legal actions. (2) Women used these
media to tell their stories about women's experience and analyze
the politics of sexism. They gave new information about discrimination
against them; about health, abortion, child care possibilities;
about new occupations and new lifestyles, personal and political,
not previously offered. (3) As some women avail themselves of
new options, progress is being made in some areas. (4) Mass media
are trying to withdraw their media as a means of conveying women's
programming or articles conveying women's rights information,
and they have begun to describe women as extremists, "aggressive,"
or "bra-burners," showing them to be as violent as men
and as criminally inclined, or always fighting among themselves
whenever they get together, or dedicated to destroying the family,
or portraying them as sex objects suitable for attack by men out
on the street.
Section II. Mass Media as A Means of
Governing Rather Than A Means of Communication
Part 3. Individual Communication and the Technological & Economic Structure of Mass Media
(1) Research is needed on the historical, demographic, economic, technological and political development of mass media along the following lines:
The free press right of the individual (to have been protected by the First Amendment) was lost when individuals could no longer afford to exercise it to reach any significant percentage of the population. [Even 2 million people is only 1% of the population.]
The press of 1789, when the First Amendment was written, was basically the same as the Gutenberg press of 1450, capable of printing some 300 newspapers per day. Nearly anyone could have a press in those days and reach the same number of people as anyone else. In this context, the First Amendment's freedom of the press was written as a protection for individuals - like the other four First Amendment freedoms, speech, religion, petition, and assembly, which were also to protect the rights of individuals , regardless of the size of their pocketbooks.
By the 1830's, newly invented high-speed presses made the independent printer an employee of the rich person who could afford the very high cost of the new presses, which now printed thousands of copies per day and reached thousands of people that the rest of the public could not reach. Even elected officials could no longer reach their constituents without going through a third party. Mass media - and unequal power - began in the 1830's.
The U.S. population continued to grow and so
did the cost of ever-larger presses to reach it, eventually forcing
out even rich individuals in favor of corporations. To finance
today's media - the extensive media chains, TV networks, and satellites
- new combinations have been formed, made up of conglomerates,
multinational corporations, and governments.
Corporations, whose major stockholders are often other corporations, usually banks, assert that the Constitutional free press right applies to them (and the courts have supported their assertion). Not only are these corporations not themselves individuals, they prevent individuals from communicating by exercising a monopoly on the means of communication to large numbers and not letting individuals use that media for the information they wish to convey to the public. Rather than being a "free press" media as envisaged by the writers of the First Amendment, these corporations are essentially distributors of a commodity, namely, information, the same as any business which harvests, collects, and manufactures goods for distribution. They hire employees who will do the gathering and distributing in a businesslike way, safeguarding the economic and political interests of their employers.
(2) Research is also needed (in the
form of individual studies) of the distribution structure of each
major media form: film, art, music, video, cable, newspapers,
television, radio, magazines, book publishing, bookstores, satellite
communications and other media and major distributors of these
media, examining the number of owners, gender, cost of entry,
number and percentage of people reached by each, and proportion
of mass and other media to total number of people to determine
the extent to which the media serve as expression for very few
and extent the few are male.
Part 4. Women's Criticism of Mass Media as A National Communications System
Criticism 1. Very little women's information
is conveyed by the mass media.
Research: (a) Identify what women's information is, using the issues and information presented in women's media as a starting point. (b) Document the absence of women's information in the mass media by statistically measuring the media content (both print and broadcast by subject matter, including measuring men's information about women. (c) Using the analyses above-where women's information was found to be, in both the women's media and the mass media-attach circulation figures to the various kinds of information to see how many people received each kind.
Criticism 2. The information that is conveyed
in the male owned media is men's information, including their
information about women, and this information has the male characteristics
of emphasis on violence, conflict and sex. Mass media define "news"
using these criteria and do not convey much other information,
saying it is not "news".
Research: Analyze the information presented in the mass media for the frequency of these characteristics. Include news, entertainment, advertising, "public affairs," sports, music, etc. Analyze the way information (including women's) is cast into the form of conflict, rather than being reported as straight information.
Criticism 3. The fact that the mass media do not allow people to speak for themselves, but rather try to speak for them, results in inaccuracies, distortions, and violation of privacy, and leads people who act on the basis of this inaccurate information to make judgments that are not viable, do harm, or waste time and energies.
Research: Document people's experiences in having their information distorted by the news media, including interview, and feature coverage. Compare the information that was supplied to the media (press releases, interviews, etc.) with subsequent coverage.Document cases where people acted on significant erroneous information in mass media and the action resulted in serious harm, waste, or inability to achieve a goal.
Criticism 4. Since
the mass media can not and do not present the information of the
majority of individuals, the public as a whole lacks the information
it needs for self-government. As a result, because people make
their judgment on the basis of the information they have at a
given time, the public comes to the mass media owners' conclusions.
Therefore, mass media function as a means of governing rather than as a means of communication for the nation's information.
Part 5. The Disseminators of Information as A Causal Factor in History
Those who control the means of communication could in every period from the earliest times decide what information people had (about things outside their knowledge from first hand experience), upon which they based their judgments. Before the invention of printing, organized religions were the mass media (by reaching nearly everyone). When the Church said Holy Wars were necessary, they took place, just as happens with today's mass media (which reach nearly everyone). As then, we come to its conclusions because nearly all of us have only its information.
All of history needs to be reexamined, looking at mass media not as simply supplying an account of what happened but as a cause of events by providing information on which people made their decisions. Ask: What information did the majority of people have? Cause can be determined analytically: if 80% of the public had AA information, 2% had BB information, and 18-20% had no information on the subject, the decision made would be a logical decision on AA information. It is necessary to locate the source of information in order to determine selection, repetition, and circulation figures, but it is not necessary to make a value judgment on the media owners' motives, since (Assumptions No. 3) all media owners have a right to select, repeat, and circulate to as many as they can, information they think is important for others to have, reflecting their class and sex and acting, necessarily, in their own self-interest. Value judgments may be left to the recipients of the information we research. To the extent we can find such data, this informational basis for the reexamination of history will provide us actual, logical, and factual causes of events, past and present.
The following are a few historical periods in which such a reexamination might be made on this informational basis:
*Mass media distribution in the millions, free or very cheap, of copies of tracts and sermons and Horatio Alger-type novels in the later 1800s expounding the "Social Darwinism" theory that (among other things) possession of great wealth was proof of natural superiority and that "survival of the fittest" also applied to ideas : if an idea is heard everywhere and is generally accepted, that proves it is superior to ideas with less circulation, less well believed, and that then do not "survive." Determine circulation figures, before any public choice has had a chance to evidence itself, as first print run on books, advertising circulation figures, retail display space given in advance of any public response to a new book, magazine, record, film, etc.
*What information did people have (circulation figures) and from what sources, about Frances Wright in the late 1820's when the public was hearing and considering the ideas of the nation's first women's movement and when the working public changed from supporting to opposing the Workingmen's Parties, the nation's first national effort to broaden its democratic base and significantly to expand the exercise of its free press right.
* Circulation figures for information about public support for "The Great Upheaval" of railroad strikes before and after the meeting in 1877 of the Western Associated Press and cooperating media, which yielded the "Compromise of 1877."
* Circulation figures and sources for information about alternative roles for women (economic, political, social), women's issues (such as childcare centers), and women's ideas and opinions before, during, and after World War I and World War II.
* Circulation figures (and sources) for information that women's movement ideas were "communistic" during the "Red Decade" of the 1920s and the "McCarthyism" period after World War II. Include and compare sources and circulation of that information not only in mass media but also in the labor press, women's press, the "left" or "liberal" press.
* Trace circulation figures and sources (persons) for information about Freud's concepts of women, from the first mention of Freud in scholarly or in popular press through peaks of promotion of "popular psychology" in 1920s and 1950s. Also trace circulation figures for "popular psychology" ideas that deal with women not specifically attributed to Freud.
* Information supplied the public, including the three branches of government, upon which decisions were and are made by them to support mass media corporate entities over the efforts of individuals to exercise their rights to a free press. For example, studies could be made of circulation figures for information supporting SBA (Small Business Administration) policy of refusing to make loans to small media on the grounds it would interfere with freedom of the press; supporting broadcast licensees' sole right to decide news information content on public airwaves, subject only to expensive legal challenge; supporting Constitutional copy right protection in a way that favors corporate media over individuals; and supporting other legislative, administrative, and judicial decisions that reinforce corporate media as having press rights superior to individual rights in information gathering.
* Similar studies could be made of the circulation
figures for information (1) that mass media corporations are a
"public institution" or "public utility";
(2) that these corporations have a "duty" to report
other people's news (compare this with circulation figures for
information describing the origin (in what legislation or by what
other public mandate) of this media "obligation" or
"right); (3) that they should or can determine what the public
has a "right to know" (trace origin, source and circulation
figures for the "right to know" expression); (4) that
private corporations in the business of distributing information
for profit thereby assume these rights over and superior to the
individuals' rights to privacy or to disseminate their own information;
(5) that mass media are our (the public's) "free press"
but, at the same time, that no individual or group has a right
to print or say anything they want to in the mass media. Compare
circulation figures for information which the public has that
applauds, or justifies, the nation's present media structure with
circulation figures for information the public hears that is critical
or that suggests changes.
Section III. The Movement to Democratize
Part 6. Efforts to Expand Communication.
The protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s were-and are-an attempt by various segments of the American public to reach other Americans with their information, information that had or has not been taken into account by the public in making national policies, because it was not heard. The variety of methods used in the protest movement represent efforts to find new ways to reach the public with information considered important for the public to have. The protest movements can be studied as parts of a single movement to expand the nation's communications system to include more information from a larger number of the American public.
Research: Examine these movements (for the civil rights of various groups of people; for new political parties and new policies in the old parties; for civil liberties; for peace as a national foreign policy; for resource conservation, etc.) for their common communication goal. Consider the attempt to reach the public or to capture the attention of the mass media and thereby reach the public, in order to convey a serious message, through such efforts as the following: The early Vietnam War "Teach-Ins." The takeover of campus buildings by students who didn't want the building but the television cameras to reach the public with their message. Native Americans taking over a town. Draft resisters burning their draft cards at a press conference rather than just throwing them away. Women Strike for Peace taking baby carriages and flowers to the Pentagon. Yippies inaugurating a pig. The Freedom Marches and other black civil rights demonstrations. The "Poor People's Campaign." "Earth Day" demonstrations. The Sit-in at the Ladies Home Journal to demand that the magazine communicate new and different women's information than it had been covering. Prisoners with hostages demanding television time to describe prison conditions.
The study should include the continuing efforts
of the present time to expand the communications system to include
more information, such as Texas farm workers dramatizing migrant
workers' conditions by a March to Washington; national demonstrations
to inform the public about repression in North Carolina; holding
a press conference to announce the action by women sending coat
hangers to anti-abortion Congressmen.
Part 7. Mass Media Response to the Demand for Expanded Media to Convey More Information
Examination is needed in depth, documented
and statistically measured, of methods used by the owners of mass
media to resist the movement of people who feel that the existing
media do not communicate their information to the public and are
trying to persuade media to expand their information coverage.
Consider, for example, these media ways of responding: By not
reporting the informational aspects of the movement. By
repeating frequently the assertion that groups of the public are
trying to "use" the media, implying they should not
try to communicate directly to the public. By describing criticism
of mass media as an attack on freedom of the press. By characterizing
the protest movement as "disruptive of democracy and orderly
government" and/or characterizing them as "a tiny minority
of extremists," thus discouraging the public from listening
to the protesters' information even when they receive it. Document
and analyze these responses.
Section IV. Restructuring the Nation's
Part 8. Philosophical Basis for a New Communication System.
The Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press proposes for study two - and encourages the proposal of others - philosophical bases for the restructuring needed to achieve a democratic national communications system.
The present two proposals are that:
1) People should be able to speak for themselves rather than having their information interpreted and reported by others.
2) There should be equality among individuals
in their ability to communicate with their fellow citizens.
Part 9. Finding the Way.
WIFP believes there are many other possible communications systems and that the matter is purely a technical one, given the desire to restructure. Many alternatives are already being used experimentally. For example, cable television can provide unlimited communication channels for the public. Satellite communications are being investigated by women's organizations, which have been granted satellite time by NASA. On a smaller scale, many proposals have been made for more systematic access to the public through the existing broadcasting structure, such as "free speech messages" and the expansion of Public Service Announcements. The government has invested billions to put up satellites by which private companies provide communications services. But technology has not yet been turned, with equal (and greater) Constitutionality to providing a democratic national communications system.
More study is needed on ways to apply current
technology to the furtherance of a restructured system as well
as identification of new areas where technology can help. In addition,
study is needed on the role of print as media of historical record
for information communicated in other media, and on the contribution
to be made technologically by women's media in a restructured
Part 10. Women's Role in the Restructuring Process.
Almost no research has been done on women's role as a natural communicator and how this might assist them in supervising any restructured communications system. Why do women care particularly about a more equitable communications system, if they do; and if they do, how can this concern be utilized? What is the experience of women's media that distinguishes it as a form of communication from the established, predominantly male media? How can this distinction be preserved and included?
© Copyright 1977 Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press, Donna Allen, and Dana Densmore