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Neutral on what Grounds?
Is it important to read the bylines in a news article to determine how objective the article has been written? How does our understanding of gender, affect the style of writing, content selection and the credibility given to women journalists shape what is considered “newsworthy,” in the media. According to Marian Meyers in her book “News Coverage of Violence against women: engendering blame, “newsworthiness should be considered another tool that stabilizes the current power structure. This equilibrium is maintained by filtering news content that reinforces the values and norms of the society, “The news contributes to the building and maintenance of popular consensus through the use of language that reflects and perpetuates the values, beliefs and goals of the ruling elite” (Meyer, 19). What is considered “feminine,” or “masculine” in this society drags baggage about the ability an individual possesses., “A dilemma facing women journalist from the start was that the very notions of ‘objectivity’ and ‘were anchored within a partial, male oriented construction of knowledge, reportage and ‘news’ which produced a patriarchal framework for the professionalization of the profession,” (Chambers, Steiner and Fleming, 7). Tags like “femininity,” and “masculinity,” are mounted on gender constructions carry expectations and limits on how women journalist can express and contribute to the process of information distribution. From Simone de Beauvoir’s book, “The Second Sex,” analysis of how women are viewed in this transcendentalist notion as the ‘other’ compared to men. Although the author delves deep into discussions on how this constant juxtaposition of
women as the “other” can cage women to be defined by men since they are considered ‘complete,’ “The terms masculine and feminine are used symmetrically only as a matter of form, as on legal papers. In actuality the relation of the two sexes is not quite like that of two electrical poles, for man represents both the positive and the neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity.” (De Beauvoir) This analysis of how women as the ‘other,’ translates to them having negative qualities that men are believed to lack, is essential in determining how much gender affects objectivity in journalism. Determining how gender affects objectivity is not really the question at hand; it is how women are confined and constructed in terms that may not be their own. Especially in the field of Journalism where guidelines are in place to ensure that accurate reporting is followed do not include separate standards for men and women. The gender neutrality in journalism ethics leans to qualities that men inherently possess because their masculinity grants them to be neutral thus normal in this society. Using the analysis in the Second Sex, we can be critical of how these tags direct what type of news content women and men gravitate to, “Weaver and Willhoit (1996) found that women journalist were more likely than their male counterparts to include women as news sources.Women were more likely to write about social problems and protests as part of a wider shift from traditional government and crime stories towards human-interest and personality –based news stories,” (105).Even though there are many contentions on how gender plays in an individual’s ability to uphold objectivity in journalism, it relies on individuals understanding of the change that the inherent societal value given to women can
alter the direction of Journalism. In the book News, Gender, and Power, authors Cynthia Carter, Gill Branston and Stuart Allan cite Jane Authors explanation on how the presence of women can change Journalism, “More women in the industry is not enough: there needs to be more women with a politicized understanding of the ways in which women’s subordination is currently produced, and with the will to change it,” (7) If newsworthiness is constituted by a system that understands what should be featured as important and stratifies power by keeping some content in the periphery, then the lack of women as subjects in the news content reflects women’s inferiority in this patriarchal society. Since 1995 the organization The Global Media Monitoring Project has been conducting research globally on women representation in the news, according to their website their mission is, “The Global Media Monitoring Project is the largest and longest longitudinal study on the representation of women in the world’s media. It is also the largest advocacy initiative in the world on changing the representation of women in the media. It is unique in involving participants ranging from grassroots community organizations to university students and researchers to media practitioners, all of whom participate on a voluntary basis.”The organization compiled the results from the 1995, 2000 and 2005 research that 17 percent of women in 1995 compared to 83 percent of men were featured as news subjects. In 2000 the women as news subject increased to 18 percent and 82 percent women. Only in 2005 did the data show an increase as women in news subjects represented a 21 percent, (GMMP). This report limited by its methodology, but it aims at getting more comprehensive data about women’s representation in the media this year. The GMMP is a perfect example of how women are connecting globally regardless of what prescription they believe will
liberate women, but creating networks and confronting the lack of women representation in the news. Whether the journalist’s constructed gender influences the style of writing, content selection and credibility the reporter has depends on intricate relationships between the self and society. For example being women reporter does not grant a collective understanding of feminist theory and practice that fights from women’s emancipation, or that you believe that women need to be emancipated or that race and class are not a factor into what is considered newsworthy. Postmodernist Feminist especially has had these discussions on how gender interplay the way meaning is constructed and how men and women express themselves. According to Rosemarie Tong the author of the book Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction, mentioned how this postmodernist theorist are considered the ivory tower of academia and are disconnected from real gender relations. Taking into account that the relationship between postmodernist philosophy and feminist theory is not as cohesive since postmodernism rejects traditional assumptions about truth and reality and feminist theories try to create explanatory theories about gender relations it can become difficult for other feminist scholars to integrate into a discussion that has no concrete theory, (Tong, 193). We mentioned how Simone de Beauvoir’s concept of women viewed as the “other, “ can set limits on women, for postmodernist feminists women as the ‘other’ can facilitate new methods to think about women, “postmodernist feminists, proclaim its advantages, the condition of the otherness enables women to stand back and criticize the norms, values and practices that dominate culture (patriarchy) seeks to impose on everyone... in this case women,” (Tong, 195). Extending this debunking of traditional methods of understanding truths and meaning, postmodernist feminist
have discussed how gender can affect the style of writing and language. Postmodernist theorist Hélène Cixous, tried to define a new feminine style of writing. Scholar like Jacques Lacan uses psychoanalytic analysis to connect language and the psyche, (Tong 194). Lacan believes that the symbolic order that governs our understanding of signs and language that are male dominated. Postmodernist feminist Cixous follows this understanding that the symbolic order, which we live in is defined by male terms excluded the ‘feminine’ from it. Cixous makes distinctions between male and female forms of writing and explains even regardless of gender the expression medium is still embedded in the symbolic order, Author Rosemarie Tong quotes Cixous explaining what can feminine writing do for women, “The very possibility of change, the space that can serve as a spring board for subversive though, the precursory movement of a transformation of social and cultural standards,” (Tong, 200). Discussions that postmodernist theorists might seem to abstract and disconnected from Journalism, but these discussions are essential to understand the different arguments that are being discussed about the importance of the name in the byline.
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