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Scholar speaks on feminism

Katlyn Smith | Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Rhetorical scholar Bonnie J. Dow focused her lecture about mass media on the interaction between the second wave of the feminist movement and mass media Thursday at Saint Mary’s.

As opposed to the civil rights movements and the first wave of the feminist movement, which produced such leaders as Martin Luther King Jr. and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the 1970s feminist movement involved no great rhetorical leaders, Dow said.

As a result, the movement struggled to bring feminist issues to public attention because public persuasion was not a primary goal, Dow said.

During this time, groups operating within the movement aimed to raise consciousness of existing members and challenge accepted ways of thinking. Many viewed themselves as radical revolutionaries who did not work within the mass media norms.

“[They] weren’t motivated by external media recognition,” Dow said.

Dow provided two contrasting feminist case studies to emphasize the dynamic relationship between rhetoric and movement in mass media environment.

The National Women’s Organization (NOW) understood the mass media norms, Dow said. The group sent out press releases, established sympathetic relationships with reporters and framed itself as a civil rights organization, an idea familiar to the public. Consequently, the group increased membership and received favorable media coverage.

After 1970, multiple radical feminist groups established an adverse relationship with the media.

As opposed to NOW, these groups did not provide observable events or speeches, she said.

In addition, the radical groups also contributed to some of the current feminist stereotypes, Dow said.

Dow said a significant sit-in illustrated the difficult relationship between radical feminists and mass media.

In the spring of 1970, 100 to 200 women marched into the office of John Mack Carter, the editor of “Ladies Home Journal.” For 11 hours, protestors demanded an all-female editorial staff, childcare for employees and an end to advertisements on makeup and appliances.

“They targeted every characteristic that defined women’s magazines at the time,” Dow said.

According to Dow, military metaphors were consistent in the media’s coverage of the sit-in.

“The protestors were cast as soldiers with a battle plan,” Dow said.

In addition to unrealistically portraying the protestors as organized, reporters also struggled with framing the event as a debate. No one feminist articulated the demands, Dow said.

Despite the negative coverage, the event accelerated women’s interests, Dow said.

Backed by supportive readers, the “Ladies Home Journal” began running articles on abortion, education and childcare.