The Other Glass Ceiling: We had a woman candidate, but where are the women in the political media?
Lisa Stone, founder of BlogHer, journalist, and media strategist
Rebecca Traister, senior writer at Salon.com
Lisa: Political blogs written by women expanded exponentially during this presidential cycle. It is a myth that women are only interested in talking about lipstick and their children. Of the top 10 blogs on BlogHer, 5 were about the election, one was about the economy (how to save money when grocery shopping while being environmentally friendly).
Rebecca: I have some very mixed feelings about women and politics. There needs to be more. In terms of numbers, I have nothing particularly great to say. However, as somebody who spends all my working hours thinking about this stuff, I've noticed tremendously positive changes in terms of the number of women voices online, on blogs, on television news, and even in some newspapers. I actually feel pretty positive about some of the changes we've seen. I think it's pretty reductive to say that because there was a female candidate, more females were invited into the room. But that's actually true, and the same is true for African American pundits.
I have written a piece about the rise of Rachel Maddow. She would not have existed as she does now 18 months ago. "Ladies of the nightly news: How the most electrifying campaign of our time changed everything for Katie Couric, Campbell Brown and Rachel Maddow.
Katie Couric did not talk to me about the piece. Campbell Brown said she would ask the questions because she's a reporter, not because she's a woman. Rachel Maddow's issues are not about being female. Since then, I've interviewed Katie Couric and she's personally a feminist and speaks very intelligently about gender issues.
Lisa: I think it's extremely important for us to dissect ourself. On many sites hosted by women on the net, we're able to develop women's voices to a degree that aren't in the MSM. It is interesting to think about expanding our vision of what the punditocracy is and what feminism is.
The achievements of Maddow are interesting to look at while reflecting on how horribly the Clinton campaign was run or how much old-guard feminists have gotten it wrong.
Rebecca: One of my obsessions right now is the definition of feminism. The entrance of Sarah Palin into the presidential race really pushed the definitions of feminism. The right has taken a stake in what it's calling "feminism," It's the Sarah Palin brand of feminism. Real sexism was coming from all parts of the media, including the left. This left a door open for the right that Palin walked through. So they were able to co-opt the history of feminism. I feel it coming.
Lisa: The fundamental question, can you be a pro-life Republican and be a feminist?
Rebecca: This may circle back a little bit to what it means to have women in the media. What was so clear in the campaign was that there was sexism in the coverage of Clinton's campaign. The mainstream media on the left (or who on occasion sympathize with the left) refused to address it. They thought they would get old white lady cooties for even mentioning it. And when Palin came into the race, the right was throwing sexism around like it was a gender studies class. It highlighted the silence from the left and it was terrifying to me because all the words and slogans that were thrown around were being co-opted and would be used to legislate against me. If you were on the right, I suspect you felt very differently.
Lisa: In the politics of identity and the semantics of language were brought into such
Mikki: Gloria Steinem's op-ed in the NYT was painful to read.
Rebecca: Geraldine Ferraro's commentary during the election was even worse.
Steinem says she has written to apologize for the two errors in that piece. There were things in it that were troubling and that really spelled the end of 2nd wave feminism. A repetition of unhappy history: e.g. 2nd wave's inability to take in the experiences of people of color and GLBT women.
The rumors of the horrible rifts within feminism are greatly exaggerated. I talked to so many 2nd wave feminists who wanted nothing to do with Hillary. I talked with 3rd wave feminists who were supporting Obama who really cared about Hillary.
Lisa: I share your frustration. It's only the extremes of the community that bubble up in the MSM. Last week at South by Southwest, there was a panel on the election with 3 men who had substantively covered the election and an Obama girl.
Most women will say they vote on a candidate's track record before they vote by gender. Millenials (18-24 year-old's) vote this way to an even greater extent.
When I hear what you're saying and I think about the very real lack of substance in the MSM. Truly the way to get away from this 2 minute segment style media is to own and operate more media channels. Get enough funding and enough audience to support what you all are doing. I'd like to see even more about entrepreneurs and business models at the next conference.
Mikki: Take a look at all the women pundits vs. this shorter list of male pundits. Who has more influence?
Women: Donna Brazile, DeeDee Myers, Rachel Maddow, Mary Matalin, Peggy Noonan, Michelle Malkin, Arianna Huffington, Laura Ingraham, Linda Mavez, Michelle Benard, Ann Coulter, Amy Homes, Leslie Sanchez, Angela McChuun, Tina Fey, Oprah, The View
Keith Olberman, Jon Stewart, Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlsn, Chris Matthews, Steven Colbert, Jay Leno, Bill O'Reilly
Go here to read Michelle Obama's blog posts during the election.
There was a bit of a debate between Rebecca and audience members about why Michelle Obama's public speaking became less about politics after she was quoted as saying this was the first time she was proud of her country.
Lisa: I think it is always easy to under-estimate women in the media until you stop under-estimating women. I think it is ridiculous to think that you can only be taken seriously if you only write about politics. I've written about step-motherhood, about purses in the NYT, and I still expect to be taken seriously.
Rebecca: A huge portion of the blogosphere is media criticism. That happened a lot, but things were happening so fast in this election that it wasn't always easy to keep track of it. Essentially blogosphere uprising brought to the surface the fact that Fox News was calling Michelle Obama Barack's "baby mama."
Lisa: The economics are forcing mainstream media outlets to change their business model. That said, not every media outlet has feminist writing. I think the cream rises in the blogosphere.
I wanted to ask a question about the definition of feminism, but they didn't call on me. There was an exchange between the panel and the audience about critiquing 2nd wave feminism, questioning whether you need to believe in reproductive rights to be a feminist, acknowledging that some feminists are concerned about economic issues, but absolutely no one came from a global framework. No one mentioned the criticism I often hear on WILPF listservs that by labeling our analysis feminist it somehow limits the breadth of our analysis. It's quite fascinating to me that in the Women's International League there are members who are afraid of the feminist label, who think that issues of peace and justice transcend a feminist framework. If that's really true, why participate in a women's peace organization? Why not spend your time in a multi-gender organization?