Women in Mass Communications: Challenging Gender Values

Pamela J. Creedon

Women in Mass Communication is a collection of essays and discourses about gender values in mass communication. The book "started as a transcription of some talks about `feminization' in mass communication, and it ended as a humanistic philosophical discourse about values in mass communication" (p. 7). The editor, Pamela J. Creedon, has found contributors from the disciplines of journalism and other communication arts. These women authors chose a wide spectrum of topics to discuss. Even though it is difficult to include everything that affects the role of women in mass communication, the thread that Creedon has used in tying together the information gives this book the cohesion necessary to make it interesting and thought-provoking. The authors offer copious notes and references.

The book is divided into two parts. The contents of the first part "deal primarily with the gender switch in mass communication and its potential to challenge traditional values in the field" (p. 7). Creedon's use of "gender switch" refers to the evolution of feminist scholarship in mass communication. It becomes abundantly clear that the question of gender has been ignored in the field of mass communication. Media history has not kept up with, nor has it taken seriously, women's history. And the role of women of colour in the communication media is a gesture of tokenism.

This reviewer has long been sympathetic with women's struggle, and therefore, is not surprised by the well-documented assertions in the book. Women have been given "the short end of the stick," so to speak, in all aspects of the communication arena, be it the printed word or the spoken word. As Shana Alexander writes, women wanted to be equal and insisted on being equal. However, this insistence on equality does not stop this being a man's world. According to Creedon this was a mistake. She subscribes to the revisionist position which holds that real, positive change will come about by improving women's position within the existing system and changing the terms of the system itself (p. 27).

The book is not a book about blame. That has gone on much too long. Rather, the emphasis of the book is that gender difference must not be equated with inferiority or superiority. This point is addressed in the chapters dealing with media law, women's history, and women of colour.

The final two chapters in Part I describe the status of women faculty and their impact on students in mass communication programs throughout the world. Since women who teach journalism in universities and colleges have limited possibilities for advancement, their students learn early on that they too will fall victim to this "unspoken" inequality. According to Larissa S. Grunig, this "glass ceiling" effect perpetuates the inferiority/superiority debate. Since white men hold the doors of power it will be up to them to open them or keep them closed to women, to minorities and older students. Grunig identifies the following problem areas: advising, mentoring, role modeling, affecting the classroom climate and transforming the curriculum (p. 140).

Part II addresses different foci: the concept of sexism and economic equity in current mass communication practice. Even though many of the chapters in this section were somewhat repetitive and filled with statistics, the case is well established that women who work for newspapers, magazines, radio, television, advertising, and public relations face discrimination, underpayment and unequal opportunities for promotion. The inequities, for the most part, are based on gender identification and gender roles that have long since been established by the ruling white male mindset.

The last two chapters capture the essence of the subtitle: challenging gender values. One discusses the alternative values that the women's movement media present. As Marilyn C. Smith states: "the media outlets developed by the women's movement activists became central organizing tools, with their capacity to relay information about political actions, to create a space for discussion about their concerns, and to offer support to and seek input from their readers" (p. 282). The second offers "a bridge to the future." A solution of "equal opportunity," which would preserve a system of hierarchy, is not the way to go because all it does is lay the groundwork to repeat the mistakes of the past and the present. It is contributor Lana Rakow's dream of "a bridge to the future." All readers are invited to create their own bridge.



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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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