Feminisms and Balance

Suzanne Strutt (Simon Fraser University)

Lynne Hissey (Simon Fraser University)

Abstract: Feminist perspectives on balance take one of two forms: they are critiques of either "bad balance" or "balance as usual." While the critique of bad balance has led to some important feminist interventions in the regulatory arena, the feminist critique of balance-as-usual holds that the ideal of balance is itself problematic.

Résumé: Les points de vue féministes sur la programmation équilibrée se regroupent selon l'une ou l'autre des positions suivantes: ils représentent soit une critique du déséquilibre ou celle de l'équilibre normal. Les féministes qui dénoncent le déséquilibre ont mené d'importantes interventions dans le domaine de la règlementation. Néanmoins, la critique de l'équilibre normal soutient que l'idéal même de la programmation équilibrée est problématique.


"Balance" is a word that seems to carry its own justification. Generations of philosophers have proclaimed its merits and countless contemporary social theorists, from Mumford to Innis (and beyond), have passionately argued for its realization in the modern world. Who among us would wish to declare ourselves the opposite of "balanced"--meanings ranging from "unsteady" to "unstable" to the obvious "unbalanced," the ultimate antonym of "sane," "rational," and "reasonable." Yet to accept all these definitions prevents us from critically examining the term's use, the practice to which it refers, and crucially, for us as feminists, the uses to which it is put.

This paper treats "balance" not only as an "essentially contested concept" (to use William Connolly's phrase, 1983), but also as an essentially contested practice from a feminist perspective. We locate two different responses when gender questions are asked of the theory and practice of balance. Each of these positions share a claim that the principle and practice of balance, at least as they are currently employed, produce a vision of the world which not only largely excludes women, but which is androcentric and endorses patriarchal ways of seeing and being in the world. Here, however, the two diverge.

Following a distinction made by Sandra Harding in quite another context (1986), we call the struggle over the essentially contested concept of "balance" the critique of "bad balance" and the argument against the practice of balance the critique of "balance-as-usual." The first of these positions accepts balance (and its journalistic correlative, objectivity) as desirable and offers a criticism of its current malpractice in the service of patriarchal relations. Most feminist lobbying for "more balance" or "better balance" relies upon a critique of bad balance: it endorses the ideal of balance and argues that such an ideal can only be realized when women are adequately represented. We have identified this prespective with liberal feminism insofar as it calls for change primarily within existing institutions. The second perspective--the critique of balance-as-usual--argues that the very practices of balance/objectivity themselves guarantee such an ideologically loaded, androcentric and patriarchal vision of the world. Unlike the liberal feminist critique, the critique of balance-as-usual eschews the very categories that are said to define balance. In this view, even if the liberal feminists were successful in their efforts toward perfectly balanced media, they would only have succeeded in rendering media more ideologically effective as patriarchal institutions. In other words, this perspective holds that the ideal of balance is itself highly problematic.

Each of these arguments is developed further below. However, before examining the feminist responses to balance it is necessary to outline the theory and operation of balance as both regulatory policy and journalistic practice.

Regulating Balance

The 1968 Broadcasting Act declared: "the programming provided by the Canadian broadcasting system should be varied and comprehensive and should provide reasonable, balanced opportunity for the expression of differing views on matters of public concern." "Balance" itself is defined in a set of CBC principles:

  1. The air belongs to the people who are entitled to hear the principal points of view on all questions of importance.
  2. The air must not fall under the control of any individual or group by reason of their wealth or special position.
  3. The right to answer is inherent in the doctrine of free speech.
  4. The full interchange of opinion is one of the principal safeguards of free institutions.

Practicing Balance

This notion of balance inscribed in regulatory policy finds its parallel in the journalistic practice of balance or "fairness" associated with the canon of objectivity. In fact, we consider "balance" and "objectivity" as synonyms which refer to a behavioural ethic for journalists. Accordingly, we use the two terms interchangeably. It should be noted that while we have ordered our discussion of balance with regulation first, the actual practice of balance/objectivity precedes any regulatory framework which proclaims it. Indeed, it is possible to view the regulatory policy as legitimation or justification for a journalistic practice adopted principally for economic reasons. As other commentators have noted (Schudson, 1978), "objective reporting" represented a departure from the earlier mode of reporting based on partisan politics and was developed as a mechanism to attract mass audiences.

As well, much to the benefit of the news industry, the practice of objectivity minimizes some of the occupational hazards of journalists. Under the canon of objectivity, the reporter is required neither to be fully informed on an issue nor to express an opinion on the situation. This obviously makes for more efficient production of news and it decreases the ever-present threat of early journalism--the libel suit.

The ideals of objective journalism are too well known to require extensive discussion here. Let us point simply to two salient features. The first of these is the notion of impartiality: the journalist takes a disinterested, a "neutral" approach to news. Second, the emphasis is on "facts" rather than interpretation. Taken together, these elements lead, it is supposed, to a presentation unencumbered by values, bias or ideology.

Certain journalistic practices are meant to ensure this pristine and unrefracted capture of the world. As outlined by Gaye Tuchman (1978), six features are discernible. First, objectivity proceeds by presenting conflicting truth claims without the attempt to evaluate them. Usually, it is worth pointing out, this takes the form of bi-polar opposition--that is, presenting "both sides" of an issue. Second, reported "facts" are supported with evidence. Third, quotation marks are used to demonstrate that reporters themselves are not advancing a truth claim. Similarly, "facts" must be separated from opinion and each of these has its own section of the newspaper. References to the first person must also be avoided. Finally, the "inverted pyramid" structure of stories must be adhered to: the most material "facts" should be presented first. Implications of some of these mechanisms will be evaluated in a later section of this paper.

Feminist Responses

While we ultimately take up the radical critique of balance-as-usual, we have no wish to minimize the important work of feminists who operate essentially within a critique of bad balance. As well, this perspective lays rightful claim to initiating feminist concerns with gender issues in the media. Accordingly, in the next section we outline some feminist interventions in, and arguments about, the regulatory arena. In much less detail we consider feminist perspectives on "bad objectivity."

Feminist Critiques of Bad Balance

Historically, feminist interventions into the regulatory arena have adopted a double-barrelled approach, decrying the poor representation of women both "on the screen" and "behind the scenes." The first of these has generally taken the form of arguments against sex-role (or, to use a term we prefer, gender) stereotyping; the second involves a call for gender equity in the media workplace. Often, these two positions have gone hand-in-hand.

The following discussion does not claim to be a comprehensive account of all feminist activities on these issues. Rather, focussing on the question of gender stereotyping, it is intended as illustrative of the type of practices and arguments that have characterized the critique of "bad balance." It also illustrates the extent of the problem and the necessity of continuing this kind of work.

Since the 1960s the "second wave" of feminists have been pointing out that women are a disadvantaged group in society. Despite their numbers in the population, women experience a minority of power and economic benefits and this is particularly true in broadcasting. Inequities are documented in every report presented to the many committees that have studied broadcasting issues.

Government action on the issue of gender equality--or more specifically gender stereotyping--was spurred by the feminist movement when in 1973 Women for Political Action and the Ontario Committee on the Status of Women intervened at the CRTC licence renewal hearing of the CBC. The National Action Committee on the Status of Women appeared in front of the Commission at the subsequent renewal hearing of the CBC in 1978, reiterating dissatisfaction with a broadcasting system that underrepresented or misrepresented them.

The establishment in February 1967 of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women marked the first stage in the development of public policy on the status of women. This was the first such commission of enquiry in Canada to recommend on steps the federal government might take to ensure equality for women in all aspects of Canadian society (Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada, 1970).

The Commission recognized the role of advertising in reinforcing and exploiting stereotypes though it made no mention of the underrepresentation or distorted portrayal of women in other media products. It did, however, recommend the introduction of equal opportunity programs for women within federal Crown corporations (recommendations 43 to 48). Twice--in 1974 and again in 1979--the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women (CACSW, itself a progeny of the Royal Commission) reviewed government action on the Royal Commission Report. It was not until 1979 that CACSW noted partial implementation of Recommendations 43 to 48. It observed that occupational segregation is persisting and of the 44 corporations surveyed, only eight had established equal opportunity programs. These included the CBC which instituted such a program following a special study by the CACSW in 1978 on the status of women in the CBC.

The government published in 1979 a "plan of action" in which it promised to suggest that the CRTC develop a set of national standards and guidelines for the elimination of gender stereotyping in the Canadian media and in all federal government publications (Towards Equality for Women, p. 28).

In response, the CRTC launched a task force on sex-role stereotyping in the broadcast media, with representation from government, industry and advocacy groups. (Nineteen people served on the Task Force chaired by Commissioner Marianne Barrie--from the CRTC, the public across Canada, the CBC, the private broadcast media and the advertising industry.) It eventually recommended a two-year period of self-regulation by the industry starting September 1, 1982, with voluntary compliance with industry-defined guidelines on gender stereotyping.

MediaWatch is credited with strengthening the women's lobby when it was created in 1981 to monitor radio and television content as a means of evaluating industry progress during the trial period of self-regulation (Raboy, 1990, p. 31). The CBC commissioned its own monitoring study; private broadcasters did not, relying instead on the one conducted by the CRTC in 1984. Of these three content analyses, only the 1984 MediaWatch study was conducted in two phases, offering a comparative analysis of changes in portrayal as a means of assessing the effectiveness of self-regulation in reducing stereotyping. However, and perhaps not surprisingly, the findings of the several reports generally concurred. Given the differences in emphasis and methods, their remarkable similarity in outcome is undoubtedly attributable to the pervasiveness of the phenomenon under scrutiny. (See 1986 MediaWatch Response to the CRTC Report on Self-Regulation for a review and comparison of the findings and conclusions of the three studies.) The better-known statistics from the CRTC-commissioned ERIN Report (CRTC Report on self-regulation, January 1986) are quoted here. The number of women in broadcasting was found to be significantly smaller than the number of men in every area.

On English television, females constituted only 16% of characters in children's cartoons, 41% of characters in adult drama, 29% of program staff in news and public affairs and 21% of persons interviewed in news and public affairs. Women accounted for 12% of English radio announcers and 9% of voiceovers in English radio ads.

The roles of women and men differed in each major area of broadcasting and advertising. ERIN Report notes that in television news, women, unlike men, are generally interviewed in a non-expert capacity. In drama, they are more often associated with home and family roles while men assume employment roles. In broadcast advertising, men are more likely to be cast as salespersons or experts and women as consumers.

Although ERIN Research was specifically precluded by the CRTC to recommend either on the effectiveness of self-regulation or on future action, its Report nevertheless drew conclusions pertaining to these issues. The Report stated that if reducing certain differences in the portrayal of women and men is desired, change must occur in two ways. The quantitative representation of women in programming and advertising must be increased and there must be a concomitant change in the kinds of roles women occupy. ERIN Research was very clear that while equalizing the number of women and men would reduce some unwanted differences in sex roles, it could not eliminate all of them.

Findings from a 1988 replicate study by ERIN Research have only recently been released, after a lengthy delay. Preliminary consideration of them suggests that there has been no appreciable gain made in the four intervening years. As well, the permeation in the broadcasting system of gender inequality has been documented by Toronto Women in Film and Video in its Statistical Profile of Women in the Canadian Film and Television Industry (March 1990). This study documents the participation rate of women and men in every sector of the film and television industry. Its findings reaffirm women's participation rate in these industries in significant disproportion to their representation in the population at large. In the private sector, women dominate in six categories, from production secretary/bookkeeper (90%) to hairstylist (71%). In 1988, women represented 84% of clerical workers in broadcast oriented companies with over 100 employees but they represented only 9% of upper level managers. Women accounted for only 14% of the influential creative positions; also 14% of upper managers in public sector television and radio companies and just 1% in private-sector companies.

In addition to accepting the Task Force recommendation that it institute and assess self-regulation over a two-year period, the CRTC notified licensees to submit within one year a report on their initiatives vis-à-vis gender stereotyping, such a report to specifically include information on public complaint mechanisms and educational measures initiated to sensitize station personnel on the issue (CRTC Public Notice 1983-211). Twice the Commission extended the deadline for submission. By January 31, 1985, only 66% of eligible broadcast stations had bothered to respond to the CRTC requirement, with only 27% of these explicitly endorsing the industry guidelines on sex-role stereotyping (CRTC Public Notice 1986-351, p. 7).

In assessing the self-regulatory period, the Commission considered industry compliance with guidelines, station reports, procedures implemented to address complaints, the level of industry and public awareness, public hearing submissions as well as the ERIN Research findings. After reviewing all of these factors, the Commission concluded that "self-regulation has been only partially successful and that further action is necessary." (CRTC Public Notice 1986-351, p. 46). This action was the imposition of a condition of licence requiring adherence by all broadcasters to the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) self-regulatory guidelines (CRTC Public Notice 1986-351, p. 52).

This meant that the CRTC itself was responsible for assessing individual licensees' performance in complying with the guidelines. The initial examination of the recently released ERIN Research findings suggests that the condition of licence has not been effective. There is also evidence that the CRTC itself has not implemented the condition as forcefully as it could. An extensive research study on CRTC involvement in gender stereotyping (Trimble, 1990) points to the lackadaisical approach of the CRTC in seeking compliance with its condition of licence. A stronger approach need not involve revoking licences--a power the CRTC has never levied even, for instance, in cases of non-compliance with Canadian-content quotas. (In 1975, 17 private television stations that did not meet minimum Canadian-content quotas faced no regulatory repercussions; see Babe, 1979, p. 186.) But the CRTC could monitor individual licensees regarding their performance on gender stereotyping, as it does for the only other blanket condition of licence, the CAB Code on broadcast advertising to children.

Further, having acknowledged the existence of systemic discrimination in the entire broadcasting system and having declared voluntary self-regulation to be ineffective to the extent of making such regulation mandatory, the CRTC was simultaneously entertaining a CAB proposal for voluntary industry self-regulation administered by a Broadcast Standards Council. The CRTC adopted this concept in principle in September 1988, thereby reversing its earlier decision--and this in the absence of any evidence to substantiate an improvement in the broadcasting environment that would support a return to voluntary self-regulation and roll-back of the condition of license.

The Broadcast Standards Council is fashioned on the press council model. It is a reactive model that relies on a complaint process. For all intents and purposes, it places the onus for achieving responsible broadcasting on individual members of the public who, instead of the CRTC, are responsible for ensuring that broadcasters are accountable. Broadcasters who become Council members will be required to inform their communities of the existence of the Council and broadcast standards, through public-service announcements. However, substantive information about the standards themselves will only be provided on request. Written complaints about the failure of a station to adhere to a particular standard are addressed directly to the station, the level at which the CAB expects most complaints to be resolved. Dissatisfied complainants are then instructed to reformulate their comments for the Secretariat of the Council which forwards them to the Regional Council. Complainants who remain dissatisfied will be informed at this point of their right to complain to the CRTC. This complaint-handling mechanism within the Council is such that it would rapidly discourage even the most perseverant complainant.

This system places far too great an onus on the targets of discrimination and virtually none on the industry itself. Since the CRTC has ascertained systemic discrimination, the leadership in promoting and achieving change should shift from individual members of the public to the industry itself and to the federal regulator. MediaWatch has, and continues to oppose this model noting its unsuitability for dealing with issues of systemic discrimination--problems of balance with respect to the representation of Canadian society, abusive or offensive programming and in some instances balance and adequacy of coverage on public issues--and in particular the issue of gender stereotyping (MediaWatch 1987, p. 3). The Broadcast Council proposes no effective deterrent to stereotyping. A penalty that carries no financial implication for broadcasters is unlikely to deter gender stereotyping, let alone promote real and positive change.

Several conditions are necessary if a public-complaint mechanism--in itself not an effective method for eradicating systemic discrimination--is to be useful in a program to assess industry standards. The public should first have a basis for comparison against which to measure the standards to be achieved. The system for public comment should be widely known and easy to use and the public should be educated on the issue and problem they are expected to address (MediaWatch 1987, p. 4). Such a mechanism must be part of a larger context for the assessment of compliance with guidelines in which the CRTC remains involved. Measures supplementary to the compilation and analysis of public complaints would consist of findings from monitoring studies, the establishment of targets and assessment of achievements in meeting these targets, analysis of statistics reported by licensees and public interventions at public hearings (MediaWatch 1987, p. 5).

The 1985 Caplan-Sauvageau Task Force on Broadcasting acknowledged that there is a need in the Canadian broadcasting system for more programs by women, for equal opportunities for production and dissemination of women's work and for more women on government boards and decision-making bodies. Although the Task Force Report discusses the introduction of an equality clause in the Broadcasting Act it concludes that such a provision may conflict with freedom of expression. Support for such a clause was nevertheless received from the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Communications. On September 28, 1988 the House of Commons approved passage of Bill C-136 to replace the 1968 Broadcasting Act, with provisions that address portrayal and employment equity. These clauses recognize that the broadcasting industry remains largely unaffected by current employment equity legislation and give a clear mandate to the CRTC to implement employment equity practices. (In 1987, only 39 of 268 broadcasting corporations and only 15 of 360 cable operators had 100 or more employees, the number needed to include them in the Employment Equity Act.) Bill C-136 died when a federal election was called in the Fall of 1988. It was re-introduced by the re-elected government as Bill C-40 in 1989, received third reading on December 5, 1990 and was proclaimed on June 5, 1991.

The new Broadcasting Act provides for a Canadian broadcasting system that should, through its programming and the employment opportunities arising out of its operations, serve the needs and interests and reflect the circumstances and aspirations of Canadian men, women and children including equal rights. This provision serves two important functions relating to the status of women within broadcasting. First, it promises women the opportunity to be both the consumers and creators of programming of interest to them. Second, it gives the CRTC the mandate to impose on broadcasters conditions that relate to the employment and visibility of women both on-screen and off. Due application of this provision promises women access and participation in the national broadcasting system and in turn the inclusion of women's perspectives.

The new Act clearly establishes the obligations of the broadcasters and the powers of the CRTC to ensure that principles of gender equality are respected. The equal rights clause guarantees opportunities to take administrative and legal measures against broadcasters and advertisers who renege on their obligations.

It is clear that all these policy interventions and positions argue that to date "balance" has not been achieved with regard to the representation and participation of women in the media.

Corollary to these interventions--and implied in some of them--is a similar argument regarding the journalistic practice of objectivity. The critique of bad objectivity usually includes claims of male bias evidenced in the presentation and construction of news stories. This male bias is revealed first of all in the serious underrepresentation of women in the news--both as media professionals and as sources. Second, this perspective points to the narrow range of representations of women in the news. And finally, it points to the misrepresentation--principally in the form of stereotyping--of women in the news.

These critiques of both policy and practice take a position that can roughly be labelled "liberal feminism." Liberal feminists argue for change primarily within existing social structures and practices. The liberal-feminist vision centres on equality of opportunity, on the removal of barriers that impede women's access to social status, power and authority. This current of feminism draws on the idea of gender difference and prescribes the eradication of this difference through equality-seeking measures. Hence, "balance," in this perspective, is both desirable and achievable once women gain equity in portrayal and employment opportunities. The problem, in short, is seen to be one of malpractice, of bias, in the interest of excluding women. In the next section we challenge the premises of this assertion.

Feminist Critiques of Balance-As-Usual

As mentioned, we have no desire to denigrate the important work done within the framework of a critique of bad balance. Nevertheless, we do find important limitations in the assumptions upon which such a critique rests. Our objections can best be elucidated through an examination, in turn, of the regulatory policies and the practices of balance. Following this somewhat detailed discussion we turn to a more general consideration of the question of balance and feminism.

Let us first, however, suggest some overarching questions of the way in which the balance requirement is currently encoded in the regulatory framework. The primary criticism is that these ideals are inscribed within, and reflect a vision of the world which can best be described as liberal-pluralist, a perspective which fails adequately to theorize existing power relations. While an extensive discussion of that position is outside the scope of this paper--the interested reader is referred to Hackett's thorough treatment (1991)--a brief outline is necessary here. Liberal-pluralism posits a world in which relatively equal groups and individuals compete for power and influence. All groups and individuals, including women, enjoy full freedom to struggle in the appropriate political, social or economic arenas. In this view, the individual is privileged over the social and, it is believed, all individuals have potentially equal access to benefits of society. Competition, in tandem with regulatory and market mechanisms, ensures that no one group or individual attains excessive or exclusive power.

Our detailed critique of the first of the CBC guidelines which follows takes issue with this vision of the world, and in a subsequent discussion we explicitly set forth our objections to it. As stated earlier, our position is that the principles of balance enshrined in these guidelines--which apply to the realm of broadcasting--are recapitulated in the journalistic ethic and practice of objectivity--which applies also to print. In other words, we treat these guidelines as exemplary of a media-wide ideal.

The first CBC guideline proclaims people's right to "hear the principal points of view on all questions of importance." While no doubt expressing a noble sentiment, the guideline contains two problematic phrases, each of which raises the question, "by whose definition?." Someone is required to be the arbiter of what qualifies as both a "principal point of view" and a "question of importance": neither condition is self-evident. Several points emerge from a consideration of this issue. The first of these derives in part from the application of these concepts within the framework of liberal-pluralism described above. Within a conception of the world as comprised of competing power groups, feminist perspectives and women are easily ignored through one of two strategies (we do not imply intentionality here). On the one hand, women's issues and feminism can be so particularized that they appear irrelevant. That is, women's issues are seen as particular, "special interest" concerns affecting only one segment of the population--and hence not qualifying as "matters of importance." Media treatment of women's calls for daycare legislation is one example of this. On the other hand, women's issues are universalized so that they appear to be generalizable "human issues," often, in the process losing their critical edge. In this view, the problem with Marc Lépine, for example, was not that he killed 14 women precisely because they were women, but that he killed 14 people. The problem of male violence against women is lost as it is translated into a generic "matter of importance."

A further criticism of the notions inscribed in this guideline is provoked through a consideration of journalistic sources. The routine practices of newsgatherers encourage a reliance on centralized sources to whom reporters have on-going access, often as part of their institutionalized beats (Tuchman, 1978, p. 93). This leads to an excessive emphasis on sources from within established social institutions--most particularly from the realm of parliamentary politics--and in turn serves to legitimate these sources and institutions. This convenient, albeit conservative, practice of accessing institutionalized, centralized sources ensures, or at the very least, encourages a reproduction of conventional or dominant interpretations of the world. The balance here, then, is between competing, but already privileged, voices and interpretations. Further, we argue that the "principal points of view" of these privileged voices constitute the very "matters of importance" the CBC guideline protects.

Clearly, this has some rather profound implications for emergent or oppositional perspectives and movements such as feminism. Few news organizations have a "feminist beat" and those with a "women's beat" tend not to focus on feminist issues--a situation which is not entirely due to the relatively small number of institutionalized feminist organizations. Such organizations as do exist are not always perceived as credible. This presents something of a Catch-22. It is arguable that feminist perspectives will remain marginalized, will remain peripheral--not principal--points of view for as long as media continue their practice of virtually ignoring them. Similarly, feminist issues will not be able credibly to claim the status of importance" until they are more widely publicized through the media. Put another way, the guideline provides its own justification for not including feminist voices. Indeed, the guideline could not have been better phrased if its very intention was to guarantee both the reproduction of dominant ways of seeing the world and the continued exclusion of marginal or dissident voices.

A discussion of the other guidelines would support what the first of them demonstrates, namely that the definition of balance contained therein is far from satisfactory. This same dissatisfaction also applies to objectivity as journalistic practice. Both balance as regulation and balance as objectivity guarantee the construction of a picture of reality which simultaneously privileges and legitimizes certain positions in and perspectives on the world. In short, these ideals and practices generate a vision of the world which favours the status quo and which is profoundly ideological. As well, as Cook and Ruggles argue elsewhere in this volume, balance (and objectivity) indemnifies regulators and media professionals.

Liberal-feminist appeals for "more balance," "more objectivity," in this view, paradoxically constitute a legitimation of these ideological (and oppressive) practices and principles. One final problem may be pointed to with regard to the liberal feminist critique of "bad balance": it necessarily assumes that the presence of women or feminist perspectives can be the necessary corrective, leading to "good" or "real" balance. This is a troublesome claim on several grounds, not the least of which is its implicit suggestion that there is, or can be, a singular, unitary voice of "feminism." Indeed, media discourse has been attempting to communicate the idea that feminism is but one extremist social perspective. (Donna Gill has documented this argument in her analysis of press coverage of REAL Women and its reconstruction of publicly available definitions of feminism in accordance with patriarchal discourse, 1989.)

The feminist position from which we argue contends that within broad parameters of commonality, there exist extensive differences and a plurality of discursive forms. Feminism is not a unified ideology. Differences extend, for example, to political strategy, to definitions of women's liberation and to attitudes to men. Divisions, differences and diversity do not however preclude solidarity in the pursuit of a shared objective and the feminist project of dismantling gender hierarchies can be manifested in various ways. As Brunt notes: "...the basis for unity [in social movements] is not homogeneity but a whole variety of heterogeneous, possibly antagonistic, maybe magnicently [sic] diverse, identities and circumstances" (Brunt, 1989, p. 158).

To speak of a feminist perspective as if it were an orthodoxy is to deny its diverse subjects, discourses, practices and theoretical constructs. It is much more accurate to speak of feminisms, in the plural. It is not possible, in other words, to have a monolithic feminist perspective which stands over and against, and "balances" patriarchal ways of seeing the world.


The symbol of balance is the scale--both sides equally weighted. This metaphor, apparently acceptable to liberal feminists and consonant with their critique of bad balance, implies a notion of balance as binary opposition. It also suggests a rather mechanical, or at least quantitative method of arriving at equality. As long as we think with this metaphor of polarity we suppress alternative perspectives such as those rooted in diversity and multiplicity.


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Trimble, Linda Jean. (1990). Coming soon to a station near you: the process and impact of the CRTC's involvement in sex-role stereotyping. Queen's University: Ph.D. Dissertation.

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