Women Making Meaning: New Feminist Directions in Communication

Lana F. Rakow

Lana Rakow's timely book assesses some of the many themes and issues raised by feminist scholarship in the field of communication since the mid-1980s. The title has a dual purpose: to show how women have been "active participants in naming the world and making sense of it, even if their contributions and challenges more often than not have been disdained or rendered invisible" (p. vii); and to highlight recent work by feminist scholars whose subjects are the experiences and meanings of other women. Of particular importance is its attention to issues of gender, race, class, and culture, and its inclusion of a multicultural range of female voices.

Part I examines the introduction of feminist work into the institutional structure; the diversity of feminist frameworks for communication studies; research on women's ethnic difference and culture; and the politics of representation. Rakow provides an account of the gradual introduction of feminist scholarship into the field of communication studies and the organizations and journals which helped foster its acclimatization, and concludes that "we must work to make the field accountable for what we have learned" (p. 15). Kathryn Cirksena & Lisa Cuklanz outline five feminist frameworks for communication studies, and emphasize that feminist scholarship has redefined the parameter and substance of scholarly investigations. Marsha Houston examines the insufficient coverage given to issues of race, ethnicity, and difference in contemporary feminist communication theory, and offers guidance on incorporating the communication of non-dominant women into the research agenda, so that "women's ethnic cultures, rather than theory-testing or the communication experiences of dominant groups, are at the center of our research" (p. 55). Keya Ganguly carries this thread further, by a threefold investigation: first, by problematizing representation as it has been approached by Gayatri Spivak & Angela McRobbie; second, by exploring the "possibilities of post-structuralist rendering of the audience as the implied other of representation" (p. 67); and third, by a discussion of colonial and post-colonial representations.

Part II pinpoints particular areas of inquiry as they relate to issues of gender and race. Elspeth Probyn theorizes the body from a variety of perspectives--from fashion to anorexia--and advocates a pluralistic research agenda. Everyday verbal and sexual harassment against women by men is examined by Cheris Kramarae. Defining women's media as "oppositional, alternative, resistant in both product and process" (p. 123), Linda Steiner provides a brief history of the structure of women's media, from nineteenth-century suffragist periodicals to small-press and alternative media emanating from 1970s women's liberation groups; and to broadcasting and new media forms, such as computer networking. It is clear from her short survey that much research still needs to be done. The position of anti-pornography feminists is analyzed by Ann Russo; and finally, the role and influence of Nicaraguan women within media institutions during the revolutionary movement is studied by Angharad Valdivia.

Part III provides five case studies in "making meaning," all of which attempt to rectify the omission of aspects of gender, race, and class in feminist communication studies. Jackie Byars & Chad Dell provide a textual analysis of Frank's Place, a television show which featured a predominantly African-American cast. Jane Rhodes focuses on Mary Ann Shadd Cary, a nineteenth-century African-American newspaper publisher and editor in Canada and the U.S. Probing aspects of bicultural gender identity and Asian-American women's identity is the task of Victoria Chen. Minority group discourse, specifically that of Puerto Rican women living in a working-class suburb of New York, is analyzed by Lourdes Torres. And last, women clerical worker's accounts of experiences in organizing a union at Yale University in 1984 provide a way for Nina Gregg to listen to their stories in order to understand "how women generate the meaning in their lives" (p. 283).

Women Making Meaning is both an excellent introductory book for communication students and courses on gender and communications, as well as a resource for scholars in the field. One of its assets is the inclusion of comprehensive bibliographies at the end of the articles. As well, both the theoretical discussions and case examples of "women making meaning" are inspirational and should stimulate new research. A minor quibble: there are not enough cases on women generating meaning with communication technologies. But, then, as Rakow says, "the revolution is yet to be completed" (p. 15).



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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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