Revising Newspaper History: A Reframing of the Women�s Movement

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Kimberly Voss

[WJMCR 7:3 June 2004]

Sections:

Introduction|Method|Findings|Discussion


Introduction

The second wave of the women�s movement questioned the role of women in a patriarchal society. As historian Ruth Rosen wrote, �It took a women�s movement to address the many ways women felt exploited, to lend legitimacy to their growing sense of injustice, and to name and reinterpret customs and practices that had long been accepted, but for which there was no language.�1 While the movement led to change, it did not have support from the mainstream media2 and thus most readers were typically shown a negative or simplified representation of the movement.3 As media researchers Maurine Beasley and Sheila Gibbons wrote,

Many people, knowing only what the mass media told them about the movement, lacked sufficient information to judge the movement�s significance. What they thought of the movement was generally a reflection of what they had read or heard or were shown about. And indeed, most reporting on the �second wave,� as modern-era feminist activism was known, trivialized the issues and mocked the movement�s leaders.4

The 1960s were a changing time for women. In 1963, the Presidential Commission of the Status of Women presented disturbing facts about gender inequities in society. The National Organization of Women was born and the second wave of the women�s movement gained momentum. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was amended to include gender. Legislation and court cases gave women control over their reproductive options. As society began to address inequities, the media also caught on. Women�s pages at newspapers changed names and to varying degrees changed mission. This was done to be less demeaning to women5 and to reach out to male readers.6 But the questioning of the status quo did not make many people in the mainstream media comfortable. Much of the early coverage of the movement was negative. This was not the case in many women�s sections (later called lifestyle sections). The coverage in these section was often much different than that found in the news sections or on television.

This study challenges the commonly accepted history of the newspaper�s coverage of women�s movement by looking at the women�s pages. It builds on the work of Laura Ashley and Beth Olson who conducted a content analysis to determine the framing of the women�s movement in the New York TimesTimeand Newsweek. Their study looked at articles from 1966 to 1986. Content was examined for references for and against the movement. They found that the goals of the movement were rarely mentioned. Overall, they found that coverage was minimal. According to the study, �the women�s movement was rarely covered, and when it was, it was treated with humor and puzzlement.�7 The study did not specifically address the coverage in women�s pages.

Theoretical Perspective

This study looks at the frames that were used by mainstream newspaper journalists in news sections and women�s sections in relation to women�s issues as presented in the second wave of the women�s movement beginning in the 1960s. The question of how women�s page editors looked at women�s news differently from other section editors can be examined through framing theory. According to Pippa Norris, �Frames represent consistent, predictable narrative stories that are embedded in the social construction of reality. Without such devices, journalists�and readers�could lack coherent news narratives that link disparate facts.�Todd Gitlin defined media frames as �persistent patterns of selection, emphasis, and exclusion that furnish an interpretation of events.�9

Gaye Tuchman explained the concept of framing with the social construction of reality model that exists within media accounts of issues. By choosing which details to include and which to exclude, the journalist defines what is news�what is worthy of recognition.10 The process is not usually deliberate but rather journalists follow the reporting model that was established by past practice, keeping in mind concepts of news values and media competition. The social narratives that are created by the packaging of a story validate the expected frames of new stories that continue to legitimize particular interpretations of issues and events over others.11

This research looks at the way women�s page editors used frames for the construction of a different kind of women�s news. While sources may present information in a certain way, hoping that their message will be presented in a positive light, in general it is up to the journalist to accept or reject that frame. These frames are often based on traditional news values, such as conflict or prominence. In employing them, the reporters and editors are participating actively in the news-making process as �they both make and consume their society�s culture.�12

For example, many mainstream publications and networks put members and events of the women�s movement into similar frames. Many women within the movement criticized the mainstream media for stereotyping feminists within these frames. In Where the Girls Are, Susan Douglas defined the representations of feminists used by the mainstream media as �fanatics, braless bubbleheads, Amazons, the angries and a band of wild lesbians. �They are shrill, overly aggressive, man-hating, ball-busting, selfish, hairy, extremist, deliberately unattractive women with absolutely no sense of humor who see sexism at every turn.�13 What Douglas�s media history does not include is the representation found in the women�s pages. In fact, the only reference she makes to women�s pages is that in the 1960s: �women journalists were confined to writing about spring hats and thirty-one new ways to cook squash.� This is a typical oversimplification of the content of women�s sections and an incomplete look at women�s sections that were involved in change.

Research Methodology:Historical Re-examination

Conventional news framing limited the representation of women during the women�s movement. The emerging role of women in the 1960s and 1970s went against most of the frames traditionally used by the media, which served to confine women to stereotypical roles. By examining the intent of several award-winning women�s page editors through oral history interviews, articles and presentations, a new understanding will be created in terms of women�s page content and the media�s coverage of the women�s movement. These editors, including Marie Anderson, Vivian Castleberry, Dorothy Jurney and Marjorie Paxson, were chosen for their impact on women�s pages14 and the availability of their papers archived at the National Women and Media Collection at the University of Missouri. Other women�s page editors who won Penney-Missouri Awards15 were also included. Further information was available through the �Women in Journalism� project sponsored by the Washington Press Club Foundation.

The following examination looks at how women�s page editors addressed issues important to women rather than confirmed old values that limited women�s roles or discounted issues important to them. These stories were compared to the mainstream news representations of the women�s movement.

In order to provide perspective, a background of the women�s pages and the commonly accepted knowledge of the media�s coverage of the women�s movement will be provided prior to the framing analysis findings.

Background on the Women�s Pages

For much of newspapers� history, the only place that at least some women�s ideas and activities could be found was in the women�s pages. By 1900 most newspapers had women�s sections and they were staffed by women journalists; women were not allowed to work in other parts of the newspaper. These sections continued to be the main venues for women journalists for much of the twentieth century.

It wasn�t until the second-wave women�s movement, beginning in the late 1960s, that the barriers of discrimination were truly addressed�and even then change was slow. Messages from the women�s movement were seen on television and in the pages of magazines and newspapers as feminist leaders like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem used their journalism experience to put their issues before the public. These messages influenced women journalists themselves in a variety of conflicting ways.

The women�s movement placed women journalists in an awkward position. They were covering issues that impacted their lives while still attempting to adhere to the professional ideal of being objective and giving both sides of controversial topics. For many women page reporters and editors, the ability to write about the movement, and other topics, was limited as well as by the conventions of the sections on which they worked. For many years, these sections were little more than society and homemaking sections, containing stories about elite social events, photos of brides from wealthy families, and household hints of varying worth.16

But not all sections were so narrow in their coverage. A few progressive editors had pioneered in broadening their content, making the sections viable places for news of the women�s movement. In the 1950s and 1960s, increased attention to women�s pages at several newspapers, most notably the Dallas Morning News, the Detroit Free Press and the Miami Herald, brought about concentrated efforts to upgrade the sections.17 Rather than following the model of the time that was based on fashion, food, furnishings and family, at these and at several other newspapers, the women�s sections presented investigative pieces and unique human-interest stories. These sections broke barriers that had suppressed news of indignities to women and exposed topics that had been hidden such as violence against women, gender inequalities in financing and sexual harassment.

The changes in these sections came about because of the determination of editors who wanted to change definitions of women�s news and were determined to do so in spite of resistance from male management.18 Jurney said one of the advantages of heading women�s sections during her tenure in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s was that there were no expectations about what was newsworthy for women. She said, �We were free to explore areas where we thought the reader was very much involved�where we could interpret a trend, explain an event, show new dimensions that would give greater understanding to the life around us.�19 She said that whenever possible she put strong news content in her women�s section.20

Background on the Media and the Women�s Movement

Research has documented the lack of media coverage for the women�s movement.21 The lack of coverage meant that the few articles that did run became the representation of the movement. This tended to simplify the extensive battle that women were undertaking to establish equal opportunities. It fit the concept of symbolic annihilation, which is based on two ideas: �Media content is a symbolic rather than a literal representation of society and that to be represented in the media is in itself a form of power.�22 In 1978, Tuchman applied this theory to the coverage of women and argued that through �absence, condemnation and trivialization, the media reflect a social world in which women are consistently devalued.�23

The women�s movement posed considerable difficulties in coverage from several standpoints. According to Carol Mueller, prior to 1970, much of the women�s movement had been a �movement of friends� created in the �submerged networks of civil rights.�24 The lack of organization would have made it difficult for journalists to cover the movement even if they had wanted to. Marginal coverage also can be explained by the media�s typical model of reacting to events rather than issues. Difficulty in publicizing their story and often condescending, if not hostile, coverage meant that many movement leaders were leery of journalists.25

Findings

Conflict Frame

The conflict frame is based on opposition. Unless a story contains conflict, journalists using this frame do not see an issue as news. For example, a city council meeting with topics that everyone can agree upon is not as interesting as a meeting where heated debate occurs. The first meeting in this scenario may not even warrant an article; the second meeting could garner headlines. The women�s movement, like other social movements, earned media attraction when it did something that incited debate. The coverage may have been biased, but it did get the issues women were fighting for in the news pages. As Davis put it, �There are circumstances in which any publicity is good publicity, and going strictly by the numbers, that seemed to be true for the women�s movement.�26 Protests�as moments of conflict�fit the news frame with which journalists were familiar. Reporters could cover these conflicts as they would have the heated debate at the meeting. �It took violence�or an approach that seemed both fresh and funny�to get into the newspapers,�27 according to Davis.

One of the first public demonstrations that established the movement in the eyes of the media was the 1968 Miss America Pageant protest. More than 200 women protested ludicrous beauty standards forced on women. The women crowned live sheep to demonstrate that the contestants were being treated like animals at a county fair. The media heavily covered this event�to the degree that a media myth was invented. A press release prior to the protest announced that women would be burning their bras. That action never actually occurred, although it became an image that was commonly associated with the movement.28 Similar protests took place across the country. The male journalists did not know how to deal with women as protestors. The first time that the women�s liberation leaders had a national television forum for their message was on the David Susskind program, shortly after the Miss America protest. According to activist Susan Brownmiller, who was in the audience of the show�s taping: �Susskind announced, �We�ve got some angry women here,� scratching his silvery head in genial bemusement, �and later in the show we�re going to find out what their gripes are.��29

Another event that came to represent the movement was the Women�s Strike for Equality on March 26, 1970. The strike, initiated by Friedan, was in many ways symbolic as many women could not simply walk away from their jobs. Instead, there were sit-ins, lunch-hour rallies and a march down Fifth Avenue in New York. It was the largest women�s protest in U.S. history.30 According to Ruth Rosen, the media used the march to �sensationalize and discredit the women�s movement.�31 For example, Howard K. Smith on ABC began his coverage this way: �Three things have been difficult to tame. The ocean, fools and women. We may soon be able to tame the ocean, but fools and women will take a little longer.�32 On CBS, Eric Sevareid said, �The plain truth is, most American men are startled by the idea that American women generally are oppressed, and they read with relief the Gallup poll that two-thirds of women don�t think they�re oppressed either.�33 Newspaper coverage was similar. According to a New York Times editorial that ran the day after the strike,

It is an unfortunate truth that a protest group such as the Women�s Liberation Movement can only make itself heard if it speaks at the top of its voice and resorts to publicity-seeking exhibitionism. The suffragettes of a half-century ago, whose great triumph�the Nineteenth Amendment�was commemorated yesterday, were often noisy and obstreperous.34

By using this frame, journalists focused only on the conflict itself rather than the issues that women�s movement leaders were trying to draw attention to. It also showed that women who took a stand on an issue were to be shown as deviant.

Craft-Related Habits Frame

The craft-related habits of mind frame is based on the idea that reporters see stories based on the typical journalistic conventions, such as timeliness, prominence and a focus on events rather than issues.35 Concepts that fall outside of these conventions, of which women�s movement issues often were, were not considered news by reporters using this frame. According to Tuchman, newspaper reporters� heavy reliance on established business and governmental institutions and people with institutionalized power �may account in part for their denigration of women and the women�s movement.�36 Movement organizers often did not consider reporters� schedules so that important deadlines were missed. For example, often meetings and speeches were held on weekends and at night when reporters weren�t on duty. According to a New York reporter who covered women�s issues, �I find that a lot of feminists are ignorant of the realities of a working newsroom.�37 Many of the media-defined leaders of the movement, such as Steinem and Friedan, had backgrounds in the media and knew how to get the attention of reporters. Yet, Friedan failed to hold press conferences at times that would allow reporters to make deadlines38 and Steinem would occasionally refuse to speak with women�s page editors.39

The issues central to the women�s movement were complex. Many of these issues did not fit a frame that was defined by past journalistic practice. For example, journalists struggled to explain the power and impact of conscious-raising groups because they took place in women�s homes and often at night. There was not an official spokesperson. It did not fit the craft-related habits of mind and thus moments that pushed the women�s movement along did not get covered by the mainstream media.

Objectivity Frame

The objectivity frame, under the common definition, involves reporters using sources from each side of an issue, in order to eliminate any appearance of bias in their reporting. The idea is that reporters remove any of their own views from their coverage. This frame made the coverage of the women�s movement difficult. Although a majority of women wanted equality, reporters seeking �both sides� often found an opposing quote which led readers and viewers to believe it was a divisive issue. For women journalists it was even more difficult. They had to cover an issue that impacted their lives, thus making objectivity impossible. For example, there were pay inequity lawsuits in numerous industries, including the media, from the late 1960s and the late 1970s.40 The inequities meant that women journalists were in the awkward position of being a part of the story that they were covering, testing the typical frame of objectivity that most journalists follow. Tuchman found that some female reporters would ask hostile questions of feminist leaders in order to �prove their reportorial neutrality.�41

Pay and promotion inequity lawsuits continued throughout the 1970s. The lawsuits shed light on many discriminatory practices, such as the story told in Nan Robertson�s Girls in the Balcony. The name of her book, which is a history of women at the New York Times, came from a discriminatory practice that occurred at the National Press Club in Washington in the 1950s and 1960s. The club began accepting women only in 1971; prior to that, Robertson wrote, the balcony was a metaphor for the exclusion that many women journalists endured. After World War II numerous leaders gave important speeches at the National Press Club, making news that was carried the next day in media outlets across the country. Until 1955, women were not allowed in the club at all to cover the speeches. That year, the male members came up with a plan that allowed women journalists to cover speakers from the balcony of the ballroom, but they had to stand because the balcony was too narrow for chairs. According to Bonnie Angelo, chief of the Newsday bureau in Washington:

Here were the people in the balcony, distinguished journalists treated like second-class citizens. I had to cover the stories there. Some people equated the balcony with the back of the bus, but at least the bus got everybody to the same destination just as well. We could not ask questions of the speakers. … All this standing – it was like a cattle car. And all the time you were really boiling inside. You entered and left through a back door, and you’d be glowered at as you went through the club quarters. It was discrimination at its rawest.42

Yet, while these examples of discrimination were facing the news industry, the objectivity frame meant that a forced �balance� in the fight for equality emerged. For example, there was an overabundance of quotes from Phyllis Schlafly, who successfully fought against the Equal Rights Amendment. The media rarely questioned some of the more outlandish claims that Schlafly made, such as passage of the ERA would mean same-sex bathrooms and women qualifying for the draft and military combat. As historians have noted, it was for reasons of �balanced reporting,� that caused reporters to give equal weight to Schlafly�s deceptive arguments.43

Women�s Page Editors� Issue-Based Frame

In an article on the need for a �women�s movement beat,� Reg Murphy, Baltimore Sun president and publisher, said: �Gunfire is not the only source of news. And conflict may not be the big story. This story [the women�s movement] was important because it was the awakening of the world to the problems of women.�44 The women�s page editors examined in this paper often used an issue-based frame, rather than a conflict frame. These editors did not need a protest or sit-in to occur in order to take on serious, and sometimes controversial, topics. Jurney explained her approach in an article in the January 1956 American Society of Newspaper Editors� publication. She wrote that the home beat should be �no different fundamentally than the police beat�45 in terms of its importance. She echoed her approach in a 1988 speech at the Penney-Missouri Winners� Banquet: �What is generally regarded as �soft� news should be elevated in the editor�s mind. What the community is talking about, thinking about is vital to readers. The story might not be an event that happened yesterday.�46

The condescending tone often found in the general news sections was absent from many women�s page stories on issues that the movement considered important. Topics that progressive editors included in their sections concerned pay equity, women�s legal rights, abortion and child care. Jurney recalled covering the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and various lawsuits filed by individual woman in Detroit: �And the newsroom simply had more than they could handle. They just left that to us.�47 Castleberry recalled that she made changes because she believed that issues central to the women�s movement were important:

When I went to the Times Herald, we could not publish on the Living page, the front page of the women’s section, the words �planned parenthood.� And I didn’t know that until I did it and I found out I could do that. And so it had already been done and then I could do it. Also, the fact that when the feminist movement first came along, I started using the word �Ms.� immediately. And I didn’t know I couldn’t do that for five years until one day when Editor & Publisher picked up a speech that I was making and said that we had been using �Ms.� at the Times Herald for five years and the next day I got a written edict from my management that we would no longer do this, that it was either Mrs. or Miss and that the word Ms. had no significance and we could not use it. And that was news to me because I had been doing it for five years and nobody had noticed.48

Anderson promoted women�s movement-related issues in her section and in speeches. In 1970, Anderson presented the following story ideas at a workshop for women�s editors:

Women � have gone back to work. It takes two to get along now financially. Most working women are heads of families. Does she, as a family head, have the same legal protection as a man? Equal pay for equal work? Many states don�t have the equal law. Why not?

The child care situation is desperate. One newspaper has a working women�s column in a community which established a child care program. We had them during the war, why not now?

Most young girls are being encouraged only to get a husband or teach these days. Why can�t she be a mathematician and have a husband, too?

If we are producing unwanted babies, what about abortion? Legally women can dye their hair, bulge their busts or slice off their bosoms, but you can�t tamper with the reproductive apparatus.49

Stories in many women�s sections framed the women�s movement as an issue-based movement rather than a collection of protests. A 1969 story in the Birmingham Eccentric defined the women�s movement as being a fight for progress in the workplace including pay equity, training and child care.50According to the reporter, the movement was spreading across the country. She wrote that it was �not loud and pushy, not the sign-carrying-type movement which helped give women the vote back in 1920.� Instead, she called for women to be more vocal. She wrote, �The responsibilities, problems and legal rights of women who work and even those who don�t have become a source of concern to women from all walks of life. It is no longer considered feminine to plead ignorance or boredom at the forces which vitally affect and shape our world today.� A 1971 Montana Standard story referred to the New York March for Equality and profiled four women who were running for state office.51 The lead connected the New York City March for Equality with Montana women who were politically active, showing that feminism was both a local and a nationwide movement that was legitimate. According to one female candidate, �Mothers and wives who make up such a large number of our voters should be represented.�52The article concluded with the following: �Women can wield weight and wonder at the polls by exercising their feminine right to vote won for them by fiery liberationists of their day. It was 51 years ago today, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified allowing women�s suffrage.�53

Jurney said one of the advantages of heading women�s sections during her tenure in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s was that there were no expectations about what was newsworthy for women. She said, �We were free to explore areas where we thought the reader was very much involved�where we could interpret a trend, explain an event, show new dimensions that would give greater understanding to the life around us.�54 Jurney often oversaw stories about inequities. In 1972 at the Detroit Free Press, she oversaw a collection of stories about women and working conditions.55 The series was filled with charts that documented pay inequities and the lack of women in management position. One of the stories addressed a program at General Motors that encouraged women to enter male-dominated fields like engineering.56 Several other stories pointed out that not all businesses welcomed policies that forced the hiring of women. One executive was quoted as saying: �We�re being forced to play the number game with women.�57

Women�s Page Editors� Craft-Related Habit Frame

Former women�s page editor Colleen Dishon wrote that there were two kinds of women�s pages in the late 1960s. The first, she said, �embraced the so-called American dream, �a la Ozzie and Harriet,� while the other �perceived its readers as part of the real world, curious about whatever made it go �round.�58She wrote that women editors in the second group were �widely separated by distance but loosely bound through a common cause�flight from fluff�embraced this and also adopted what I called the beyond-the-housewife syndrome.�59 It was their women�s sections that took the lead covering the women�s movement and doing so in a positive way. Anderson was one of those editors in the second category. In one instance, a repressed task force report about women produced by the Nixon administration was leaked to Anderson and she made it available as a 25-cent brochure. Historian Anne Kasper said of Anderson, �When the women�s movement erupted Marie saw increased possibilities for reporting news about women and she took significant risks in printing stories which management found disturbing and too controversial.60

There were some advantages to heading the women�s sections�freedom from some restraints. For example, Paxson was able to run a syndicated advice column that focused on sexual issues. The managing editor told her: �You can run that kind of thing in your section where we couldn�t run it in the rest of the paper.�61 In the early 1960s, her section included stories about birth control pills, the sexual revolution and women�s medical concerns. She later moved onto the Philadelphia Bulletin where she regularly wrote critical memos to Managing Editor George Packard. One of those memos, which was sent on March 8, 1974, is detailed below:

Today�s paper upsets me as a women�s news editor. It is completely male oriented. In fact, looking through the pages of the B section, I wonder if women do anything but sing for the president and produce babies. The male dominance of the paper is happening so regularly that I am concerned. It�s a mistake, a big mistake. � Why not a story on the policewoman�s battle for equal treatment, pointing out how backward the Philadelphia police are compared with other police departments. � Why not a story on the suits for equal pay and equal opportunity women are filing and winning around the country pegged on those two Camden women? I keep suggesting stories such as these to various editors but they are not interested.

Journalists� craft-related habits of mind frames, such as timeliness, were less of an issue for women�s pages than general news sections, since the women�s sections often had an early deadline. Without the pressure of timeliness, issue-based stories were more likely to be found in the women�s pages than other parts of the newspaper. And because the women�s editors had been covering some of the issues central to the women�s movement for years, it was natural for them to take these issues seriously. There was also more space for stories in the women�s sections because, as Tuchman wrote, news about the women�s movement did not have to compete with Watergate in general news columns.62 For that reason, many stories about the women�s movement that ran in the women�s sections were longer. As an example, in her research, Tuchman cited the coverage of the International Women�s Year conference. The United Nations correspondent filed a story that was basically just a list of speakers. It ran inside a news section. The story on the event that ran in the women�s section filled several columns and included the content of the speeches and an analysis of political interaction between feminists.63

Castleberry continued to assign reporters to the traditional women�s club meetings, although the news that came from them was not about elite social events. In a 1967 story, the club editor, Barbara Richardson, wrote an article about birth control. Her lead was: �Dr. Edward Rydman branded as �yellow journalism� a leading women�s magazine article calling birth control pills unsafe.�64 A 1968 story by Richardson, who was still club editor, addressed the educational issues of disadvantaged students.65

Many women�s page editors fought at their newspapers and within the industry to change the role of their sections. Maggie Savoy, women�s editor of the Arizona Republic, encouraged editors to address the changing role of women in society at a 1963 workshop. She said:

If you fail to reflect and report and build on this, you�re a flat failure not only to your paper, but you are failing your readers and your community. Women are looking for ideas, inspiration and guidance. And if you don�t give it to them they�ll find it in magazines, television, radio�and you�ll lose them.66

Women�s Page Editors� Subjectivity Frame

Women�s page editors often had a different news perspective from the editors of other sections. The activism of the women�s page editors meant that they were already a part of the women�s movement; they did not pretend to use the objectivity frame defined earlier. Instead, these editors said they approached stories differently because they were women. Castleberry said about women journalists during her career, �I think women add special dimensions if they�re allowed to speak their own voices. I think so often women have been trained not to be �emotional� and to be [so] terribly objective that very often their real voices do not come through.�67 Many women�s editors believed in feminist ideals and thus viewed their sections differently than those who did not consider themselves part of the women�s movement, according to Paxson.68

Jurney said in a 1978 speech that the roles of wife and mother in the lives of women added to their journalistic abilities�allowing them to place more of an emphasis on human concerns. She said, �These experiences do not rob an able woman journalist of traditional news concepts. Rather they add dimension. She sees news value in many areas that seldom occur to a man to be important.�69

Castleberry often wrote about abortion and other controversial topics. Management recognized her activism and how her opinions shaped the coverage in her section. She, like several other women�s page editors, saw the news through a different framework than male journalists. Grace Lichtenstein, first female head of a national New York Times bureau, mentioned the difference in a 1975 interview with Tuchman. She said: �There have been times when I found editors unaware of things happening, like the rape laws. Only women think in terms of rape laws; the men [who are editors] know about capital punishment.�70 Castleberry reported that the different framework was recognized and not encouraged by management. She said,

My management felt, as it sometimes did, that I was being too much of a feminist. They very often thought that. I had one boss tell me one time, I said, �I can’t help being a woman!� And he said, �Well, you could try.� � He was trying to be funny and it didn’t come off as funny to me at all. But you cannot think outside the framework of who you are.71

In 1968, Marilyn Gardner, women�s page editor of the Milwaukee Journal, encouraged other women�s page editors to reach out to readers. She said, �There are lots of smart women in the world. Don�t insult them in your pages. When you are discussing today�s issues, make them realize all the social problems are important to them because they are affected in their own communities [by these issues].�72

Paxson wrote an article for the Iowa Publisher newsletter in October 1967 about the progress that women were making in journalism, although she also recognized that sexism still existed. She encouraged women journalists to embrace a new view of their careers. She wrote, �A woman needn�t worry either about having to make the old choice between marriage or a career. More than half the women who work in this country are married. A smart girl has her cake and eats it, too.�73

Discussion: A New Understanding

The framing of the news process limited the representation of women during the women�s movement in the news sections of most newspapers. The changing role of women in the 1960s and 1970s conflicted with most of the frames traditionally used by the media, by which women were limited to passive roles in the home. It was through this paradigm that the women�s page editors worked�they were attempting to introduce into their communities a new place for women without rejecting women who wanted to uphold the former, traditional role. They saw the importance of the issue by not defining the its significance by counting how many people attended a protest. They looked at the reason for the protest.

This research found that women�s page editors did use frames different from the frames used by news editors and reporters. Rather than a using a conflict frame, women�s page editors used an issue frame. This change in frame allowed more in-depth coverage of the women�s movement. Women�s page editors also rejected the objectivity frame and instead took on a subjectivity frame. This change meant that women�s page editors did not strive to provide conflicting voices on the women�s movement. They let their experiences guide their coverage. There was a difference in craft related habits frame due to the different structure of the women�s pages. The change in frame resulted in longer and more detailed stories about the women�s movement.

The findings of this study support a revision in the historical record of the content of women�s pages and their role in the women�s movement. While traditional women�s pages, often filled with society, home and wedding news, appeared in many newspapers, this was not the full story. Some sections were progressive in content and approach. Not recognizing the differences among sections at various newspapers leads to the invisibility of women in journalism history74 and overlooks the important role played by women in pressing for change.

If it were not for women�s page editors, it is likely that there would have been less coverage of the women�s movement. In a 1970 Washington Post column about the societal debate over birth control pills and abortion, former women�s page writer Nicholas von Hoffman addressed the lack of understanding of these issues by men. He wrote, �In strictly masculine company, it�s still almost impossible to bring up the topic of the treatment of women without being regarded as a kook. Men, especially in executive positions, will not even admit it�s an issue.�75 His words explain why women�s page editors often did not have much support in changing the definition of news. If men were not interested in the issues of the women�s movement, then those issues would not be given serious consideration in the media except in the women�s sections.

It could be argued that women�s page editors saw an intersection between the personal and the political and responded to it in their sections. Some women�s page editors were working mothers who lived complex lives each day. Castleberry, for example, told interviewers about aspects of her personal life that led to story ideas as well as the struggles she had with management in order to balance her roles as editor and mother. She understood the difficulties of being a working mother because she was one.

The experiences of women�s page editors meant that messages from the women�s movement were viewed in a different way than many male journalists did. It would be helpful for more women�s sections to be studied, especially at metropolitan newspapers beyond the Washington Post and the New York Times.


Kimberly Wilmot Voss is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mass Communications at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. This manuscript was derived from her doctoral dissertation completed under the direction of Professor Maurine Beasley at the University of Maryland. 

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