Women in the Media conference
From: Ted Powell
Subject: Women and the News
From today's The Province, p. 36:
A recent conference focused on how attitudes in the newsroom can have a
profound effect on the way women are portrayed in the media.
By Shelly Easton [a Province reporter] TORONTO
It was the phrase "fembos" that drew the most laughter. Women journalists
from across the country had gathered last weekend in bright, sunny Toronto
for the first national Women in the Media conference.
There was obvious interest in the topic: The two-day event sold out in
a week and a half.
We learned about "fembos" from Kelly Teahen, a reporter with the London
Free Press, who painted a surprising picture of sexism in her workplace.
Teahen told the audience that following last December's massacre of 14
women in Montreal, as well as a series of promotions given to women
employed at the paper, male colleagues earnestly and openly began
classifying their female colleagues two ways.
Women who were thought to have a feminist perspective were labelled
"fembos" -- a combination of feminist and Rambo. Women who didn't espouse
feminist views were considered "OK" and deemed to have solid news judgment.
When Teahen quiz[z]ically asked the Toronto audience if the phrase was
a common one in other newsrooms, the crowd of 200 women and a handful of
men burst into gales of laughter.
Beyond the laughter, however, lies a troubling scenario. If some male
journalists hold such divergent views about their colleagues, it's safe to
assume some of that sexism will creep into the way they do their jobs.
And if they're writing or editing stories or deciding when, where and
if stories or photos appear in the newspaper or on TV or radio, they're
having a profound impact on the way women are portrayed.
It's also safe to assume the image they're helping convey isn't one of
fairness and equal opportunity, but more likely is one that reinforces
Liberal MP [Member of Parliament] Sheila Copps, a keynote speaker at
the conference, talked about learning firsthand how men and women are
treated differently by the media.
Copps, a former newspaper reporter, said that only after reviewing
stories did she realize how sexist some of the cover[a]ge of her recent
bid for the Liberal leadership was.
She gave some examples. Rival leadership candidate Paul Martin was
de[s]cribed as a "millionaire who has built a business machine spread
across the nation. He's a nice guy, not exactly a riveting speaker."
Contender Jean Chretien was hailed as a powerbroker. He "is from the
moderate, tolerant mainstream of Canadian business" while being "folksy,
combative" and a "well-liked scrapper."
Compare that with the description of Copps as a "37-year-old single
mother" who is "attempting to shed a strident, aggressive image."
"Before I had a child, I had no identity," quipped Copps, who also
pointed out that sexism in the media isn't the sole preserve of men.
Some stories went on to describe her as "good-looking," with a "nice
smile," someone who "brings youth, energy, freshness." One claimed she
"learned manly manners in Hamilton taverns alongside steelworkers."
Copps suggested the kind of discrimination she endured may provide a
clue to a major problem in newspapers -- declining readership.
She argued that because women's lives aren't accurately reflected in
the news, they're not interested in reading newspapers. It's a compelling
A recent U.S. study released at a Columbia School of Journalism seminar
showed American newspapers lost 25 per cent of their female readers in
just four years, from 1983 to 1987. That's an incredible statistic.
Copps challenged editors to devote as much ink "to the juggling act
women are doing as to the pigskin act" or sports coverage aimed at men.
Then, she said, women may turn back to their newspapers.
Throughout the day, radio reporters, story editors, television
producers and magazine writers vociferously debated whether there is room
for feminism in the media and how to lobby to end discrimination in
newspapers and newsrooms.
Participants also talked about the dilemma of striving for a
satisfying, enriching family life while pursuing a challenging, demanding
Some advocated just forging ahead. They adopted the "just do it"
attitude. Others suggested the onus is on managers, especially women
managers, to support and incorporate policies in the workplace such as
flex time, four-day work weeks, job sharing and accessible daycare and
At the London Free Press, editor Helen Connell is leading a "diversity
committee" to look at why the paper doesn't reflect the demographic
composition of the city. In Toronto, women journalists regularly meet at
someone's home for a "femfest" to discuss problems, attitudes and
victories in the workplace.
The Southam newspaper group and The Province both instigated task
forces to examine how women are treated in the newspaper business.
These are encouraging steps. But these concerns aren't exclusive to
journalists. They affect everyone. Anyone who cares about equality must
continue to be vigilant, speak out against discrimination and push for
change. "Fembos" unite.