While communications. Although the ways in which we communicate

While
there has always been a divide in gender representation throughout society, the
prevalence of this segregation has become increasingly visible in the last few
centuries through the use and advancement of mass communications. Although the
ways in which we communicate with each other have grown exponentially, from
drawings on cave walls and telegraphs to television and instant messaging, the dichotomy
in the roles in which men and women play in these mediums has always been
present and has changed very slowly into what it is today. I believe that we
missed a valuable opportunity in History 519: Sexuality, Modernity, and Social
Change: Perspectives on Settler-Colonial Intimacies to study the context in
which gender has been represented in our mediums of communications by both the
journalists themselves and their subjects.

            During the time period of our
course, there were various strides in equal rights for women, such as the women’s
suffrage movement, that would have been significant to study in order to
further our understanding of how gender was portrayed through the 1860s to the 1940s.
The various means of communication that were prevalent in this time were the
only method that some people – namely women at home – had to learn about the
happenings of major historical events and other occurrences. Therefore, by
studying the differences in how men and women were portrayed in communications
and media –both as the reporter and the subject of a piece –we would have been
able to gain a deeper understanding of how gender was represented in the nation
as a whole during this ever-changing landscape of gender representation as
these mediums were society’s main avenues in understanding people in other
parts of the nation and world. Further, the opportunity to read works by famous
women journalists as well as male reporters at the time would have allotted us
with a more detailed and personal recount of the contrasting roles in which men
and women were expected to adhere to. Whereas this era saw many changes that weighed
heavily on the country, from the First World War to the Great Depression, men
and women alike were taking on new roles as the men went off to war and left
their wives to provide for their families – which caused quite the controversy
at first and then again once the men returned from battle.

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            Until the 1900s, women were seen as “property”
of their husbands and their highest calling was to become a mother to their spouse’s
children. Their general lack of civil and political rights, such as the right
to vote, infuriated some women who believed they had more to offer the world
than domesticity. This tenacity flowed into their desire to pursue higher
levels of education and have their own careers. While women entered the
workforce to provide for their families, they were expected to adhere to a
specific list of jobs approved for their delicate constitutions such as
teaching or nursing. Others who branched off into more “masculine” careers in
the 1880s, such as journalism, were considered highly controversial and
defeminizing themselves according to the article “Gender and Journalism” from
the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication by Linda Steiner. In her
work, Steiner discusses the history of women in the field of communications and
the efforts that have been made to in attempts to gain equal rights that have
brought us to where we are today.

            Understanding the role of gender in
the newsroom requires grasping the concept that women’s only journalistic role at
the end of the 20th century was to provide a “feminine touch” about
women and on subjects for women, such as housework. The functions and responsibilities
for men and women in the communications field could not have been more contrasting
as women were expected to be happy with their place in society while the men
dominated the field with their bravado and manliness. As these women began to
push the boundaries of the topics they covered, Steiner states that war
correspondence was – and still is – the most “overtly gendered arena” in
journalism as women were judged by far different standards than their male
counterparts. Specifically, while men were seen as brave for reporting the news
from such a dangerous area, Steiner asserts that women who did the exact same
thing were condemned for leaving their children and husbands behind. Reading a
work from the perspective of one of these brave women who dared to enter a war-zone
for the sake of a story would have been exceptionally valuable in allowing our
course the chance to understand the sexist rules that society put forth to in
order to contain these women while they suffered through the chauvinist harassment
of their male counterparts.

Men, refusing to take female journalists seriously, treated women as
if they were the “Other” and refused to give them or their work any merit but conversely
didn’t mind sexualizing them at any and every opportunity. Women were thought
of as a commodity and a side-show for the real
reporting of men, according to Steiner. Even today this can be seen as women
reporters are constantly sexualized and belittled by being made to wear tight,
revealing clothing while on air and getting the boot once they have aged past
their prime beauty days. Men, on the other hand, never appear to “age out” of
the field and don’t have to worry about wrinkles or extra weight that may make
them less appealing to an audience and therefore lead to their dismissal. This
sexist double standard would have been intriguing to study in our class as it
has been present for centuries but is only just beginning to turnaround during
this time period.

            To make matters worse, Steiner
states that this dichotomy of power between the genders has also led to an
increase in sexual assault and harassment for women in the communications field.
While more present in war corresponding, where the men thought that women didn’t
belong, such abuses of power weren’t limited to overseas war-zones. This can be
seen more recently with the surge of women in the reporting field coming
forward to shed light on the true atrocities their male counterparts and
superiors have committed against them in cases such as Matt Lauer, former
co-host of “Today”, and Harvey Weinstein, producer and co-founder of the
Weinstein Company, who engaged in inappropriate and unwanted sexual conduct
towards women they worked with. As women in the late 19th to mid-20th
century were discovering new territory in the communications field, it would
have been intriguing for our class to read works by women at this time who
detailed the injustices they received by their male co-workers simply due to
their gender identification.

            Throughout the 18th, 19th
and 20th centuries, Steiner states that the majority of the women’s
magazines, written by women for women, were actually published and/or edited by
men as women were thought incapable of completing such a task. These works
typically covered everything that the men thought wasn’t “real news” as they
had little to no interest in covering topics such as domestic life. To combat
this male-dominated society, Steiner explains that women in the mid-19th
to early 20th century began to produce their own suffrage
periodicals not only to advocate for women’s rights but also to provide a novel
ideal for the women of the new century to strive for as strong and independent
beings. These journals and newspapers of the women’s suffrage movement were key
to reaching their audience as many were geologically or financially isolated
and unable to attend conventions like typical movements, according to the
article “Everyday Women Find their Voice in the Public Sphere” by Mary Carver. Women’s Journal, the longest lasting
suffrage paper that was affiliated with the American Woman Suffrage Movement
organization, helped create and identify the movement’s leaders. Reading even one
of these suffrage works, specifically something from Women’s Journal, within this course would have been valuable in
expanding our knowledge into the women’s suffrage movement and the dichotomy of
gender roles in the late 19th through mid-20th century.

            In an effort to gain a more personal
experience of the gender separation in the journalism field at this time, it
would have been extremely helpful for our course to read works from writers
such as Nellie Bly or Miriam Leslie who challenged the status quo and wrote
about it for generations after them to experience. Nellie Bly, an aspiring
reporter with little to no actual journalism experience, is perhaps one of the
most well-known female journalists of the late 19th century as she
became a national phenomenon with her article “Ten Days in a Madhouse” that
debuted in the New York World,
according to the article “Into the Madhouse with Nellie Bly: Girl Stunt
Reporting in Late Nineteenth-Century America” by Jean Marie Lutes. She explains
that this performative act of Bly institutionalizing herself to shed light on
the poor conditions of the infamous Blackwell’s Island asylum would become her
trademark reporting style as she challenged the preconceived notions of what it
meant to be a woman in the communications field. Bly would have been an interesting
and engaging writer to study as she was the exact thing male journalists
feared: a woman who couldn’t care less about the imbalanced, male-driven power
dichotomy and did what she wanted when she wanted to. Additionally, Miriam
Leslie would have been an intriguing reporter to read from as she managed to
revive her late husband’s failing publishing company basically singlehandedly from
hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt with only her own written works and a
steady business plan. According to Nancy Rubin Stuart, author of the article “Empress
of Journalism,” Ms. Leslie made quite the name for herself in the world of
reporting as the editor at the newspaper “Frank Leslie’s Lady’s Magazine.”
Stuart states that under her leadership, the newspaper dedicated to the
advancement of women in society thrived, as did her late husband’s publishing
company, to the point that upon her death she donated her entire estate, worth
$2 million, to the women’s suffrage movement in hopes that others would be able
to continue the work for women’s rights. Either Bly or Leslie would have been
fascinating writers to study and read works from as they both challenged what
society told them to be and chronicled their experiences for others to read and
learn from.

            Though
we have come a long way from the archaic gender stereotypes of the stone age, the
representation of gender in both the reporters and their subjects throughout
the field of journalism was still heavily segregated during the late 19th
through the mid-20th century. Further, the ways in which we
communicate have vastly evolved but the dichotomy in the power struggle between
men and women in the communications field has not been as efficient in making a
change. During the time period in which our course is set, women and men had
drastically different rights and –more specifically –women were fighting to be
considered equal to their male counterparts in the eyes of the law and society.
I believe that we missed a valuable opportunity in History 519 to study the
contexts in which gender representation and its dichotomy were skewed between
men and women during this time period through the reading of works by those on
both sides of major historical events –such as the women’s suffrage movement –
as society was so dependent at this moment in time on mediums of communications
to showcase the broader opinions of the masses in the United States and
therefore would have given us a more diverse and comprehensive look into the
topic.