Friday, July 18, 2008

On Women’s Rights, the Media is Still 160 Years Behind

Statue of Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the U.S. Capitol. CREDIT: Horydczak, Theodor. "Statues and Sculpture. Suffrage Leaders Mott, Anthony, and Stanton in U.S. Capitol Basement." Circa 1920-1950. Washington as It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydczak, 1923-1959, Library of Congress.

Saturday, July 19, 2008 marks the 160th Anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention commemorated by Sen. Hillary Clinton in a letter to her friends and supporters posted earlier at Heidi Li’s Potpourri.

Today, Heidi Li Feldman, author of the above blog, posted Chapter IX of Eighty Years And More: Reminiscences 1815-1897 by Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) New York: T. Fisher Unwin, 1898.

Chapter IX is titled The First Women’s Rights Convention, and as I read Stanton’s words, I was reminded that as far as the media is concerned, women haven’t come very far. Stanton describes the first women’s rights convention held on July 19 and 20, 1848 as “in every way a grand success.”

But, much to the surprise of those who had organized it, the media offered a different take on the convention. Stanton reported:

'“No words could express our astonishment on finding, a few days afterward, that what seemed to us so timely, so rational, and so sacred, should be a subject for sarcasm and ridicule to the entire press of the nation. With our Declaration of Rights and Resolutions for a text, it seemed as if every man who could wield a pen prepared a homily on 'woman's sphere.' All the journals from Maine to Texas seemed to strive with each other to see which could make our movement appear the most ridiculous.”'

Some 160 years later, as I posted earlier, a CBS News poll showed that nearly half of voters (45 percent) thought the media had been harder on Sen. Hillary Clinton than they had been on other candidates. Sixty-seven percent of those who thought the media has been harder on Clinton felt that it was at least somewhat the result of her gender.

In the same post, I also noted that Carol Jenkins, the president of the Women’s Media Center, recently reported in the Christian Science Monitor: ‘“Research from the Annenberg Public Policy Institute found that just 3 percent of the ‘clout' positions – the owners, publishers, and other ultimate decision makers – are women. The net effect of this is that almost everything we know about our world is cast through the male perspective. Women are just beginning to catch on to this fact.”’

As we pause this Saturday to recognize the efforts made on our behalf by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and many others of her time, let’s remember that we still have a long way to go and continue to hold the media to account for widespread gender bias that very likely cost Sen. Hillary Clinton the Democratic nomination.

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