“Bringing the Beijing Platform for Action to the Grassroots of California”

Co-conveners: Dee Aker and Helen Tao
Facilitator: Helen Young
Task Force Recorder: Jennifer Gagliardi
Draft Compiler: Kathleen Cha

“We will work to create a media industry in California which promotes equal representation of all women and presents a diversity of images that more accurately reflect the whole community. We will prompt the media industry in our communities to take measurable steps towards providing full access to women and girls in training/internships, hiring, production, technical training and decision making levels. We will create an environment that empowers women and girls to enhance their communication and critical viewing/thinking skills, while supporting their greater access to information technology.”

Women and the Mass Media in California is a cross-cutting issue that affects all of the critical areas of concern as defined in the Platform for Action accepted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China: from poverty, economic disparity, power sharing, violence, armed conflicts and human rights to institutions, education, health, environment and the girl child. The other cross-cutting issues that defined the CAWA media task force discussion and action plans included racism, disabled women, immigration, gay & lesbian, religion, globalization, indigenous women, militarism, ageism, patriarchal/male political and economic dominant power, and domestic violence. There are two sides to the mass media issue as stated in the Platform For Action: “stereotyping of women and inequality in women’s access to and participation in all communication systems, especially in the media.” Two strategic objectives were proposed as a result:

Strategic Objective J.1.

Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication

Strategic Objective J.2.

Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

In California, many women are involved in careers in the communications sector, but too few have attained positions at decision-making levels or serve on governing boards and bodies that influence media policy. The lack of gender sensitivity in the media is also evidenced by the failure to eliminate the gender-based stereotyping that can be found in public and private local, national and international media organizations. In regard to programming and media content, the continued projection of negative and degrading images of women in media communications–electronic, print, visual and audio–must be challenged and changed. Print and electronic media do not provide a balanced picture of women’s diverse lives and contributions to society in a changing world, often marginalizing or making women invisible. In addition, violent and degrading or pornographic media products are also negatively affecting women and their participation in society. Programming that unconditionally reinforces what is perceived as women’s traditional roles can be equally limiting.Therefore, as representatives from all over California examined the two sides of the mass media critical areas of concern (the inequality of women’s professional access and leadership participation in the media industry and communications technology, coupled with the debilitating stereotyping of women), the following objectives were proposed for California:


California Action Objectives

  • Increase participation of women in the media at industry decision-making levels locally and statewide and increase individual access to multi-media information technology and media training;
  • Promote through media watch advocacy balanced and non-stereotypical portrayals of women in the media.

The Media can exert an exceptional influence on public opinion, support social change by providing the public with viewpoints and visions that are currently ignored by mainstream, commercial media. With this knowledge and galvanized by the principles and goals set forth by the women of the world in Beijing, California grassroots organizations and community leaders will pursue the following actions:


1. Actions to be taken by Legislative Bodies, Regulatory Agencies and other Government Organizations

1.1 Renew federal mandate for women and minority ownership and licensing of media resources;

1.2 Diversify the FCC board (racial, gender, sexual-orientation, disabled, under-represented groups);

1.3 Strengthen the mandate of the EEOC to include women in the hiring of women in all aspects of media (and defeat CCRI as a threat to this mandate and affirmative action);

1.4 Increase public corporations (CPB) funding/support & empower women’s groups to produce programs.


2. Actions to be taken by the Media Industry

2.1 Regarding Women’s Participation, Decision-making and Access

2.1.1 Encourage governmental bodies, grassroots organizations and the media, at the corporate level as well as working professionals, to actively support women’s professional groups acknowledging their ability to influence media coverage of women’s issues. Some of these groups are:

  • American Women in Radio and Television, Golden Gate Chapter, 415-985-7135
  • California Press Women, San Francisco, 415-584-0272
  • Women In Communications, San Francisco/Bay Area Chapter, 510-253-1784

2.1.2 Develop and support training programs for women entering the Media industry

2.1.3 Create opportunities for women to achieve technical skills as media creators

2.1.4 Increase opportunities for advancement and participation of women in decision-making through reform within the media itself.

2.1.5 Work to bring about hiring and promotion policies that put more women on editorial boards and as guest columnists on the Opinion and Sunday Business pages.

2.1.6 Promote alternative Media (Women’s Radio and TV, Magazines, Newspapers, Internet Servers) and encourage financial support from public and private sectors.

2.2 To Effect Change in Programming and Media Coverage

2.2.1 Shift definition of “news” away from conflict, divisiveness and controversy towards growth, substance, cooperation, collaboration with a global view.

2.2.2 Identify negative stereotypes of women and girls in all aspects of the media, including advertising, sports, news coverage, special features and the position of women’s and girls’ issues within newspapers, magazines, telecasts and radio broadcasts.

2.2.3 Recognize the negative effect of this stereotyping and change the position/ranking of women’s and girls’ issues within newspapers, magazines, telecasts and radio broadcasts.

2.2.4 Create mentoring programming, a positive portrayal of role models

2.2.5 Provide equitable time for public service broadcasts that will include all under-represented people

2.2.6 Alternately format the media (close captioned, Braille, Large Print, cassette for non-print users, electronic formats of materials available whenever possible)

2.2.7 Use non-stereotypical language regarding people with disabilities, people of color, immigrants, gay/lesbians

2.2.8 Provide accurate portrayals of women with disabilities, seen in full range of human activity


2.3 To Better Interact with the Community

2.3.1 Be part of /convene a community forum, teach-in or workshop on sexism in the media

2.3.2 Managers of local news outlets engage in meetings with community organizations to establish guidelines, expectations, sources/resources for community news and coverage


3. Actions To Be Taken by NGOs

3.1 Actions Relating to Government

3.1.1 Title 807d… study new & effective use of media–could be a forum for many recommendations

3.1.2 Protest the Republican Convention rules of assembly (Free speech issues of para-military protection and the fact that number of protest groups have been limited to 65)

3.2 Actions Relating to Media

3.2.1 Pressure the media industry to increase opportunities for advancement and participation of women in decision-making through reform within the media.

3.2.2 Engage in two way communication with media, identifying problems or misrepresentation. An example of response to community training of reporter:Palo Alto Times newspaper no longer identifies the addresses of where domestic violence occurred because it pinpoints the victim.

3.2.3 Show positive response to positive media portrayals. Let media know when they do well, for example, through letters to the editor or speaking out on radio talk shows

3.2.4 Encourage more peace, violence, human rights reporting; support a media willing to report on the abuse ignored or perpetuated by governments nationally and internationally (such as the rape of immigrants, hypocrisy of economics/ employment/politics,unions)

3.2.5 Identify negative stereotypes of women and girls in all aspects of the media for the media, including advertising, sports, news coverage, special features and pressure the media to change.

3.2.6. Recognize the negative effect and press the media to change the position/ranking of women’s and girls’ issues within newspapers, magazines, telecasts and radio broadcasts.

3.2.7 Strengthen and develop women’s electronic/video/print media caucuses to provide news resources as they monitor the media for women issues

3.2.8 Boycott advertisers endorsing negative, stereotypical programs; combine this action with a high visibility public action statement/press conference focusing on the boycott

3.2.9 Encourage grassroots organizations to join together to target MTV, Nickelodeon, Lifetime Cable Station, SF Chronicle, LA Times for their sexist gender portrayals and failure to include women as sources, resources and role models.

3.2.10 Encourage and train organizations to produce their own local cable shows (infomercials, panels) as a viable, proactive method of raising awareness and providing education, promote networking to combine actions by women’s organizations for the support of mass media education and advocacy.

3.2.11 Pressure the media to create mentoring programming, the positive portrayal of role models

3.2.12 Utilize public service announcements (PSA) radio, TV, newspaper, video, Internet to promote positive, gender sensitive messages

3.2.13 Gain equitable time for public service broadcasts that will include all under-represented people

3.2.14 Encourage the media to use alternate formats ((close captioned, Braille, Large Print, cassette for non-print users, electronic formats of materials available whenever possible)

3.2.15 Demand the media use non-stereotypical language regarding people with disabilities, people of color, immigrants, gay/lesbians

3.2.16 Encourage, support and remind Media of information/programming content and its power to influence, focusing on such areas as the following:

  • Showing people working and raising families from a gendered perspective, rather than portraying women as solely responsible for raising children
  • Featuring all aspects of society in all its diversity: all ages, every race, all economic levels, both genders.
  • Portraying women with disabilites living within the full range of human activity and endeavor, as opposed to the stereotyped exaggerations of hapless victim or heroic overachiever
  • Utilizing language that focuses on the person, not the disability: appropriate language includes such phrases as “a person with” or “has cerebral palsy”; wheelchair user or wheelchair rider
  • Empowering youth & elderly with positive portrayal (need to combat ageism and the use of unreal, denigrating images of beauty and women)
  • Providing education in pre-patriarchal “herstory” for promoting peace (Gimbutas, Eisler) since patriarchy is not always the way it was and is.

3.3 Actions Relating to Education and Media Literacy

3.3.1 Develop media literacy curriculum for classroom and for teacher training to promote critical thinking and viewing skills in the classroom

3.3.2 Provide media survival skills training for women in organizations/ leadership roles to better showcase their message and create impact.

3.3.3 Create 10-15 minute videos for classrooms, organizations and media to integrate lessons about diversity

3.3.4 Promote gender-inclusive text books

3.3.5 Encourage the creation of academic studies of gender and media (promote their availability on websites; for example, develop ways to make these studies known and available to all groups)

3.3.6 Work with professional organizations to mentor women and provide critical viewing skills (like the American Association of University Women, Professional Business Women and many more to be named and listed).

3.4 Media Advocacy Action Plans for NGOs

3.4.1 Form local media watch groups (tying into efforts of FAIR, Women and Men in the Media, “Women Are Good News,” The Center for Media Literacy to name a few).

3.4.2 Publicize the results of media watch findings.

3.4.3 Determine what efforts have already been made by media and local government and academics to bring a gender perspective into all levels of media…organize grassroots organizations to give feedback to media on content and format: not for just negative feedback but also to provide positive reinforcement and feedback to media.

3.4.4 Explore the need for a California Media Watch and Action Commission to measure the gender balance/imbalance in news and feature coverage; news writers and editors; news and feature pictures; news and feature sources; and to analyze media coverage of crucial issues from a gendered perspective.

3.4.5 Create proactive news–grassroot organizations must persist in getting the “news out.”

3.4.6 Encourage members to pressure and network via e-mail/fax/phone (ABIGAILS-L; \Feminist Faxnet, FemAlert)

“Do Not Go Quietly Into That New Century” (Visions, San Diego, Dee Aker)
“Young Blood Revitalizing NOW “(Carol Morello)
“When The Bottom Line In The News Is The Bottom Line” (Molly Ivins)
“Career Women Aren’t A Novelty” (Karen Schwartz)
“Marginalizing Women: Front Page News Coverage Of Females Decline In 1996” by M.Junior Bridge, Unabridged Communications, 703-671-5883 (or copies from Freedom Forum Media Studies Center, 212-678-6600; and Women,Men and Media, 301-445-3231)
Women’s Times: “Who Will Tell My Story Mama?” (Dee Aker) 
Media Position Paper from the Stanford Media Caucus ARISE (post-Beijing issue Working In solidarity of Gender)
DreamWorld, a video critique of MTV’s view of women 
Contract With Women of the USA (Center for Women Policy Studies & Women’s Environment and Development Organization) 
Censored: The News that Didn’t Make the News–and Why: the 1995 Project Censored Yearbook by Carl Jensen & Project Censored, 1995, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York
Toxic Sludge Is Good for You: Lies, Damn Lies & the Public Relations Industry by John Stauber & Sheldon Rampton, Common Courage Press, Monroe, Maine 04951 
Through the Media Looking Glass: Decoding Bias and Blather in the News by Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon, 1995, Common Courage Press, Monroe, Maine 04951

California American Association of University Women, 909 12th Street, #114, Sacramento, CA 95814; 916-448-7795; FAX 916-448-1729

Center for Media & Democracy (Publication PR Watch), 3318 Gregory Street, Madison, WI 53711; 608-233-3346

The Center for Media Literacy (Publication CONNECT), 1962 South Shenandoah Street, Los Angeles, CA 90034; 310-559-2944; FAX 310-559-9396

FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) (Publication EXTRA), 130 W. 25th Street, New York, NY 1001; 212-633-6700; FAX 212-727-7668; http://www.fair.org./fair/

Feminist Internet lists/web sites: ABIGAILS-L, BEIJING95-L, IGC WomensnetWomen’s Wire on Compuserve, AOL Women’s Board, BMUG MacWomen, Women Online Worldwide

GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation); Media Watch/SFBA, 1360 Mission St., Suite 200, San Francisco, CA 94103; 415-861-2244; FAX 415-861-4893

International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), 1001 Conn. Avenue, NW, Suite 1201, Washington, D.C. 20036; 202-496-1992; FAX 202-496-1977

Media Watch, P.O. Box 618, Santa Cruz, CA 95061-0618

National Alliance for Media Education, 655 13th Street, #210,Oakland, CA 94612; 510-451-2717

National Lesbian & Gay Journalist Association, Unity Circle/Media Diversity Circle, Betsy Bayha, Northern California Chapter, 510-251-4355

National Radio Project, Peggy Law, Exec. Dir, 830 Los Trancos Road, Portola Valley, CA 94028 (source for outstanding topical programming relating to women’s issues locally and globally)

Strategies for Media Literacy, 1095 Market Street, Suite 617, San Francisco, CA 94103

Society of Professional Journalists (Grace Howard)

Women In Communications, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, 120 Village Square, Suite 143, Orinda, CA 94563; 510-253-1784; FAX 510-253-9259

Women in Media- A Division of Global Vision T.V. & Radio Productions, Azarra Lanteri, 1017 S. Van Ness, San Francisco, CA 94110. 415-647-6374 (Offers programming featuring multi-cultural and global issues)

*Successful training sites/sources: Media Literacy Center, KPFA, Hispanic press, IGC/womensnet; NOW local chapters, Commissions on the Status of Women, 19th Amendment Celebration, Latino Police Officers (Lou Nunez), Migrant Education South County

Over the past few years, California women have made positive advances in relation to the media: more women are editors and a few have broken into decision making levels. Some media organizations have audited themselves and taken steps to correct imbalances in gender coverage. Feedback from women on media treatment in news articles, features has become increasingly welcomed and heeded. Women are creating their own alternative publications, radio stations and Internet servers and networks. But this progress is still very minimal and not widely recognized. It is imperative that more women and organizations collectively step forward and speak out, become visible and thereby act as role models for girls. This plan is a road map for making substantive progress.

Problems examined and analyzed

  • Exclusion of women from coverage as source/resource 
    Lack of education regarding women’s issues in the media
    Stereotypes–women as victims, sex objects, objects 
    Exclusion of women from media industry decision-making 
  • Lack of visibility of marginalized groups, invisibility the greatest obstacle
  • Disabled women in the media unrepresented, misunderstood
  • Distortion of history
  • Trivialization of women’s issues
  • Showing only “dirty laundry” and not women’s achievements
  • Lookism/ageism “beauty quotient” –ideal women
  • The need to portray more human values (caregiving by both genders)

Anecdotal Statements reflecting these problems:

  • Differences in men’s and women’s orientation and focus cause women’s issues and concerns to be trivialized and compartmentalized by male media membership.
  • Competitive male agenda which makes women invisible has limited women’s opportunities for recognition and interaction. The linkage between economic success and participation is part of this lack of accessibility to media focus that is experienced by women and people of color. There is increasing concern that news is mainly a corporate undertaking with corporate control of political debate and news reporting determining and limiting content.
  • Using white, mainstream media definitions of power and wealth means that any community which does not define political, entrepreneurial and community leadership in the same way gets bypassed by routine reporting.
  • “News as defined by the people who write, edit, publish and broadcast it, is about the unusual, the aberrant–about triumphs and tragedies, underachievers and overachievers; it’s about the extremes of life, not ‘normal, everyday’ life.” David Shaw, Los Angeles Times, “Minorities and the Press”
  • “Part of the mold that needs to be broken is the illusion that journalism is a quasi-science. It isn’t. Journalism is a subjective, value-driven exercise. There is neither one truth nor one way to frame reality…” Dorothy Gilliam, Columnist for Washington Post. Viewers/watchers need to know that they are being presented a point of view rather than unbiased facts. Better critical viewing skills needed by women and girls.
  • Disability rights activist Anne Finger summed up best the situation of empowerment of women with disabilities: “The history of disabled women is made invisible by our being seen either as disabled or as women of accomplishment, but not as both.” Finger’s comment was made in the context of recognizing such notable disabled women as Frida Kahlo, Dorothea Lange and Harriet Tubman–women whose lives have not been told in the context of their disability, but rather whose accomplishments have been noted as if disability was not a factor in their lives at all.
  • In entertainment TV, aside from deaf actor Marlee Matlin, there are virtually no other programs that portray disabled women as strong, empowered, in control of their lives and admirable role modes. On the contrary, we often see unsavory women characters who develop disabilities as a kind of punishment or retribution for their bad behavior (Melrose Place).
  • “Invisibility is our greatest obstacle, for if people do not see women with disabilities, they cannot be made aware that we are women of accomplishment with a right to full participation in all aspects of society.” Betsy Bayha, Cal-WILD
  • More women are involved in communications sector, but few have attained positions at decision making level or serve on governing boards and policy agencies that influence media policy.

Adopted by the Media Task Force of the California Women’s Agenda Assembly on June 29, 1996