Movie premieres, national petitions, and feminist politics: this summer has been full of firsts. This was my first summer as a college graduate, my first summer away from home—but most importantly, this was my first summer living in New York City, gaining firsthand insight into the bustling world of the media industry at the Women’s Media Center.
Colby College granted me a prestigious Elijah Parish Lovejoy Journalism Fellowship scholarship this summer, a gift that provided me with the necessary funds and guidance to take on an unpaid internship in the journalism field. This opportunity was more than just experience in the workplace—it gave me the means and the motive to start a new life in the city. As a lifelong resident of Maine, having the support of the College gave me the confidence to pack up my life just the day after graduation and start anew in the greatest city in the world.
My Lovejoy fellowship allowed me to take on a position at the Women’s Media Center, a nonprofit progressive women’s media organization founded in 2005 by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, and Gloria Steinem. The Women’s Media Center makes women visible and powerful in the media by ensuring that women’s stories are told and that women’s voices are heard. They run media advocacy campaigns, promote media monitoring for sexism, create original content on their website, and train women and girls to participate in the media.
The Women’s Media Center has two offices: the main office is in Washington, DC and then there is a charter office in New York City. The office that I work in has only four full-time staff members, and while it is smaller than I imagined I have grown to love the women that I work with. They are such a tight-knit group of women that truly embody what feminism represents—supporting one another as they attempt to promote feminism in their own ways, including social media, video, writing, blogging, and more.
The beginning of my internship was nontraditional in that the first week of June I attended my first movie premiere through the Women’s Media Center. On June 4, the Women’s Media Center hosted the premiere of Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding—a film starring Fonda, Elizabeth Olsen, Catherine Keener, and more—at the Museum of Modern Art with an after-party at the nearby Royalton. While I performed typical intern tasks—handing out brochures and transporting photo shoot backdrops—I was still grateful to be attending the premiere. The film was brilliant, the A-list filled audience was impressive, and I was a part of it.
Not many people can say that they talked with Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda over wine, but even fewer can say that they have had the privilege of working for them as they use their fame to promote something bigger than themselves. The premiere was not just about shaking hands with Chace Crawford or telling Hillarie Burton how much I loved Peyton Sawyer on One Tree Hill while downing free champagne (although you can bet I did all of the above).
No, the night was about celebrating women and women’s stories. All too often women’s voices are silenced, whether because someone prevents them from speaking or because they just don’t think that their voices matter in the first place. The truth is, despite comprising 51 percent of the population, women are rarely seen or heard in the mainstream media today.
These are just some of the troublesome statistics taken from the Women’s Media Center’s “Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2012” guide that I have faced each day this summer:
- According to the Global Media Monitoring Project 2010, 24 percent of the people interviewed, heard, seen, or read about in mainstream broadcast and print news were female. Only 13 percent of stories focused specifically on women and 6 percent on issues of gender equality or inequality. What’s more, news stories by female reporters are almost twice as likely to challenge gender stereotypes than stories by male reporters and the stories feature female subjects and topics that matter to women.
- In addition, women were the news subjects for only 23 percent of stories on 84 news websites monitored—this suggests that underrepresentation of women in the virtual news world is as dramatic as in the traditional news media.
- According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, women accounted for 25 percent of all creators, executive producers, producers, directors, writers, editors, and directors of photography working on situation comedies, dramas, and reality programs airing on the broadcast networks in the 2010-2011 prime-time television season. Among writers, just 15 percent were women; of directors, just 11 percent were women; and of directors of photograph, just four percent were women.
- The same study also found that in 2011, women comprised 18 percent of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. Women comprised just 5 percent of directors, 15 percent of writers, and four percent of cinematographers.
The work that I have been a part of this summer fights against these numbers. We are the underdogs, the world is against us, but if we all work together we might just be able to change the way the media is portrayed. Another moment from this summer that has tied together my new life with that of my “Colby days” was the success of Waterville resident Julia Bluhm’s anti-Photoshop petition to Seventeen magazine.
While I don’t know Julia personally, my previous internship at Hardy Girls Healthy Women prepared me for much of the work that I have been involved with this summer. In fact, it was Colby’s Professor of Education Lyn Mikel Brown, and co-founder of Hardy Girls Healthy Women, who encouraged me to apply for a position at the Women’s Media Center in the first place. The same petition is now being launched at other similar publications, with the hopes that they will limit the use of Photoshop in their magazines to promote more realistic body images to the young girls that read those magazines.
The last month of my internship has been consumed by the Women’s Media Center’s two media literacy training programs, Progressive Girls’ Voices and Progressive Women’s Voices. In July, 10 girls were trained as media spokespeople in their fields, thereby changing the conversation on issues that fill the headlines. The three-day conference enabled these girls to master effective interview presentation techniques and improve their skills to serve as thought leaders in the media.
My review of the weekends events can be read at the Women’s Media Center’s blog.
One alumna, Emma Axelrod, has filled headlines lately as she successfully lead a petition calling for a female moderator in the 2012 Presidential Debates. Her petition on www.change.org received over 58,000 signatures in support, and the training that she received from the Women’s Media Center proved valuable as she found herself featured in almost every major media outlet in the United States.
Not all of the firsts have been great, though. Within a few weeks of moving to the city I came down with the chickenpox, and then a pipe burst in our building and we had water leaking in through our ceiling. But these are the things that happen in the real world, though—you can’t plan for anything, you just hope for the best. And with summer coming to a close, I’m hoping for the best as I try to continue a future in journalism.