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Feminist Consciousness and the Production of a Contemporary Women's Section
Unformatted Document Text:  Tracking number: ICA-12-11416 2 This paper presents analysis of interviews and non-participant observation at one newspaper currently producing explicitly named women’s pages. While providing a case in which to better understand how news workers conceptualize and construct a contemporary women’s section, this case study offers a means for analyzing these sections in relation to contemporary feminism. It considers the connection between feminism and a newsroom staff’s perceptions of how and why they produce the section. Targeting women Women’s pages became a part of large newspapers by the 1890s. 2 But the move had more to do with advertising than with a concern for women. Women were now purchasing goods once produced in the home and advertisers wanted a direct link to these consumers (Schudson, 1978; Yang, 1996). Publishers and editors placed topics understood to be of interest to women – fashion, food, family, health, etiquette and homemaking – in these newspaper sections. 3 These subject areas fell within a traditional notion of femininity – a sphere of domesticity – and highlighted the distinction between “soft” or feature news and the “hard” or serious news found on the front pages of newspapers. Women’s sections were based on a binary notion of gender marked by the distinction between public and private spheres. Yang (1996) explains: “News concerning major institutions in the public sphere, such as government, economy, law, and education was defined as hard news – men’s news (p. 366). But for decades, not only soft news, even more serious news relating to women remained departmentalized within these special sections (Lont, 1995). Van Gelder (1974) problematizes this point, explaining how the section is a “dumping ground for anything male editors consider a ‘woman’s’

Authors: Harp, Dustin.
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Tracking number: ICA-12-11416
2
This paper presents analysis of interviews and non-participant observation at one
newspaper currently producing explicitly named women’s pages. While providing a case
in which to better understand how news workers conceptualize and construct a
contemporary women’s section, this case study offers a means for analyzing these
sections in relation to contemporary feminism. It considers the connection between
feminism and a newsroom staff’s perceptions of how and why they produce the section.
Targeting women
Women’s pages became a part of large newspapers by the 1890s.
2
But the move
had more to do with advertising than with a concern for women. Women were now
purchasing goods once produced in the home and advertisers wanted a direct link to these
consumers (Schudson, 1978; Yang, 1996). Publishers and editors placed topics
understood to be of interest to women – fashion, food, family, health, etiquette and
homemaking – in these newspaper sections.
3
These subject areas fell within a traditional
notion of femininity – a sphere of domesticity – and highlighted the distinction between
“soft” or feature news and the “hard” or serious news found on the front pages of
newspapers. Women’s sections were based on a binary notion of gender marked by the
distinction between public and private spheres. Yang (1996) explains: “News concerning
major institutions in the public sphere, such as government, economy, law, and education
was defined as hard news – men’s news (p. 366). But for decades, not only soft news,
even more serious news relating to women remained departmentalized within these
special sections (Lont, 1995). Van Gelder (1974) problematizes this point, explaining
how the section is a “dumping ground for anything male editors consider a ‘woman’s’


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