Women’s Media: What is it? Do we need it?

first_imgA ‘women’s magazine’ for students in Oxford is currently being developed, but the project has been met with mixed reactions. Is there a need for such a magazine? Who would read it?  What should it include? It isn’t immediately obvious.  A survey of forty-two female students found no significant agreement on whether there was a need or even a general want for such a magazine, but a significant majority of respondents felt that they would read such a magazine if available. It is difficult to know exactly what these responses can tell us, since the terms used in the questionnaire are, sadly, somewhat ambiguous. Should we take the term ‘women’s magazine’ to mean glossy copies of Eve and Cosmo or a hardline feminist journal without pictures?   Any type of media with ‘woman’ in either the title or tagline can be scary. It creates the impression of being exclusively for a female reader or listener or viewer, and isn’t exclusivity exactly what the 21st century hopes to leave behind? Take Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 for example.  Sally Feldman, one-time editor of the programme argues that the title is a reference to its contents and style, and not its audience. But what does this mean? How can the term ‘woman’ be applied to such things as content and style?   Sally Feldman explained it in terms of ‘the twin peaks’. Firstly, she argued that women’s media involves encouraging a ‘female’ perspective on all issues. It isn’t hard to achieve, you simply need female editors, female reporters and female voices. Secondly, it should focus on topics that are thought to be of special interest to women. More than tampons, eyeliner and needlework, this applies to all areas of life in which women’s experiences can be seen as separate and different to those of men. The separation and difference are, of course, matters of opinion. But when has objectivity ever been a golden rule for the media?  The areas of life that remain different for men and women are constantly changing. It would be naive to suggest that such differences don’t exist. But what if by focusing on them, we simply prolong and exaggerate them? Perhaps we should be striving for a public sphere such as that envisioned by the great philosopher and sociologist, Jurgen Habermas. He developed the idea of having a place for unified rational discussion between all individuals. A place in which one’s argument means more than one’s identity. He suggested that the modern media would be the best way for this ideal to be brought to life.  However, isn’t Habermas’ concept of the public sphere a bit naïve? Is it possible that such a sphere could ever be equally open to all members of society? His vision of so-called ‘identityless interaction’ was, after all, based on the coffee house discussions of an eighteenth century French elite. Do we not need to realise that there are ‘informal impediments’ to participation in the public sphere which can easily persist even if everyone is formally included?  For example it is well known that research has shown that women are more likely to be interrupted in formal settings such as academic meetings, than men are.  How therefore, can a single public sphere ever allow individuals to be ‘identityless’?   In order to remove these ‘informal impediments’, some people have therefore argued for a multiplicity of public spheres – a range of discursive arenas geared towards different groups. Ideally, these arenas would allow each group to find its ‘voice’ and the confidence required for successful interaction in the unified public sphere. This is where women’s media comes into play. A female only space gives women the opportunity to have their say on issues that matter to them, something which is more difficult in the public sphere than is always recognised.  These conclusions suggest that research into the consequences of a women’s magazine in Oxford needs to be more imaginative. Rather than asking participants directly about the want or need for such a magazine, perhaps we need to look at the how female students in Oxford feel about their interaction within the wider student body. If most women feel that they are impeded in such involvement, then maybe a separate sphere for women’s media in Oxford is a good idea. By Mona Sakrlast_img