Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Integrating Race and Gender Issues into the Basic Media Writing Course. (Theory into Practice)

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Integrating Race and Gender Issues into the Basic Media Writing Course. (Theory into Practice)

Article excerpt

Much-needed discussions of race and gender are often ghettoized at journalism schools, segregated in stand-alone courses while basic skills classes are separate, privileged, "pure." A media writing course, with a crowded slate of assignments leaves little room to address complex, sensitive issues such as race, gender, and class. And yet, where better or more urgent to pull together theory and practice?

Gerbner (1995) and others have described the negative ramifications, especially on heavy viewers of television, of industry practices of casting, plotting, and characterization. Gerbner and his colleagues' multi-year cultivation analyses have found that consistent patterns of stereotypic depictions of violence, for example, are correlated with pervasive feelings of fear and disempowerment. Gerbner (1995) writes:

   Whatever else it does, violence in drama and news demonstrates power. It
   portrays victims as well as victimizers. It intimidates more than it
   incites. It paralyzes more than it triggers action. It defines majority
   might and minority risk. It shows one's place in the "pecking order" that
   runs society. (p. 548)

Terribly skewed depictions of violence are particularly evident--and especially harmful--when the subject is sexual violence against women. Benedict (1992), Heath, Gordon, and LeBailly (1981), Meyers (1997), Schwengels and Lemert (1986), Soothill and Walby (1991), and others have pointed to the media's continued emphasis on stranger rape. This constant refrain that rapists are strangers leaves women all the more vulnerable to much more common types of rapists and leaves juries unprepared to mete out justice.

Cuklanz (1997) believes that persistent societal patterns that silence and negatively characterize women may never allow women's experiences to more fully shape public understanding of sexual assault. Rakow and Kranich (1991) argue that women "carry rather than create meaning in the stories in which they appear" [Italics in the original] (p. 16). Gans (1980) posits that this sort of bias occurs largely because the news has traditionally been constructed by and represents the interests of White males.

Wallace (1993) decries the even greater "structural `silence' of women of color within the sphere of global knowledge production," a problem that, she argues, "has doomed to failure most efforts to change the Black woman's status or condition in society" (p. 119). She points to the resulting absence of Black representations that require women of color to read themselves into the news.

Meyers (1997) notes the extreme dearth of news accounts of sexual violence against Black women. Statistics compiled by the Justice Department indicate that Blacks are more often victims of rape than are Whites (Ringel, 1997). Yet African-American teens who have visited my class have told my students that they think rape is something that happens to White college women, because our local paper highlights such cases. Such a conception leaves teens dangerously unprepared; the higher incidence of rape against their age group bears this out (Warshaw, 1988). A writing assignment described below provides an opportunity for students to learn from and inform young people of color, who ideally would produce media in their own images. But until that day, we need more classroom tactics to help students draw from a broad palette of colors in constructing both real and fictional narratives.

Praxis

I have designed an assignment to remedy the standard writing course's lack of dialogue and knowledge-building about lives marked by race and gender. The assignment requires students to prepare a public service announcement campaign for our local rape crisis center. Their 30- and 60-second radio and TV spots must be designed to reach Black teenagers.

The assignment was my attempt to address research by McLaurin (1995) about public service campaigns; he argues that campaigns targeting African-American youths rarely address females, whom he calls "invisible" members of Black communities. …

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