Academic journal article Journalism History

"Women's Lib Has No Soul"? Analysis of Women's Movement Coverage in Black Periodicals, 1968-73

Academic journal article Journalism History

"Women's Lib Has No Soul"? Analysis of Women's Movement Coverage in Black Periodicals, 1968-73

Article excerpt

This analysis of twelve black magazines and journals and six black newspapers shows that positive coverage of the women's movement occurred across a wide spectrum of black periodicals from 1968 through 1973. Although criticism and ridicule of feminism existed in black print media, the periodicals in this study published dozens of editorials, essays, and articles that supported feminist principles of political, economic, and social equality for women. Black newspapers also published numerous notices of feminist meetings and events followed by news accounts of them, which documented black women's interest and participation in the women's movement. Eighty of the 216 articles contained positive statements about the women's movement, sixty articles publicized feminist events, and fifty-six articles had negative statements about the movement.

A 1971 column critiquing the women's liberation movement in Essence magazine asked readers: "If freedom came, would the president of the National Organization of Women (NOW) 'free' her black housekeeper?"1

One irony of that question was that NOW President Aileen Hernandez was black. Another was that the author was male, writing in the "Men on Women" column for the glossy new magazine that purported to be the voice of modern young African-American women. Such evidence has been marshaled to assert that black media were hostile or indifferent to the Second Wave of feminism. Kimberly Springer, for example, claimed in 2005 that the women's movement endured "recurring derision" in black periodicals.2 Journalism historian Patricia Bradley stated in 2003 that the black press virtually ignored the women's movement.' Criticism and neglect of feminism by black media, however, is only part of the story. In 1970, for example, Essence's, editor interviewed African-American feminist Eleanor Holmes Norton, who delivered a different message to the magazine's more than 100,000 readers: "Unless black women find that they have been treated with total equality they had better find the women's liberation movement relevant."4 Another 1970 Essence essay drew a positive comparison between civil rights leader Roy Willems and white reminist Betty Friedan.5 As these examples indicate, the black print media's treatment of the women's movement was much more abundant, diverse - and positive - than previously acknowledged.

As the first study to systematically analyze black periodicals' coverage of the women's movement, this article aims to illuminate the content and tone of Second Wave feminism coverage from 1968 through 1973. The findings validate claims by several scholars since 200 1 that African-American women actively participated in Second Wave feminism from its genesis. They support Benita Roth's 1999 assertion, "It is a myth that Black women were hostile to feminism."6 Scholars Springer, Rosalyn Baxandall, and Becky Thompson have documented black women's feminist activism dating back to the 1 960s, and Jennifer Nelson has demonstrated their instrumental role in the reproductive rights movement during those years.7 Feminist writer Michelle Wallace wrote in 2004 that "a sizable number of Black feminists . . . have contributed much to the leadership of the women's movement."8 Political scientist Duchess Harris argued in 2001 that "most black women fully subscribed to NOWs push for increased political power and representation for women.'9 Although Winifred Breines concluded in 2006 that black women rejected "white feminism," even she agreed that from the Second Wave's genesis they were "active agents" in forging the more inclusive feminism that emerged by the end of the 1970s.10

The findings of this research offer evidence supporting those scholars' claims: Only one of eighteen periodicals surveyed had nothing positive to say about feminism. Just as their findings prompted a reevaluation of black women's role in Second Wave feminism, the findings in this study offer an important new insight into journalism history. …

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