Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Advocacy Groups Work to Sway Hollywood, Not Capitol Clout of Entertainment Industry Prompts Feminists and Minorities to Lobby for Wider Media Images

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Advocacy Groups Work to Sway Hollywood, Not Capitol Clout of Entertainment Industry Prompts Feminists and Minorities to Lobby for Wider Media Images

Article excerpt

It's been an uncomfortable summer under the klieg lights for the entertainment industry.

First it was lambasted, rightly or wrongly, for abetting a culture of violence that results in tragedies like the Columbine High shooting in Colorado. Then racial and ethnic minorities blasted the industry for the way it portrays, or simply ignores, wide swaths of the American population.

Now, feminists are rallying behind a protest over media representations that stereotype or exploit women - targeting everything from advertisements to television dramas to public-affairs programs.

The trend may indicate that, for a growing number of activist groups, the Washington Beltway no longer represents the epicenter of power. Stymied by a Congress they see as unreceptive to their agendas - or simply recognizing that few Americans seem to notice much that Congress is doing, anyway - they are looking in a new direction to further their goals: Hollywood.

"The private sector is more receptive than the government at this point," says Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), which recently announced plans to raise public awareness about women's images on the big and small screens. "TV and film viewers feel more empowered than when they look at the Congress. They feel the advertisers will respond, and they will."

NOW hastens to add that it is not abandoning its activism on behalf of political, legal, and economic equality for women. But its concentrated effort to improve media images of women underscores a newfound recognition of the power of the camera - and the entertainment industry's role in influencing public attitudes.

A TV channel of their own?

NOW's quest to give media messages a more feminist flavor will go beyond efforts to "enlighten" the men in charge of most storyboards and lineups. In addition to potential boycotts and a day to unplug the TV, the group will go straight to the public with its own advertisements. It is even creating blueprints for a Feminist Communications Network, which would likely include radio and television programs and content on the World Wide Web.

The ad campaign will be tested in Boston in early 2000 and, if well received, expanded nationally during the height of the election season. Some of the television spots and print ads will highlight issues such as the need for day care. Others will aim to counteract entertainment images of feminists as "ugly, humorless man-haters" - stereotypes that sometimes crop up in campaigns against NOW-backed political candidates, says Ms. Ireland.

Media portrayals of women have improved since the mid-1960s, when NOW was formed and first took up the issue. …

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