ONE OF THE HEROINES OF THE WOMEN'S POLITICAL MOVEMENT, NEW YORK REPRESentative Bella Abzug, is outspoken and assertive and regularly challenges the status quo. When she ran for Congress in 1970 she had a clear idea of her objectives, which included trying to stop the war in Vietnam and changing laws to provide equal treatment for women. She hit the floor running, introducing a resolution on her first day in the House that demanded an immediate end to the war. But much of her press coverage created a stereotype of her as strident and bellicose. She was frequently described in terms that might not have been used for a man. "I've been described as a tough and noisy woman, a prizefighter, a man-hater, you name it. They call me Battling Bella," Abzug wrote in a journal of her first year in Congress in 1971. "But whatever I am ... I am a very serious woman."
Looking back, she says the news coverage she received couldn't have been any other way because the media tend to caricature people and exaggerate things. "So that if they see you're a strong woman, you're abrasive and aggressive and so on, and if they see a man he is courageous and dynamic and bold. Those are entirely different adjectives for the same person, male or female." Abzug says that happens because journalists "are largely spokespersons for the status quo. They're not spokespersons for change."
More women had begun working in the media at that time, but not enough to make a difference, says Abzug. She was the first woman member of Congress invited to address a luncheon of the National Press Club, but the club had not yet opened to women journalists, who were made to sit in the balcony if they were covering a speech. Club members presented Abzug with the traditional gift they gave speakers -- a necktie with the club seal on it.
Some of the women who covered her were very conscious of being women and reflected a woman's point of view, while others tried to be objective in their reporting. But Abzug believes women journalists should promote women's issues, and she calls the word objective "pure nonsense." She knows most reporters don't agree with her, but she feels strongly about this. "It doesn't