ARE WE THERE YET?
THE 1980 S WERE SUPPOSED TO BE THE DECADE OF THE WOMAN. "BATTLING BELLA" and others had paved the way. The campaign to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment had been lost, but news coverage of the struggle to get it passed by Congress and then ratified by the states had made more people aware of women's struggle for equal opportunity and equal pay. As Betty Lall, a 1982 candidate for Congress from New York, put it: "A lot of people have been harboring thoughts they didn't articulate because they didn't think they were accepted thoughts. Now they are beginning to act on them. They saw the defeat of the ERA and they don't want to accept that defeat. They also see the country's in a mess and needs new people. Look at the composition of Congress -- it's 88 percent men." After awareness comes change. In theory. But it would be 1992 before dramatic change occurred.
Admittedly, some things were different. News coverage began to reflect women in their own right; they were now often referred to by what they did rather than as someone's wife. Three female governors were elected and made national news: Martha Layne Collins in Kentucky, Kay Orr in Nebraska, and Madeleine Kunin in Vermont. Even the seemingly small change in courtesy titles used in news stories -- from Mrs. or Miss to an optional Ms. and then to no courtesy title -- made a difference in how women politicians were perceived.
Fifty-six women, more than ever, ran for congressional office in 1982. And one of the biggest political stories of the decade was the Democratic party's nomination of a woman for vice president in 1984, which elicited premature press proclamations of the "Year of the Woman." The same thing happened in 1988, when the media again proclaimed that the election of growing numbers of women signaled another Year of the Woman. But toward the end of the decade there was a growing awareness among journalists that an imbalance still existed between coverage of men and women and that coverage of women was still often distorted. In fact, because of changes made in how the media covered women during the 1970 s, pressure on journalists to clean up