Gloria Steinem Speaks to Rutgers about Representation, Media and Change

by Jackie Weisser

Legendary feminist activist Gloria Steinem said that the media shapes the way we look at reality and it is important that we combat this by making sure that there is more diversity in newsrooms, films, television, and other cultural institutions.

Speaking during her Feb. 27 lecture, “Media: More Real than Reality,” the co-founder of the feminist Ms. Magazine said that portrayals of gender, race and class in the media were misleading, and she said there needs to be changes in the media so that these representations can be reshaped.

She said that she wanted her lecture to feel more like an organizational meeting and to imagine the members all sitting in a circle as opposed to her to just lecturing to an audience.

“Hierarchy comes with patriarchy,” said Steinem, “and neither one works anymore.”

Steinem is known primarily for her feminist activism, but the issues she confronts are multi-faceted and cover categories of gender, race and class. She focused on the media’s representation of marginalized groups and how these representations alter people’s perceptions.

“Media is the biggest force shaping what reality will become,” said Steinem.

Steinem shared statistics with her audience about the how media affects our view of the world. She said that one-third of newsroom staffs are women and that this has not increased since 1999. She also said that in major movies only 28 percent of women actually have speaking roles. According to Steinem, 33 out of 568 major film directors are black, while two out of those 33 are women. These numbers, according to Steinem, demonstrate the way society still has great strides to make towards progress for representation of marginalized groups in the media.

“The idea that we’re post-racist because of Obama or post-feminism is demonstrably untrue,” said Steinem.

Internet access shows how far we still have to go, she said. Just 47 percent of black households have internet.

“The digital divide is a pretty good proxy for power,” said Steinem

According to Steinem, this fact itself makes apparent the need for progress for marginalized groups.

Steinem said Rutgers is part of the change we will soon see, calling the university both “inclusive” and “idealistic.”

“In order to make real change,” said Annie Batt, a class of 2015 Journalism and Media Studies major and Women’s and Gender Studies minor, who attended the lecture, “it’s important to understand the different ways in which women are subjugated and stereotyped.”

After the lecture, a Q&A was moderated by Board of Governor’s Distinguished Service Professor Charlotte Bunch. Steinem opened up the floor to all attendees of the lecture, ranging from Rutgers students, both male and female, to older members of the public. When asked the question “How do I live a quality life and be a feminist?” Steinem answered that maybe this young woman had not found the right place to say what she needed to say. “Don’t give up the inner-voice,” said Steinem, “that true voice.”

The lecture is part of the Susan and Michael J. Angelides Lecture series for the Institute for Women’s Leadership and the Women, Media, & Tech Initiative at the IWL Consortium in conjunction with the School of Communication and Information.

Click here to view the video of the lecture.