Women In Society


Women In Society Essay, Research Paper

Women in all careers are striving to gain equality in

the work force today, and female television news anchors

are definitely part of the fight. The road to television

news anchoring is a rocky one, where only a few women

survive and many fail. Where progress was once thought

to have been made, there aren’t many females getting ahead

in the world of television news. Today, there is a very

slow, if any, gain in the numbers of women who succeed.

There are many questions surrounding the subject of

women in television news, and I will attempt to answer

relevant ones in this paper. How have the women that

actually make it to the top and succeed as anchorwomen,

done it? What does it take to make it? Why do those few

endure it/enjoy it? Why has it been and still is

difficult for women? What are the expectations of women

in the field, as opposed to the expectations of men?

I am interested in this topic because I once aspired

to become a television broadcaster. I still have

inspiration in me, but not quite as much due to the

negative and discouraging aspects I have heard about in

classes and in the media. I am not sure that I could be

happy in a career such as this, and I know there are great

difficulties in “making it” in this profession. I have

read about the incredible ambition of successful females

in television news, and it seems like it takes a special

kind of passion to want to keep up in the business.

I kept my questions in mind when gathering research

material. While focusing on the key questions, I was able

to find information that led me to form answers to them.

Christine Craft’s biography told of her individual

experience of being fired on the basis of her looks and

her age. I realized from reading her story that she had a

“nose for news”, a passion for telling it to the world,

and a unique spark that made her a good journalist, yet

those qualities weren’t enough in her case. She took that

passion and spark, filed a sexual discrimination case and


Hard News: Women in Broadcast Journalism had a few

chapters that were relevant to today, and I could draw on

some information for my paper. However, much of the

information was historical and not helpful to answering my


Battling for News concentrated mainly on print

journalism. There was material about the first women in

broadcasting in the 1950’s and how they were hired and


Television News Anchors had very helpful information,

in that there were individual stories from anchorwomen

telling of their experiences. This provided stories about

the women who have succeeded within the field–why and

how. There was a round table discussion conducted by The

New Mother Jones magazine with television newswomen Linda

Ellerbee, Marion Goldin, Ann Rubenstein, and Meredith

Vieira. This provided first-hand opinions about what these

women see going on in the business.

Women in Television News was published in 1976, and

thus, much of the information was outdated. However, I

was able to use some quotes from newswomen about what they

believe one must do to “make it” in broadcast journalism.

I also found some interesting quotes from a former vice

president of ABC News regarding women in the industry.

Waiting for Prime Time had valuable information about

Marlene Sander’s experience and opinions of other

anchorwomen and men. It covered possibilities for the

future of women in broadcasting.

Pamela Creedon’s two books were helpful in that they

discussed topics of sexual discrimination in broadcast

journalism and included a chapter by Marlene Sanders,

titled “The Face of the Network News is Male.” Here she

attempted to tackle some problems women in television news

face: what the problems are, why they exist, and a bit

about what needs to be done to cure these problems.

Liesbet van Zoonen’s book included a chapter titled

Media Production and the Encoding of Gender.” It showed

how society views women in the media. The expectations of

female anchorwomen in part stems from the overall view of

women on television–whether it be in a movie, music

video, or soap opera. This was relevant to my paper in

answering the question of why there are certain

expectations of women in television news.

The textbook, Gender, Race and Class in Media had a

few chapters relevant to my paper. Larry Gross wrote a

chapter titled, “Out of the Mainstream: Sexual Minorities

and Mass Media.” He discussed various stereotypes in our

society that lead to stereotypes in all areas of our


I found some of my sources from Oasis, and also used

a couple of magazine articles that were relevant to the

subject. I focused on the questions that I wanted to

answer and drew points from the material that were

relevant and provided substantial evidence to answer my

questions. I found that opinions and thoughts of women

who had been through the business were most helpful.

There was one big limitation I faced if I wanted to

prove that women in television news were discriminated

upon based on sex and age. Women have been fired from

their anchor positions, and it has seemed that the reasons

were because of looks or aging. But this is hard to

prove. In August, Carol Schrader, a woman anchor from

KETV-TV in Omaha, Nebraska was asked to leave. She said

that it was because of her age, although her bosses didn’t

say that was the reason, stating that she wasn’t doing her

job. She was replace by a young, blond woman. Also, when

Marlene Sanders was asked to leave ABC, instead of saying

point-blank that she was too old, her boss told her she

had outgrown the profession. Lynn Sherr of ABC News was

also fired, and she believed it was because of her

appearance, as no one told her why she lost her job. It

isn’t a proven fact that every case of a woman getting

fired from their professions were fired because of their


The number of women news anchors is scarce. Only a

few succeed, and the reason for this is because what is

expected of them is much greater than what is expected of

men. Women must work twice as hard, be twice as

beautiful, and go above and beyond their abilities. The

television broadcasting business is dominated by males,

and, in turn, males have the majority of the power.

Positive steps have been taken by women, but they are

still far from being equal in the field. Advances are not

being made quickly.

Some men in the world of television news say that

women do have a tougher time. Larry King had this to say:

I know that if I were “Loretta” King instead of

“Larry” King I would be nowhere near where I am

today. I would not have had a national radio

talk show in 1978, a national cable show of my

own, and a national column if I had started out

being the “wrong” gender (Craft 1988, p. 6).

Al Ittleson, former vice-president of ABC News, says

that physical appearance is important for both male and

female broadcasters, but emphasizes the importance of a

woman broadcaster’s looks:

Women are supposed to be beautiful. People

anticipate what a woman is supposed to look

like, so when they come to television-I haven’t

seen an unattractive woman on television yet…

In fact, they’re hired, I would say, probably

more because of the way they look and their image

than because of their background. A man with a

very strong journalism background and a man who

has broken stories…can get away with a little

bit of homeliness. Men aren’t supposed to be

attractive. Women have a tougher time (Gelfman

1976, p. 53).

Our society pins importance upon women’s looks.

They are required to retain qualities of femininity, yet

must also be professional. van Zoonen explains the

different expectations of men and women in journalism,

saying, “one must assume ‘femininity’ as a feature of

female journalists and ‘masculinity’ as a different

characteristic of male journalists” (van Zoonen 1994, p.

63). The images that are instilled in society are

carried over into all aspects of life, and are prevalent

in television news.

Just as our society is dominated by white, middle and

upper-middle class males, it is so in most professions.

The men are the bosses in television news, and this has

made it difficult for women to gain prestige. The men

place expectations upon the women, and punish them if they

aren’t exactly what they want.

One good example of a case where a woman news anchor

was fired on the basis of her looks is Christine Craft.

Craft was discriminated against because of her sex,

appearance, and age. She was fired from KMBC in Kansas

City and told, “You don’t hide your intelligence to make

guys look smarter” (Craft 1988, p. 66). Along with this,

she was fired because she was “too old, too unattractive,

and not sufficiently deferential to men” (Craft 1988, p.

66). Because her boss directly told her these things, she

felt she had been sexually discriminated against. She won

two court cases, winning a total of $600,000 in damages.

Craft’s case opened the eyes of many anchorwomen, as

well as others in the media and elsewhere. Here is a

talented, competent broadcast journalist who was unfairly

treated and took a stand. She comments on her experience,

“The men could be balding, jowly, bespectacled, even fat

and encased in double-knit, yet the women had to be

flawless. Moreover, there was the expectation that I

should pretend not to know certain facts just because I

was a woman” (Craft 1988, p. 10).

What is disturbing about Craft’s case is that it is

so blatantly obvious that she lost her job on the basis of

being a woman, being too old, and not being pretty enough.

At the time, out of all the anchors in the country who

were over 40, men made up ninety-seven percent of that,

with three percent being women who did not look their age.

Marlene Sanders writes that what is seen in Craft’s case

is “that wrinkles are ’seasoning’ in a man but

‘disqualification’ in a woman,” and that while this may

not be sexual discrimination, “it is a sad statement about

how women are viewed in our society” (Sanders and Rock

1988, p. 148).

The world of television news is an unstable one,

where women take chances, not knowing if or how long they

can thrive in the business. Marlene Sanders puts it

plainly, “The message is clear; we can all be replaced.

There are no guarantees of longevity, and no obvious

destination where news professionals can translate their

experience and knowledge into new and satisfying careers”

(Sanders and Rock 1988, p. 205).

Before she took the job at KMBC in Kansas City, Craft

was working at a smaller station in Santa Barbara, where

she had a positive experience. She says, “I was content

to be in a place where the emphasis was on getting the

stories and getting them right. Only once did management

mention my appearance, and that was to tell me to pull my

hair back a bit” (Craft 1988, p. 28).

Craft was attracted to the Kansas City station in a

larger market. However, she made clear before taking the

job that first and foremost she did not want to change her

appearance. They promised her it wouldn’t happen, yet

within the first week they had a beauty consultant piling

the make-up onto her face.

Sexual discrimination is evident in television news.

KMBC practically begged Christine Craft to come to their

station. “Women are rewarded more than men for changing

news shops often or for moving to larger markets more

because of their gender than because of their journalistic

qualifications” (Creedon: Smith, Fredin, Ferguson Nardone

1993, p. 174).

During the first trial, a former news producer at

KMBC, Sherry Chastain, testified, saying that her bosses

“instructed her to monitor the appearance of female

anchors and reporters, but never males…the male

counterpart was bald with a bad toupee and thick glasses,

yet nothing was ever mentioned about monitoring his

appearance” (Craft 1988, p. 118).

Diane Sawyer says that equal pay for equal work is a

more serious issue than aging on the air. The reason this

is such a difficult challenge is because the number of

women on a news staff, as well as their ages can be easily

established. However, salaries tend to be confidential,

and the dollar value of experience and other

qualifications are hard to determine. Therefore, while it

is possible that aging may not be a major issue for women

broadcasters ten years from now, equal pay for equal work

will most likely linger on (Hosley and Yamada 1987, p.


Some of the blame for all anchorwomen’s problems were

voiced by cynical male television executives in the

1980’s. Jon Katz, former executive director of CBS

Morning News, tells of another executive who had a way of

deciding which women to interview for anchor positions.

He would look at their tapes in the VCR for eight seconds

and he would ask himself, “Do I want to fuck them?” This

was his basis in deciding who to hire (Katz 1995, p. 158).

Catherine Crier experienced tinges of sexism at CNN.

A former lawyer and judge, she was criticized for being

just another pretty face entering the field of

broadcasting. She had no previous experience in

journalism, yet her political experience provided the

skills and knowledge necessary to succeed. She says,

“Journalists couched their reaction in terms of experience

and background, but those same journalists have failed to

voice similar criticisms of Pierre Salinger of Bill

Moyers, two men who jumped from politics into broadcast

news” (Fensch: McHargue 1993, p. 182). Crier says that

the gains of women in television news is being made very

slowly, and that “it is still a frustration for most

women” (Fensch: McHargue 1993, p. 184).

Jane Pauley is an exception to the negativity women

broadcasters often receive. The public loves her. “It is

precisely because Pauley is so down-to-earth and

easy-going that Americans loved waking up with her”

(Fensch: Holloway 1993, p. 249). She possesses the

feminine quality that is appealing to the mass audience.

She was replaced by Deborah Norville, a younger, blonder

woman on the Today show, and viewers were upset to see her

go. Now she is a success on NBC Nightly News.

There are certain qualities a woman needs to have in

order to be able to survive in television news. Ann

Rubenstein of NBC Nightly News says, “You must really

decide for yourself what you’re going to do and not do.

And what price you are willing to pay for whatever they’re

offering” (Fensch: Orenstein 1993, p. 128).

Hard work and undying ambition are important

qualities of anchorwomen. Mary Alice Williams, of CNN and

NBC, gave it her all the first day she went to work for

NBC, “appearing on camera, as an anchor of the evening

news breaks, and by the end of her first three weeks she

had anchored every network news show” (Fensch: White 1993,

p. 289).

A passion for telling the news is important, and is

one reason why the successful women stay in the field.

Diane Sawyer explains,

“I really love what you learn every day in the

business. I love the breathtaking way we walk

into people’s lives and ask them anything we

want and then leave. For a moment you have

available to you the whole universe of a person’s

life-the pain and the suffering and the joy and

the struggle. You can learn from it and take

it with you and then come back the next day

with somebody else. That’s what I like to do”

(Fensch: Zoglin 1993, p. 278).

Sawyer’s never-ending ambition carried her from news

correspondent to network star. While working for CBS

Morning News and covering the negotiations to free Iran

hostages, she “would sleep all night on two secretarial

chairs so I could get up at 4 a.m., stalk the halls and

see what I could get” (Fensch: Zoglin 1993, p. 284).

The will to endure any obstacles and believe in

themselves keeps the few successful anchorwomen going.

Sally Quinn, CBS anchorwoman says

You’ve got to have self-confidence. If I didn’t

have an enormous amount of self-confidence, I

would have been destroyed by this whole

experience…You can’t learn to be a perfect

anchorwoman in one day, and I knew that I wasn’t

going to be perfect and that people were just

going to crucify me because I wasn’t perfect”

(Gelfman 1976, p. 75).

Michael Gartner, NBC News president, explains what is

important in television news anchoring. “You have to have

a special combination of person to be the focal point of a

successful show. You have to be a good journalist, and

you have to be able to deliver the message-which a print

person doesn’t have to do-in person, in somebody’s house”

(Fensch: Zoglin 1993, p. 281).

Barbara Walters is an exception to the rule that

older women do not succeed in television news. She is a

successful television newswoman who is well over the age

of 40. Even she had to take the hard road to make it to

the top, starting out as a secretary at a small

advertising agency, working in public relations and then

in public affairs for CBS. Walters recognizes the tough

times women in television news face. She says

You have to work harder. It’s been said before,

but it’s true. You are taken less seriously and

you are very often scorned by your own co-workers

…it’s a tougher job for a woman because a woman

has to be awfully good. She really does. A man

can be much more excused” (Gelfman 1976, p. 88).

Women are not rising to the top quickly in television

news, although there is slow improvement, and anchormen

say they are fine with the idea of women at the top.

Walter Cronkite says of a woman anchor in the future,

“Fine, why not? I think it likely…I think by the time

the next change comes, the next generation of anchor

people, I would think that the barrier would be down and

that women would have as good a chance as men” (Sanders

and Rock 1988, p. 198).

Yet there are still roadblocks standing in the way of

women striving to make it to the top. They begin at

low-level jobs, such as researchers and logistics persons

and hope to take the right paths to get to the top of the

ladder. Sanders writes, “For years there were few women

above the level of researcher. While that has changed,

the amount of frustration for those who do not move ahead

has driven many people out of the business altogether”

(Sanders and Rock 1988, p. 198-199).

Lesley Stahl of CBS News points out that anchorwomen

are most often workaholics, with a never-ending drive to

do their job. She says

It’s one reason we do succeed in this business.

We just give it everything…Maybe it’s because

our kind of personalities are attracted to this

industry, compulsive, deadline-oriented people

who keep pushing ourselves to see how much work

we can do. We love work…It’s not just a symptom

in the early stage, it goes on” (Sanders and Rock

1988, p. 81).

Society’s expectations of female news anchors is very

much like that of any woman in a powerful and successful

career. While the women must portray a glamorous, yet

friendly image, expectations of men in the business are

not near as high. Jon Katz says in his article

The men who anchor today look, dress, and act

almost precisely the same way they did 50 years

ago. They only have to reflect a single trait

to succeed-gravitas. They wouldn’t dream of

being intimate, glamorous, or coy. Nor would

anyone expect that of them” (Katz 1995, p. 162).

Katz goes on to say that men who make it in the

business usually never fail. He says of anchormen, “Old

anchors never fade away. And they can’t be killed by

mortal means” (Katz 1995, p. 164).

Sadly, forward movements aren’t apparent today by

women in television news. Forty years ago, a female

gaining the anchor position on the evening news was a leap

forward. Today “it feels more like a step backward, an

attempt to stuff accomplished, contemporary women into an

ill-fitting straightjacket” (Katz 1995, p. 164).

It is apparent that women news anchors face many more

struggles than men in the field. It takes a unique

individual to fight through those struggles and strive for

what they want most: to relay news throughout the world.

Equality with men is far from being reached, but a few

females have stood their ground and hopefully made a

difference for others that follow. If people open their

eyes and realize there are plenty of women who are just

as, if not more, competent than men at holding an anchor

position, women could gain respect within the field. For

now, the few women who find success and are willing to

endure the hardships that come along will likely survive

in the business, at least until age hinders their physical


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