What event began the emergence of women as true players in the media? Was it Sherry Lansing?s appointment to President of 20th Century Fox in 1980, becoming the first woman to head a studio? Was it Cathleen Black in 1979 becoming the first woman publisher of a weekly consumer magazine, New York? Or did the real power for women in the media come later with Geraldine Laybourne reinventing children?s television on Nickelodeon or Judy McGrath sending MTV into 265.8 million households all over the world? Do women in the media, in fact, really have any power today?
This paper will examine the power of women in the media through four different women, Sherry Lansing, chair and CEO of Paramount Pictures, Cathleen Black, President of Hearst Magazines, Geraldine Laybourne, Chairman and CEO of Oxygen Media, and Judy McGrath, President of MTV.
Sherry Lansing received a Bachelor of Science degree from Northwestern University in 1966. After graduation, Lansing taught English and math at Los Angeles public high schools. She quit teaching to become a model for Max Factor and Alberto-Culiver and also held minor roles in a couple of movies. She is often quoted for calling herself ?a terrible actress.? Still interested in film, Lansing took a few classes at UCLA and the University of Southern California soon becoming an executive story editor for MGM. Only two years later became vice president at Columbia taking charge of such films as The China Syndrome and Kramer vs. Kramer (gmu.edu).
Sherry Lansing made history when, in 1980, she became the first woman to be in charge of production at a major studio ? 20th Century Fox. Lansing brought to the movies something that had never been introduced before, the perspective of a woman. This in no way means that Lansing only backed ?chick flicks.? It means that she kept herself in touch with viewers. She put her personal taste aside and thought about what ?the people? wanted to see. Lansing has been quoted several times about her delight in attending the movies. In fact, she attends movies to get a genuine feel for what people really think are good movies. She listens carefully to the comments made during and after a movie. Her female perspective allows her to see things from more than one angle ? her own. One top filmmaker said, ?Sherry?s the first executive who succeeded by being a woman, not trying to be a guy. She can be maternal, she can be sexy, she can use her femininity to be manipulative, but she?s always, brilliantly, a woman (guardianunlimited.com).?
Today, Sherry Lansing sits on the board of directors of Teach for America and the American Film Institute. Governor Davis appointed her as Regent in March 1999 to a term expiring in 2010 and she currently serves as Vice Chairman of The Regents (upoc.edu). On top of all this, Sherry Lansing has headed hits such as Braveheart, Clueless, Runaway Bride, and The General?s Daughter.
If the question is whether Sherry Lansing has power in the media, the answer has to be yes. However, if the question is whether Sherry Lansing holds as much power as men in similar positions, I believe it takes more evaluation. Take for instance the comment made by a top filmmaker about Lansing. He takes all of the stereotypes about women and simply applies them to Lansing. Thus saying, Sherry Lansing is diversely stereotypical.
Is this comment a compliment? Let?s examine it. The first line of the comment appealed to me. It is true, in my opinion, that many women feel they have to act ?masculine? in order to succeed in the business world. However, this is a direct result of the environment and the fact that this man is oblivious as to why women act masculine in the business world made me skeptical of his comment. He confirmed my skepticism by adding that Lansing could be maternal, sexy, and manipulative ? all stereotypes about women. The fact that she had mastered each stereotype and knew when to apply each, to him, made her a brilliant woman.
Another instance concerning Sherry Lansing is the headline run in the New York Times after the announcement of her promotion to the head of 20th Century Fox Productions. The headline read, ?Sherry Lansing, former model, named head of Fox Productions (guardianunlimited.com).? This headline was run fourteen years after Lansing?s modeling experience. She was a model for a mere three years of her life, had been in the film industry for almost ten years, yet the headline made no mention of her experience as Vice President of Creative Affairs at MGM or as Senior Vice President of Production for Columbia Pictures.
Cathleen Black is another important player in today?s media. Black is president of Hearst Magazines, the world?s largest publisher of monthly magazines. She oversees the financial performance and development of world famous titles such as Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, and Harper?s BAZAAR. Hearst currently publishes 99 international editions in more than 100 countries (hearstcorp.com).
Cathleen Black also marked an important point for women in history when she became the first woman publisher of a weekly consumer magazine ? New York. Black has quite an impressive resume with President and Publisher experience at USA Today and being named President of the Newspaper Association of America in 1991. In 1996, Black became the first woman President of Hearst Magazines (hearstcorp.com).
Black, like the other women discussed, brings a certain female perspective to all of her endeavors. She has the ability to be open-minded and look at all possible problems and solutions. One of Black?s huge successes has been promoting her titles worldwide. She owes a great deal of this success, in my opinion, to her female perspective. While marketing Cosmopolitan to countries like Russia and the Philippines, Black realized that specific changes had to be made to accommodate the women of these particular countries. She recognized that women across the ocean did not necessarily want to read the same things as American women. As a result, she created original editorial material for each region. Even though they were across the ocean, Black still related to her customers.
Cathleen Black has gone down in history as the first woman President of Hearst Magazines. However, one has to read much further to find out about her actual accomplishments. Is this because it is enough for people to hear that she is the first woman president of a company? Cathleen Black could have been fired a week after her appointment and no one would be the wiser.
I must admit that there is no question as to the power that Cathleen Black holds on a daily basis in the media. But I again must interject, does she have the same power that a man would have in her same position. Although there were no offensive headlines to announce Cathleen Black?s appointment to presidency, I came across an interview in which she was referred to as a ?top-ranking woman executive in magazine publishing (Outlook Magazine).? Black responded to this question, ? I would rather not be known as the top-ranking woman anything. I?d rather be seen as an effective and strategic leader of a large organization, the same way one would describe a male executive (Outlook Magazine).?
Although this was the perfect response to the question in my opinion, it reconfirms the fact that even women in extremely powerful positions are treated differently than men holding similar positions. I, personally, have never heard a man referred to as a top-ranking man executive. He is simply a top-ranking executive – sex need not be mentioned I suppose.
Geraldine Laybourne is definitely a name worth mentioning in the same sentence as powerful women in the media. Laybourne started out as an elementary school teacher, took what she learned, and reconfigured children?s television as we (and our children) knew it. Hired by the cable network Nickelodeon in 1980 as program manager, Laybourne received 8 promotions in the next thirteen years. In 1984, Nickelodeon?s ratings were second to last. Laybourne raised them to a tie for second place in only one year. Once dubbed the ?green vegetable network?(forbes.com) because kids hated it so much, Nickelodeon is now the number one network for kids today.
Like the other women discussed, Laybourne brought a new, female perspective to the station. Laybourne talks about her days at Nickelodeon and says, ?When we changed the face of children?s television for Nickelodeon, we did it by putting up what the stereotypes were and what broadcasters told us you had to do, and then we debunked them (fortune.com).? And she did exactly that. Laybourne did something that no one before had thought to do with children?s programming ? ask the children what they wanted. Laybourne?s female perspective added to success at Nickelodeon in another way. She was able to work as a team with other employees. In every quote, Laybourne refers to the success at Nickelodeon with a ?we? not an ?I.? The current COO of Nickelodeon, Jeff Dunn, says, ?Gerry Laybourne is to Nick what Henry Luce was to Time or Ray Krow was to McDonald?s (fortune.com).?
While there is no doubt that she holds power in the media for her success at Nickelodeon, it is now that Geraldine Laybourne is beginning to be the target of criticism for her attempt to do the same for women that she did for children. Laybourne has broken off from children?s television to create a new cable network/Internet network for women. Her power in media is evidenced by the fact that she has obtained backing from names such as Oprah Winfrey, Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner, Vulcan Ventures, and Bob Pittman.
Her aim with her new venture, Oxygen Media, is to incorporate a woman?s cable network with several different Internet sites. She is hoping to make television more interactive by taking real life problems and stories from real life women off the Internet, and putting them onto the television. One of Laybourne?s mottos is to aim high and she is doing just that with the hopes of putting Oxygen into 27 million homes by the end of 2002. Currently, Oxygen is in approximately 10 million home nationwide (TheStandard.com).
Despite her power, Geraldine Laybourne has met criticism that, in my opinion, she would not encounter as a man. An article referring to Oxygen?s advertising during the Superbowl was titled, ?ADVERTISING: Girls Play with the Big Boys (TheStandard.com).? Another article outlining the movement of Oxygen Media was titled, ?Oxygen: Lipstick and Recipes or a Media Revolution? (cnet.com).? The most crucial evidence that Geraldine Laybourne is a woman power player in the media and not simply a power player is the fact that Oxygen Media is being compared to other women?s networks such as Ivillage.com and Lifetime television. The most important aspect of Oxygen Media is that it is attempting to reach viewers through cable and the Internet. Ivillage.com is only on the Internet. Lifetime television is a woman?s network strictly on cable. It would make more sense to compare Oxygen Media to MSNBC. However, since it deals with women, it must be compared to other sites and networks dealing with women.
Despite her innovative ideas and huge success, interviewers cannot come up with anything more interesting to ask Geraldine Laybourne than, ?How would your life be different if you were a male? (womenswire.com).? I have never witnessed an interview where a man was asked how his life might be different had he been born female.
Ironically, the exact same question was asked of Judy McGrath, President of MTV. All of her success and accomplishments could have been discussed. Instead, the interviewer asks how life would be different if she were a man. Her response to this irrelevant question bears repeating, however, because she responds, ?I probably would have gotten a job at Rolling Stone and would be pissed off I wasn?t at MTV. Because I was a woman, I got into an industry that was considered B+, but I got to get in early and take over (womenswire.com).?
It is almost as if powerful women have the answer to this question memorized because it is constantly asked in some form or another. There is no denying that women in the media hold positions of power they probably would not have held thirty years ago. In a way ?we?ve come a long way, baby.? However, headlines referring to a ten year film production veteran as a ?model,? articles insinuating that women can only compete with one anther, no matter how vague the comparison, and questions focusing on the ?woman? instead of the ?person? must be eliminated completely if women are to become true power players in the media.
Bart, Peter. findarticle.com. ?There?s something about Sherry,? November 8, 1999.
fortune.com. ?Gerry Laybourne, Us vs. Them,? October 28, 1996.
guardianunlimited.com. ?We must have naked breasts in this movie.?
Ledbetter, James. TheStandard.com. ?Men Are From Mars, Women are from AOL,? September 18, 1998.
Macavinta, Courtney. cnet.com. ?Oxygen: Lipstick and recipes or a media revolution?? October, 25, 1999.
Outlook Magazine. ?Spreading the Word,? August, 3, 1997.
Post, Tom. forbes.com. ?Gerry-built TV,? February, 22, 1999.
Sapers, Jonathan. womenswire.com