New Zealand Herald

Monday, July 26, 1999

Feminist focus shifts to media

New Zealand Herald

LOS ANGELES - America's largest feminist organisation, determined to give women a more powerful voice in the media, is shifting its lobbying efforts from Capitol Hill to the boardrooms of Hollywood.

A conference of the National Organisation for Women (Now) this month ratified a new statement of purpose for the first time since the group's 1966 foundation, officially changing its target from lawmakers to imagemakers.

Delegates from 550 chapters across the country voted to unleash a three-pronged assault aimed at overturning the common portrayal of women as either victims or "femi-Nazis."

"We're going to focus on images of women in the media and in entertainment," said Now president Patricia Ireland.

"The entertainment industry is capable of changing public opinion which, of course, in turn influences policy."

Ireland said Now had decided to switch its focus to the media in frustration over what it saw as the right-wing, anti-feminist influence of Republican Newt Gingrich during his four years as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The crusade includes an advertising campaign, encouraging the more than 500,000 Now members to seek executive positions in news media and entertainment, and pressuring media powerbrokers to present women in a more diverse and positive light.

"There's been a lot of pigeon-holing of women in media and advertising. This is a chance to open up public perception," said Jim Obermeyer, an account executive with Bomstein Agency, which is producing and marketing the campaign for free.

"The ads will feature real people," he said. "Professionals, CEOs, artists, construction workers - as big a cross-section as we could create in 30 seconds."

Ireland said the advertisements "show feminists who look like you grandmother, your daughter, your cousin, your girl-friend."

"We must build on our diversity and show that feminism is not just about women's rights, but equality."

"Right now in an election it can hurt a candidate if he or she is associated with feminism. We want to change that."

Now leaders have also written to the heads of TV networks asking for meetings where they will lobby for a depiction of women as stronger and more independent.

The group is also campaigning to decrease images of violence in entertainment, saying victims are disproportionately women.

Some in Hollywood have shown early signs of support Now's efforts. Cheryl Rhoden, president of the Writers' Guild of America, says pressure on the studios to curtail violence by any group is welcome.

"Many members of the guild feel there is too much violence in film and they don't want to be told by development executives that they have to include more violence in their scripts."