30 Years of Change, and Vermont Women are Just Beginning
by Rickey Gard Diamond

When Vermont Woman published its first edition in 1985, a woman-owned and operated newspaper was front-page news, the lead television story of the day. Reincarnated in 2003, we’re celebrating the tenth anniversary of a lively decade of fresh design and one of the state’s earliest media webpages; Vermont Woman has now spanned 30 years. We’ve seen big changes.

Many more women populate and own newsrooms, for instance. Pamela Polston and Paula Routly began the weekly Seven Days in 1995, and in 2009, Anne Galloway founded a digital-only investigative daily, Vermont Digger.Yet most media—radio, newspapers and television—remain male-owned nationally and in Vermont.

Does that matter?

More than ownership, what distinguishes Vermont Woman from other media in the state is its intent to provide a collective woman's perspective on an entire range of topics, from current events, politics, health, finance, education, sports, and the arts. Vermont Woman has thrived with its public focus on a woman's point of view. And on the numbers of bold women change-makers found in our pages: together.

Vermont Woman is the media source for women to shout out what we think, how we feel, and what we believe needs attention, discussion and change. Yet women often hear from many other sources that women really don’t need that woman-thing anymore.

What are women’s issues in such a changed world, where women can supposedly have it all?

So Far

Vermont Woman in its 30-years span has witnessed a revolution in social mores. Birth control pills set women free of unwanted pregnancies in an unprecedented way. If abortion and birth control have since become a focus of ideologues on the right, sexuality in all its diversity has also become mentionable.

For a generation now, sex has tumbled out of the closet with all kinds of family skeletons. Women wrote books and talked out loud about what was happening at home, despite all good appearances on television and the movies. Rock Hudson wasn’t really in love with Doris Day, and Ozzie and Harriet and the Cleavers were far less happy than we had known.

Behind closed doors, forget democracy. A good number of men still believed home was their castle and their entitlement as kings—and the more so if their lives disappointed them, if their status was shmuck. They could whip women and children into a shape they controlled. Child sexual abuse, incest and child pornography came to the surface, as did violence experienced at home, committed at the hand of an intimate partner.

In a BBC interview earlier this year, Gloria Steinem answered questions about the relevancy of women’s issues similar to the ones just posed. She reminded Stephen Sacur of Hard Talk: “When we started we didn’t have a word for ‘domestic violence.’ It was just called ‘life.’”

Emotional violence, bullying and verbal abuse are beginning to be seen as another type of violence, harmful to everyone—and still aimed at maintaining the privilege of male mystique, keeping woman in her one-down position. The worst insults maintain gendered boxes, a hierarchy enforced and policed by sexual body-part names. Ladyparts remain the lowest of the low.

What’s Next?

We’re only beginning to ask ourselves uncomfortable questions. What makes a man a man if he no longer controls women? It is no accident that in the midst of social upheaval and women’s growing equality, Rambo got more muscular, politics got more conservative and women became obsessed with becoming slimmer and slimmer.
Masculinity is always contested, feminist men like John Stoltenberg, Michael Kimmel, Paul Kivel and Rob Okun have been saying. Manhood has to be proven. No one seems sure who decided that exactly. Was it Cain, or was it Abel? Was it God the Father, or Allah, or Mother Nature? Depending on what you believe, a deeper masculinity that sets this unwinnable contest aside will be seen as good—or threatening.

As Steinem explained to the Hard-Talker, we are going deeper. We begin to see the connections between our homes and our national life. What a child is taught from infancy about gender differences normalizes how differences are tolerated and respected, or not, Steinem says.

Lauren Wolf, a BBC director and blogger links the Hard Talk interview of Steinem with the work of Valerie Hudson, a professor of government at Texas A&M:

“The template for living with other human beings who are different from us is forged within every society by the character of male-female relations,” Hudson writes in Foreign Policy. “In countries where males rule the home through violence, male-dominant hierarchies rule the state through violence.”  

Foreign Affairs?

Right away differences between Middle Eastern nations and the western world could jump to mind. And yet what country buys and sells more weapons than any other nation? And what country puts more of its citizens in jail? And what country loves gun violence in its movies and gun ownership at home and remains unmoved by mass murders of children or the infamy of Abu Graib?

And who demonstrates most fully the bullying rights of private gain—My gain! Not yours!—by the most powerful and ruthless without constraint of fair taxes or regulation? What makes U.S. wealth inequality—its millionaires now billionaires—so acceptable a political player that government by the people can now be called the enemy, the problem?

Private fortunes make it possible. Yet the very gendered identity of the richest and the poorest Americans rarely makes the news as a story about gender. Gender inequality is so much the fabric of our lives, we cannot see it, perhaps afraid to pull a thread and unravel the whole.

Don’t Want to Know?

To see how dangerous to women invisible assumptions about social expectations are, use Google on your computer, or the computer at your library. A recent video of this experiment from a Brown University student, posted by UpWorthy, is on our Facebook page, but do this yourself.

In the search slot, type: “women should,” and see what Google’s auto fill comes up with, based on cumulative searches by everyone. Type in “men should.” Then type in “feminists should,” to see violent responses and why many women avoid identifying as a feminist. (See sidebar for answers.)

By the way, Vermont Woman defines a woman who believes she and other females are entitled to basic human rights as feminist, whether she calls herself one or not. We are aware she votes, and can even serve in office (if only she can find child care). We love the diversity of women’s many endeavors found in our pages, proof of our feminist pudding. But there’s more work to do.

Eyes, Ears and Jaws

We need never work alone. Our nation’s founders talked of the common welfare without embarrassment, even though they were hypocrites. No doubt we are, too, but solidarity brings political and economic advantage, when up against the odds. Freedom and Unity are still held in a healthy tension in our state.

In late October, I had the privilege of attending a Journalism and Women Symposium in Essex, Vermont. A national organization of 600 top-flight media women, JAWS works to advance women journalists, through training, mentoring and networking. Governor Madeleine Kunin gave a speech at the conference worth its own article (see link Learn More sidebar); I had the pleasure of hearing awe in voices of young journalists, who had never heard of Kunin or her books before—but had to wonder why not?

Joan Riddell Cook was one the founding mothers of JAWS, and one of seven plaintiffs in a 1974 class action suit against The New York Times, our nation’s best-respected newspaper. Seven women plaintiffs sought redress for all 550 females employed by the Times; their suit resulted in an affirmative action plan in 1978. It took 37 more years for a woman to be named executive editor at the Times in 2011.

So the keynote appearance of NYT’s editor-in-chief Jill Abramson was an historic occasion. She began by saying she had just been visiting colleges, where her daughter had used a new expression she would use tonight. “Because as soon as I walked into the room, I knew it. These are ‘my peeps,’” she grinned, and opened her arms to a cheer.

When she announced she had finally joined JAWS, there was a roar from 200 women journalists. One girl is a peep. Two hundred girlfriends can roar.

I learned Abramson had cried when an April story in Politico had accused her of being “stubborn,” using anonymous quotes, claiming she was “on the verge of losing the confidence of the newsroom.” She said she was “thrilled” when fellow women journalists saw it as “a shoddy, sexist…attack on me,” and they came to her side in a media storm.

Thirty years ago, women journalists’ outspoken response could not have happened. Nor would admissions about an editor’s emotions be part of any public professional presentation.

New Connectivity

The interconnectivity of the web was everywhere apparent at JAWS, in its hi-tech planning, in Abramson’s talk about changes at the Times and in workshops on visualizing data, and new enterprises begun. Diversity was evident and cultivated, its friendly woman-centered culture intentional.

One entrepreneur, Laura Amico, presented her new venture, called Homicide Watch. She began it when she lost her journalism job. News of downsizing media and layoffs were part of Abramson’s interview, too; it is the dark side of technology’s changes. The Women’s News Media Center reported this year that as newspapers’ employment numbers tumble, women in key jobs do, too.

Male front-page bylines at top newspapers outnumber female bylines by a margin nearly 3 to 1; men are also far more likely to be quoted than women in newspapers, television and public radio, even when the subject is abortion, birth control, Planned Parenthood and women’s rights, WNMC reports.

Women television news directors edged up to 30 percent, and radio news directors on radio is also up. There’s evidence the lower-paid online world may be somewhat fairer to women. Male bylines outnumbered female bylines at “only” four of six sites. Yet online women are “too often relegated to ‘pink topics’ of food, family, furniture and fashion,” said WNMC’s 2013 report.

Sometimes women who want to shape media have to start their own ventures. Amico’s journalism work in Washington D.C. had convinced her every murder’s harm ripples out into a community. Homicide Watch enabled her to post details of every case from beginning to end. Her inclusive approach—regardless of sex or race or importance of either the victim or the perpetrator—resulted in more democratic coverage. Her site connects unlikely but neighborly questions and sharing and comforts that are part of a community’s grief and its healing: it is a space for more than sensational horrors, much more than just the facts.

Old, Old News

More personal stories have been evident in our small newspaper. Vermont Woman has been friendly with our girl friends. We have welcomed as diverse a group to our pages as possible. Such news as ours is sometimes called “soft,” meaning it isn’t that “hard” stuff guys like to brag about and ascribe to themselves. You have to wonder sometimes what all this hard talk and hardball and hard news is about.

We’ve been put down as less than “objective,” too pro-woman for some. And despite our bucking invisible cultural assumptions about definitions of news and importance, our paper has won significant honors for its writers’, photographers’ and designers’ outstanding work.

We feel lucky to be here in Vermont where so many women are changing old paradigms, as we are. If Vermont men more widely respect women here, then surely it has something to do with how remarkable are the women seen on our pages for the span of a generation, their Freedom and their Unity evident.

Two women-respecting men have appeared on our covers, and many make our news. We will continue to celebrate cooperation and mutuality more than the old news of warring men, nations and political parties bent on winning self-aggrandizing contests. In our view, that’s a bore. Other ways of organizing our society and relating to each other are possible—and a lot more fun.

If our species is to survive climate change and the poisoning of ground water and the reckless overuse of irreplaceable resources, like fish and farmland and forests, then we need to cooperate and reorganize in a hurry. Darwin coined the phrase “survival of the fittest,” often misused to justify divisions of people into the haves and the have-nots. Billionaires are fitter than the rest of us, the story goes. And if they’re mostly male, well, you know how that story goes, too.

Click the links above to jump to those pages.

But Darwin’s survival of the fittest was not about winning a contest, or males measuring up against other males. Natural selection involves female choices. It is about the adaptation of male and female to a particular environment. A diverse genetic story has brought us the pride of the lions, the circle of penguin dads huddling for warmth as they hatch eggs while mom fishes, and the growing bellies of pregnant sea horse stallions.

For a species with a brain as big as ours, it would include the ability to figure out between the Xs and the Ys, the best way to reproduce and keep our babies safe, well fed and alive. Instead our species deliberately chooses to impoverish its females and its children worldwide. Instead our nation of big-skulled homo sapiens refuses health care, food and child care for its most vulnerable children.

Our country’s odds for natural selection don’t look nearly as good as those of our state and families and nations who cooperate for common welfare and common good. So with your help, Vermont Woman will stick around—and continue to report on what works and what doesn’t from Vermont women’s perspective in these pivotal times.

Look at all these women’s faces and tell us you’re not more hopeful already.



Rickey Gard Diamond is the Editor of Vermont Woman.


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