Women Speak Out! A Report of the Pacific Women's Conference. October 27 – November 2
Our plans as well as our images are so dominated by the media, whether its the modern media or whether its the old media. Two specific aspects of it I'd just like to touch on page 53 and then hopefully touch briefly on two possibilities for the future. One is that as our panelists spoke, its so reinforced things which have been coming out in this conference - that we can't seperate, really, women's liberation from national liberation, because the echoes of what happened on the other side of the world came over so clearly - that is, the cultural imperialism which reinforces these images of us as women, and women belonging to subservient societies, subservient to other societies.
And as we listen to what is done to the image of the Pacific women, you can forgive me for recalling what used to happen and what still happens, although we are vigilant about it, to the image of the black woman in the colonial society of the New World.
When we were getting the images projected to us from two influences, the British colonial system and the American system which was sitting on our doorstep, and also the bombardment with the films etc., my hair wasn't supposed to look like this because this was not how it looked in Hollywood and you went to all sorts of agonising processes to get as much to look like the image. It was absurd - you used the skin whiteners and the hair straighteners and so on, all because there was this external thing being put on us in this oppressive way.
Now let us not make the mistake of saying that because we're independent politically, constitutionally, that we've thrown off that kind of imposition, and this is where I think, at so many levels, we're even more vulnerable when we enter into an independent status, because then, with the economic external forces, the multinational corporations, the big sales talks, come the images as well.
So it is reinforced that before we can begin to deal with the image of the woman, we've got to see where it's coming from, and it's coming from a whole context of oppressive forces. So that's one of the things it seems to me that is tying up so many of these things that we're talking about in this conference.page 54
When, to look specifically at the media itself, one of the things that seems to us to come over loud and clear is that we're dealing with perhaps the most sexist institution barring perhaps the church and this is why I think that particularly women who appear to be given the rare privilege of getting into the media have to be so much on the alert. Men are particularly jealous of the fact that they control the means of controlling you and me what goes on up here in our heads. So they will embrace the talk of women into the media and Barbara Walters will, for instance, dominate NBC in New York with 1 ½ hour programmes etc., 1 ½ hours of key TV time in the States, which does not add up to very much because the pressures on the few women who get into any prominent position are tremendous. And they are seldom in a position to project anything like a woman's image. What they're doing is just perpetuating the whole thing. And I've seen so many women in the media utterly frustrated by the fact that they are there and they're as controlled as if they were outside.
What are the solutions? Can I tell you a little bit of what we have found possible and is beginning to make a sort of breakthrough at home? If we're talking about a tough and jealous profession, namely the media, controlled by the men, it means that we've got to think in terms of tough professional women who are invading that media, and I would emphasise ‘professional’.
We have recently set up a school, Institute of Mass Media, in our University of the West Indies, and I'm very proud to say that my own daughter was one of the first graduates of that school. And the very first thing that the young women who graduated from this school did, in conjunction with their male colleagues, (there's nothing like applying a little pressure at the right time and in the right place), was to have a media workshop for women, and there they had to do the research to check what the newspapers were saying about women, what the visual media was doing etc. They really got some serious material as the basis of their workshop and discussed guidelines and so on in the context of a newly independent country. You know, they're very hopeful about the possibilities of a growing number of young professional women who have identified the professional problems, as well as the page 55 women's problems as the national problems and packaged them for presentation. That's at the professional level.
At the non-professional level, what we have also found as a promising means of dealing with the problem is to look for instance, at the large numbers of persons who are exposed to the media, and as you spoke of them, a fantastically high percentage of people in Guam who watch TV. It would be interesting to know how many of these are housewives, how many of these are women.
Now, they needn't be passive peceivers of what the media is pushing at them. Could they not participate? Could these women, as they do their housework, mind their babies, have a transistor to their ears or the TV on or something, be motivated in their community groups to monitor the media?
We've attempted this in a modest way. We're saying, “Look, we know Janet that you're confined in your house for 5 hours every day. Could you make it your job for this week to take any 2 hours of the women's programme which is presented for your consumption every morning. Check it out. What is it advertising? Is it nice recipes and beauty aids and new draperies and so on, or is it involving you in the public issues of the community etc. Monitor it. Tell us what it is saying.” And somebody else is doing the other 2 hours in their home doing their responsibilities and so on. At the end of the week, at the end of a fortnight, these women who have had this responsibility, get in a huddle and examine the pap that they've been fed with from the media, and they decide how much of it they want and how much of it they don't want.
And we come back to another point to remember, and that is, in the final analysis, we women are the consumers and when the consumers indicate what they want, the people who are producing the goods, have to listen to the consumers.