Women Speak Out! A Report of the Pacific Women's Conference. October 27 – November 2
On the media
page 47 On the media
Media is a powerful social force. Who controls it? As far as I can see, it is controlled by only a few people, a certain sector. In some cases, it's the government, in some cases, big businessmen of businesses that sell you images of what you're supposed to look like, what you're supposed to think, what you're supposed to eat, what you're supposed to smell like. It's like the definition of colonialism given at this conference-the self defined by the other. You're defined by the advertisements that tell you what to think.
Media serves to perpetuate those in power, those who have money to control us not only through the media, but also through education. It serves to perpetuate stereotypes that are generally Western, white and male. That's why women come off as very passive and weak. They're supposed to be feminine. The people who control the media know the value of pushing this kind of stereotype through ads. because it makes them money.
The press is a tool to educate. The print shop that I worked in is an alternative to the kind of propaganda that's forced down our throats by history books etc. It is an alternative to newspapers that are old and controlled by a few rich people.
In Hawaii the media portrays Hawaiians as stupid, happy-go-lucky, easy-going; it puts them down. It portrays working people as too weak to fight the system. Thus, the media reinforces the power of the rich, the landowners, the government, the banks, against the poorer people.
The print shop is an alternative to this power. It shows you can fight back through newsletters, posters, bumper stickers. We try to show that people have a lot of common page 48 problems and a lot of common strengths. It's extremely difficult for women to get a decent job in something like a print shop-they are usually relegated to the tedious, boring unimaginative jobs.
Finally, you can't seperate the issues – sexism, racism, colonialism. They are all related and they all affect women.
With regard to the media, it is in the hands of the colonial power which spreads only one-way information, with the view to isolating us from our true problems which threaten to disturb the good conduct of capitalist affairs. All the films, magazines, newspapers, are there only to stir us to create for ourselves the same white heroes as those of the capitalist countries: Tarzan, Zorro, and Batman.
Let me isolate the most influential means of communication available on Guam, the television and the school books. Almost every home on Guam has a television set. A recent research done by the University group showed that the average Guamanian watches an average of seven hours of television a day. If we watch television that long, we definitely must be influenced by it. We have everything that a U.S. television program would have, including cowboys, sexist ads., crimes, and soap operas.
In the educational media, there is an attempt to write grade school books partly in Chamorro. There are bilingual programmes in the schools. There is also KGTF, an educational television station partly subsidised by the federal page 49 and local governments. Here is shown such programmes as ‘Sesame Street’, ‘The Electric Company’, ‘Zoom’, ‘Woman Today’, and other canned shows from the mainland. There are also locally produced programmes for children and adults. A few books for lower grades are being revised to make them non-sexist and gear them to local situations.
There are 36 women of the 100 employees at Fiji Broadcasting Commission, and of these only two are on the executive, one is a technician, six are announcers. Wages are equal, but men hold most of the decision-making powers.
What has radio been doing in International Women's Year? Most of the other countries have been doing things that are very women-orientated i.e. things that don't bring the woman out of her home, such as knitting or cooking. There's nothing for education about outside activities.
Working for radio in Fiji, I find that women listeners are very, very passive, and the feedback I get from my listening audience-there's nothing to go on. I have to make up the programmes to go on radio because, unfortunately, I don't get any co-operation from the women. You get pulled down because the women don't give you any ideas of what they want.
Another thing I have noticed in working for the media, is in describing any events when a woman is present-for instance, Margaret Thatcher was described as the blonde Mrs. Thatcher, daughter of a grocery store owner etc., which I think is unnecessary. After all, they don't talk about men as the mousy little Mr. Kissinger or the handsome Mr. Trudeau…
One of the media that really concerns me is, in the Pacific especially, the films. The movie industry is really affecting the South Pacific and no matter where you go or page 50 how isolated the village or the island is, somewhere, on a Saturday night, there's a movie.
Some of the media we have some control of, for instance you can ring up the broadcasting station or you can write a letter to the editor and make your criticisms, but you have no control whatsoever over the films coming out from Hollywood, or wherever the films come from.
I am very much concerned about film censorship. In most of the Pacific islands, more than half the population is female. What percentage of the film censorship is made up of women? I am concerned about the representation of women on film censorship boards.
We are an atoll island and we're scattered over thousands of miles. We have just nothing but few lands and a lot of sea. We've got 16 islands in the Gilberts and 8 in the Ellice Islands. You can imagine how people rely on the radio and this is how we, in the Women's Interest Office, work with the women in the outer islands.
We have to get through to them. We have to speak in Gilbertese, Ellice, and very little English and that's why I think if you are having difficulty trying to put through your methods to the women because of the communication difficulty through shipping, I think the best way you have to work with is through the radio. More or less all the people now throughout the islands depend mostly on radio for their messages from overseas and elsewhere, even through telegrams. If the telegrams breakdown on the wireless, we get our messages through the radio. It is one of the strongest things that people in the Pacific are very grateful to have-this sort of communication with the people of the outer islands.
People in the towns who have many things to socialise themselves with, forget that the people in the outer islands almost live with the radio. This is their only way of entertainment and they listen very intently and they make very page 51 critical assessments from there. You'd be surprised the people who make the talk in the Parliament, the House of Assembly, don't contribute to anything that's going on, even in the newspaper. But it's the people in the outer islands who make criticisms and send them back even if its two or three months late, but their points still come through, and this is through the radio.
And I wish to say how much we in the Gilbert and Ellice depend mainly through our work to get any message through to the women or to the people of the rural area-our main communication is the radio.
We in the Cook Islands have no T.V. as yet, but we have a daily newspaper which is controlled by the government. We also have a broadcasting system which is also controlled by the government. So it is very difficult for other people outside government, like an opposition group to the government. They are not free to express themselves; they can write an article for the press and send it in, but its got to be censored, and if it suits them, its printed in full, and if it doesn't, its thrown out. This is the way it is in the Cooks. This is how we stand in the Cooks.
We have a woman's programme but to this day no one ever asked us if we'd like to participate in this hour. [Poko Ingram led a delegation of Cook Island women belonging to the Cook Islands Women's Association, which supports one of the opposition parties in the Cook Islands. Editor.] The women's programme runs for an hour. The chosen group to speak or relate their programmes is the Cook Islands Federation of Women which is government sponsored. So they can talk to their ladies on anything, so therefore they communicate to the other islands which leaves us in the Rarotonga areas. So we have to write – that's the only communication we have with the outer islands and ourselves.
I talk about the situation in Tahiti. As in the Gilbert Islands, the radio is a very important means because we in French Polynesia have about a hundred islands spread over a very vast area. We have atolls like in the Gilberts. We don't have any direct communication with the centre, with Tahiti itself. So the people there rely on the radio. They go and make copra and they take the radio with them and they turn on the radio as soon as it comes on. We have a programme which lasts about three hours, two hours in the morning, three hours at noon, and three hours at night too.
But these radio and T.V. are controlled by the French government, so they are always turned to French customs and the French way of life and most of the programmes are in French. On the radio there is about one hour of Tahitian at night and a little before noon with the news. But all the rest is in French and the T.V., the programmes are all in French. Nothing is in Tahitian.
And when we have elections for example, the local parties in Tahiti are not allowed to use the radio or T.V. The only parties who are allowed to talk are the French parties. So we receive on the T.V. the French government party man, and the French Socialist party man, and the Communist party man, and nobody knows who they are because there is no Socialist party or Communist party in Tahiti, so it doesn't interest the people. We have to vote for one of them, but we should like to know what our leaders in Tahiti think of this and what it is for us simple people to do about it.
There is no programme for women in Tahiti, nothing at all. No special programme, never.
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.