Giving the “women’s page” (some) credit

When I still worked for a newspaper, one of my favorite things was digging through the morgue. Each overstuffed filing cabinet held decades of old news, including stories from the paper’s long defunct women’s section.

I often dismissed such stories as misogynistic, old-fashioned fluff — something I’m rethinking after reading this piece in the Columbia Journalism Review. As it turns out, women’s pages have an important — if complicated — place in feminist history.

reserving a separate space for “women’s issues” meant that things like parenting, fashion, and the beginnings of the feminist movement got column inches, the separation also demarcated the women’s page as the site of less newsy content, a “pink ghetto” that still persists.

Women’s sections debuted in American newspapers in the late 1800s, and were often the only place willing to hire female journalists. Although these sections were often devoted to lighter matters like housekeeping, society happenings and fashion, they slowly became an arena for serious topics like birth control and workplace equality.

Most newspapers have turned the women’s pages into style sections, but not, alas,  because the front pages are giving equal space to female voices — even in stories focused on women’s issues.

 

Part of the society page from the Grand Rapids Herald. The woman pictured, Betty Bloomer, is better known a former first lady Betty Ford. Source: WikiMedia Commons
Part of the society page from the Grand Rapids Herald. The woman pictured, Betty Bloomer, is better known a former first lady Betty Ford. Source: WikiMedia Commons
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