Published Feminist Research at a Crossroads:
A Critical Analysis of Mass Communications Studies in Scholarly Journals
by Linda Aldoory
S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications
917 Madison Street, #207
Syracuse, NY 13210
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Submitted to the 1997 Call for Papers
of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication's
Commission on the Status of Women
Published Feminist Research at a Crossroads:
A Critical Analysis of Mass Communications Studies in Scholarly Journals
This analysis details recommendations by feminist scholars to guide research in
mass communications. Studies involving gender, women or feminism published in
scholarly communications journals are examined according to recommendations.
The more common characteristics were feminist theory and a critique of
patriarchy. Absent in most articles were diversity and discourses on
subjectivity, racism or classism. Feminist scholars need to address ideas of
feminist epistemology and focus on barriers to publishing in mainstream,
Published Feminist Research at a Crossroads
1997 AEJMC Commission on the Status of Women
Over the past ten years, feminist research in mass communications has
discovered and secured a place in the discipline. However, it seems to be
situated at a "crossroads" (Rush, & Allen, 1989). There have been many
successes and contributions by feminist researchers in mass communications that
deserve attention and support. However, there have also been certain issues
that have not been as rigorously addressed, such as intersections with race and
class, the hierarchical nature of traditional research, and calls to social
action. In addition, when looking at the scholarly journals, males have
authored over 60% of the published mass media research (Dupagne, Potter, &
Cooper, 1993). What has this meant for publishing feminist scholarship? Some
claim that feminist scholarship has opened many doors, yet others argue that
feminism has almost been invisible in published, mass communications research.
Feminist scholarship has been growing in communications since the late 1980s,
when a surge of published work used feminist theory and challenged the status
quo through a radical perspective calling for change (Dervin, 1987; Rakow, 1986,
1987; Spitzack, & Carter, 1987; Steeves, 1987; Treichler, & Wartella, 1986).
Rakow (1992) claimed that "in the second half of the 1980s, the rest of the
field of communication studies could no longer ignore feminist scholarship or
the growing number of women calling themselves feminist scholars" (p. 3). In
addition, from the late 1980s to the 1990s, a number of special issues were
published on feminist communication scholarship, such as volume 9, number 1
(1986) of Communication on feminist critiques in popular culture; volume 11,
number 1 (1987) of Journal of Communication Inquiry; and volume 7, number 3
(1990) of Critical Studies in Mass Communication on gender and empowerment
(Rakow, 1992, p. 9). In an earlier piece, Rakow (1989) commented, "It is
astonishing to think how far feminist scholarship in communication has come in
such a short time" (p. 209).
Some scholars have examined and critiqued the status of feminist and gender
research, since it has become a stronger force in the discipline. Foss and Foss
(1989), for example, looked at essays "concerning gender and women" published in
five mainstream communication journals (p. 74). They categorized the essays
into groups, such as those using old-paradigm methods, those highlighting
features of women's experiences, and those using women's experiences as data.
Cirksena (1996) conducted a study documenting and evaluating "the growth of
scholarship on feminism, women and gender in communications" (p. 153). Looking
at Communication Abstracts from 1983 to 1992, Cirksena found that the most
common keyword descriptors were "gender" and "sex roles" rather than "feminist"
(p. 156). She compared the abstracts to different themes or recommendations
derived from feminist critiques on what helps shape feminist scholarship. These
themes included diversity, anti-hierarchical methodology, and research findings
that contribute to participants' lives. Cirksena (1996) concluded that these
recommendations for feminist research have not been incorporated by
communications scholars (p. 158).
For purposes of this paper, I wanted to extend Cirksena's analysis, and
determine if feminist recommendations for research have been incorporated in
more current, mass communications articles published in mainstream journals. In
contrast to Cirksena's (1996) work, I examined only mass communications
research, entire articles rather than abstracts, and only original studies,
published over the last two years. The purpose was two-fold: 1) to offer a
comprehensive review of the many characteristics or themes proposed for
developing a feminist research paradigm; and 2) to see if published studies
about gender, women or feminism in recent communications journals incorporated
Feminist scholars continue to debate over definitions of feminism and feminist
research. According to Olesen (1994), there are many feminisms, hence many
"conflicting" views (p. 158). However, she stated, "These many voices share the
outlook that it is important to center and make problematic women's diverse
situations and the institutions and frames that influence those situations" (p.
158). Devault (1996) defined "feminist research" as a broad category including
"any empirical study that incorporates or develops the insights of feminism."
She defined feminism as "a movement, and a set of beliefs, that problematize
gender inequality. Feminists believe that women have been subordinated through
men's greater power" (p. 2). As van Zoonen (1994) asserted, "Gender and power
then, although both very much in debate, form the constituents of feminist
theory" (p. 4). Tetreault (1985) defined feminist scholarship as "scholarly
inquiry [in pursuit of] new questions, new categories, and new notions of
significance which illuminate women's traditions, history, culture, values,
visions, and perspectives" (p. 370). Patai and Koertge (1994) commented, "If it
is to be feminist research, there has to be, at some basic, common-denominator
level, a belief that women have...been oppressed or repressed, and that we are
looking for ways to emancipate" (p. 39).
Many feminist researchers in social science disciplines have examined themes or
principles common to feminist research, rather than attempt one unifying
definition. Reinharz (1992a) and others (Fonow & Cook, 1991; Harding, 1987;
Stanley & Wise, 1993) have claimed that feminist scholarship is a perspective on
how to view the world. Cirksena (1996), in her study of communications
research, used "proposals" of key feminist critiques of communication theory as
"criteria to assess the extent to which recommendations for integrating feminist
perspectives into the study of communication have affected research trends" (p.
One of the characteristics, for example, is the development of relationships
between researchers and the researched (Armstead, 1995; Childers & Grunig, 1989;
Dervin, 1987; Haraway, 1988; Mies, 1983, 1991; Rakow, 1987; Reinharz, 1992a;
Shields & Dervin, 1993; Stanley & Wise, 1993; Steeves, 1988; van Zoonen, 1994).
This consists of two principles: 1) rejecting objectivity, and 2) rejecting
First, many feminist writers argue that objectivity is not possible to maintain
if researchers build relationships with participants (Armstead, 1995; Childers &
Grunig, 1989; Fine, 1988; Gregg, 1987; Jayaratne & Stewart, 1991; The Nebraska
Feminist Collective, 1983; Rakow, 1987; Shields & Dervin, 1993; van Zoonen,
1994). Indeed, researchers have argued that regardless of topic or method,
there is no true objectivity (Haraway, 1988; Mies, 1983; Hanen, 1988). Childers
and Grunig (1989) claimed that feminist communications researchers should make
their assumptions explicit. Cirksena and Cuklanz (1992) argued that feminists
link their own interests, goals, and backgrounds to particular standpoints that
they bring to their research (p. 39). Personal biases inevitably impinge on the
research process, for example, in sampling, data analysis, and interpretation
(Jayaratne, 1983). According to Reinharz (1992a), terms such as "value neutral"
and "detached" are "a cover for patriarchy" (p. 261). Reinharz stated, "I, for
one, [do] not think of objectivity and subjectivity as warring with each other,
but rather as serving each other" (p. 263).
The second principle that concerns research relationships is the rejection of
traditional hierarchies between researcher and researched (Armstead, 1995;
Cancian, 1992; Mies, 1983; Reinharz, 1983). A lack of hierarchy between
researchers and participants may create a participant role for all parties
(Childers & Grunig, 1989, p. 10). The research process can become a dialogue,
where "neither the subjectivity of the researcher nor the subjectivity of the
researched can be eliminated in the process" (Acker, Barry, & Esseveld, 1991, p.
140). Work and ideas are shared, where "doing research with people rather than
on them" becomes a credo (Reinharz, 1992b). Cirksena and Cuklanz (1992) stated,
"Reducing the innate power imbalance between the supposedly 'neutral' researcher
and her subjects, the researcher engages them in the research process, including
the formulation of research questions" (p. 38). Reinharz (1983) suggested that
participants be involved in planning and data analysis, so that their meanings
connect with the researcher's priorities.
Another feminist characteristic considered to be critical is human diversity,
or the space for many "voices" (Dervin, 1987; Harding, 1987, 1991; Reinharz,
1992a; Tetreault, 1985). Just as there is no universal man, there is no
universal woman (Harding, 1987). According to Reinharz (1992a), research
problems, design, sampling and analysis should consider age, race, ethnicity,
class, sexual orientation, reproductive status, employment status, health and
political persuasions (p. 252). She commented, "Diversity has become a new
criterion for feminist research excellence" (p. 253). In mass communications
specifically, Dervin (1987) has expressed the need to explore differences in
race and class. Rao (1995) claimed that feminist scholarship "must adopt
pluralistic criteria as the basis for epistemological critique and synthesis by
integrating issues of gender, race, and sexuality" (p. 88). She argued that it
has been well-established in other disciplines that gender cannot exist
independent of such factors, yet it is "unfortunately a common occurrence in
communication studies" to exclude these intersections (p. 88).
Another prevailing characteristic of feminist scholarship is the use of the
everyday world and individual experiences as the focus of investigation and
means of collecting data (Armstead, 1995; Cirksena, & Cuklanz, 1992; Devault,
1996; Fonow & Cook, 1991; Harding, 1987; Mies, 1983; Reinharz, 1992a; Stanley &
Wise, 1993). Whereas traditional research has trivialized women's concerns,
feminist research uses the phenomena of everyday life as politics (Reinharz,
1992b). Reinharz (1992b) asserted that research interests include "rape,
lesbianism, voluntarism, divorce, mothering...abortion, single parenting,
pornography, fear of success... displaced homemakers, neighborhood
organizations, food obsessions, and more" (p. 426).
Feminist scholars also consider it crucial to include in discussions a call for
social change or action (Armstead, 1995; Cancian, 1992; Childers & Grunig, 1989;
Devault, 1996; Dervin, 1987; Hammersley, 1992; Lont, 1993; Mies, 1983, 1991;
Reinharz, 1992a; Sherwin, 1988; Shields & Dervin, 1993). Research should
contribute to changing the status quo and the lives of participants (Reinharz,
1992a). Shields and Dervin (1993) called this "emancipatory," where research
improves women's lives in one way or another. Lont (1993) claimed, "Feminist
scholars further social change by studying the media's crucial role in the
construction of meaning and the reconstruction of feminism within patriarchal
discourse" (p. 243). Mies (1983) asserted, "The contemplative, uninvolved
'spectator knowledge' must be replaced by active participation in actions and
struggles for women's emancipation" (p. 124).
Also, a major focus for feminist scholars has been the role of emotions in the
production of knowledge, for both the investigator and participants (Fine, 1988;
Stanley & Wise, 1993). Because emotions can not usually be controlled, it is
important to consider their influence on studies (Stanley & Wise, 1993). Fonow
and Cook (1991) argued, "Attention to the affective components of inquiry
represents an attempt among feminist scholars to restore the emotional dimension
to the current conceptions of rationality" (p. 11).
An additional theme is a self-reflective nature (Fonow & Cook, 1991; Mies,
1983; Reinharz, 1992a; Sherwin, 1988; Stanley & Wise, 1993).
Consciousness-raising has become a significant process of self-awareness,
illustrated in at least three ways in studies: listing the effects of the
research on the researcher; examining the influences on subjects; and looking at
the study as a "process" (Fonow & Cook, 1991, p. 3). Frequently, feminist
researchers include personal accounts in their writings, as prefaces or
postscripts (Reinharz, 1992a). Stanley and Wise (1993) claimed, "We believe
that the way to do it is to make the researcher and her consciousness the
central focus of the research experience" (p. 59). Reinharz (1992a) argued that
through consciousness-raising, feminists contribute to social change (p. 251).
Also prevalent in feminist scholarship is the focus on feminist theories and
perspectives (Cirksena & Cuklanz, 1992; Dervin, 1987; Jayaratne, 1983; Press,
1989; Rakow, 1986, 1989; Reinharz, 1992a; Rohlfing, 1988; Sherwin, 1988; Stanley
& Wise, 1993; Steeves, 1988; Treichler & Wartella, 1986). In other words,
studies might be grounded in cultural, liberal, radical, Marxist or socialist
feminist theory. Stanley and Wise (1993) stated, "As well as the failure to
discuss any possible relationship between theory and experience, much feminist
and non-feminist work alike neglects to examine critically the relationship
between theory and research" (p. 58). Feminist theories offer understandings of
sexism, racism, classism and other dynamics. According to Jayaratne (1983),
"Feminist theory can thus describe and explain women's oppression and offer us
guidelines for combating it" (p. 142).
Finally, some feminist researchers include the need for collaboration and
interdisciplinary work as part of a feminist paradigm (Childers & Grunig, 1989;
Cirksena, 1989; Dervin, 1987; Fine, 1988; Mies, 1983; Reinharz, 1992a; Sherwin,
1988). Many feminists have encouraged co-authorship for published studies.
This means that researchers "must strive to overcome the individualism, the
competitiveness [and] the careerism, prevalent among male scholars" (Reinharz,
1992a, p. 127). Dervin (1987) claimed this as key to making a difference in
To summarize, feminist scholarship may include: giving respect and
consideration to participants, empowering them, sharing the research with them,
studying their everyday experiences, and letting their voices guide studies.
Important issues include sensitivity to race, class, sexuality and other
intersections, acknowledgment of the subjective nature, and awareness of
personal and emotional aspects brought into every study. All of the
recommendations seem to encourage an inclusive, diverse and holistic paradigm of
The current issue in this paper is whether the discourse on feminist
scholarship has led to contributions or changes in original, published research.
In her analysis of feminist theories applied to mass media research, Steeves
(1987) said she anticipates more young scholars studying feminist literature and
established scholars re-examining their ontological and epistemological
assumptions (p. 122). She concluded, "I am hopeful that mainstream
communication journals will show an increasing commitment to feminism" (p. 122).
This is where I begin the current examination, with the mainstream mass
communication journals. Since Steeves' comment, ten years has passed, and
research on women's experiences has changed and grown. Looking at published
research, this analysis will attempt to note how much has changed or increased.
I used a method for analysis similar to Eichler's (1988), who took a
qualitative approach to content analyzing research journals. She explained the
procedure she went through to obtain her sample of journal articles:
I went into a library and picked up whatever recent issue of
journals from different disciplines was lying on top in the journal
pigeon holes. I assumed that it would make little difference which
journal or issue I picked, and that I would find at least one example
of sexism in every single one. Sadly, this turned out to be correct.
I, too, culled the journals for this analysis from the recent periodicals
section of a university library. I selected eight U.S. communications journals
and examined issues from early, 1995, to May, 1996. If certain issues within
this time frame could not be found, late 1994 issues were included. Only
original research was considered -- no critiques or essays. Professional
associations publish seven of the journals, and an independent publisher
produces one of them.
The mainstream communications journals examined were Communication Research,
Human Communication Research, Journal of Communication, and Journalism and Mass
Communication Quarterly. Three journals from sub-disciplines were included to
gain a broader perspective. These were Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic
Media, Journal of Advertising and Journal of Public Relations Research.
Finally, one communications journal devoted to women's issues, Women's Studies
in Communication, was analyzed because of its unique focus and inclusion of mass
I examined 49 individual journal issues, which included 309 articles (Appendix
A lists the journals and issue numbers). The articles that illustrated original
research, involved mass communications, and emphasized gender, sex differences,
feminism, or women in the literature reviews, methodology, results or analysis,
were included in the group of articles I examined for this paper. Most of the
309 articles were eliminated from the "sample" because they were essays and
critiques, or did not present mass communications or media topics, or did not
address females in any manner. A total of 25 articles were found that met all
Comparing and contrasting the 25 articles to the characteristics discussed
earlier was challenging. First, being a white, heterosexual woman who considers
herself a feminist, my interpretations will be particular to my standpoint; some
issues may be apparent to me and others may remain invisible. Secondly, the
impetus for this work was the desire not to merely accept the place where
feminist researchers have brought the field, but question where it goes from
here. Move and push, through critical analysis and debate, what is being
published. On the other hand, ignoring the contributions made by feminist
scholars ignores the increased awareness, consciousness, and quality of feminist
studies due to the groundwork already accomplished. Patai and Koertge (1994)
expressed similar challenges in their critical approach. They stated, "In
criticizing certain aspects of feminism, we are therefore not only repudiating
some of our own previous beliefs and practices but also jeopardizing friendships
with many colleagues and allies" (p. xiv). After reading so much of the
feminist literature, however, I felt that "gender" research as well as feminist
work in mass communications was strong enough to be critiqued, in order to
inform the body of knowledge and transform the accepted paradigm.
Each journal varies in number of articles per issue and proportion of articles
that deals with gender or feminist topics. Most of the 25 articles were found
in Journal of Public Relations Research, Journalism and Mass Communication
Quarterly, and Women's Studies in Communication. Journal of Public Relations
Research changed editors in 1995, and a woman who conducts her own gender
studies currently edits the publication. Each journal issue carries
approximately three articles, and an average of one out of three focuses on
women's experiences. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly averages 15 to
18 articles per issue, and frequently includes one or two about sex differences,
gender or women.
Women's Studies in Communication is unique, in that its mission is to provide
"a forum for research and scholarship...concerning relationships between
communication and women, gender or feminism." Therefore, the articles
pertaining to mass media were more attuned to different feminist perspectives
and race, class and sexuality intersections. Although some of the articles are
included in the general discussion below, I reserved details about this journal
until later because it can not easily be compared to the other publications.
After reading the 25 articles, I found that certain feminist themes or
recommendations emerged more often than others. For example, several articles
emphasized feminist theory and a critique of patriarchal epistemology. However,
many of these same articles ignored intersections with race, class or sexuality
and discussions of hierarchical relations with participants. Approximately
one-third of the pieces lacked any feminist characteristics, although gender
was used as a variable. I highlighted below some of the more apparent or absent
feminist characteristics from the articles.
Specific Feminist Characteristics Found in Articles
The most common characteristics of feminist scholarship found in articles were
the inclusion of feminist theory, critiques of non-feminist literature, and
calls for social change. There was a balance between the number of articles
that used quantitative research methods and those that employed qualitative
methods, such as ethnography, in-depth interviews and focus groups. Frequently
cited was socialist feminist theory and radical feminism. All but one of the
authors from the sample of articles found in the Journal of Public Relations
Research labeled themselves "radical feminist," and called for a transformation
in the prevailing systems that guided current thought and practice in the field
(see for examples, Grunig, 1995; Hon, 1995). These authors criticized liberal
feminism for succumbing to patriarchal systems and not encompassing changes that
make a difference in the lives of women.
In addition, patriarchal information systems and methods were criticized for
devaluing, silencing and oppressing women (Liebes & Livingstone, 1994; Lumsden,
1995). For example, Liebes and Livingstone (1994) critiqued one common
communications theory: "A critical view of the study of uses and gratifications
deems it deterministic and essentialist, leading to the reification of the
social structure. These studies regard viewers as isolated and incapable of
improving their conditions in society" (p. 720). They also problematized soap
operas, "The soap opera cannot be regarded as feminist in the sense of coping
with the dilemma of the modern woman because it privileges one horn of the
dilemma without facing the dilemma per se, and certainly without solving it" (p.
Some of the articles concluded with a call for social change or future action.
In her case study of Kenya's popular newspaper, Worthington (1995) concluded,
"Change is dependent on transformation of other institutions. Greater awareness
can begin to pave the way for a more equitable press. It remains for Kenyans
and those interested in Kenya to pursue that issue" (p. 82). In another
article, Hon (1995) outlined implications of her research on women in public
relations. She suggested, "The institutional roots of women's devaluation must
be identified and vanquished before public relations is valued and female
practitioners are treated equitably. Thus, for practitioners, the most
significant ramification of this project lies in its attempt to confront this
Herculean task and pose an agenda for change" (p. 81).
Specific Feminist Characteristics Absent in Articles
One characteristic or theme that seemed to be missing in most articles was
diversity or discussions of intersections with race, sexuality and class. In
several cases, sexuality, race and ethnicity were not addressed in any manner.
For example, one survey asked female sports journalists about their age, income
and experience, but not sexuality, race or ethnicity (Miller, & Miller, 1995).
Similarly, another survey asked participants age, experience, education and sex,
but not income, sexuality or race (Weaver-Lariscy, Sallot, & Cameron, 1996).
Very few authors described their own race, class or sexuality.
Perhaps, this absence of acknowledging race, class and sexuality stems from a
generally unacknowledged whiteness of the mass communications field itself. In
studying journalists and public relations professionals, for example, the pool
of possible research participants is still mainly white, although mainly female.
In examining newspapers, television programs and magazines, the media content is
geared largely to a white, middle-class audience. These situations create
challenges for researchers who wish to examine crucial intersections. The
problem seems to be twofold, in that not only are intersections not being
studied, but privilege and elitism are also being ignored. In other words, it
is not just that race is absent as a variable, it is also that many researchers
do not acknowledge their own white frame. bell hooks (1994) asserted,
"Curiously, most white women writing feminist theory that looks at 'difference'
and 'diversity' do not make white women's lives, works, and experiences the
subject of their analysis of 'race,' but rather focus on black women or women of
color" (p. 103).
There were some articles that did discuss race, class or sexuality, of the
participants, either as part of the literature review, methodology or
discussion. In Hon's (1995) development of a public relations feminist theory,
she discussed the absence of racial diversity in her study:
Although this group was not representative of any larger
collective, as diverse of a group as possible (with regard to age,
type of organization, organizational level, and so on) was convened.
But, even so, this group was somewhat narrow; these women were middle
class and mostly White and American. However, included were one
American-Asian (she prefers this order), one African-American, and
one Briton. So although these women's experiences spoke powerfully
about gender discrimination in public relations, their stories were
just part of a larger picture. (p. 41).
The entire paragraph is included here, as the only reference to race in the
article. With regards to class, Liebes and Livingstone (1994) addressed social
class differences between characters in American soap operas and British soap
operas. A different study content analyzed cable programming that examined
differences in gender and race portrayals (Kubey, Shifflet, Weerakkody, &
Ukeiley, 1995). In this study, variables of race and gender remained separate
indicators rather than intersected identities. The coding categories for
specifying the race of all the people on screen were: White, Black, Hispanic,
Asian, Other, Mixed White with Other, or Mixed Non-White. The coding
instructions were not included so it was unclear what constituted Mixed White
with Other or Mixed Non-White characters.
Just as intersections with race, class or sexuality were predominantly absent,
so were discussions about subjectivity and hierarchies. Researchers did not
include themselves as participants, nor discussed how findings might impact
participants' lives. Many of the studies were descriptive, only using content
analyses, so participant relationships were not considered a concern. This
could be different if researchers add to their analyses interviews, focus groups
or other dialogue with individuals involved in creating or reading texts. One
content analysis examined gender stereotypes in MTV commercials (Signorielli,
McLeod, & Healy, 1994). Researchers concluded that despite MTV's status as a
"cutting edge" genre, advertisers continued to stereotype women (p. 100). These
researchers did not include interviews with viewers or advertisers. In terms of
objectivity, a few studies supported notions of objective measures,
generalizable results, or causality. Perse (1994), for example, cited as one
limitation the lack of causal relationships supported by her study between
erotic media and the acceptance of rape myths. She suggested experiments be
used in the future to explore causal links. It should be noted that most of
these writers did not make claims of being feminists or conducting "feminist"
Articles Without Feminist Characteristics
There was approximately one-third of the articles that adhered to a more
traditional model of positivist research (see for examples, Hitchon, & Chang,
1995; Mullin, Imrich, & Linz, 1996; Weaver, & Laird, 1995). These studies
conducted sex differences research, and did not define themselves nor label
their research feminist. There was no focus on understanding participants,
exploring diversity, race or class issues, or contributing to "feminist" theory.
Some used the term "gender" to discuss biological sex differences between males
and females. Most of the studies were experiments. A few were written by male
authors who discussed sex differences without any input from female participants
or co-authors. Topics in this group included political commercials,
pornography, and menstrual cycle effects on television preferences. Some of
these studies did not distinguish between male and female subjects, so it was
difficult to assess if conclusions were from male responses, female, or both.
Variables of age, race, ethnicity, class and sexuality were not included.
One example of these articles was a study of female preferences for televised
comedy, suspense or action-adventure, as they related to the menstrual cycle and
mood shifts (Weaver, & Laird, 1995). It was not included in the article if
respondents were asked about their race, ethnicity, age, education, stress
levels, number of children, or other indicators that influence many women's
menstrual cycles. The findings indicated that there were stronger preferences
for comedy prior to menses and for suspense/drama at the end of it. The
authors, and inherently the reviewers and editors of this journal, gave support
to the notion that menstruation pre-determines such factors as personalities,
moods, and television preferences.
It is important to repeat here, that none of the authors in this group defined
their research or themselves as feminist. Therefore, it should not be
surprising why the recommendations from feminist researchers are not involved.
This group of articles, however, helps to see the type of research addressing
sex differences and "gender" that is being accepted for publication in
A couple of articles did not include gender or feminist labels in their titles,
although it seemed the research itself involved many feminist characteristics.
For example, "Teenage Room Culture: Where Media and Identities Intersect,"
(Brown, Reese, Steele, & White, 1994), addressed the development of teenagers'
identity through their use of media in their bedrooms. In-depth interviews,
journals, and bedroom tours given by the teens themselves were used to voice the
experiences of white females and males, African-American and Latina females and
males, working-class teenagers and middle-class adolescents. The study did not
discuss feminist theory or call for social action, yet it did include
intersections of race, class and gender, consideration of the researched, and
use of multiple, subjective research methods.
Is this study considered feminist scholarship? Even with most of the
characteristics, is a study feminist if it does not make central the lives of
women or oppression of women? Finally, and more simply, is it feminist if the
authors themselves do not claim to be feminist or label their research feminist?
It seemed interesting to note if any authors actually claimed to be conducting
feminist research or defined themselves as feminist. I found many authors who
discussed feminist theory and even considered women's experiences central, yet
did not define themselves as "feminist." There were a couple exceptions in
Journal of Public Relations Research, where, for example, Grunig (1995) defined
her research as "feminist scholarship" because it did more than just compare men
to women; it "elucidated the relationship between the dominant and subservient
that characterizes our social, political, economic and cultural systems" (p.
158). The articles in Women's Studies in Communication were also exceptions.
Women's Studies in Communication
Throughout this discussion, the articles found in Women's Studies in
Communication continually emerged as exceptions, where they were more attuned to
the complexities of feminist research. Four articles out of four issues
specifically addressed mass media. These articles were authored by women who
used feminist theory, critiqued non-feminist work and patriarchal dominance,
allowed for participants' voices to be experienced, problematized intersections
with race, class and sexuality, and concluded with calls for social action. For
example, in Kramarae's (1995) examination of Shere Hite's work, she criticized
less "holistic" literature for its depictions of sexuality: "Most self-help
texts consider 'sex' to mean heterosexual sex; most define sexual behavior as
physical only; most treat sexuality as a private domain divorced from economic
and political relations; and most are based on the author's experiences, with
sprinklings here and there of bits of research from 'experts'" (p. 229).
Similarly, Hegde (1995) critically examined Femina, a nationally circulated
English-language magazine in India, by class differences in readership. She
stated, "Judging from its content, Femina targets women of middle-class
socioeconomic status; in India, this group sustains the consumer economy and
represents the post-colonial, English educated urban minority" (p. 178).
I was not surprised to see that Women's Studies in Communication focused on
women's experiences and intersections of race, class, and sexuality. As
mentioned earlier, its mission is specific in addressing feminist issues, and
the journal targets specific readers who expect certain understandings. This
journal may help advance a model for feminist scholars in mass communications
who are trying to open doors to the mainstream communications journals.
The purpose of this essay was to examine original, mass communications studies
involving gender, women, or feminism, that were recently published in scholarly
communications journals. The inductive approach helped bring to light both
strengths and weaknesses of feminist research found in the eight journals. The
recommendations or characteristics for feminist scholarship helped compare and
contrast the 25 articles that met the criteria. This did not mean that
adherence to the themes expertly delineated feminist from non-feminist research.
This was merely one exercise that highlighted the type of work included in the
In summary, the analysis revealed few of the recommendations for feminist
scholarship incorporated in the published studies. Some of the articles
illustrated feminist theory, criticisms of non-feminist work, or calls for
social action. Others that focused on sex differences did not incorporate any
feminist characteristics. There was also lack of discourse in much of the work
about intersections, diversity, subjectivity, and relationships between
researcher and researched.
It is more difficult for me to assess why feminist theory and criticisms of
patriarchal traditions would be found, than it is for me to determine why
inclusive research and subjectivity would be absent. From an author's
standpoint, I know that it is easier to write about issues such as social change
than it is to actually incorporate diversity and inclusiveness into research
designs. From the standpoint of journal editors and reviewers, perhaps
discourse is less threatening to the status quo than actual, subjective and
inclusive praxis, and anti-racist work. A different interpretation may be that
perhaps a feminist groundswell has made an impact and changed how acceptable
feminist research is for mainstream publications; the publications' acceptance
of feminist theory and patriarchal critiques may be evidence of this. These
interpretations, however, can not be supported through this one descriptive
Due to little precedence in the area of feminists critiquing feminist research
in mass communications, there are limitations to my analysis. First, I had no
dialogue with authors, reviewers or editors. This would have made a dramatic
difference, in helping to elucidate motives and understandings behind the
writings, submissions, acceptances, review process, and other experiences. My
interpretations are only based on what is included in the written pieces.
Second, as a white, heterosexual woman, I hold a certain privileged context that
inadvertently influences my opinions. As hooks (1994) suggested, "White women
who have yet to get a critical handle on the meaning of 'whiteness' in their
lives, the representation of whiteness in their literature, or the white
supremacy that shapes their social status are now explicating blackness without
critically questioning whether their work emerges from an aware anti-racist
standpoint" (p. 104). This and other factors have led to contradictions between
my knowledge as a feminist and my work as a researcher. It is easier to
critique others than conduct one's own feminist scholarship. In the past, I
have often left my race and sexual orientation undetected, or have touted
inclusive research without taking the time to actually perform it. Conducting
this analysis has helped me describe some of the forces perpetuating
traditional, "malestream" research (Cirksena, 1996).
The goal of this examination was not to judge or measure individual researchers
or studies. It was to describe the characteristics of feminist scholarship
missing and apparent in published communications journals. Without a clear
definition of feminism or a unifying feminist theory, it is not fair to measure
research against some working principles, especially when the researchers
themselves are not defining the research as feminist. Yet, a unifying feminist
theory seems impossible, nor desirable for describing the unique and varied
voices of women.
This analysis contributed to the feminist body of knowledge in mass
communications by exposing the lack of feminist research in mainstream
communications publications. It may also add support to the assertion that the
gatekeeping function of "malestream scholars" may still be resisting submissions
based on alternative paradigms (Cirksena, 1996, p. 158). Also, feminist authors
may be finding other venues for their work, perhaps publishing in other
disciplines. Is it that feminist scholars are producing feminist research and
attempting to publish, but the journals are still restrictive? Are authors not
trying for mainstream communications journals but rather other publications?
Future research in mass communications should attempt to decipher the
Directions for future research include increased dialogue between editors of
scholarly journals, reviewers, authors and researchers. In-depth interviews and
focus groups may help gain some two-way insight and understanding about central
or underlying notions that guide publication acceptance. Perhaps the creation
of another feminist, refereed communications journal, specifically for mass
communications issues, could offer an avenue for scholars from advertising,
public relations, journalism and broadcast media to come together to publish
their work. It could create a community that advances feminist studies in mass
communications beyond the crossroads. It could address issues, such as
intersections of race, class and sexuality, that are lacking in the more
traditional journals. As Cirksena (1996) pointed out, many feminists seem to
collaborate on books and book chapters; those who keep up with the field by
reading journals are at a disadvantage. Another, perhaps easier, strategy to
implement than a new journal might be more current, special issues in the
In conclusion, it is true that feminist scholarship has contributed to mass
communications, and has gained in stature. Women's Studies in Communication is
a strong force as a scholarly journal addressing feminism in the field.
However, in order to push forward, it is time to critique where we stand within
mainstream communications journals. It is necessary to learn the next steps in
order to truly encourage social change, support inclusiveness, and open doors
for a feminist research paradigm, within the pages of the journals.
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Journals and Issue Numbers Examined
Communication Research. Independently published, six times per year. Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
y 1996, Vol. 23, Issues #1 and 2
y 1995, Vol. 22, Issues #1-6
y 1994, Vol. 21, Issues #1-6
Human Communication Research. Published quarterly by International
y 1996, Vol. 22, Issue #3
y 1995, Vol. 21, Issues #1-4
Journal of Advertising. Published quarterly by the American Academy of
y 1995, Vol. 24, Issues #1-4
Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media. Published quarterly by Broadcast
y 1996, Vol. 40, Issue #1
y 1995, Vol. 39, Issues #1-4
y 1994, Vol. 38, Issues #1-4
Journal of Communication. Official journal of International Communication
Association, published quarterly.
y 1995, Vol. 45, Issues #1-4
Journal of Public Relations Research. Published quarterly by Public Relations
Division of Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.
y 1996, Vol. 8, Issues #1 and 2
y 1995, Vol. 7, Issues #1-4
Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly. Official journal of Association
for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, published quarterly.
y 1995, Vol. 71, Issues #1-4
Women's Studies in Communication. Published twice a year by Western Speech
y 1995, Vol. 18, Issues #1 and 2
y 1994, Vol. 17, Issues #1 and 2
 Most speech communication journals were not included because of their
emphasis on interpersonal and organizational communication rather than on mass
communications. The 1995 and early 1996 issues of journals published by speech
communication associations, Communication Quarterly, Communication Monographs
and Communication Studies, did not include any mass media studies.
 It should be noted that I believe males could do forms of feminist work, if
feminist theory, diversity, and women's life experiences and understanding are
integral parts of the studies. In the case of the few articles here, this was