In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Feminist Journalism

  • Introduction
  • History of Women’s and Feminist Journalism
  • Historiography
  • Bibliographies and Handbooks
  • Journals
  • Feminist Media Ethics
  • BIPOC and LGBTQ Issues in Journalism
  • Digital Media: Blogs, Websites, and Social Media Activism
  • Visual Media: Vlogs and Documentaries
  • Audio Media: Radio and Podcasts
  • Women in the Newsroom and the Journalism Profession
  • Women in Contemporary Newsroom Leadership

Communication Feminist Journalism
Linda Steiner, Carolina Velloso
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0285


Feminists have always used whatever communication and media technologies are available to help them collect and disseminate news about feminism and women’s issues, and to offer their own definitions of feminism, women, and news from a feminist perspective. Often feminist activists’ journalistic efforts have followed, if not always consciously, feminist principles or feminist ethics; and often these efforts have involved experimentation with alternative structures, such as flattened hierarchies and collaborative decision-making. Some feminist journalists have eschewed advertising that was inconsistent with feminist values or even refusing all advertising. Feminist journalism, especially in the context of magazines, is not the same as women’s magazines. Likewise, women working in journalism are not all feminist journalists, although historically, most feminist journalists are women and feminist journalism has served women. These days, feminist news, here and below referring to news about feminism and/or from feminist perspectives, remains available in print, documentary film, broadcasting, and cable; feminists are turning to Internet sites and podcasts to both share and find news that challenges dominant conceptions of women, exposes oppression, promotes feminist causes and issues, and advocates expanded political, social, and cultural roles for women of all kinds. Although efforts in feminist advocacy journalism rarely last very long, the ease and low costs of Internet access encourage a proliferation of feminist news activities. Each medium’s material and technological structure may either constrain or promote activists and facilitate (or discourage) certain ways of interacting, especially when engaged in social movement advocacy. Different media require different kinds and degrees of material investment and technical skills. Therefore, feminists must calculate the goals and available human and financial resources against the costs and investments required. Whatever the choices, feminist media usually insist that, whether they are entirely women-produced or not, women have important and leading roles in their production, especially in their editorial direction. As feminists become increasingly sensitive to the need for intersectional consciousness and intersectional analysis, some of these projects address specific problems of race, class, and sexuality and thus can be even more specialized in their audiences and their takes on the meanings of feminism and its prospects. Meanwhile, scholars have critiqued the otherwise naturalized values and structures of journalism and have used feminist theorizing to generate alternative models for addressing ethical dilemmas in journalism; this has also led to approaching journalism history from a feminist perspective. Feminists, including feminist scholars are divided over the feminist potential of a range of media formations, especially women’s magazines and “post-feminist” news sites. And they have not always avoided reifying gender per se. But scholars justifiably take equity, avoidance of sex/gender stereotyping, and fairness in content and newsroom practice, policy, and leadership to be feminist issues. The scholarship referenced here comes primarily from journalism/media studies, given the attention in this field to the structures, routines, and cultures or epistemologies that significantly impact who is allowed to produce news, which audiences are addressed, and whose issues are regarded as newsworthy. The question is interdisciplinary, however; and increasingly scholars in literature, gender studies, and women’s history are investigating these questions.

History of Women’s and Feminist Journalism

Although the term feminist was not understood or used until the twentieth century, Chambers, et al. 2004 begins a discussion of feminist journalism with early-19th-century reform publications that addressed health and dress reforms, and the plight of women mill workers; then, especially, they address suffrage periodicals that, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, were often dedicated to the intellectual and political “elevation” of women. A few were even published in the United States during the Civil War. Levine 1990 shows how various segments of the English feminist movement effectively built on the interest in Victorian periodicals and asserted the importance of women’s issues and women’s voices. DiCenzo, et al. 2010 and Clay, et al. 2018 look at British feminist editors who continued into the twentieth century to advocate for a variety of reforms besides suffrage (including regarding access to higher education, jobs, including professions, and equal pay; and restructuring of marriage, divorce, reproductive, and property rights) and to represent women as political beings. Green 2017 see women’s pages and correspondence columns of a range of women’s periodicals as spaces in which to reimagine women’s daily lives. Chambers, et al. 2004 highlights the continuity between those early publications and the so-called second-wave women’s movement: because both mainstream media and countercultural movements periodicals of the 1960s marginalized or outright ignored feminist issues and feminism, literally hundreds of feminist magazines, newsletters, and newspapers emerged in the 1970s. Most served niche audiences, by sexuality/sexual orientation, race, profession, religion, physical ability; some were aimed at children and teens and others at elders. Larger magazines such as the UK-based Spare Rib usually tried to unite disparate factions within feminism or even reach women outside the liberation movement. Farrell 1998 criticizes the US-based Ms. magazine for trying to simultaneously please liberal feminists, radical feminists, lesbians, housewives, and women of color. For Beetham, et al. 1991 and McCracken 1993, however, even conventional women’s magazines, with their women-centered narratives and interest in women’s pleasure, have potentially transformative and thus feminist impact. Groeneveld 2016 highlights the influence of second-wave feminist media on third-wave feminist publications at the turn of the 21st century.

  • Beetham, Margaret, Ros Ballaster, Elizabeth Frazer, and Sandra Hebron. 1991. Women’s worlds: Ideology, femininity, and the woman’s magazine. Bakingstoke, UK: Macmillan Education UK.

    The authors argue that the women’s magazine genre has maintained its cultural influence from the late seventeenth century onward, given their heterogeneity, and ability to withstand and contain contradiction. Women’s magazines have always posited female subjectivity as a problem and even a danger. These magazines provide guides to living, a means of organizing, and responds to and transformations of women’s experiences. But they have also functioned as mediators of pleasure, fantasy, and escape.

  • Chambers, Deborah, Linda Steiner, and Carole Fleming. 2004. Women and journalism. London: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203500668

    This gives comprehensive history of women journalists in the United Kingdom and United States, including early printers and editors, including women who were editors of early feminist and 20th-century feminist periodicals, and traces the lineage of efforts to create news that would serve women audiences and change definitions of news. The authors discuss activism and legal actions on behalf of equity in hiring and promotions in broadcast news as well as in print journalism; and resistance and counter-resistance in high profile beats such as sports journalism.

  • Clay, Catherine, Maria DiCenzo, Barbara Green, and Fiona Hackney. 2018. Women’s periodicals and print culture in Britain, 1918–1939: The interwar period. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474412537.001.0001

    These well-researched essays on UK periodicals aimed at women dispels the myth that women editors in the 1920s and 1930s retreated to “home and duty” for women. The volume demonstrates the enormous range of periodicals in forms and appeal. The section on feminist media and organizationally based change media includes an essay on the feminist press “beyond suffrage,” and another on Time and Tide, founded in 1920 as a supporter of left wing and feminist causes. The detailed appendix facilitates research on interwar women’s magazines.

  • DiCenzo, Maria, Leila Ryan, and Lucy Delap. 2010. Feminist media history: Suffrage, periodicals and the public sphere. London: Palgrave.

    This book focuses on feminist periodicals emerging from or reacting to the Edwardian suffrage campaign but also contextualizes them in terms of 21st-century debates about the public sphere and social movements. The authors argue that feminist and suffrage periodicals (ones for militants, radical suffragists, democratic suffragists, Irish suffragists, social feminists, and even anti-suffragists, among others) facilitated collective action and constructed political identities for women. Feminist media history, the authors say, reconfigures the assumptions and narratives of media historians.

  • Farrell, Amy Erdman. 1998. Yours in sisterhood: Ms. Magazine and the promise of popular feminism. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.

    Farrell interviewed Ms. editors and analyzed the magazine’s content to illustrate the controversies covered and engendered by Ms., which quickly gained national success as an organ of the women’s movement. One notable chapter analyzes thousands of letters to the editor, most of them never published for lack of space. Erdman credits Ms. with bringing feminism to a popular audience like “tarantulas on a banana boat,” but also, with other critics, argues that it catered to middle-class white heterosexual women as a commercial audience and avoided certain radical positions.

  • Green, Barbara. 2017. Feminist periodicals and daily life: Women and modernity in British culture. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-63278-0

    Green highlights the modern magazine’s centrality in enabling new representations of women’s experience of everyday life in the early twentieth century and the way that feminist journalists provided new ways of conceptualizing the significance of domestic life. For Green, the correspondence columns, women’s pages, fashion columns, and fiction displayed the hum of everyday life that was the backdrop to feminists’ more dramatic marches and protests. She also looks at the correspondence columns in magazines for woman workers; another looks at women’s pages of socialist periodicals.

  • Groeneveld, Elizabeth. 2016. Making feminist media: Third-wave magazines on the cusp of the digital age. Waterloo, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press.

    This book explores the magazines that comprised feminism’s so-called “third wave” in the late 1990s. Groeneveld argues that these magazines both continued and disrupted the practices of their forerunners and were critically important in shaping feminist thought at the start of the new century. She sees these magazines as representing a counterpublic in which feminist debates and dialogues were circulated and constructed.

  • Levine, Philippa. 1990. “The humanising influences of five o’clock tea”: Victorian feminist periodicals. Victorian Studies 33.2: 293–306.

    DOI: 10.2979/VIC.2001.43.2.293

    Levine shows how, beginning in 1858, with the launch of the English Woman’s Journal, which called itself “A Weekly Record of the Progress of the Women’s Movement,” the feminist press found a responsive readership among the energetic and enthusiastic feminist community of the Victorian era. On the other hand, especially as the number of feminist magazines increased and journals were dedicated to single areas of advocacy, the broader periodicals had trouble maintaining circulation and sustaining themselves financially.

  • McCracken, Ellen. 1993. Decoding women’s magazines: From Mademoiselle to Ms. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-349-22381-7

    McCracken approaches the glossy publications addressed to women as a multi-million-dollar business essential to the marketing of consumer commodities. At the same time, she finds, they offer an ostensibly women-centered account of reality that links the utopian to the everyday. The multiple mini-narratives begin on the front covers and extend to the ads; in combination, they offer a highly pleasurable, appealing consensus about the feminine. But McCracken also finds contradictory semiotic structures at work within and between advertising, complimentary copy, and the beauty and fashion features.

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