What Can We Learn From TV Coverage of Feminism in 1970?

Bonnie J. Dow in Women's Media Center:

WomenOnce upon a time, there were only three television networks. Before cable and especially before the Internet, a social phenomenon that went unnoticed by the “Big Three”—CBS, NBC, ABC—might as well not be happening at all. That was the case for second-wave feminism before 1970, the year that the national television news networks finally gave airtime to the rapidly growing movement. In Watching Women’s Liberation, 1970: Feminism’s Pivotal Year on the Network News (University of Illinois Press, 2014), I analyze the meaning and influence of that surge of news coverage. In addition to numerous feature stories on the movement as a whole, network news covered important protests that year, such as January’s disruption of Senate hearings on the birth control pill by radical feminists, and the March sit-in at the Ladies’ Home Journal by 100-plus women. The August 26, 1970 Women’s Strike for Equality march, which involved thousands of women across the country and closed down Fifth Avenue in New York City to demand abortion rights, child care, and equal opportunity, led the evening news on all three networks. Yet CBS’s story that night termed the marchers a “militant minority,” even though they included current and former members of Congress, editors from Ladies’ Home Journal and McCall’s, and Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown. These 1970 reports were opening salvos in the televised battle over feminism’s public image, one that continues today in a much wider array of media forms.

In 1970, network news coverage of feminism was a surprising mix of positive and negative reporting. Most reports, for instance, treated abortion rights and the ERA as reasonable, even commonsensical, demands.

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