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The Satellite Sex

The Media and Women’s Issues in English Canada, 1966-1971

Barbara M. Freeman

Paper 362 pp.

ISBN13: 978-0-88920-370-9

Release Date: May 2001

Online discount: 25%

$42.99  $32.24


eBook availability

Have the Canadian media given feminism a bad name or have they been among the movement’s strongest supporters?

Is journalistic objectivity a myth when it comes to women’s voices, or doesn’t it matter?

In this provocative new book — the first one to examine print and broadcast news coverage of women’s issues in English Canada — Barbara Freeman explores what the media were saying about women and their concerns during an important period in our history — and why.

The Satellite Sex is both a social history and a media case study of the years 1966-1971, when the feminist movement began once more to gather support. Women wanted equal treatment under the law, and they wanted rights they had not gained when they won the vote many years earlier. In response, the Canadian government appointed a federal inquiry on the status of women, and hundreds of women came forward to talk to the Commission about the injustices they experienced at school, at work, in public life, in their homes, and even in their bedrooms.

The Satellite Sex demonstrates that the print and broadcast media coverage of women’s issues at that time were much more complex and fragmented than revealed by research in the United States on the same era. This book, released thirty years after the Canadian Commission presented its report, also raises questions about the lack of strong feminist voices in today’s news media.

Barbara M. Freeman is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. She was a journalist and broadcaster before she began her academic career.


The Satellite Sex is an excellent introduction to how women and women’s issues have been depicted in various forms of media.... Freeman’s research and methodology is both innovative and interdisciplinary. She gathers information from television broadcasts and transcripts, from radio transcripts, and newspaper articles, photographs and comic strips. She argues that in every medium, women who fit the mould of home caregiver were viewed with favour as being more feminine; whereas those speaking out and suggesting ways to change the status quo were typically characterized as less beautiful and more masculine.... This book is an excellent introduction to how the media depicted women and women’s issues in this period of change.”

— Lucia J. Spampinato, Saskatchewan Law Review

“The book is a meticulous rendering of how the press saw the feminine world in those five years.... We get a picture of women from all walks of life, those who did not wish their gentle lives to be disturbed by ‘bra burners’ to those who felt a sense of indignation that they had life and career choices with serious limitations that in many cases were beyond their respective controls. The book is a long overdue reminder that equality battles are never over.... This book belongs in any number of courses dealing with women and the media.”

— David R. Spencer, University of Western Ontario, American Journalism

“Social historians will be grateful to this study for uncovering the often-overlooked details of a social movement.... She does not report patently ludicrous opinions of men and women of the later 1960s as patently ludicrous, but rather sees them in the cotext of the prevailing opinion of the day. This is a formidable task, given some of the statements that are made.... For media scholars, this is an important contribution to the field and it will stand ably alongsidde the work of Gaye Tuchman and Teun van Dijk. For Canadian media scholars it provides a necessary salve to the totalizing theories of American media coverage.... Freeman writes with such lucidity and depth of feeling that we can clearly imagine how it must have felt to read, when the final report was published, that it was a ‘feminine document: intriguing, expensive, a little late, [and] wisely illogical”.

— Aurora Wallace, New York University, Canadian Historical Review

“In a world conditioned to receiving media information in 10-second sound bites, Barbara Freeman’s new book, The Satellite Sex, stands out like a magnificent flower flourishing in an otherwise barren landscape.... The book is a stunning achievement. It is a blueprint for the kind of thoughtfulness and clear-headedness that is urgently needed in media coverage of gender issues today.... Not only extremely well-written and illustrated, but [it] is also a testimony to great diligence, thoroughness and accuracy. It is highly accessible to a wide audience.... Freeman exposes the fragility of the ‘objectivity’ ideal in journalism and the difficulty of maintaining fairness and balance. One of the biggest sins that journalists still commit, she says, is overemphasizing what is ‘new’ or ‘in conflict’ and conflating or reducing the issues and their proponents to their simplest common demonimators.... ‘Missing from much media commentary on women’s issues, aside from a strong dose of reality, is a sense of history that would put the current debates about gender into perspective as the most recent phase of an ongoing grassroots movement for change,’ writes Freeman, ‘This book is my way of trying to set the historical record straight.”’

— Carroll Holland, Herizons

“Freeman is an engaging writer who knows how to tell a good story—and she has plenty of them here. By zeroing in on the commission, it can be argued that she privileges the liberal-feminist position to the exclusio of much radical activity occurring in Canada at the time. Yet her reasons for doing so are laid out clearly from the beginning, and makes enough references to other avenues of exploration to suggest that her version isn’t the complete picture. A lenghty bibliography of archival and interview materials offers a rich resource for those who want to continue to explore the field of Canadian feminist-media studies and the history of feminism in this country. There is still a lot to say, and Freeman has done an excellent job of giving us the tools with which to say it.”

— Rebecca Sullivan, University of Calgary, Canadian Journal of Communication