Your cart is empty.

The Satellite Sex

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

By Barbara M. Freeman
Subjects Social Science, Women’s Studies, Film & Media, Political Science
Hide Details
Paperback : 9780889203709, 362 pages, May 2001


Excerpt from the Introduction to The Satellite Sex: The Media and Women's Issues in English Canada, 1966-1971 by Barbara M. Freeman

Lately, a spate of revisionist articles and books, both popular and academic, have suggested that the baby boom generation of feminists and their younger acolytes have gone “too far” in their continuing demands for equality. The argument goes something like this: we have won all the major battles and it is time to “Junk the Feminist Slogans: The War’s Over. “ Some of this assessment has come from a few younger journalists who have recently produced critiques of the women’s movement. Other writers are more seasoned opponents of feminism. While they are writing from different political perspectives, they are all essentially grappling with the argument that “old-style” feminism is just not working and may even be backfiring.

Just as telling as the critiques from the young, however, has been a creeping backlash against the advances women and minorities have made in the last three decades, which has taken the form of shunning and disdaining anything declared to be “politically correct, “ an unfortunate term that has the effect of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Generally, these writers tend to blame “radical feminists” of the leftist variety for just about any social ill or perceived government meddling that they oppose.

Terence Corcoran, writing in the Globe and Mail, hotly declared that the federal Human Rights Tribunal’s pay equity decision of July 1998 which favoured the lowest-paid and mostly female civil servants — a decision based on the legal precept of equal pay for work of equal value — was a “radical feminist monster” steeped in Marxism that could cost the federal government five billion dollars in back pay. What Corcoran omitted in his tirade, which essentially stereotyped feminists, was the fact that it was Canadian women from all walks of life and political persuasions who demanded an end to unequal pay thirty years ago. They had many other grievances, too, including discriminatory labour and marriage laws, inadequate pensions, unfair taxation rules, limited educational and career opportunities, severe restrictions on reproductive freedom, and the absence of government-sponsored childcare. Most of them would never have considered themselves feminists, let alone Marxists. They were acting on the humanist, liberal democratic impulse of the post-World War II years, which, while influenced to some degree by socialist thinking, was essentially capitalist and individualistic in nature. Although many regulations and practices have changed in women’s favour since then — often with the help of progressive men — fair remuneration is still an issue for many women, especially when even the federal government prevaricates over enforcing its own laws.

Other injustices close to many women’s hearts also remain outstanding, such as the sexual double standard that still emphasizes a woman’s physical appearance over her abilities, unequal representation in politics and public life despite the gains women politicians have made, the lack of adequate childcare and governments’ unwillingness to provide it, and difficulty obtaining abortions in some cities even though the procedure is now legal. Too many minority women, including aboriginals, still struggle with poverty and the other indignities that are a direct result of racial and sexual discrimination. Lesbians, women who were barely mentioned in polite company 30 years ago, have gained a great deal in basic rights and freedoms since then, but many still feel that it’s not safe to come out to their employers and close associates.

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. This book is my way of trying to set the historical record straight, both as an account of women’s attempts to attain equality in Canadian society and as a study of how the English Canadian media covered those issues 30 years ago, using news-gathering techniques that are still common today. It explores how the Canadian news media, print and broadcast, covered women’s issues in the late 1960s, using the Royal Commission on the Status of Women as the vehicle that gave these issues concentrated exposure. Using this evidence as a case study, it also challenges the current thinking on the women’s movement of that era as well as the journalistic conventions of objectivity, fairness and balance. It questions whether these values really allow reporters to get to the heart of the matter when they cover women’s issues.


Table of contents

Table of Contents for
The Satellite Sex: The Media and Women’s Issues in English Canada, 1966–1971 by Barbara M. Freeman




1. “Democracy,” “Equal Opportunities” and “Merit”: Selling Women’s Issues to the Media

2. “Top Perch Out for Newshens”: Journalistic “Objectivity” on Trial

3. “Ladies Reminded They’re Women”: Framing Feminine / Feminist

4. “Accept Us as Individuals in Our Own Right”: News of “Equality”

5. “Please Don’t Price Me Out of My Status!” The Media and “Conflict” in the “Marital Status” Debate

6. “Why the Hell Can’t We Provide Daycare?” The Media and the “Working Mother”

7. “Nobody’s Going to Tell Me Whether I’ll Have a Baby”: The Language of “Freedom of Choice”

8. “North or South, It’s All the Same”: The Media and Aboriginal Women

9. “Too Little . .. Too Late”: The Coverage of the Commission's Report, 1970






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.


``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, Vol. 65, 2002

``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, Vol. 15 #4, Spring 2002

``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, Canadian Historical Review, Vol. 83, #2, June 2002

``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, American Journalism, Summer 2002

``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, Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol. 26, #4