The Future of Feminism: Rachel Maddow and Melissa Harris-Perry

Local reporting from regions around the globe is absolutely essential. And, with the rise of blogs and social media, increasing power resides in the voices of independent writers who have the courage to speak their minds.

However, mainstream media still has incredible reach and influence; and the sad truth is that women and people of color are underrepresented in almost all forms of mainstream journalism, be it print, broadcast or web. This is especially true in one of the most influential mediums of opinion journalism, TV punditry, making feminist and intersectional perspectives the exception there rather than the rule.

But today, instead of dwelling on the negative, I want to take a little time to celebrate the fact that there are a few tremendously popular TV personalities–each with loyal viewerships in the millions–who consistently report on topics that affect the lives of women and girls.

Rachel Maddow‘s instant televisual success, back when her MSNBC weeknight program The Rachel Maddow Show first aired in the fall of 2008, seemed to surprise even her. Almost four years later, she’s still making waves. She’s erudite, ardently feminist, openly lesbian and certainly the only person on cable news who can pull off those trademark black-rimmed glasses–and audiences love her. Maddow has spent large segments of her programming reporting on stories such as Dr. George Tiller’s murder and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. She’s also given one of the best contemporary definitions of feminism I’ve read, in a 2010 interview with Feministing:

Feminism is itself a challenge. Feminism is a challenge to the way things are in the world. It is by definition an oppositional movement, because it’s trying to accomplish something. I’ve never felt like feminism was a consciousness-raising effort in isolation. Everything about feminism is about getting something in the world to get better for women, and to get the world to be less stupid on gender bifurcation terms. [...] I don’t think of it as a competition; there’s no winning. In feminism, you’re always trying to make stuff better. It’s opposition to which you cannot attribute a tally.

And if you like Rachel Maddow, there’s also a new potential power player in town: Melissa Harris-Perry, whose weekend MSNBC show just began airing in mid-February. A professor of political science at Tulane University, Harris-Perry is author of the book Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes and Black Women in American and, now, the first African American woman to have a solo gig as the host of an hour-long cable news program. I can’t wait to keep watching Harris-Perry’s journey as she ventures into this newest media format.

See Melissa here, injecting some much-needed sense into the manufactured debate over a hug between two black men:

Lastly, as a footnote, let me add a shout out to Jon Stewart and his cadre of clever writers and correspondents (not that they need my endorsement). Even though The Daily Show is a well-established “fake” news program that plays for laughs, the show still reports on serious issues and has done an admirable job over the years, and especially recently, looking at the world through a feminist lens. Take, for example, correspondent Samantha Bee’s send-up [Trigger warning] of Fox News analyst Liz Trotta’s absurd claim that women in the military should expect to be raped (and that it’s feminism’s fault!) or the program’s hilarious recent spoof of the all-male Capitol Hill Birth Control panel. Not to mention that Stewart also had Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards on the show just this past week.

Grassroots organizations and local activism are tremendously important; however, one of the ways smaller news stories and regional initiatives gain national or even global traction is when big-name pundits bring them into the mainstream, getting a step closer to inspiring the average viewer–who may not be tuned in to feminist concerns–to take action or, at least, take notice.

Part Twelve in a Women’s History Month series celebrating organizations and ideas that represent the future of feminism.

Comments

  1. I love Rachel Maddow & Melissa Harris Perry and I’m so happy they are on the air influencing people. I think you should add Chris Hayes to this list (especially since you mentioned Jon Stewart). Up With Chris Hayes is a spectacular show & Chris is a spectacular ally!

    • Stanley Vorce says:

      @Jacquelyn: You hit the nail squarely on its head. I cherish the excellent people you mentioned: Maddow, MHP, Hayes & Jon Stewart. Our DVR keeps busy recording these shows for us to view when convenient. Chris Hayes gets better every week.

  2. Kristen Schuetz says:

    The number of women news commentators in the U.S. is extremely low. According to a study released last month by the Women’s Media Center, women graduating with journalism degrees outnumber men by 2 to 1, sometimes 3 to 1. Yet we still only make up 24 percent of news content! This goes to show that although women are interested in contributing to the information flow, obtaining management/director positions is difficult. Journalists such as Rachel Maddow and Melissa Harris-Perry are essential in paving the way for future women to have the confidence and courage to break down barriers to high level positions in the newsroom and improve the coverage of women’s lives and issues. Great post!

  3. I particularly love the spoof of the all-male Birth Control panel. “Now, breasts…can we really trust women to self-examine?”. It’s frightening how close to the truth this probably is.

    I think this post raises some very interesting questions about how women are represented in the media. There have been several high-profile cases in the UK of women being sacked or pressured to leave TV presenting jobs because they dared to reach an age over 45. Even the BBC has been taken to court over it. Yet, what we see on our screens still doesn’t deviate from the focus on young women whose appearances fit into a narrow aesthetic, age bracket and racial stereotype. It would seem women are only acceptable on TV if they’re sexualised – god forbid they be allowed to appear on the screen for their intellectual merit alone!

    I look forward to the day when I see an older, not conventionally attractive, ungroomed woman co-hosting a television show with a young, conventionally attractive, impeccably groomed man.

  4. I don’t spend much time watching the MSNBC or any such channel, but I definitely am appreciative of Ms Maddow’s contributions to the media, and am thrilled to see a woman of color also getting a spot. That shouldn’t be important, but it is, and here’s to many more years of both of their contributions.

  5. In the sea of cable television hosts, Rachel Maddow is near perfection. She definitely knows her issues, and is not afraid to push buttons that the MSM are afraid to touch. She is definitely a class act.

    Unfortunately, I really do not care for Melissa as much.

    Adrian

  6. I feel like I need to go get cable just to watch these two amazing women and hear what they have to say. I have no doubt that it is well worth hearing.

  7. Lisanne Powers says:

    We need to also recognize other great MSNBC journalists and feminists Ed Schultz, Lawrence O’Donnell, and Chris Hays! These guys have been fabulous!

  8. two of my favorite women!i always learn somthing new watching their programs.
    two intelligent women who keep women and men informed.msnbc has a winning line up of journalist who are pro women!

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