Deadlines and Domination

The Intersection of Race and Gender at America's Newspapers


The goals of this section are to: 1) explicitly state the diversity/representation theory under which newspaper executives say they are operating; 2) background that with a condensed overview of feminist and racial formation theories; and 3) detail why intersection theory yields the best explanation of how race and gender are subjugated at American newspapers.

ASNE's diversity/representation theory

In 1978, the American Society of Newspaper Editors set its "Year 2000" goal in a latent response to the Kerner Commission's 1968 report. By calling on all newspapers to match the minority percentage in their newsrooms to that of their communities, the ASNE was not just seeking to redress employment discrimination in journalism. Rather it was trying to keep newspapers from being caught off-guard the way they were in 1967. They had given little if any warning of the riots, and once the rioting began they had few if any reporters with entrée into the physical ghettos or psychological roots of the tumult. In less dramatic fashion, newspapers' early coverage of "bra-burning girls" in the 1970s made it clear that white male editors "didn't get it."

Their hands forced, editors began hiring female and minority reporters for the same reasons they hired foreign correspondents in the 1940s and economics graduates in the 1950s -- so they'd have "experts" to cover new beats. Underlying this action is the theory that women are better able to write about women, and minorities are better able to write about minorities. In other words, editors believe women and minorities will represent their gender or race in the sources they develop, the stories they pursue and the way they write (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Under representation theory, women are expected to write about women, and people of color are expected to write about people of color more often than do white males.

But ASNE's aim is not just to increase coverage of minorities or to increase coverage of women. The editors say they want to enhance diversity and pluralism by increasing coverage of minorities and women. Under this schema, women of color would be the most valuable new hires, because they would be "two-fers" -- imbued with the experiences of being a woman and a minority. On

ASNE's unwritten diversity scale, white women and men of color would be equally valued, with flucuations based on circumstances; e.g., black male reporters would be more valuable during rioting, while white female reporters would rise to the fore during feminist sit-ins (Figure 2).

Figure 2. ASNE's diversity scale.
X Women of color

What this theory does not account for is over 200 years of gender and race relations that: 1) subtly influence the ability of women and minorities to represent their kind in print, and 2) shape the willingness of white male editors to give them that power. These relations have been separately addressed in abstract terms by feminist, Marxist and racial formation theories. Only recently have theorists begun to intertwine the approaches to gain a more encompassing perspective on how race, gender and class intersect in society.

Marxist, feminist and race theory

Marxists have always focused on economic explanations for the subjugation of women

and minorities in capitalist societies. Women are exploited for their reproductive labor and minorities are exploited as a reserve army of labor, according to Marxists. In other words, women are not able to advance in capitalist economies as fast as men because they usually leave the labor force at some point to have babies and be close to their children at home (Hartmann, 1981, pp. 3-4). Minorities, according to Marxism, cannot command equal wages because white capitalists primarily see them as a lever for suppressing the wages of (preferred) white workers.

But Marxism does not explain why capitalists should prefer white workers. In fact, under Marxist theory, capitalists should prefer minorities, because they have been willing to work for lower wages than whites. Also, Marxism predicted that the patriarchal treatment of women would whither as more of them worked for wages (Hartmann, 1981, p. 25). While patriarchy may have declined as more women have gone to work outside the home, it has far from vanished.

Feminists recognize that capitalism and men are mutually competitive, rationalistic and dominating (Hartmann, 1981, p. 28), but feminism has focused on patriarchy as the way in which men dominate women. Hartmann defines patriarchy as a set of materially based social relations that creates a solidarity among men -- men of all races and classes "who are united in their shared relationship of dominance over their women" (1981, pp. 14-15). Boris and Bardaglio define patriarchy as an ongoing power struggle in which "men exercise control over women's labor" (1987, p. 132). The more women work at home, Hartmann adds, the more it limits their ability to work independently for a wage -- and the more it enhances men's work (1981, p. 22).

Like gender, race has come to be defined as a socially constructed system of domination rather than a biological demarcation. Some theorists equate the subjugation of U.S. minorities with the international colonialization of people of color by white males (Glenn, 1985). Omi and Winant coined the term "racial formation" and define it as "the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed" (1994, p. 55). They link racial formation to hegemony, a concept developed by communist Antonio Gramsci during the 1930s while he was imprisoned for insurrection in his native Italy. He said modern domination is not based on force, but a combination of coercion and consent, with the ruling group conceding to many interests of subordinated groups in order to stay in power (Omi and Winant, 1994, pp. 66-67). An even more subtle facet of hegemony entails the ruling class using education, religion, folk wisdom -- and the media -- to establish "common sense" notions of how society operates. Society gives its consent to be ruled by adhering and contributing to the dominant group's version of common sense.

Intersection theory

In theorizing hegemony, researchers increasingly have realized that separate models of class, gender and race inadequately explain how white males maintain dominant status when they compose less than 25% of the U.S. population. Nor are additive models of race, class and gender enough to explain hegemony, because it is not always true that black men, for instance, are subordinate to white women in society, or vice versa. Additive models miss qualitative distinctions, such as the simultaneous oppressions experienced by women of color -- and their modes of resistance (Brewer, 1993, p. 98). Also, oppression is not a uniform experience (Amott & Matthlaei, 1991, pp. 13, 17; Baca Zinn & Thornton Dill, in press, p. 2). For instance, men may attempt to oppress all women, but white women experience this much differently than do women of color. As "outsiders within" two cultures, women of color have an "uneasy alliance" with white feminists, according to Baca Zinn and Thornton Dill (in press, pp. 3, 6). Class differentials among women are also significant -- to the extent that Marxist theory has "sidetracked" feminism in some activists' minds (Hartmann, 1981, p. 31). In terms of options and constraints, the lives of women of different classes are at least as different from one another as they are from men in their own class (Mullings, 1986, p. 48). This was illustrated in the 19th and early 20th century by the hierarchy of domestic workers and the women who employed them. Today it remains apparent at hospitals in the hierarchy of female doctors, registered nurses and nurse assistants (Glenn, 1992) -- and at newspapers, where there are wide differences in the experiences of women who work as editors, reporters or clerks in the classified and circulation departments.

In response to the inadequacies of separate or additive theories of race, class and gender, researchers have begun to develop theory on the interlocking or interactive nature of these social constructs. Bart Landry, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland at College Park, calls this "intersection theory." As Glenn puts it, "Race and gender constructs are inextricably intertwined. Each develops in the context of the other; they cannot be separated. ... White womanhood has been constructed not in isolation but in relation to that of women of color" (1992, pp. 33, 35). Working class white women, for instance, usually get the service jobs that involve contact with the public -- waitresses, stewardesses, dental assistants -- while women of color are relegated to behind-the-scenes jobs such as nurse's aides, maids and cooks (Glenn, 1992). While many black women have gone into those positions of public reproductive labor, it is still common for Latinas and Asian-American women in Florida and the Southwest to be working for white women in private reproductive labor. These middle class white women, in failing to challenge society's division of labor between the sexes, are oppressing women of color and, ultimately, themselves, Glenn says (1992, pp. 7, 34). As one black maid told her daughter years ago, "The black woman is the white man's mule, and the white woman is his dog" (Glenn, 1992, p. 17).

Feminists Baca Zinn and Thornton Dill say race is so central in the United States that all social relations are "racialized" (in press, pp. 6-7, 15). Saying that race shapes gender, they are developing an intersection theory they call "multiracial feminism." They use "multiracial" instead of the more benign "multicultural," they say, "as a way of underscoring race as a power system that interacts with other structured inequalities to shape genders" (in press, pp. 6-7). The power system between whites and people of color has been graphically portrayed by Amott and Matthlaei (1991, p. 21) as a pyramid with only whites at the pinnacle. But in contrast to additive models that show all people of color below all whites, the Amott and Matthlaei model indicates some people of color reach a class level where they are parallel to some whites, yet none of them is in a position of domination over whites. I believe their model could be further refined by the addition of two parallel lines (Figure 3) indicating that women of color are usually dominated by men of color and all whites, but some women of color reach class levels putting them parallel to (not in domination over) some men of color and even some whites. Similarly, some white women may be parallel to some white men, but not in domination over them.

Figure 3. Amott and Matthlaei's "racial-ethnic-class pyramid," with gender added.

Baca Zinn and Thornton Dill have adopted Patricia Hill Collins' term "matrix of domination" to describe the interacting inequalities that construct gender. "The matrix of domination," they explain, "seeks to account for the multiple ways that women experience themselves as gendered, raced, classed, and sexualized. Multiracial feminism emphasizes the intersectional nature of hierarchies" (in press, pp. 11-12). I believe "matrix of domination" is a key concept for theorizing about the intersection of race and gender at America's newspapers. From a macro/societal view, this is because newspapers play a key role in the hegemonic control of society by white males. And from a micro/inside-the-newsroom view, newspapers are very hierarchical. Editors who are dogged in their scrutiny and defense of democratic government constantly remind reporters that newsrooms are not democracies; there is no time for endless debate and deliberation -- decisions have to be made in order to get the paper out every day. In other words, deadlines necessitate domination.

This attitude -- this common sense fact, many editors would say -- commingles with all of the societal constructions of race and gender to suppress or outright subvert efforts to enhance diversity in newsrooms and news content. In fact, intersection theory and my newsroom experience leads me to hypothesize that the actual manner in which race and gender are treated in newsrooms and news columns is much closer to Amott and Matthlaei's model than to ASNE's diversity theory. In general, women of color are the least-valued and least-empowered members of newspaper staffs, rather than the most-valued. White males remain the most-valued and most-empowered members of news staffs, and they solidify that dominant position through hegemonic negotiation with white women and men of color.

Figure 4. The matrix of domination in newsrooms.

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