NOW's Watch Out Listen Up campaign has been in full effect since February, with NOW's media analysts evaluating primetime television for its portrayal of women and girls. While Nielsen collected ratings data during the February sweeps month, determining who's watching what, feminist activists were investigating what viewers are actually seeing when they turn on their TVs.
Twenty-eight teams of analysts tackled the four major networks-ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC-monitoring all the primetime programs these broadcasters aired during a two-week period. All shows were evaluated for their content of violence, gender composition and stereotypes, sexual exploitation and social responsibility.
NOW will release the findings of the 28-team network analysis in early May, just prior to the May 7-12 Watch Out Listen Up house parties and actions, ranking the individual networks and specific shows.
In addition to the teams who watched assigned programming, NOW enlisted volunteers for a Feminist Ratings Survey. In an effort to discover what feminists are watching, NOW sent television diaries to people who agreed to report all the primetime programs they viewed during a two-week period. With this added component of the campaign, NOW has solicited feedback from more than 200 media monitors.
NOW's Feminist Ratings monitors rated Judging Amy one of their favorite shows.
Diaries from the Feminist Ratings Survey are still coming in, but many have already been tallied. Early results name the following programs as most popular with feminists and other concerned viewers (shows listed in order of current rank): Judging Amy (CBS), ER (NBC), NYPD Blue (ABC), Family Law (CBS) and The West Wing (NBC).
Monitors said they love the strong women on these shows, and the diaries indicate that feminists are loyal viewers of intelligent programming with positive female characters. However, many respondents also commented that they watch less and less TV these days, frustrated with their options.
The launching of Watch Out Listen Up coincided with the FOX special "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire," in which an allegedly wealthy man chose a woman to marry out of fifty attractive contestants. The program promoted, among other things, the sexist notion that women should be valued for their beauty and men for their wealth and power. Ultimately, public response to the show turned overwhelmingly negative; however, over 22 million viewers tuned in for the auction of these women.
"Programming like this demonstrates the need for the Watch Out Listen Up campaign, and reminds viewers that broadcasters have a long way to go toward portraying women as strong, equal people who have significant and valuable contributions to offer society," said National Board Member and California NOW President Helen Grieco, who also chairs NOW's Feminist Communications Network Task Force.
The progression of this exciting campaign can be followed more closely on NOW's web site at www.now.org/issues/media. This new component of the NOW site has been developed to provide detailed information on Watch Out Listen Up, as well as NOW's work on media issues in general. The media activism page includes a special weekly column that provides evaluation, both good and bad, of the week's media events, as well as Feminist Picks suggesting woman-positive media that is available.
"It is simply not enough to be able to list a handful of positive programs when the overwhelming majority of television portrays women in an unrealistic and unfavorable manner," said Grieco.
NOW's goals for broadcasters to work toward include: gender parity and racial diversity among casts; characters of all ages, body types and abilities; images of strong, respected women and more women in power; less violence in general, and in particular less violence toward women and girls; and more socially responsible content that acknowledges women's everyday lives. Until these elements are the norm rather than the exception, it is crucial that media activists hold television accountable for its content.
There are many ways to protest the negative portrayal of women as Watch Out Listen Up culminates in May. All feminists are encouraged to have house parties on May 7 where they can strategize how to affect change in the media, view woman-positive media (view the survey results) and plan actions for the week of May 8-12. Whether you choose to protest outside your local television station, write letters to networks asking them to be more responsible in the programming they air, or write to members of the Federal Communications Commission demanding that they uphold certain standards on the airwaves, the important thing is to do something!
"Media activism is crucial in the fight for women's rights," said NOW Action V.P. Elizabeth Toledo. "Through this campaign media-savvy viewers are taking action against negative images of women in the media and telling those responsible that they better listen up or watch out."
Ideas for house parties, actions and other ways to participate in the Watch Out Listen Up campaign are on the web site at www.now.org/issues/media/ or call 202-628-8669, ext. 123 for information.