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Rutgers endows chair for feminist icon Gloria Steinem

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The New York Times, a newspaper with the second-largest circulation in the United States, also has the largest gap in gender representation. Out of the 3,556 bylines it printed last year, 30 percent belonged to women, according to the Women’s Media Center.

Journals, newspapers and blogs pride themselves on being public watchdogs who keep powerful institutions in check, but feminist icon Gloria Steinem has spent her career attempting to hold the media accountable for their actions.

In honor of Steinem’s lifelong dedication to pushing feminist values through her journalism and activist work, Rutgers announced its support yesterday for the Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair, a position that will fund teaching and research for an individual who exemplifies Steinem’s values of equal representation in the media.

The creation of the chair involved multidisciplinary collaboration among the School of Communication and Information, the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies and the Institute for Women’s Leadership. 

The chair will be selected from a diverse array of fields in communication, media and women’s and gender studies. He or she will teach at least one undergraduate course per semester.

The position is not restricted to female faculty, according to an article in The New York Times. 

Steinem, a celebrated figure and feminist spokesperson, began her career when she co-founded Ms. Magazine, a publication intended to push feminist issues into the mainstream media in the 1970s. 

Steinem exemplifies someone who holds the media accountable for representing all people, especially marginalized groups, said Alison Bernstein, director of the Institute for Women’s Leadership.

Bernstein said one of the main benefits of the chair is having someone on the faculty at Rutgers who exemplifies the leadership of women and people of color in making media more inclusive.

“When I was growing up, you had a few stations and everybody watched them,” Bernstein said. “Now, there are so many different platforms for getting messages across, so it’s more democratic in that sense.” 

On the other hand, an elite leadership comprised primarily of white men still decide what content is portrayed in the media.

Today’s platforms combine new media, which refers to digital forums allowing for personal curating, such as Facebook and Twitter, and legacy media, including print, radio and blogging, Bernstein said. 

Jack Bratich, chair for the Department of Journalism and Media Studies in SC&I, said given that more than half of the 500 majors in the department are women, a need exists to set up mentorships, internships and ways for them to talk to women role models in the field. 

“It’s not just about women in media, but also addressing feminism in the media, which has made a resurgence in recent years,” he said. 

Celebrities such as Beyoncé Knowles and Emma Watson have openly associated themselves with feminism — last week, Watson spoke in front of the United Nations promoting the term. 

Claire McInerney, dean of SC&I, said one tangible action people could take is being more courageous about expressing their opinions.

The faculty at SC&I have conducted extensive research in the past, which has found that people are particularly hesitant to post controversial or political statements on social media platforms when they perceive a potentially negative reception from their followers, McInerney said. 

The issue of women in the media has become so prominent in recent years that SC&I is planning to launch a new academic minor in Gender and Media, which it hopes to make available to students by next semester. 

“We can all be citizen journalists now,” she said. 

SC&I and the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies have collaborated with the IWL before, first in hosting a lecture with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and again when co-sponsoring Steinem’s visit to the Rutgers campus last year.

 “We often talk about interdisciplinary efforts, and it’s gratifying to see this come together,” McInerney said. “That’s the feminist way.” 

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