Book Review: 'Feminism in the News' by Dr. Kaitlynn Mendes

In Feminism in the News, author Kaitlynn Mendes examines how feminism has been represented in the media since the 1960's and how these representations have shaped public perceptions about the women's movement.

Using a range of conservative and liberal publications, Mendes studies the news coverage of the women’s movement through eight British and American newspapers including 1100 news articles from the peak of the second wave of feminism between 1968-1982, and the third wave in 2008.  

Mendes says news coverage between 1968 and 1982 that supported the women’s movement worked on normalizing the feminist by painting a feminist as an ordinary, white heterosexual woman. While other publications that opposed the women’s movement constructed feminists as deviant, unnecessary and harmful to society. Therefore, women didn’t want to identify as a feminist and were pinned against each other in the news. When the sex discrimination and equal pay act was implemented, the public thought that the movement had reached its goal and was therefore over. Feminists who were still advocating for change were described as redundant. Very few publications focused on the issues that continued to drive them. Consequently, critiques of patriarchy and capitalism were absent and dominant ideologies remained intact.

Looking at news coverage in 2008, Mendes said dominant ideologies continued to thrive in coverage that opposed feminism however, the numbers dwindled and there was a five per cent increase in coverage that supported feminism. Publications began to define feminism as desirable and positive for society. This sparked coverage that looked critically at feminism in popular culture and politics.

Coverage addressed gender roles and oppressive stereotypes in film while examining how media objectified women in politics.  Since publications started to discuss the issues that represented the women’s movement it re-shaped public opinion towards feminism. However, articles didn’t provide solutions to the issues. It presented that there was little momentum that fueled the movement. As more feminist organizations emerged, publications could not grasp the complexity of the issues the women’s movement represented and neither did the public. Most people thought that the third wave of feminism lacked a single goal to unite the movement.

Dr. Mendes has clearly mastered her beat on the representation of feminism in media and writes with knowledge that validates her analysis for readers to take away with them. Mendes describes herself as a “feminist cultural sociologist.” She has a journalism degree from Carleton University and a PhD in journalism from Cardiff University in the United Kingdom. Now she is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Leicester in the U.K. and has also taught journalism at De Montfort University, also in the U.K. With her vast knowledge on feminism in media she advocates for women in media as an executive board member with organizations working to empower women in the field. 

Feminism in the News reads as an academic article spread across 200 pages. She does her due diligence in balancing both the opposition and the support for feminism in news coverage. Therefore, as an objective academic study, the reader remains removed from Mendes’s research and analysis. She does not grab readers as she attempts to take them through the 1960's to 2008, so it is hard to know which message she wants readers to take away.

Since the book was published in 2011, there has been new progressions in society that have been instrumental for the women’s movement.  For example, social media has fueled the women’s movement by spreading feminist ideologies, criticizing dominate ideologies and connecting like-minded people worldwide.

Current events have also resuscitated the women’s movement. U.S. President Donald Trump’s inauguration fueled women’s marches all over the world in protest of his presidency and scandals relating to his mistreatment of women. In 2017, Hollywood stood up to sexual violence in the industry sparking the worldwide #MeToo movement that has exposed sexual violence in politics and among other authoritative figures.

The revival of the women’s movement has sparked discussions on defining feminism. Now, people are beginning to grasp feminism is complex, representing a range of issues. Second wave and third wave issues are still prevalent, but people now understand that these issues are felt differently based on one's identity. Signs that read “Feminism is intersectional” at annual women’s marches around the world are forming the basis of a new wave, one that fights for equal rights for everyone.

In the past few years, the media has had a lot to cover, so Mendes is missing historical developments that are crucial in understanding the current state of the women’s movement in the news.

Although this book is due for another chapter, it would be contradicting to illegitimatize this book as it works to legitimize feminism. No matter the time period, this book will prompt readers to critically think about how current media constructs feminism.