Kitch points out that Steinem and other feminist’s criticism of the women’s pages came at a time when women’s page editors were taking control and doing some of their most important work. Jurney, Castleberry, Paxson and others were covering battered women, new economic models for child care, birth control, and of course, the spread of feminism, and in much more depth than any front-page stories on these subjects. But by the time Steinem changed her mind, the switch—from women’s pages to style pages—was already too far along, and complaints like hers were part of the reason for the shift.
The first paper to transition was the Washington Post, on January 6, 1969. Ben Bradlee, then editor at the Post, told Mills that the reasons for the change were to “treat women as people and not as appendages to men,” as well as to organize the paper between work and leisure, rather than men and women.
Jean Taylor, who became editor of the Los Angeles Times’s “View” section a year after its 1970 founding, complained to Mills that it was women who considered her section unimportant. “We artificially had to put esteem into women’s sections by bringing men in, by running stories all people would be interested in.” This also included hiring male writers. Marj Paxson was laid off in 1970, after getting an award for her work at the St. Petersburg Times’s women’s section [now the Tampa Bay Times]. She was then hired as women’s editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin only to see her job there disappear in favor of a “Focus” section with a male editor. She told Mills, “We were not considered capable of directing this new kind of feature section. That was man’s work.”
Susan Miller, in Journalism Quarterly in 1976, analyzed women’s sections from 1965 and lifestyle sections from 1975 and found that the newly-renamed sections had shrunk in size, while “Entertainment” coverage had increased. And in 1972 a group of women editors filed a lawsuit against the Post, claiming that four women had been laid off from the women’s/style pages in two years, and no corresponding hires had been made in the paper’s “hard” news sections.
In a paper titled “Newspapers’ transition from women’s to style pages: What were they thinking?” in Journalism, Dustin Harp analyzed the conversation in journalism trade publications about women’s and style pages during the time that many were shifting. She found that the transition “was little more than a name change, and certainly not an attitude change.” Editors and reporters “believed that women’s and style sections were interchangeable.” Yet they were letting women go and bringing on more men, suggesting that what had happened was more a narrowing of women’s place in the news than a broadening of the horizons of “style.”
Or, it could have been a revamp in order to gain new advertisers. Advertising had been important since the birth of the women’s page. Kitch points out that the pages were born alongside the race for mass circulation. Massive monopoly dailies were fueled by advertising dollars, and publishers needed to draw new eyeballs while avoiding offense.
By the 1990s, newspapers were edging toward the rapid decline that we’re all too familiar with these days, and some of them circled back to a renewed women’s section to attract readers. Voss worked for the Chicago Tribune’s revamped women’s page, WomaNews, in the 1990s, and recalls that when she told sources that she was writing for the women’s section, many of them were pleased, thinking her story would be pro-woman, rather than repeat the sexist problems of much of the rest of the media. And yet she also garnered criticism from a few fellow reporters for working there.
Today on the Web, women’s websites are thriving and many popular news and commentary sites maintain a women’s section. Ruth Rosen criticizes this tendency, writing, “My concern is that gender equality will only emerge when men are educated about women’s lives and when women stop being quarantined as ‘the other.’”