But the history of the women’s page shows us that women-only sections are all too often the only places, as Voss says, where women don’t run into the same sexist coverage. Writing on women in mainstream news today often repeats the same tropes feminists have been fighting since they first complained about being sidelined onto the women’s page. Women like the New Inquiry’s Rachel Rosenfelt have their clothing discussed alongside their magazine; even Hillary Clinton is not immune from mention of her “pale pink lipstick.” During the 2012 election cycle, male politicians seemed to be unable to stop saying horrific things about women and rape—Voss notes that we’re hardly in a “post-feminist” era, and there’s still a need for a place for women talking to women about the issues that matter to them—particularly when those issues are treated as trivial, still, by the male-dominated media.
“We tell journalism students that [style] is not real news. It’s quite a gendered message that the things women care about are still not as important,” Voss says, pointing out that even “soft” subjects that are supposed to matter to men, like sports, are not considered frivolous the way “fashion and style” are. The women’s page was in a way analogous to the sports section, she notes—but the discussion of Bhaskar Sunkara of Jacobin’s desire, as a child, to play professional basketball is not seen as demeaning to him, while comments on Rosenfelt’s miniskirt seem to undermine her professionalism.
We still seem to have trouble resolving the conflict from the 1970s. Feminists continue to rightly complain of being pushed out of the more “serious” sections and worry that being discussed alongside the day’s fashions leads to more focus on their clothes and makeup than their ideas, and stories on “women’s issues” that hit the front pages are often still written by men. Is it any wonder that women’s magazines and websites still appeal? They provide space for women to talk to each other, since we’re still too often left out of the conversation in front of male audiences.
Until women’s news (and women reporters) are given equal footing in all the sections, we’re going to keep seeing the dilemma of one style editor, who complained to Mills that women would ask her to cover news stories in her section. “[I]t belongs in the front section or the city section, not my section. I have my own mission. Should I turn my section back into a ghetto of women’s news?”