Porn, News, and Anchorman: the Ascent of Women in Media by Andrew Mortensen

Writer’s Reflection

  1. After the work I put into this project, I feel confident submitting this essay. Peer reviewing, meeting with you, and finalizing my draft helped out a lot and I’m pretty confident this is some of my better work. I’m most proud of the way I was able to organize my thoughts. I already told you this story during our revision meeting, but I figure I’ll include it here again because it was really important in the overall direction of my project. I referee hockey around the Midwest and many of my winter weekends are filled with hours and hours in the car. On this particular trip to somewhere in Michigan, I was thinking about my essay outline. Literally ideas started popping into my head and I thought they were really good so I had to write them down immediately on a gas receipt from a few miles earlier . I probably should have stopped the car, but the ideas were way too good to lose! If I could change anything about this essay, it would be the analysis of Anchorman. If I could tie this in better with the whole essay, possibly mentioning it earlier, rather than just at the end, it might enhance my ideas about Anchorman’s overall social significance.  The most challenging aspect of this assignment was actually organizing my ideas. There were a lot of  interesting sources I saw stacked on the library shelves that I actually got distracted when I went to the library; I wanted to include more than this assignment would probably allow for! I forgot how fun it was to leaf through a random library book , not Google search results. The building of the essay really just boiled down to; “What’s most important?”
  2. When I started to put my ideas together, I wanted to focus on women’s roles in the media. After reading The Washington Post article by Paul Farhi, I realized that what he was saying was true to a certain extent. After watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode, I felt a little that unsure about whether to use it because it was viewed as “pioneering.” I almost cut the show from my project but luckily I found a scholarly article supporting my idea about The Mary Tyler Moore Show not being as important as many believed it was. This was going to be the basis for my idea that women were moving up the ladder, but still being held back so it was great finding this source. Building an outline helped tremendously because the whole project wasn’t the normal “stay-up-til-four-am” essay . It needed time and thought and the outline made time for this thought that I needed. I initially I believed I would loosely follow the outline, but I actually ended up following it very closely.
  3. I was able to put together this essay by combining my ideas with the ones of established writiers. I also researched women in media and found many articles that allowed me to make my own generalizations which I think was a pretty cool part of this project. I had a point to prove, and I needed the research and historical sources to back me up.But rather than just focus on these sources, I developed their ideas and synthesized them into a common theme in the essay.
  4. The audience here is anyone that is a fan of American media! The paper isn’t just a compilation of ideas just for ultra-hardcore feminists, but ideas that relate to a normal person; TV, Movies, News! I don’t just focus on women and their movement, but broader implications that women in media have brought on. The close readings I performed were important to my essay because they helped to describe the two different situations women were and are in; a traditional scenario and a modern scenario.
  5. With regards to the actual information I learned, I read a lot about the feminist movement, gender roles in American media, and differing opinions on what should and should not happen with these roles. But in putting the project together, I also learned a lot. This was one of the few essays for English that I didn’t put off until the last minute, and I think it paid off.  Now, I know that it’s much better to slowly work on a project, rather than do it all at once. If we studied other aspects of society; religion, ethnicity, etc, I think it would become evident that a lot of views change about each one and these changes in view are spurred by cultural events, the media, and other happenings within society. No particular influence (media, cultural events, etc) can change these aspects of society, but it’s a combination of them all.
  6. This project was very challenging but also extremely rewarding, things I have come to like about school work. Even though I had difficulty in some areas, I worked through the issues, and I feel a lot more confident about my writing skills. I do actually like to write, so once my ideas were organized I had fun with the writing process.


For thousands of years, the roles of women have been inferior to men. Only recently, in the last hundred years, have women begun to break from these traditional roles into more prominent ones. Although they are moving physically into traditionally male roles, women remain constrained socially by long-standing, denigrating beliefs about a women’s place in society. This trend is most evident in American media today, where in the past forty years, women have moved into some of the most respected positions possible, but still remain oppressed by long standing social beliefs.

When looking at the upward mobility of women, it is necessary to examine the contexts in which this change took place. In the 1960’s a period of time known as “second-wave feminism” began. During these years, women’s rights advocates turned their attention from legal rights (property and voting rights), to social rights (family dynamic, representation of women in media, etc). The movement produced the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which states that employers cannot discriminate pay based on sex, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), that prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on sex, and the National Organization for Women (NOW), the largest feminist organization in the United States. The campaign was sparked by author Betty Friedan, who argued in her 1963 bestseller The Feminine Mystique, that the representation of women in media was degrading and limiting to their potential. Without the publishing of this book, the second wave feminist movement, and the resulting positives, would never have occurred. The movement spurred a new conception in the public’s mind; it might just be possible for a woman to ascend into the news-media business.

At the peak of the second wave feminist movement in 1970, CBS unveiled The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The show, which was referred to as “pioneering” (Connor 26), portrayed the main character in a seemingly positive light. While many shows featured women as prominent characters, none treated them as honestly as CBS’ Mary Tyler Moore Show. The excitement emanating from the show was palpable in a 1977 New York Times article when journalist Thomas Connor called it “one of television’s best-written comedies…” adding that “…it laid to rest the myth that audiences would not accept a situation comedy involving a woman…” (Connor 26). While many became excited by the outcome of the show at the time, it is easier to truly judge the show’s impact thirty-four years later.

As more people become accustomed to the new standards created during the second women’s movement, the views about the Mary Tyler Moore Show have begun to shift. While viewing an episode of the show, it becomes apparent by today’s standards that the main character, Mary Richards, is treated inappropriately compared with her male coworkers. This reevaluation of a past topic, “reparative reading,” as writer Susan Crozier refers to it, allows viewers to reassess a culturally important show years after it debuted. Doing so makes it obvious that the humor in the show is centered on “the way in which Mary continually strikes out” and due to the fact that she works at “a low-rating television station” (Crozier 1).

In one episode in the third season, Mary enters her boss’ office to request a wage equal to another employee holding the same position. She is emotional during the encounter, upset that she cannot receive equal pay for performing the same work as another employee. After informing her boss of the discrepancy, he dismisses her complaint and quickly switches topics, only to backtrack when Mary cuts him off, almost in tears, “I don’t believe this. I’m upset, and you’re juts ignoring it.” The boss rationalizes his actions, believing that her emotion “was one of those women things” while the laugh track erupts in laughter. The conversation develops as Mary firmly requests a pay raise only to be told that her counterpart makes more money only “because he’s a man,” again followed by an outburst on the laugh track  (“The Good-Time News” Season 3, Episode 1). The encounter is degrading to Mary and ultimately sours the episode. And although the laugh track cues audiences to laugh, it actually provides a subtle reminder that women are not explicitly treated this way today; a stimulus that reminds many that the years of misogyny are waning.

Gender stereotypes remain in today’s culture, but they are not as candid as The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s. Today these stereotypes are less noticeable, but still prevalent within the media. They are no more obvious than in the porn industry, where women are the center a man’s fulfillment, and ultimately submissive, allowing males to still feel dominant. Summarized by author Robert Jensen in an essay titled “Knowing Pornography,” Jensen believes this dominance within pornography is a “way in which men’s dominance, and control of, women is sexualized and naturalized” (Carter, Steiner, and Jensen 246). Within the essay, he also looks at the way porn has commoditized women as “objects in this culture” making them an object of male fantasy. Jensen’s arguments are convincing because they boil the idea of subtle female mistreatment down to one simple aspect of society: sex.

These subtle stereotypes are also visible in the news media industry where recent data is showing an interesting trend. On the surface, fifty-eight percent of today’s television reporters are women, along with sixty-six percent of news producers (Farhi 2006). But exploring the corporate, higher paid jobs of news companies, the numbers tell a different story. Only thirty-two percent of assistant news directors and twenty percent of news directors are women (Farhi 2006). Women may be physically breaking through new boundaries into the broadcasting industry, but have been unable to break into the top through the social barriers that have stood for centuries. In 2004, the comedy Anchorman debuted and was a modern representation of this phenomenon.

In Anchorman, the city of San Francisco enjoys the nightly newscast led by the iconic news anchor, Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell). After Burgundy’s fame begins to falter, their network’s ratings follow. As a result, female journalist Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) is hired. Ron Burgundy becomes uneasy after the hiring and is openly defiant towards the idea of a women in the office. In one scene, Veronica needs to use the communal tape player in the common room of the office only to be told “no” by Ron because he is using it to watch his Emmy award tape (Anchorman). Veronica implores Ron to let her use the machine because she is “a professional” and “wants to do [her] job” (Anchorman). As a crowd in the common room forms to view the escalating argument, the jeers between the Ron and Veronica become increasingly immature. Ron calls Veronica a “pirate hooker” while Veronica fires back that Ron “look[s] like a blueberry.” In this satirical and pivotal scene, the writers of the movie are trying to demonstrate the struggle that has taken place for many years in the news media business. In the past, it was difficult for women to be taken seriously in the media. But here in this scene, with the two quarreling like four-year-olds, Veronica stands up. She stands up to the Emmy award winning anchorman, the man who “discovered the wheel and built the Eiffel Tower out of metal and brawn,” the man whose home “smells of rich mahogany,” the twenty-first century man, without a laugh track, or a male dismissing her claims. The man of the past hundred years who enjoyed stability in the workplace, unfearful of women, has in this instant become threatened; caught off guard, and hesitant about his future. The movie explores this mobility of females, and ultimately leaves the audience questioning our modern social standards for women. A fictitious character breaks the norms of the twenty-first century office, crossing a barrier that has seldom been crossed. She is well respected in the plot of the movie, and for once taken seriously. This optimistic representation is an important moment in the modern women’s movement to gain social mobility that was not present in the past.

Initiated by the publishing of The Feminine Mystique, the second wave feminist movement provided a springboard for the modern representation of women in television media today. Without this movement, and the actions of society, women would not be in positions to succeed in the workplace today. With every year that passes, it becomes more evident that in the past, the  media did not portray women as they are represented today. Although they are moving physically into more reputable jobs, they remain constrained by the beliefs that have stood for hundreds of years. If current trends continue, however, the years of inequality are nearly up. In the near future, it will be possible to perform a “reparative reading” (Crozier 1) on American news media today, enabling the society of the future to truly see the impact women had and will have on the news media industry.


Works Cited

Burns, Allan. “The Good Time News.” The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Prod. James L. Brooks. CBS. WCBS, 16 Sept. 1972. Web. 16 Mar. 2011. <>.

Carter, Cynthia, and Linda Steiner. Critical Readings: Media and Gender. Maidenhead: Open University Press, 2004. Print.

“Civil Rights Act.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. 14 Mar. 2011. <>.

Connor, Thomas. “Mary Tyler Moore: ‘I’m Not an Innately Funny Person’: Mary Tyler Moore.” New York Times (1923-Current file): H33. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2007). 1985. Web. 17 Feb. 2011 <>.

Crozier, Susan. “Making it after all: a reparative reading of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 11.1 (2008): 51-67. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 25 Feb. 2011.

“Equal Pay Act.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. 14 Mar. 2011.

Farhi, Paul. “Men, Signing Off.” The Washington Post Online. The Washington Post Company, 23 July 2006. Web. 16 Feb. 2011. <>.

Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. New York: Norton, 2001. Print.

“National Organization for Women (NOW).” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. 14 Mar. 2011. <>.