My father-in law is one of the nicest men I know. He is patient, intelligent and extremely kind. I first met him at a restaurant, the night before his son Peter— my boyfriend at the time—got his master’s degree. Peter told him I worked in public radio.


“I produce a radio program called 51%,” I said. “It’s a show about women.” I went on to talk about the topics we cover, including national and global politics, culture, history, and work and family issues. I told him about the commentaries we air—some poignant, others humorous—by diverse and fascinating women. I mentioned the musicians and poets we feature, talented women who don’t get a great deal of exposure in commercial media. I was nervous and trying to impress so I talked too much and probably too fast. When I slowed down, my future father-inlaw asked, “Is there a 49%?”

 

Justifying

My

Existence


Mary Darcy, producer and co host, with Sage president Jeanne Neff, of the WAMC/Northeast Public Radio show 51%, reflects on the why women’s media matters.

There it was again, the question that had plagued me since I’d taken the job three years earlier. Why is there a show about women? If there is a show about women, should there be a show about men?

 

I recall saying that 49% might be an interesting idea for a program before a waiter
appeared with menus, cocktails, and an opportunity to change the subject.

Listen to archived programs anytime on the internet. Visit www.wamc.org/51.html.

Her Story: Women in Science segments are also available at www.womeninscience.org.

 

Not everyone who asks about my work is as kind as my father-in-law. Gender is a
topic that can make people angry and defensive. I’ve met plenty of women and
men who support 51%. But those who oppose it do so pretty vehemently. Some
ask why there isn’t a special show for men. Others say we are “ghettoizing” women’s issues by setting them apart. And what are women’s issues anyway? Is there anything that affects women that doesn’t—somehow— affect men?


On the other hand, there are issues that 51% covers that don’t get the same attention in other media outlets—genocide in Darfur, international sex trafficking, reconciling religion and feminism, and the decision to have children are examples. These issues may pop up now and then as part of a newscast or magazine article, but women’s media outlets focus on them in a way that other outlets do not.

 

Recently, I interviewed reporter Rebecca Traister, one of the founders of Salon.com’s new blog about women, Broadsheet. Starting Broadsheet also raised questions for Traister. “It’s a struggle,” she admitted as she recalled one of the first items posted on the blog, about 50,000 women who went on strike for equal pay in Reykjavik, Iceland. “We don’t have anyone in Reykjavik, at Salon, who is going to write a feature about this,” she said. “Yet here we are, directing people to this terrific story of women who went on strike for an entire day. And it’s not something we would have covered before, but all of our readers got shown a way to find out about that story.”

 

Was it something they needed to know? That depends, I guess. Did it open a new
window on the world? Did it let readers in on issues they may share with others in a
distant country? Did it offer a new perspective? Probably.


So should there be special media outlets for women? These days if I am asked, I
don’t shy away from the question. I just admit that, like most questions, it’s more
complicated than it appears. Then I try to do a fair and honest job of telling stories I
think my listeners—male and female—want to hear. I still struggle with the question. I imagine I always will. But at least now I have something interesting to tell my father-in-
law.