Sexism in the Jewish Media

It’s hard to fill a good woman’s shoes. That’s the lesson the American Jewish Press Association learned when Shoshana Cardin, Chair of the Council of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, cancelled her appearance as a keynote speaker at the AJPA’s annual meeting in Miami in June 1992.

Over 100 participants were promised that they’d hear from more prominent American Jewish leaders than had ever before briefed an AJPA meeting, but only one woman spoke about Jewish issues—a press officer from the Israeli Embassy.

“In the context of the women’s movement, this meeting represents bad news and good news,” said Leni Reiss, managing editor of the Greater Phoenix Jewish News. “The bad news is that there aren’t that many high-profile Jewish women on a national level like Shoshana Cardin who could address this meeting. But the good news is that within the Jewish press there are lots of women in powerful positions.”

Half the number of journalists at the meeting were women, and they are very visible in the AJPA directory of more than 100 newspapers, magazines, and news agencies. Fifty-four women are editors, 29 are business or advertising managers, and 18 are publishers, although five of these are co-publishers with their husbands. But, ironically, it was proposed that one reason for the high number of women on editorial boards is the low salary in the Jewish press. “No one goes into Jewish journalism for the money,” says Mark Joffe, editor of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency — the assumption being that women can afford to work for lower salaries than men can.

But does women’s numerical strength translate into editorial power? Despite the changing nature of the American Jewish family and newspaper readership, which editors and publishers claim to recognize, mainstream Jewish media pay only token attention to stories of interest to Jewish women, here or in Israel.

Despite explicitly condemning sexism in the Jewish media and in communal life— Malcolm Hoenlein, for example, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said that Jewish communal organizations had excluded women and youth from policy-making roles in the past—sexist attitudes have not vanished at the AJPA meetings. One example: at a labor relations session which covered both sexual harassment and disabilities discrimination, Conrad Berke, general manager of New York’s Jewish Week, said he tried to prevent sexual harassment by telling his female advertising staff not to shake hands with clients. In contrast, Flo Eckstein, publisher of the Greater Phoenix- Jewish News, said she would have no trouble saying “no” to any harassing client, even at the risk of losing ad revenue. “You can’t afford not to say ‘no’,”she said.

Another example of pre-feminist thinking came in a session on libel law. A male editor from the Midwest described what happened when he ran a three-column-wide photo of two men and one woman who were being honored. “The woman was very fat and called up outraged that we had run such an unflattering picture. No doubt, she thought it was a gross misrepresentation of her,” he joked, “but we have to wonder what the fuss was about. After all, didn’t her friends know she was fat before the photo appeared?”

Maybe it is attitudes like this which help explain why Slim-Fast (kosher) products were given as freebies to the journalists. It’s not bodies that need to get in shape here, but attitudes instead.