CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 2. . . .September 10, 2010.
Fearless Female Journalists. (The Women’s Hall of Fame Series).
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2010.
118 pp., pbk., $10.95.
Women journalists-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.
Review by Julie Chychota.
By 1959, one in every three English-speaking women in Canada was reading Chatelaine. With Doris Anderson at its head, the magazine had become a champion for women’s rights. Some historians say it helped bring about the revolution called “second-wave feminism.” The first wave of feminists, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, fought for women’s right to vote. Second-wave feminists. like Doris, in the latter 1950s and into the 1960s, were trying to change laws, as well as society’s attitudes.
Doris and Chatelaine were also developing and changing the world of journalism. Doris discovered and hired some of the best female journalists in the country. Barbara Frum, who became one of Canada’s best-known radio and television journalists, wrote for Chatelaine earlier in her career. Adrienne Clarkson, who also became a famous TV journalist, and later Canada’s Governor General, wrote the magazine’s book column. Doris also hired feminist Michele Landsberg, who continued to do groundbreaking work as a writer for national newspapers after her time at Chatelaine. June Callwood, known and loved for her work as a social activist, was another Chatelaine writer. And there were many more. Doris helped create a whole new generation of women journalists.
Fearless Female Journalists surveys the lives of 10 women whose journalism pushed the boundaries of what society thought women could and should do. Corporately, they have combated racism, sexism, and death threats on a professional level, and physical illness (Parkinson’s, leukemia, AIDS), the loss of relationships (deaths of spouses, divorces), and financial hardships on a personal level. No matter the medium or media they used--print (newspapers, magazines, books), radio, TV, or Internet--all 10 singularly committed themselves to reporting on people, events, and ideas with integrity and truthfulness.
North Americans figure largely in Fearless Female Journalists: there are seven of them, compared to three journalists from the eastern hemisphere. Still, one trusts author Joy Crysdale to have made a judicious selection. As a professor of journalism in Toronto, she will have considered many candidates before narrowing them down to the final ten. In fact, in the introduction to the book, Crysdale acknowledges with regret that she “couldn’t include all the brave women journalists who deserve recognition.”
In any event, the author treats her chosen ones fairly and without favoritism, apportioning an equal number of pages to each. The name of a journalist heads up each chapter, followed by a photograph of her, and a caption beneath; also included are the year of birth, and if applicable, the year of death. Chapters are ordered chronologically by year of birth, which ranges from 1823 to 1985. The captions derive from actual quotations, so as to reveal a bit of each woman’s personality. Consequently, the layout establishes both the unity and individuality of the journalists.
The book commences with the biography of Mary Ann Shadd Cary, dual citizen of Canada and the United States, abolitionist, and the first black female editor in North America. Next are Americans Nellie Bly and Margaret Bourke-White. Bly earned a reputation for her “stunt journalism” which included a stint as an inmate at an insane asylum, while Bourke-White received recognition for her photo essays of the Great Depression and World War II. The following chapters depict Doris Anderson, former editor of Chatelaine, and her fellow Canadian, radio and television journalist, Barbara Frum. Crysdale then positions a Russian journalist in-between two more Americans. Preceded by the first female solo TV news anchor, Katie Couric, and succeeded by sportscaster Pam Oliver, is Anna Politkovskaya, murdered for her stance against propaganda and censorship in Russia. The penultimate chapter features Farida Nekzad, an Afghanastani journalist for magazine and radio in a society where women have long been pressing to make their voices heard. The book concludes with Thembi Ngubane, a young South African who, via radio broadcasts and Internet blogs, reached people all over the world with her “personal journalism” by reporting on her life with AIDS. Crysdale captures 10 very different women, all of whom are formidable journalists in their own right.
The cover of Fearless Female Journalists owns the smooth, glossy attractiveness readers have come to expect of “The Women’s Hall of Fame Series.” It depicts a microphone, a video camera, a laptop computer, a pen, and a spiral-bound notebook on which the title is printed. Inset photographs of four journalists appear on the bottom of the front cover. All images are set against a background of pale lavender, currently considered “the new beige,” that is, a neutral color, yet one that still carries with it associations of femininity.
Aside from the tasteful cover, this book is plainer inside than its series companions. Gone are the decorative details of previous releases, such as the scrollwork affixed to photos and sidebars in Dynamic Women Dancers, for example, or the embellishments circumscribing page numbers, like the clapboards of Fantastic Female Filmmakers or the compass points of Extraordinary Women Explorers. Instead, simple rectangular borders prevail. For example, the table of contents resembles a page of loose-leaf, as do two sidebars; the other thirty-three take the shape of post-it notes, pages torn from a top-coil memo pad, or papers tacked to a surface with pushpins. The pared-down design may be a deliberate strategy, intended to convey a steely directness in keeping with the kind of journalism favored by Crysdale’s fearless females.
Happily, while the weight of the book rests on the biographies, the sidebars do precisely what they should: they support the primary content by locating it within a broader context. For instance, in the chapter on Anderson, an ardent champion of equal rights, sidebars remark on employment policies relating to pregnant women (p. 39), working mothers (p. 40), and salary discrimination (p. 41). Quite a few sidebars name other women who broke new ground in journalism (p. 20, 62, 63, 83). Still others introduce quotations and various facts not essential to the biographies, but interesting, nevertheless, in that they enrich the reading experience.
Crysdale smoothly integrates into the body of the text definitions and explanations of critical vocabulary and concepts unfamiliar to younger readers. Examples include references to ”Underground Railway” (p. 1), “apartheid” (p. 53), “glasnost” (p. 67), and “AIDS” (p. 96), to name a few. Furthermore, the book includes a glossary on the finer points of journalism: its five entries fit onto a single page.
Three final components bring the book to completion. The “Sources and Resources” section extends to seven pages containing an impressive mix of materials: biographies, autobiographies, articles from journals and periodicals, Websites, film and TV documentaries, speeches, and interviews. The entries are mostly specific, but include a few Websites of a more generic type. An “Acknowledgements” page and “Photo Credits” round out the end matter (although the page 42 credit is sandwiched between two page 35 credits, and according to GetStock, the photo collection is “Alamy,” not “Almay”).
With respect to grammar and editing, gains observed in a previous title appear not carried over into Fearless Female Journalists. One expects the occasional sentence fragment in a text that adopts a conversational tone. However, there were at least sixty in the course of these 104 pages--that’s ten times the amount in Dynamic Women Dancers. Shouldn’t nonfiction books targeted to 9- to 13-year-olds model grammatical best practices, even if the lessons register only on a subliminal level? In effect, the fragments suggest that the book is intended for less sophisticated readers, those who have difficulty following sustained arguments.
Reflecting the ideals of her subjects and fellow journalists, Crysdale records the truth, even when it is unpleasant. She presents the contract killing of Politkovskaya as matter-of-factly as she discusses the causes and consequences of AIDS responsible for Ngubane’s death, or the death threats Nekzad receives on a regular basis. Although Crysdale communicates this information forthrightly, she also does so carefully, avoiding sensational, graphic details.
Journalists may assert, as Pam Oliver does, that they are “not in the business of being liked” (p. 82), yet that certainly does not rule out the admiration and respect due this group of ten. In keeping with the rest of Second Story Press’s “feminist-inspired” output, Fearless Female Journalists gives readers a new or renewed appreciation of women who have shaped the world in many exceptional ways. Mothers and daughters might enjoy reading together through the series, though readership need not be limited to girls and women. May “The Women’s Hall of Fame Series” continue to sound out the unsung heroines.
Julie Chychota, a transplanted Manitoban, makes a living in Ottawa, ON, as a computer interpreter and sometime transcriptionist.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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