Writing Women: The Women’s Pages of the Malay-Language Press (1987-1998)
Author: Sonia Randhawa
Writing Women: The Women’s Pages of the Malay-Language Press (1987-1998) examines how women journalists in Malaysia negotiated male power structures, in particular structures determined by the keystone party of the ruling coalition, the United Malays National Organisation. Through both oral histories and content analysis, it looks at how women journalists in the women’s pages of the newspapers found spaces to advocate for their readers. It is thus the first work to look at the importance of the women’s pages in the Malay-language newspapers, and how apparently monolithic institutions of the authoritarian state hid diverse contests for resources and prestige. In this contest, the concept of news values, the perception of the reader and the ways in which women constructed themselves as journalists all come into play, and are examined here. The book contributes to the field of feminist media studies by examining how gendered newsroom practices paradoxically allowed women journalists in the women’s pages more editorial freedom than those in the malestream press.
This research examines how power, the “capacity to bring about outcomes,” circulates in the Malay-language newsroom and how women journalists were involved in this circulation, which the author has done through a mixture of critical discourse analysis (CDA) of articles in Berita Harian and Utusan Melayu, covering a total of 25 months spread out between 1987 and 1998, and oral histories with women journalists working in the papers during these years. Discourse analysis has been defined as “the study of language above the level of the sentence.” It examines language as both embedded in and influencing societal structures in an ongoing, dynamic process. The aim of CDA is overtly political: “changing the world for the better.” By uncovering how power operates in texts, CDA as a discipline aims to help readers resist its influence. The process has been applied to news discourse and news as a discourse, particularly by Norman Fairclough, who explores how texts, particularly texts related to news, relate to the social context in which they are created. The analysis likewise pays attention to the political and social context of the stories, but, drawing on the work of feminist media scholars, the author also pays attention to how newsroom processes have influenced the creation of news texts. This analysis involves cross-referencing developments in, in particular, the women’s pages of the newspapers with the information gleaned in the interviews with the journalists.
In the analysis of the articles, the author examines how events were sold to a general audience as news, given that there were innumerable possible events that could also be framed as news and, in particular, what made the stories of the women’s pages “women’s news,” rather than malestream news. Unfortunately, analysis of the women’s pages of newspapers often lacks the complexity of analysis done in cultural studies or in critical discourse analysis of newspaper articles. Biography rather than textual analysis is characteristic of most work on the women’s pages. To understand how the texts illuminate power relations within the Malay-language newsrooms, it is important to have a greater understanding of what it meant to be a woman journalist working in these environments. Oral histories can help shed light on how women understood their working environment and the restrictions and freedoms under which they operated.