chapter
Introduction: Gender and public relations: making meaning, challenging assumptions
ByCHRISTINE DAYMON, KRISTIN DEMETRIOUS
Pages 19

The idea of compiling an edited collection around gender and public relations was seeded at the ‘Radical Public Relations: Alternative Visions and Future Directions’ roundtable held at the University of Stirling in 2008. This meeting of international scholars had a shared purpose, paradigmatically, to challenge dominant positivist understandings of public relations and open new research agendas by paying attention to the social and political contexts in which public relations is situated. Thematically, the roundtable focused on the cultural effects and critical power relations in and between public relations and society. This book furthers these aims by exploring gender within and through public relations in order to generate new strands of knowledge that will challenge the status quo. As such, the intention is to open new avenues of research and new ways of thinking about public relations. Over the last fifty years or so, gender research employing critical feminist

approaches has theorized women’s experiences and elevated the status of this knowledge to destabilize, and at times rupture, hegemonic beliefs that have invisibly systemized inequality and exploitation. With the social positioning of women (and other under-represented groups) as a core objective of feminist research, it has sought to question the sometimes dormant, underlying values and assumptions that have invisibly served to invest research. In rejecting narrow absolutism and reductionist science, and in seeking to be open to multiple, sometimes competing, approaches to understanding (Reinharz and Davidman 1992: 3-4), research inspired by feminism has contributed to the development of new knowledge and social practices, as well as the nourishment of ideals. In recent times, these have become embedded to a large extent in contemporary social life. Thus the impact of feminist activity, with its focus on gender, has been profound, but at times confronting, and subject to intense resistance and disapproval. For example, early criticism of feminism was based on arguments about the extent to which feminist actions helped or hindered women and whether or not they rotted the social fabric as a consequence. Later criticisms emerged from within the ranks of feminists themselves who objected to the way that only some women benefited from feminism-inspired social change: for example,

the protection of women’s sexual rights helped empower white, heterosexual women, but it didn’t help sexual or racial minorities; also, improving access to work helped child-free or wealthy women, but not those with large families. At times, feminist activities were subject to considerable entrenched hegemonic resistance, such as in the early 1980s when there was a move in the USA to introduce an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Although the legislation was designed to elevate the legal status of women, it was women themselves who spearheaded a campaign to oppose the legislation. The success of the campaign driven by Phyllis Schlafly was described by the New York Times as a ‘public relations coup’ (Warner 2006):

When it was approved by the House and Senate and sent to the states for ratification in March 1972, its success seemed assured. Thirty state legislatures ratified the amendment within a year. Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter all lent their support. Yet in 1982 the ERA died, just a few states short of ratification. By then, it had become linked in the public mind with military conscription for 18-year-old girls, co-ed bathrooms and homosexual rights.