Act Locally » January 10, 2007
Portrait of the Activists as Young Women
It’s been more than a year since the ads for 107.9 FM (La Ley) cropped up in Chicago–buses and billboards plastered with 25 women in Daisy-Dukes, leaning over, their rears pointed to the camera. “25 Pegaditas (25 Hits),” the ad proclaimed.
Ostensibly, the ads touted the station playing 25 songs in a row. But they used Mexican slang that, as in English, gave “hits” the double meaning of chart-toppers and physical blows. For Females United For Action (FUFA), it was too much.
Formed in the spring of 2005, FUFA is a coalition of young women dedicated to examining and challenging how the media portray women. Six community organizations from around Chicago send their members to the group, and girls are also welcome to join as individuals. The extraordinarily diverse group of about 20 girls operates by consensus–they discuss a problem they’ve seen in their communities and come up with an action that every member can participate in.
La Ley became FUFA’s first commercial target. “We’d been talking about portrayals of women in the media, and how that is one of the root causes of violence against women,” says Adaku Utah, a black 22-year-old youth organizer at the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health. So in December 2005, FUFA sent a letter to La Ley requesting a meeting and started calling the station regularly. Receiving no response, they held a walk-in to demand a meeting. “The first time that we met with them we went to the office unannounced. About 12 of us showed up,” says Utah.
The female communications staffer they met with was sympathetic, but told them the campaign came from the station’s parent company in Miami, Spanish Broadcasting System (SBS). According to its Web site, SBS “currently owns and/or operates 20 stations in seven of the top-ten U.S. Hispanic markets, including Los Angeles, New York, Puerto Rico, Miami, Chicago and San Francisco.”
FUFA members had used guesswork to get Vice President and General Manager Jeff Shrinksky’s e-mail. After badgering him and SBS for months, the company responded in March: “[W]e strongly disagree with your conclusions …[but] your objections have been duly noted and will be considered in all future advertising campaigns.”
Yunuen Rodriguez, a 19-year-old Latina whose focus is immigration issues, finds this laughable. “It took a whole group of professionals to put together this ad,” she says, “and none of them, not a single one of them, ever thought [pegaditas] meant another thing?”
At the time of the campaign, Rodriguez was working long, sometimes 12-hour shifts at a factory where the station of choice was La Ley. She started asking her co-workers what they thought of the ads. “They’d say, ‘Well, I don’t think that’s good,’ or ‘I don’t really think that reflects me,’ even though they liked they radio station.” This campaign was her first foray into media activism. “It opened my eyes to a whole new degrading image of my community, something that’s fictional and not real.”
By late spring, the ads were down–the campaign they’d been part of was over. But FUFA continued to write and call SBS, asking them to address the underlying thinking behind the ads. The result this time was a letter that offered FUFA a chance to speak on air about the connection between ads and violence against women. The girls are now negotiating with the station over the airtime they’ll receive. They want to be on air during normal hours and preferably live, so listeners can call in to ask them questions.
Having tangled once with a big media company, FUFA is still frustrated. “It’s absolutely horrible, it’s huge control by a few white men who obviously don’t care about the images they put out there,” says Utah.
The young women say they are continuing to focus on the media. “It’s a venue that a lot of people are using to define and express themselves,” says Utah. “Would you be OK if your mom or daughter was represented in this way? And what does it mean that you sit here and feel that it’s OK? If more people were willing to do something about it, I think there would be a media revolution right now.”
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Phoebe Connelly, a former managing editor at In These Times, is Web Editor at The American Prospect.