MEDIA WOMEN’S ACTION GROUP
The Media Women’s Action Group (MWAG) was formed in 1971 during the second wave of feminism in Australia. Founding members included Dany Humphreys (Daniela Torsh), Sandra Symons, Francis Maclean and Elisabeth Wynhausen. It drew women from across news-papers in Sydney, and grew rapidly to draw in women from radio, television and film.
Formed initially to gain equal membership rights for female journalists to the Sydney Journalists’ Club, it soon broadened in scope. It was the first time women working in the media had come together to lobby on issues of sexism within the profession, and to change how the media portrayed women.
The Journalists Club, formed in 1939, had resisted earlier attempts to admit women as members. The MWAG, with support from younger members of the club, won its campaign for equality in 1972.
Though the Sydney-based group had minimal formal structure and was short lived, it was influential, writing guidelines for non-sexist journalism and publishing them in the New Journalist, sparking debates on child care policy, and on 14 October 1972 taking over an issue of Nation Review to counter the sexist assumptions within its pages. The group also challenged media habits of assigning women to report on fashion and society gossip, while men covered politics, education and other serious arenas of policy.
The influential MWAG child-care group (Julie Rigg, Robin Hughes, Sandra Hall, Susie Eisenhuth and Pip Porter) campaigned for a child-care policy that would enable mothers to work. The group published Child Care: A Community Responsibility in July 1972, lobbying the Whitlam Labor government for child care.
The MWAG published a bulletin until at least August 1973. The group had largely dispersed by 1975, as members went on to campaign against barriers to women, and the way they were represented on television (through the Australian Women’s Broadcasting Co-operative), and in film (through the Women’s Film Workshop).
The group was briefly revived by Liz Fell and others, who wrote a critical press statement about sexist reporting of the 1975 Women and Politics Conference in Canberra, held to mark International Women’s Year.
REF: D. Torsh Papers (NLA).
SIOBHÁN MOYLAN, with JULIE RIGG and DANIELA TORSH