There was the long view, which was upbeat.
And there was the short view, which was depressing.
At a weekend conference at USC on "Women, Men and Media: An Update," the short view was most pervasive.
Whether speaking of the number of women who lead newsrooms, head networks or direct films, the majority of participants at Saturday's conference on the progress of women in the news and entertainment industries weighed in on the gloomy side, offering evidence that women either are caught in a holding pattern or actually losing ground in the battle for equal time and jobs in the media.
Chaired by "Feminine Mystique" author Betty Friedan, a visiting professor at USC's School of Journalism and Institute for the Study of Women and Men, the second-annual, daylong conference sought to move beyond the generally grim numbers of women employed in power positions to such broader issues as whether a return to traditional sex roles--called "retro-feminism" in one recent magazine cover story--is hindering women's careers, and whether the women who are in decision-making roles are making a difference.
And, in most respects, its message was just as glum as it was last year.
Said Sara Davidson, creator of "Heartbeat," an ABC-TV series about a feminist health clinic: "We haven't reached the critical mass to see what kind of difference we could make."
The buzzword of the day seemed to be "plateau." Again and again, panelists said that after years of steady progress, the gains in employment made by women in media jobs seem to have flattened out.
Citing figures compiled by the Federal Communications Commission on the number of women broadcast professionals, Kathy Bonk, who headed the Women's Media Project of NOW's Legal Defense and Education Fund, said: "We're not going backwards. We've just plateaued out."
According to Bonk, who now co-directs a Washington-D.C.-based communications consortium, the number of women in jobs such as news writer and television anchor nearly tripled during the Nixon, Ford and Carter Administrations. But during the Reagan presidency, she said, "there was only a 3% gain."
Katherine Coker, past chairwoman of the women's committee of the Writers Guild of America West, said female writers in 1985 earned 70 cents for every $1 that their male counterparts made, a decrease from 1982 when women writers earned 73 cents on the dollar.
Nancy Woodhull, president of Gannett News Service, told the audience--a predominantly female gathering of 240 journalism students, working journalists, screenwriters, academics, entertainment industry publicists and others--that the picture was only "a smidgen better" for women on newspaper staffs. In 1989, women represented just under 14% of the editors, executive editors, managing editors and city editors nationally, an increase of less than 1% over last year's figures.
Women may be backsliding, she suggested, relating the story of a woman who recently was promoted to news vice president in a major media company, taking over the job of a man who had been a member of the company's influential executive committee.
"She was not named to the executive committee," but felt she could not complain, Woodhull said.
"It's that kind of thing (that's going on). It's true you can't rock the boat when you're not in it. But when you're sitting precariously on the edge, it's very, very tough" to rock it without falling off.
Janet Huck, a Los Angeles-based correspondent for Newsweek, asked the panelists how women are coping, given such discouraging signals.
Coker of the Writers Guild said women are hanging in because dropping out of the work force is not an economically feasible alternative. But they are under "enormous stress . . . (which is) growing all the time," she said.
Arlie Hochschild, a UC Berkeley sociologist who has studied issues related to women and work, said many women she has interviewed are so overwhelmed by the responsibilities of career and home and so afraid of pressuring their husbands to share the burden that they are "dropping out within, repressing their ambitions."
"They are afraid because marriage has become extremely fragile," Hochschild said, "and they're afraid because of what happens economically to women" after a divorce.
Kathleen Ingley, business editor of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, said she has noticed more women succumbing to what she has called "voluntary plateauing"--women who have the opportunity to rise in their careers but choose not to because of family obligations and personal priorities.
"They are older, have children. They say, 'I don't want to give my life over to the newspaper,' " Ingley said.