RIP Brenda Starr

December 14, 2010

Brenda Starr, the redheaded veteran cartoon reporter, will meet her final deadline on January 2 after more than 70 years in the business. Being a good Irish Catholic (and knowing what a great party they can be), I think a wake is in order.

Raise your hand if you grew up with Brenda. My first introduction to her was in the late ‘60s when my close-as-you-can-get-to-a-grandfather gave me his daughter’s Brenda Starr book from the ‘40s. I was hooked, and for at least a year or two I wanted nothing more than to be a journalist, complete with the romance and adventure of Brenda’s exciting life. It wasn’t until I read the Penny Parker series by Mildred Wirt (another trip down memory lane!) that I learned cub reporters are usually assigned only obits — journalism lingo for obituaries — and the police beat. Still, even as a teen growing up in the feminism-frenzied ‘70s, I knew Brenda as a character had blazed some serious trails for women. We’d come a long way, baby.

Debuting in 1940, Brenda Starr was an anomaly: a strong, professional woman in a male-dominated world. Former greeting-card writer Dale Messick created Brenda out of her own reality. Messick faced a great deal of resistance as a woman in the man’s world of syndicated comics. Born Dalia Messick, she changed her pen name to Dale to fight the gender bias she encountered from editors. You would hope that much has changed since then, right?

A quick glance at available statistics suggests otherwise. Here are a few quick facts about the current state of women in the media.

  • Only 37 percent of all reporters are women.
  • Only 24 percent of radio news directors are women.
  • Of the top 100 radio programs, only 15 are hosted by women.
  • Of a recent ranking of the top 50 news reporters, only five are women.

Why are the numbers so low? Are women still facing gender bias in the media? After Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, and Connie Chung (whom you can meet at the 2011 National Conference for College Women Student Leaders, where she’ll be honored as a Woman of Distinction) how is it that we’re still behind? Or is it part of a larger problem? Why are so few women in the tech fields? Why are so few women in elected office? There seem to be plenty of “whys,” but understanding the “why” doesn’t necessarily solve the problem. Any good reporter will tell you that, right Brenda?

So, in conclusion, I raise a glass and say, Goodbye, Brenda. I might have lost touch since the ‘70s, but I’ll always carry fond memories!

How about the rest of you? Any stories out there of what Brenda meant to you? What about gender bias you might have suffered like Brenda’s creator, Dale Messick? I invite you to share your stories now. After all, that’s what wakes are for, right?

By:   |   December 14, 2010

1 Comment

  1. Paula Maggio says:

    I grew up with Brenda. I spread the comic pages out on the floor and read Brenda Starr every evening before dinner. Later, I became a journalist. Maybe she was my inspiration.

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