What do we talk about when we talk about feminism?
Feminism is a tricky term in the title of this course, in that it’s such a multilayered and contested term. Let me try to give a couple of examples in the context of the title of this course. “Global Feminism and the Media”. . . It could refer, for example, to:
- A general, often overtly political position, ideology, that pertains to women’s roles in the society
- A practical agenda related to development and women’s role in it.
- This you know already: A broad field scholarship (“feminist media studies”) that has many, many re-iterations, paradigms, and that can fall under such broader categories as women’s studies or gender studies.
Example 1: Global feminism as a principle
Please screen this talk…
This famous talk by Adichie, the Nigerian-American bestselling author, discusses a need for global feminism; global in the sense of the universal need to empower women, that has to be understood by women and men.
It is ironic, as we have already learned, that Beyonce used this text, after just having been bashed by the iconic bell hooks…
hooks and Adichie both argue that feminism is for everyone (A., too, has written a book about it; as did hooks, link to the full text in the last research post). But they seem to represent somewhat different starting points and values.
In addition, Adichie has given the now-famous TED Talk about the danger of the single story — the need of situated understandings. Check it out here, if interested!
Example 2: Global feminism and gender as a factor of global development
Half The Sky: Introduction
Your course book (literature review) Half The Sky discusses the role of women in (global) development and notes that, in very practical ways, the more women are given opportunities in a society, the better the society fares in terms of economic, political, social, and cultural development. At the same time, the introductory chapter highlights some significant challenges that are not exclusively problems of the Global South (even if the book seems to implicitly indicate that), including sex trafficking, forced and unpaid labour, and gender-based violence.
It’s not only the authors of the book, but the United Nations and its Sustainable Development Goals, that point to the same goal (SDG5):
Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and therefore also half of its potential. But, today gender inequality persists everywhere and stagnates social progress. As of 2014, 143 countries have guaranteed equality between men and women in their Constitutions but 52 have yet to take this step.
Here’s a short policy brief about SDG #5 – Gender Equality – Why? 5_Why-it-Matters_GenderEquality_2p
Example 3: Feminism and scholarship
Current Perspectives, chapters 3 and 15 (your course book, please read).
It’s good to remember that feminism, similar to any movement, takes many forms and entails many fractions. The political strands of feminisms also influence academic scholarship, and they do so in terms of topic, as well as in terms of research methods and ethics.
Traditionally, as Liesbet van Zoonen outlines in her seminal book Feminist Media Studies (1994), the field has researched:
- Women’s representations in the media from news to talkshows;
- Women as producers of media products (as journalists, as film makers, and so on); and
- Women as media audiences.
In the digital media era, these three fields are merging and becoming more and more complex.
This table is a very crude simplification, with relatively broad time frames and overlapping categories (that can and do co-exist). Note also that the categories are mine, distilled from what I have learned over the years, and do not represent a standard way of mapping feminist studies. Yet, I hope the table gives you a glimpse of the diversity of academic feminism:
|Feminism as a social movement||Academic research: thematic focus||Academic research: methodological focus in studying the media|
|The First Wave of Feminism: Equality
19th century to mid 20th century (in the West)
|Women in the public realm (politics, public sphere in general).
Women need to be given equal treatment, and positions, with men.
|Quantification of representation of women in the media; quantification of women’s representation in media professions… (from social sciences)|
|The Second Wave of Feminism: Difference 1970s-80s
|Women’s needs as media audiences, women’s voices as media makers Women are inherently different from men.||Qualitative textual and discourse analyses (from humanities) to uncover women’s voices and experiences in media texts|
|The Third Wave of Feminism: Diversity
|Gender is not the only defining factor; interconnections of gender, race, class, age, geography…||Multi-method analyses in understanding what the media does to construct gender (what is considered “feminine” and “masculine”); the crossing of different factors; cross-cultural studies (e.g., migration, gender and the media; cases in the Global South).|
|Beyond Third Wave? Neo-Feminism, Post-Feminism, Post-post feminism….
Some say this is a variation of the Third Wave, not a separate era…
|Big questions: Do we need feminist media studies anymore? Does the category “women” matter anymore; should we discuss the continuum of genders?||New methods in studying identity and identification; brought by the blurring boundaries of mainstream media and alternative media; legacy media and online/mobile platforms; and users as content creators.|
As the assigned texts in “Current Perspectives…” note, today’s “feminist media studies” faces big, existential crises that are often considered generational (1st and 2nd wave approaches vs. 3rd and post…). The proliferation of media, and the hybridization of the idea of who creates content for whom and why, has complicated feminist research agendas (see Gargi Bhattacharyya’s text, i.e., Chapter 3). Add to this the hybrid nature of feminism as a concept, and the question Andrea Press (Chapter 15) poses, is valid:
What to make of “feminist” in feminist media studies?
Another question to ask is, as Kiah does in her blog:
Is feminism elitist, Western, more academic than practical?
At the same time, some argue that perhaps we need feminist media studies more than ever; perhaps the hybridity of the field responds to the complexity of issues. As Press notes:
Our field has always been poised between the humanities and the social sciences simply by the nature of what we examine. …
The hybrid nature of feminist media studies has meant that, even as we analyze cultural phenomena humanistically, we are also interested in their demonstrated impact on women and other oppressed groups…
…[W]hat is at stake for feminist media studies … is retaining the critical perspective… Continued violence against women, inequities in unpaid and paid labor forces…and the path to “femininity” mandate that we not lose sight of these central issues as our field continues to develop.
As Bhattacharyya reiterates, old questions are new again, and the question of gender still pertains, for instance, in terms of gender and sexual imagery online; in terms of access to communication technologies and other economic factor; and in terms of the security of participation via communication forums.
The above were just some crude generalizations of some approaches to feminism that we can take, and that relate to the context of our course.
Please comment below briefly what you think, from your situated perspective: Has feminism become elitist academic exercise, a kind of theoretical play? Do we need feminism? Feminist (media) studies? Yes, no, why? You can be conflicted, too…
This is the way you will respond to most of the theory sessions, here on my blog, and use yours to develop your research. You can sign up here with any screen name you’d like to use. Just use your SJU email address if asked when commenting (I’m the only one who will see it.). Sometimes WordPress singles out comments to be moderated — so if you don’t see yours immediately posted, not to worry. I will check and moderate frequently.
Due Thursday 6/8 at midnight!