ICM836 Day 9 (6/27): Synthesis on Global Feminism and the Media, Theory & HTS

Research, Teaching


Who can speak and act for whom?

Let’s start with this short video:

“Like It’s Nobody’s Business.”

The United State of Women is a Summit that was originally convened by the previous White House to rally all of us together to achieve gender equality.

The following women joined the United State of Women in this film (in order of appearance): Meryl Streep, Kerry Washington, Dr. Jen Welter, Leah Katz-Hernandez, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, First Lady Michelle Obama, Katie Lowes, Tina Fey, Oprah Winfrey, Connie Britton, Jessica Williams, Laverne Cox, Indra Nooyi, Dina Powell, Tory Burch, Adepero Oduye, Bellamy Young, Cecilia Munoz, Cecile Richards, Aidy Bryant, Christy Turlington, Cynthia Erivo, Valerie Jarrett, Tina Tchen, Megan Smith, Shonda Rhimes and Tracee Ellis Ross.

While the video is clearly meant for American audiences,I believe we can all think about whether this video depicts a united state of women. Who, in fact, are representing “women” in the video — and does it matter?

Bring in the global angle, “global feminism” in all its forms and complexities. Who can be an expert to voice others’ suffering? Who can understand and generalize “women’s experiences” in different cultures and conditions? When is sex a factor, when gender? Who can offer solutions and rally problem-solvers to help? Where is the agency?

From African Feminism (AF):

Several explanations are used to define agency:

“an individual’s (or group’s) ability to make effective choices and to transform those choices into desired outcomes”

“a dialectic of freedom and constraint”

“how women even within oppressive structures undertake little acts that help in subverting or changing the terms of the debate, or lead to transformative change in their lives or their children’s lives”

“women’s experiences of making the most of their situation, in the following ways: her ability to rise above the situations she is pressed with; participation in the community; assertion of identity; and how she continues to survive and make changes for herself and her immediate environment and community”

These are all very real questions when we talk about bringing theory to practice in development work, in eliciting social change.

A Case of Communication for Social Change: HTS

Now we will approach the question of “who can/should speak”. Our case is your book review text plus a set of related media products, and related discussions, that form so called Half the Sky Movement.

The book became a major bestseller that, consequently,  has been turned turned into an effective family of communication-PR spin-offs, ranging from a PBS documentary/film series to its own multi-media website with educational materials, to a Facebook game (with plenty of  donors behind it and a donation function embedded in it).

In many ways, the book is very engaging and eye-opening (all of you mentioned that in your reviews). It depicts horrid cases of forced labour, sex work/trafficking, and female genital mutilation. We know about these things from the news, but the book is a more in-depth reportage that helps us understand some terrible realities of gender/sex-based discrimination and violence through powerful stories. (Indeed, it is a book of stories rather than statistics.) If we talk about global feminism and the role of the media / communication, isn’t this exactly the kind of communication for awareness and social justice we need? Your praise of the book, in my words (so apologies if I misinterpret something):

  • Courageous investigative journalism
  • Call for action, for global responsibility
  • Represents issues that feminism should address, and we all should acknowledge
  • From victimhood to empowerment, from problems to global solutions
  • My addition: And, in multimedia form, in different platforms? With calls for actions and possibilities for all of us to contribute?

And yet… I was first hesitant to ask you to purchase the book; to contribute to the bestseller royalties… 😉

Then, I thought, this is a perfect example of the complexities of global feminism, feminist movements and theories, and the role of the media. Why? Because we can get glimpses to other realities through the book, an because, at the same time, the book and its popularity has made many, many people very uneasy. (Interestingly, only Kiah mentioned criticism in her review.)

Some criticism

  • Veiled Colonialism: A Feminist Criticism of the Half the Sky Movement: “A common feature which runs throughout the entire program is a heavy overtone of modern-day colonialist sentiment. This brings to question: Can the women whose stories were included ever be fully included themselves with this kind of colonialist discourse?”
  • How the other half suffers: “Misogyny is as real in the US as anywhere else on earth. People who think charity begins at home will be driven to apoplexy by the authors’ certainty that the US has the answers. Global figures for domestic violence are cited, but examples of women whose sexual experience began with a rape “or attempted rape” are drawn from Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa.”
  • Half humanitarian heroics, half celebrity ego trip: “And you haven’t seen bizarre until you’ve seen Eva Mendes offer a raped 14-year-old her choice of a necklace from around the star’s neck. Mendes tells the girl to wear the necklace and pray for Mendes, and that she’ll do the same for the girl.” [about the documentary].
  • Nicholas Kristof and the Politics of Writing About Women’s Oppression in Darker Nations: “What many of Kristof’s critics are simply asking him to do is this:

  • 1) Acknowledge his racial and social location and how his positionality allows him to intervene in the lives of the oppressed;

    2) Become aware that the oppressed women he writes about have agency and voice and he should stop depicting entire non-European cultures in Orientalist terms;

    3) Start situating women’s oppression within a series of intersecting problems that are created by structures of colonialism, corruption, patriarchy, casteism, imperialism, capitalism, lack of education and civil transparency, and absence of law and order;

    4) Acknowledge, study, and give credit to the many small and big historical and contemporary social movements related to anticolonial struggles, upliftment of Dalits, women’s equality, empowerment and human rights, and anti-poverty movements that Africans and Asians have created and sustained;

    5) Articulate America’s roles as current Empire and Europe’s role as an old empire in contributing to the problems that exist in postcolonial developing countries.”

  • Just google for some more… The list of critical commentary is long. These tensions, these situated VIEWS, are what global feminism is about.

Assignment – Final Review Quiz Due 7/6 at Midnight

This week, no more new assignments.

Here is the Final Exam.


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