Theories of American Media Failure: A Post-Election Map

Reposted from MediaPowerMonitor.
Everybody agrees that media helped, to a great extent, make Trump president. So what went wrong? The week after election day, theories about media failure flooded American public sphere. 
Everyone has become a political scientist today: the United States elections have sparked a cascade of theories about why few people within the country and abroad anticipated the outcome. Equally, many commentators, on TV or in the pub, claim that they saw it coming, but that no one listened to them.
Judging from the public debate in America and abroad after the elections, no other institution or phenomenon is as much to blame as the media for how badly informed the public was, which in the end was what led to the election of Donald Trump. When citizens, pundits, and the media themselves are all calling for the reinvention of quality journalism, reform of news organizations, and rethinking of social media algorithms, looking back and mapping the explanations of how it all went wrong is a useful, and in some ways cathartic, exercise.
The Elitists
The most often invoked explanation is that the old-school, legacy media are no longer the Fourth Estate, the watchdog that informs citizens about the actions of the Power Elite. The media have become elitist themselves, focusing on the rich and famous instead of covering the concerns of Middle America. Instead of policy proposals (if there were that many), headlines captured Clinton’s health and Trump’s relationships with ladies.
The Media Are Profit-Driven Pollsters
The essence of this theory is that, to keep the news going and the eyeballs stuck on their broadcast or websites, the mainstream media focused on bombarding their audiences with data, but did not properly analyze those data or put them into context.
The week leading to the elections featured 40+ polls a day during the weekday and some 20 polls on Saturday and Sunday each, according to No wonder that after the elections, media analysts kept browbeating the media for throwing on readers data that eventually failed them. “It was a rough night for number crunchers,” the New York Times wrote on 10 November 2016. “And for the faith that people in every field — business, politics, sports and academia — have increasingly placed in the power of data.”
Some theorists say that perhaps the trust of media in polls was too exaggerated or even bordering on naïveté, or journalists were too eager to write yet another election story and thus needed some numbers.
The Media Are Bullies
A third explanation of the failure of media in the past elections is that they acted like bullies.
However, there are, in fact, several opinions about who the bully was. One is related to polling and public opinion. It claims that the mainstream media ridiculed Mr Trump so much that that many of his supporters were silenced (but did not change their political views). They did not want to admit their views to journalists or talk to the pollsters. That massively distorted the media depiction of reality.
Another version of the bully theory is that Mr Trump used mainstream media to publicize his outrageous statements, and media happily obliged as they made great headlines. And we know that great headlines bring audience and ad cash.
The third, but related strand blames semi-independent, sometimes semi-professional trolls who could now mobilize fringe groups by shouting ugly things very loudly in social media.
Finally, many consider the Wikileaks revelations right before the elections as targeted bullying. Julian Assange, WikiLeaks mastermind, sees in WikiLeaks a new kind of journalistic organization. As America was embroiled in the campaign for president, WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of emails and documents related to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.  Mr Assange said that they decided to do so because they believe in the right of the public to be informed. He said that they didn’t publish anything on Mr Trump simply because they didn’t receive anything.
The Media Are Liars
What is worse: to be a bully or a liar? By taking a strong stance for their preferred candidate, many mainstream media outlets are said to have alienated audiences, especially of the opposite camp. At the same time, they did not fact-check enough, or early enough, to push candidates to respond on air.
The trust was gone. Some say Mr Trump’s supporters didn’t even care. They did not take the content seriously, but rather trusted the spirit, the intent, and the core mission of his campaign. Social media reinforced this by fostering bot-created tweets and fake news, and by promoting them through algorithmic selection.
The Media Create Filter Bubbles
Maybe the worst, or fundamentally saddest theory of social media failure in the past election, is about the social division they created instead of building a common, transparent, equitable public sphere for rational debate.
While social media was hailed as the mobilizing and unifying force for Barack Obama in 2008, now these platforms helped to form very distinct camps that hardly ever conversed beyond insults. The division, so sharp as also shown by the vote split, seems to go on, a week after the election, spilling over to the physical world: #notmypresident.

#PMA16 Take-aways

Public Media Alliance just held its 2016 conference, #PMA16, in Montreal today 14 September.

Below some of my take-aways:

  1. Key Note #1

Craig Hammer, Media Development, World Bank. He reiterated the often heard comments about the declining trust in media, and the weakening freedoms of expression, and safety of journalists: right now, perhaps more than ever, we need public media.

In addition, he noted that non-Western countries are leapfrogging and bypassing their mature PSM counterparts in rethinking the collaborative, participatory and curatorial, multiplatform models of PSM (e.g.,Kenya & India).

Q&A: CH notes that developing stronger media systems in the Global South, and public media, is challenging as many funders seem not to understand the importance of media (systems, funding models). He’s calling for customizable models. One part of this equation is awareness raising among audiences about the importance of PM.


  1.  Changing Perspectives on PSB: The Commercial, Technical and Political

Chair: CEO Lauri Kivinen of Yleisradio, Finland; Sonia Gill of the Caribbean Broadcasting Union;  Waithaka Waihenya of KBC Kenya; Rita Freire, EBC Brazik; Simon Marks of Feature Story News, USA.

  1. How do the panelists see the possibilities for transitions from state to true public service media?

WW: KBC used to be a feared entity, government’s loudspeaker -> “punishing” public media -> now the government much more sympathetic. But: let’s stop lamenting the funding issue, let’s accept and solve it.

RF: Political crisis: the gov’t withdrew autonomy of EBC but multistakeholder support to protect media.

LK: In the last 3 months Croatia, Hungary, Poland — these countries can’t overcome the paradox of PS financed by the people but governed by the state. This paradox needs to be overcome to have a functioning PSM organization. “We must bite the hand that feeds us”. It’s scary to hear about Brazil, a big country.

SG: We are seeing concerns about the arrest of reporters in the Caribbean. HIghly commercialized media sector because govts couldn’t  Telecoms (Caribbean & foreign) are now becoming major media owners. How can we secure indigenous content? We continue to have the problem with CEOs of media houses with their political affiliations. Cybersecurity legislation has recently been used to regulate legacy media/journalism. Technology continues to be a challenge – how to guarantee universal access? E-waste a problem.

SM: One would think the US wouldn’t a fragile state but I have begun to think so… The current election (coverage) is the tragic result of the lack public media. The Economist: The Post-Truth Environment”. Technical: not an obstacle but a huge opportunity. E.g.: 1) Overhaul of culture in PSB: Content now specifically produced for different platforms. 2) Radio NZ Checkpoint: Multiplatform simulcast – redefining the “broadcasting”. Decoding unit allows access to studios to deliver HDTV footage for multiplatform audiences = Major cost reductions.

  1. How can we make sure that PSB/PSM remains relevant?


SG: Involvement of civil society. The case of Brazil shows this clearly.

WW: Craig talked about trust as a rare community these days. News pushed through social networks, etc. Trust and journalistic quality are our commodity.

Q: To WW: What’s the status of KBC’s switchover? To Rita: Possibility of license fees as a funding model? SG: Jamaican funding model is a success. Direct user fees won’t work. LK: public support helps to build political support. WW: Kenya fully digital. But as a result of a fierce war with comm broadcaster that wanted a piece of the pie. Decision: Digitalization = a public project.
SM: On social media — you HAVE to go where the audiences are. Use the tech to build your brand of trust. How to modernize but maintain the quality?



  1. Intervention: PMA Research Project

Sally-Ann Wilson, PMA: What do we need to know what we don’t from academic research and other sources? How do people who run PM organizations see their organizations? Key questions that keep them awake at night?

PSM pyramid: Role -> Characteristics -> Content

20 responses so far; very consistent regardless of the context!

Role: independency, inclusivity and diversity, building and reflecting national identity (providing media plurality in a globalizing world wasn’t considered very important)

Characteristics: Independence, impartiality, trust (being popular wasn’t that important)

Content: Impartial news, international news (environmental coverage not so important)

PMA — we don’t merely talk, we act. The BBC model needs revision for other countries, but the changes in that model will shape other models.

Promotion of public media? How do we promote ourselves (and not only “preaching to the choir” — We need to leave the church and involve partners, and measure impact to increase credibility, metrix). We hope PMA can create an index of key performance indicators so we can learn



  1. Keynote #2 – Representing Citizens

Keynote: Fran Unsworth, BBC World Service

Moderator: Paul Thompson of Radio New Zealand

What should be the proper balance between politics and the media? If journalists are too powerful we can do damage, too weak where’s the role?

Brexit — what to report? Should one report claims of both sides?

Even in the midst of the most heated debates, the BBC was applauded as the most balanced.

Threats to journalism and human rights are constant (e.g., Kashmir, Turkey, Kenya, Malaysia, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Uganda, China – exodus from newspapers&foreign journalists, Hungary, Vietnam, Iran…)

Too often govts trying to control. No total control — foreign investors a vary of that — so selective censorship.

Total free speech impossible. Who is the regulator, sets the rules?

Amartya Sen: No famines in countries with free press.

EBU research: public media contributing to democracy (less extremism, more political participation).

The collapse of authoritarian regime doesn’t automatically mean press freedom; it may take a long time. Many regimes unwilling, perhaps fearful. That’s why our job is even more important.

Q: Is the trend now more than ever that when journalistic freedom is being threatened in legacy media they can push the stories in social media?

  • Growth in authoritarianism
  • State broadcasters parroting those in power
  • Intermediaries are controlled as well, and filter bubbles that are created…

Changes of the governance structure of the BBC… Profound implications re: the independence of the BBC.

  1. Truth and Trust: Investigative Journalism in the Digital Age

Moderator: Sonia Gill, Ahmer Shaheen of GEO Pakistan, Mark Bassant of CCN Trinidad & Tobago, Will Fitzgibbon of Intl Consortium of Investigative Journalists

MB: Investigative journalism in a digital age is characterized by:

  • Deadlines don’t exist
  • Mobile news consumption
  • Display for info, for  easy access (visualizations, timelines?) is key

WF: Truth, Trust and the Digital Era — the Panama Papers — immense data leak — not possible without digital era. Trust can be seen in several ways: trust between journalists feeds into trust in journalism. Trust in data — collaborative verification. Trust in the public — make structured data available, open access. The RISKS to trust increase with digital era.

AS: Financial feasibility — longer, more resources, can get media shut down… So very expensive — invisible costs —  in fragile states. “Pakistan a paradise for investigative journalism – organized corruption is rampant”



  1. Engaging the Digital Public

Tim Fenton, International Election Advisor:

  • Journalism is the biz of making the significant interesting
  • Journalists should either genuinely be thrive impartiality or admit bias
  • The best-served audiences have both

Divide political reporters — parliament, politics, and elections.



A 3-minute summary


Back to the future and different but oh so similar.

From both keynotes to this panel throughout the panels:

  • Politics — external influence
  • Technology — reach
  • Trust — relationship with audience
  • Core mission — to provide access and to provide value, basic components diversity whether in political coverage as Namibian example… but also unity, as mentioned by the CEOS in the PMA study. And bring forth under-reported issues, such as John Mohmoh highlighted, and certainly trustworthy coverage in the cases of crises, as Marion Warnica highlighted. Perhaps, as proven by the EBU research, support democratic practices. And tell great, engaging stories.

MDM: Mapping Digital Media 56 countries

Global PSM Experts Network: over 90 countries

We tackle with these challenges, just in new reiterations. And it seems that we are more alike than ever.

WW: let’s move on! Let’s thrive to be integral part of their lives — NBC



  • Possibilities of collaboration – geographical, global (Graig Hammer – models, examples;),
  • Institutional – PMA research shows common concerns
  • Non-PSB partners: Simon Marks’ efforts… First Draft
  • Amongst journalists, for trust, for security. Or, amongst organizational leaders — The case of Brazil.
  • With the public — branding, marketing, more collaboration.

And so back to the our first keynote that mentioned the new roles, or functions of PSBs, beyond broadcasting toward  collaborative, participatory and curatorial, multiplatform  existence… Perhaps we add to the list: a mobilizing agent of all these kinds of collaborations.



ICM836: Can we talk about Global Feminism?

“The debate is being carried on  in a theoretical framework at universities,” Ruchira Gupta of Apne Aap said, rolling her eyes, as she sat in her old family home in Bihar after a day in the red light district. “Very few of those theorists come to the grassroots and see  what’s going on. The whole debate about what we should call the problem is irrelevant. What is relevant is that children are being enslaved.”

Half The Sky, Chapter 2: Prohibition and Prostitution



We are already in the week 2 of THEORY.

For the next 7 days, our main theoretical quest is to examine the tensions between

  1. the universal and the specific;
  2. the global and the local;
  3. the theoretical and the pragmatic

… in terms of feminism as an ideology, social movement, and scholarly pursuits.

Here are some previews of what you consider as feminism (the assignment due 6/10 at midnight):

To me, the most fruitful definition of feminism is a movement that intends to make women true equals in societies around the world, and to defend women interest all around the world.



Feminism is a method of identifying intersectional experiences of the most historically marginalized group; women, and addressing those experiences to create a positive and long-lasting outcome for those of the marginalized group. Feminism is when people, male or female, can work towards societally fostering the understanding that life should not be intrinsically more difficult, dubious, or despondent for one half of the human population.


The definition of feminism to me is the notion of expressing an awareness and understanding of global gender problems (Both male and female) rather than just the idea of oppression of women in society versus men.



A theory lesson

It is important to have your own definition of feminism. Basic definitions are the foundation of any theory.

Given that the field is so complex and contested, a continuum of sorts between political agendas and theoretical musings, you need to be clear where the starting points of your views and research are in that continuum.

But equally importantly, remember that the nature of much of feminist studies is to situate yourself, start your research recognizing who and where you are, and how that might influence your views and interests.Also, while you may draw from famous theorists’ work, and fully agree with them, your own voice matters perhaps more than in any other field of scholarship.

So when progressing in the course, remember to reflect on your understanding of feminism, and how it can (or cannot) be seen in theories, cases, articles, etc. addressed here.


From Definitions to Complexities

As we know from any field, theories are scaffoldings that help us to grasp complex issues. And then we run into situations described in the opening quote from Half The Sky: intellectual exercises can seem far removed from harsh realities.

A personal story

I remember taking a feminist media studies class at UW Madison in the mid 1990s (yes…) where the issue of prostitution was discussed in great length. We read a collection of articles by (Western) sex workers. Many stressed the empowering nature of their work. For instance, being a call girl enabled an artist financially to lead a creative life. I gather the version of this vein of thinking is today replicated, for example, in websites through which girls can look for “sugar daddies” to pay for their college tuition.

The theoretical argumentation was, to put it simply, that the patriarchal society has marginalized prostitution because in that profession women have power over men. (Note that we did not address any other kind of prostitution than the heterosexual construct of “women selling sex to men”. )

Then I saw the movie Lilya 4-ever, about a young Russian girl trafficked to Sweden to be a sex slave. Although fiction, it was based on a true story.

And more and more trafficking news begun to emerge. I realized that sex slaves exist in my neck of the woods, in the Nordic countries generally hailed as the equality flagships of the world. I also got a job in training journalists in the Balkans, on gender-sensitive reporting.  That is when I heard many cruel facts about UN peacekeepers in crisis zones: Troops fueled sex trafficking to the area (and after that, to many other areas: here’s just one recent case). Sex trafficking is a problem also within the US, as this recent news story reminds us.

I begun to realize that, for me, feminist issues often entail layers of power issues: sex work may be illegal and not protected, perhaps because of patriarchal social order; but power imbalances are also due to economic factors, and, geopolitically, they surely exist between the Global North and the Global South.

More lessons learned

But can I assess which layers are more important than others? That would be a tough call. It is also evident that the focus on the empowering nature of sex work (for some) is very much in line of the theorization and issues of “Second Wave” feminism that stresses “women’s issues”, uniqueness of women’s experiences, that have been disregarded in mainstream discourses. Seeing some effects of globalization through a gendered lens, and focusing of other contexts than Western ones, would then be more in line with the “Third Wave”. (For a crude definitions of the waves, see last week’s theory piece.  This week’s readings refer to the “Waves” often, some texts noting that they only apply to Western scholarship.)

And then comes the divide between theory and praxis. Those girls trafficked in Bosnia or working in the red light district in India seldom get interviewed for a research project; let alone get the chance to define “their own issues” and concerns. We are privileged as Western scholars in that we get to think about definitions and their consequences.

Not to say that theory development would not be important. Feminist scholarship seeks to make new inventions and interventions to all academic fields. But the political-policy focused feminism as a movement and feminist studies as an academic exercise may seem worlds apart. Your readings for this week offer a great illustration on this:

Salam Al-Mahadin (Chapter 2 of “Current Perspectives”) discusses the challenges of Arab feminist media studies, offering some very concrete issues that call for consideration. Angela McRobbie (Chapter 14, a key figure in Western feminist studies), in contrast, analyses the French head scarf ban from a very theoretical standpoint. It is interesting, and in some sense exciting,  that two such different accounts can exist under the same academic field.



As noted, your theory assignment this week is to discover and discuss some of the tensions:

  1. the theoretical and the pragmatic (to what extent can scholarship inform social justice quests, and vice versa);
  2. the global and the local (are there any feminist issues/theories we could call global = important everywhere in the world, or are the issues always more layered and contextual);
  3. the universal and the specific (are there any “women’s issues” or are the issues always more layered and contextual).

I suggest you choose one of the above tensions to discuss in your blog.


You have quite a few theory chapters to read this week. Do remember that each of them is only 3-4 pages long. And each of them can teach you something new and interesting about feminist media studies, be it the impact of internet on the blurring of the boundaries of work and leisure for women (Australia), or the research foci important in Latin America.

Readings from “Current Perspectives”:

Chapter 2: Arab Feminist Media Studies

Chapter 4: Bridging the Gaps: Feminist generation gaps in the US context

Chapter 5: African Feminist Media Studies

Chapter 6: Black feminism, black feminist media studies

Chapter 10: New media, old problems

Chapter 14: Unveiling France’s border strategies

Chapter 18: Critical reflections in Inter-Asia

Chapter 19: Negotiating the Global-Local (Latin America, India)

And take a quick look at this beautiful web-multimedia project for inspiration:


  • Based on your readings, identify some examples of one tension (see above).
  • Write a critical, short reflection on how you see the tension through the examples you have selected (do reference the specific chapters you are using in your commentary).
  • Feel free to use your own voice and add your own examples, if you so wish.
  • 300-400 words.
  • Post it on your own blog.
  • From this week on, you will get a grade on your contribution. Grading criteria are very simple. Everyone has their own voice and style. You are invited to express it. So
    • A = you follow the instructions of the assignment and submit your post in a timely manner.
    • B = your post is missing some elements (e.g., here, references to the readings you have used for your post).
    • F = you have not submitted the assignment or your post is completely off-topic.
  • Your grades will be posted weekly, after the assignment is due, on your very own private grade report which I have created for you. I will also give you individual feedback. You will receive a link to your grade sheet by Monday.

ICM836: Research!

Welcome to the first research session of the course! We are discussing a real-life mapping study every Tuesday.


The reason as to why we engage  in a separate “research track” in this course is manifold.

First, feminist (media) studies have not only addressed “women’s issues” but also challenged mainstream academic paradigms by unveiling scholarly biases. (To give a simple but famous example:  History [his-story] as a discipline has been criticized because of its focus on the public sphere, and that sphere has traditionally been dominated by men, at least in the Western countries. We know plenty of the life of kings, little of the lives of ordinary housewives…) Feminist studies have thus questioned the nature of knowledge, and also embraced new methodologies, including valuing experiences of the private sphere.

Second, quite evidently, our research effort also showcases the importance, and practices, of scholarly and applied research in global development.

Third, we get to be of service, as communication experts! See below.


Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 4.27.52 AM


Approximately 52% of the female population is of reproductive age, and most of these women and girls menstruate each month. However, both communities and systems players have largely overlooked menstrual health.

– FSG Report

Menstrual hygiene management (MHM) has been a dominant approach to the issue of menstruation in the field of development studies and practice, promoted by the sub-field  called WASH, that is, issues of water, sanitation, and hygiene.

In the recent years, a more inclusive concept menstrual health has become an increasingly recognized. Menstruation is a taboo topic in many, many cultures. No wonder that research and resources around menstrual health are still scattered.

In many ways, this is a perfect topic for us since we are working on global feminism and the media: Menstrual health is a significant factor in many facets for social, cultural, environmental, and economic development; and it is the kind of “silenced” issue that feminist research has worked to uncover and understand. In other words:

Menstrual health is an encompassing term that includes both menstrual hygiene management (MHM) as well as the broader systemic factors that link menstruation with health, well-being, gender, education, equity, empowerment, and rights.

– FSG Report


Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 4.28.05 AM

For five weeks in June-July 2016, we will examine different aspects of menstrual health and their relation to global development, especially from the perspective of the role of communication and the media.


Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 1.58.24 AM

We will collaborate with Danielle Keiser, one of the key experts in menstrual health advocacy and communication.

We will have the pleasure of assisting her with her project on creating a global online information hub about menstrual health.


Please view Danielle Keiser’s introduction video to the theme, her work, and the project at hand, here.



Today we focus on getting familiar with the topic.

From next week on, you will examine three groups of actors working in the field of menstrual health. You will spend one week researching each group, i.e., three weeks in total:

  1. Advocates: Organizations, projects, individuals disseminating information to raise general awareness and/or seeking to influence policy. (Assignment given: 6/14)
  2. Educators: Organizations, projects, individuals creating and implementing innovative ways to teach about menstruation / confront menstrual myths / taboos. (6/21)
  3. Product innovators: Organizations, projects, individuals creating innovative products and/or communicating about them in an innovative way. (6/28)

Want to know more already? Here are the detailed instructions.

We will get to them for real next week.

Each week, we will also address one aspect of the research contributions of feminist studies — be it methodologies, ethics, or feminist epistemology.


This week, we will familiarize ourselves with the issue.

Danielle Keiser has selected three introductory readings for us:

  1. Compiled Findings from Studies on Menstrual Hygiene Management of Schoolgirls in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe by SNV, the Netherlands Development Organization
  2. Around the World in 28 Periods


Take a look at each text. They will help you in your future research.

Choose one of the text and write a critical, compact, summary reflection of it for your blog. Please address the following questions about the text of your choice: What do you think will be important in terms of our research, mapping the key actors in the field? In addition: Can you relate any of the stories and information in your culture, your life, your experiences, stories you’ve heard? Finally, do some online research and include another menstrual health information resource or a news item, relevant to your reflection, as a link in your blog post. (I will collect and share your additional resources with everyone.)

300-400 words (only). Due in a week, Tue 6/14, at midnight.

As always, if you have any questions, email or ask below as a comment!

ICM836: What do we talk about when we talk about feminism?

Theory, Week 1. 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
  • 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…


Or read the transcript, or listen to the podcast.

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.


Example 2: Global feminism and development

Half The Sky: Introduction (your course book, please read).

This reading was not assigned for this week in the syllabus — but reflecting on the topic, I found this an important text to share at this point.

Your course book 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.

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?

At the same time, 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.

And 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.


Your assignment:

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 create your blog by 6/6 and send me the link to it (if you haven’t already; thanks to those who have!).
  • Please create your first blog post by 6/10: What, for you, in your opinion, is the most fruitful definition of feminism, and why? Or, would you use a completely different understanding of the concept — why? 400-500 words. Do remember the principles we apply in this course. Apply critical thinking; reflect upon your own context, identification, experiences, perhaps even possible biases. Please feel free to use your own style and add links, images, video, and so on to make your point.
  • I will summarize your thoughts here, with links to everyone’s posts.

Let me know if you have any questions!