ICM836 Day 5 (6/13): What’s Global Feminism?

Research, Teaching

“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

Is this Global Feminism?



Or this?

Or  this?

Or this?


Note that I’m not endorsing any specific stance here. Just showing you a couple of examples.

Think about the issue that Sarah brought about in commenting to the last theory post. Who speaks for whom? Where is the agency?



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. This all can inform us about 1) situated knowledge (who we are and where others come from, how they see the world); and 2) for whom, and how, can we speak for?

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 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 the 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,  that two such different accounts can exist under the same academic field.

A Case in Point: Half the Sky

As I wrote earlier, the book and the related products showcase the contested nature of many issues, theoretical and practical, that can be labeled under “global feminism”.

The authors are American journalists, and that has evoked quite a bit of criticism. It has been called as “veiled colonialism”: 

[E]xamining Half the Sky in an academic fashion, a disturbing trend comes to light. 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?


What is perhaps the book’s most obvious example of modern-day colonialist sentiment can be seen in the interactions between Westerners and non-Western women. Throughout the entire book, there is the recurring appearance of the “white savior”, or perhaps more accurately the “Western savior”, who has come to rescue “Third World” women from a variety of oppressors, including their governments, religions, cultures, or most commonly “Third World” men. Interactions in the book constantly reflect and even highlight an unequal relationship, with Westerners on top and non-Westerners below within the power hierarchy.

So, once more: When we think of global feminism, we need to understand our own stance and also be brutally honest in disclosing our relationship to those whom we represent (activism) or analyze (scholarship). This week is about exploring not only us, but those relationships, via several readings, and the three tensions described in the beginning.

A Case in Point: A Professional’s Viewpoint


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So, I’ve urged you as scholars to define your own understanding of  feminism, whether you subscribe to it personally or not — or the kind of feminism you subscribe to (and its relationship to major strands and movements of feminist thought).

In the coming weeks, I will also introduce you to a couple of professionals so you can see how they define global feminism. Here’s what Jaana Rehnstrom, the Executive Director of the NYC-based non-profit Kota Alliance, told me earlier today:

Is there global feminism? This is a good question.

There are rights that seem self-evident rights in many countries, when they are just being fought for and achieved in others… I feel the core issues are the same  – equality, rights – but they are in different stages and take different nuances in different countries and regions.

The Kota Alliance could be called as a supporter of global feminism in that we offer programmatic and technical support and resources for non-profits working on gender issues. The actual, concrete issues may differ, the approaches may differ.

But, we all working in this field need to be very mindful of our roles.

As an example, I was recently invited to speak at an event in Washington Square Park, for the USA-Mali Charitable Association, on female genital mutilation (FGM). I hesitated: Is it my place to speak about it? But the organizers specifically wanted an expert to discuss the issue. I am gynecologist and have long experience in human rights work related to FMG. So, I felt I could contribute.

In general: There may be culturally-specific issues and topics of feminism. But when we have an issue such as FGM that women in the countries where it is practiced themselves fight against it, then that is an issue, a struggle, that women (and men) everywhere can raise awareness of and support in different ways.

(If you are interested, here’s more about Jaana’s presentation and FGM.)


More about Kota:





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).


You have quite a few theory chapters to read this week. Choose at least 4. 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.

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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 look at this beautiful web-multimedia project for inspiration: http://www.feminisminchina.com/


  • 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.
  • Post it below as a comment.
  • Due by Thur 6/15, midnight.

ICM836 Day 1 (5/30): Let’s Start the Journey!



Here’s a FAQ  — if I left something out please ask away below as a comment!

What is the course about?

As the title of the course depicts,  we will focus on global feminism and the media. On Friday, I will discuss this in more detail and offer some definitions. At this point, I just want to note that we are focusing less on identity and gender than to (global) development questions pertaining to women, and the role (international) communication including digital and legacy media, and different forms from journalism to PR. Our scholarly framework is that of feminist media  and communication studies.

That said, the course is not only about women. It is about sustainable development, information needs, issues of representation, and other questions that are important to our societies and the world as a whole.

What will we do?

We will take four outlooks on core issues and ideas of global feminism:

  1. The broad overview: We will look at some principles, theories, and the diversity of issues under “feminist media and communication studies”, bearing in mind international communication.
  2. The specific focus on “global feminism”: We will reflect empirical issues of global development and gender with feminist theorization.
  3. Discovering important thinkers/doers. Everyone will have one lecture duty: You will need to write one blog post, with a small assignment, about a scholar or activist in the field of global feminism.
  4. The in-depth exploration, individually but not alone: You will look at one issue in depth for your final (academic, research-based) essay. The specific topic and focus will be YOUR CHOICE. You will work on it every week, starting at Thursday 6/1. The twist: This will be a collaborative, communal effort in some sense. Your colleagues will comment your progress and help you along they way, also every week. And you will help them.

Where are we now and when will we meet?

This is my personal blog. We will “meet” here every Tuesday and Thursday briefly for a lecture briefing and/or assignment briefing.

Tuesdays entail the theoretical and conceptual briefings and examples. Thursdays are dedicated to your research project.

New assignments — actually, reflections and fact finding missions — will be posted early afternoon and you will also receive an email to notify you about them. You can complete them at anytime within the following few days.

  • Tuesday – theory assignments will be brief. You will need to complete them by the following Thursday,  midnight, so in 2 days.
  • Thursday – research assignments will be more extensive. You will need to complete them by the following Tuesday,  midnight, so in 5 days.
    • Comments to your colleagues’ research posts: asap after they have been posted but by the following Thursday, midnight.

You will create your own blog or equivalent (an online platform that we can give you feedback on) for the duration of this course (or, if you want and have one, use your existing blog).

You can use any screen name, any title for the blog, any blogging platform or equivalent, and so on.

Just a (fictional) example – to show you how it works.

On Tues 6/6, you will be emailed a written lecture posted here. You will be asked to comment on  a feminist theory: do you think it applies in today’s world.

By Thur 6/8 evening you have thought and researched about the question. You will post your reply as a comment below: I believe this theory is outdated because… When prompted by the comment function of this blog, you will use your St. John’s email address (that will be seen only by me, the admin). Then you will use any screen name, in this case, MH.

By the same Thur afternoon you have also received your research prompt-inspiration, here on this blog. It could be something like: Search for, read, and summarize 3 academic articles that relate to your research topic. What did you learn – what are some questions/points you need help with? Post the summaries on your blog as a blog post. You will work on this the following Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon and post your summaries by Tues 6/13 evening. At the same time, you will check the new research briefing of that Tuesday, and see what your colleagues have posted.

You will spend the next two days reviewing your colleagues’ work and completing the small research assignment. By Thur 6/15 midnight, you have helped your 5 colleagues by sharing your thoughts/tips with them as comments on their blogs, as well as completed the research mini-assignment.

IN ADDITION! Note that Wed 6/7 and Wed 6/14  would have been dedicated to inspiring examples of thinkers/doers: Blog posts from 4 of you.

If you are new to blogging, here’s a good tutorial about WordPress (this blog is a WordPress one):

Or, here’s a tutorial on how to make a Tumblr blog.

You can also create a Google Docs or Dropbox file — just give us rights to comment.

(More about this on Thursday 6/1. Let me know if you have any questions, below or via email.)

You will respond to the research assignments on your own blog, as a blog post.

Why these platforms?

Apart from Google Docs / Dropbox documents, these blogging platforms are public (although you can keep your identity from potential readers). Blogging is also a more informal and personal, inclusive way of communication, than academic writing. Perhaps you have heard the famous feminist saying: “The personal is political”. Here, we understand that slogan in terms of offering our views to everyone, and going beyond the format of a specific audience. While being scholarly and analytical in our thinking and referencing, we can now practice our own voice. Hence, my posts are on my own blog. I would encourage you to blog, but appreciate it if you want to keep your work just between us. In that case, create a shared Google Docs folder or a Dropbox repository (or equivalent) — just make sure we can comment your texts.

What general principles do we follow?

Some other principles that many feminist scholars practice are:

  • The aforementioned personal voice and style; inclusiveness. Open mind, acceptance and respect of different ideas and views.
  • Critical thinking, i.e., constant analysis and questioning of the status quo. Please feel free to critically examine all the readings and assignments. This, as you know, doesn’t mean constant criticism of views that you don’t agree with, but an open mind to multiple interpretations beyond the most obvious ones.
  • Situational knowledge, i.e., acknowledgement of one’s background, current personal and professional situation, and even biases that might, or do, influence one’s opinions and analyses.
  • Willingness to assist and help one another.

Please keep these in mind when completing your assignments.

Why these books?

Our course books are:

Current Perspectives in Feminist Media Studies
Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (April 11, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0415754720
ISBN-13: 978-0415754729

  • This book, actually a collection of short essays to honour the academic journal Feminist Media Studies, is a great introduction to current thinking around core practices and issues. It is especially useful for our course as the texts are compact and diverse, also in terms of addressing cultural and global diversity. In other words, these texts allow us to explore many issues within our five weeks.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (June 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307387097
ISBN-13: 978-0307387097

  • This book is the opposite of the one above: It’s a journalistic exploration of global women’s issues, and solutions. And this is precisely the reason why I chose the book. These two texts show the array of approaches one can take to “global feminism and the media”. Furthermore, this book is about one of your assignments (book review). A further reason for this book? It has turned into an effective family of communication-PR spin-offs, ranging from a PBS documentary/film to its own multi-media website with educational materials, to a Facebook game. Finally, this book and the related products also showcase the contested nature of many issues, theoretical and practical, that can be labeled under “global feminism”. The authors are American journalists, and that has evoked quite a bit of criticism (as “veiled colonialism”, as one-sided, and so on). More about this later.

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What’s next?

  1. Check our the syllabus, here and ask me any questions you might have, either below as a comment or via email: aslamam@stjohns.edu.
  2. Get the books, if you haven’t already, and begin reading Half the Sky.
  3. Await for the first “research prompt” here on Thursday. I will also post a “sample profile” = instructions for your lecture duties (Wed 6/7, 6/14, 6/ 21.) (When these are posted, you will receive an email notification.)
  4. EXTRA – just FYI: Here’s a first draft of an article I am writing for the Handbook of Mediated Communication, titled Gender and the Media. We will discuss the content in the coming weeks, but if you want to have a head-start you can glance through it.

See you on Thursday!