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?
“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.)
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].
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
Preface: What Global Feminism Means to a Global Development Professional?
This week, our professional is Catherine Borgman-Arboleda.
Catherine is aco-founder of Action Evaluation Collaborative, and has nearly 20 years of experience in NGO and non-profit evaluation, planning, and training. Catherine has led evaluations for major foundations, international organizations and NGOs, as well as smaller grantmakers, organizations and collaboratives.
Catherine also has significant experience leading and managing small NGOs and non-profit organizations, most recently serving as the Co-Executive Director of the Center for International Media Action (CIMA). Catherine has a Masters in Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy at NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service. She is fluent in Spanish and Italian and recently moved from Brooklyn, NY to Merida, México.
Examples of recent work include the design and implementation of:
An Action Learning strategy for the women’s empowerment organization WomenStrong International, for partners in India, Kenya, Ghana, Haiti and Washington DC.
A participatory monitoring and evaluation system for CARE USA’s project on eliminating child marriage in Nepal and Bangladesh.
A learning and evaluation strategy for Palm Healthcare Foundation’s Collective Impact initiative, Healthier Together.
This is what Catherine told us:
Global feminism to me is about connecting and contributing however I can to this surge of knowledge, action and love which is fueling women to define feminism on their own terms and in their own images. At it’s core, it is about aligning a view of the world grounded in collaboration, empathy, nurturing, strength and creativity with action.
Personally, it is about struggling to understand what feminism means for myself, my daughters, and those close to me. It is about making space for introspection and reflection, and searching for my own truth, often uncomfortable and complicated, and realizing that this is ok and part of the process of embracing a new way of knowing.
Can you, as a [future] international professional, relate to Catherine’s views?
Introduction: One More Tension
Finally. We have reached the point of the course in which we finally focus on the media and communication technologies. Our title for today is:
Global Feminism and Fields of Feminist Media Studies
We have discussed those 3 (or more) waves of feminism, that could be summarized as:
Equality feminism (buzzword: “equality”)
Radical feminism (“difference”)
Post-modern…. post feminism (“diversity”)
We have discussed several tensions within feminism and feminist studies:
Let me now introduce you to one of the most basic tensions (and foundations) of feminist studies; one that has all to with why we have “feminist media studies”.
sex – gender
… As we know already: Sex = biology; gender = socially constructed. This tension is not new to you, I’m sure. The idea of nature vs. nurture influencing one’s identity and social development is an ongoing debate.
The early, first wave feminists advocated the abolishment of discrimination based on one’s sex (why can’t women vote?).
The second wave of feminism (and feminist studies), in turn, got very interested in how gender is constructed in societies. The classic I’m sure you have heard about, The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (1952), was the seminal text to outline the ways in which gender is constructed (here is the introduction of the book for those interested). In other words, gender is the cultural form of identity, not a biological one: The aspects that a culture, a society, holds as feminine and masculine have a great influence on how one develops one’s identity.
One is not born, but rather becomes a woman. – de Beauvoir
Later, in the late 1980s, Judith Butler introduced the idea of gender as “performative”. Take a look at this 3-minute explanation:
Butler has written about the definitions and understandings of sex-gender-sexuality and notes that sometimes sexuality may have little to do with gender (she gives the examples of “butch” and “femme”; of certain transsexual identities); sometimes gender norms are used strategically to gain power positions. Her view, very much a third-wave, post-modern one, is that while gender norms are culturally forced upon us we can also resist them, choose individually. Some talk about gender as a continuum and ever shifting, as an array of diverse positions.
Enter the media.
Whatever you may think of gender as performative, feminist media studies generally recognize that mediated content (from tweets to news stories to reality shows) both reflect the society and re-construct ideas and values, for instance about gender. That’s why we need to study the media.
Different notions of womanhood, femininity, and gender have been much discussed in the (Western) public debates lately, and also portrayed in the media. Here’s what director Jill Soloway said this week about her series Transparent, in the Lenny Letter online feminist magazine by Lena Dunham (of Girls – another example of popular culture where gender and sexual identities are a central part of the plot).
I think all girls feel weird. Actually, so many people of all gender identities feel odd and weird, don’t feel natural about sex. The script became an idea for me, like an entering-into-evidence in the court of public opinion, like testimonies.
They’re saying, “This is where my shame comes from.” That’s what I wanted to film, and I wanted to obliquely treat each image as if it were a photograph dropping onto another photograph in a courtroom, maybe a courtroom of the world. I hope it feels like a ride where every time you want to stop and see more, you can’t because we’re moving so fast.
In a way, all of us are on trial for being weird. Directing the episode felt like the making of a document, with a sort of weaponizing feel, something zealous meant to raise hackles. I always wanted to be a lawyer but as a little girl felt too dumb. The bar exam seemed impossible.
The following is a quick systematic run-through of how we can dissect feminist media studies, and consequently choose and use theories and methodologies that speak to our interests and concerns. These waves have historical starting points but still co-exist today. The below are crude generalizations but illustrate the points. I have also included examples of seminal research as well as current issues that are debated today.
Three Ways/Waves of Looking at Feminist Media Studies
One way to look at feminist media studies is to understand different research approaches related to the three waves.
1. Equality feminism and media studies
Typical concern: women’s presence/absence vs. men’s presence/absence in the media, as professionals; in terms of representations.
Typical method: quantitative content analysis: how many women, how many men? How many women reporting on “hard news” (politics, crime, international news, sports) as men’s domain; vs. human interest, “soft” news as women’s domain.
GMMP is the world’s largest and longest-running research and advocacy initiative for gender equality in and through the news media. Since its inception in 1995, every five years the GMMP has documented changes in relation to gender in news media content. It includes some 100 countries and analyses women and men as news subjects and newsmakers. Here’s a summary fact sheet of the project and below a summary table of the core findings since 1995. The table shows that women comprise some one fourth of news subjects, and that their visibility in the news, globally, has not increased dramatically since 1995. It also indicates that online media are no different from legacy news media:
From 2009 until 2014, I was a journalist working for media outlets with foreign audiences, first for the Islamic Republic’s state-run English media service, Press TV, and from 2011 for Bloomberg News and The National, a major regional newspaper based in Abu Dhabi. I was a member of a tiny group covering news from Iran in English.
During my time reporting there were moments when I realized that because of my job, my identity as a member of society—and indeed my life—could be threatened because of my gender.
2. Radical/Second Wave feminist media studies
Typical concern: Interpreting media (texts) through a feminist lens. Appreciation of popular culture as “women’s culture” (e.g., soap operas, daytime talk). The idea that there is something such as the male gaze through which many films are constructed (voyerism of sorts, women are portrayed as being watched by men…)
Typical method: qualitative close reading; other qualitative analyses
An example: This example is not necessarily “typical” in that it represents a multi-method analysis of media industries as well as feminist agendas (while plenty of feminist analysis has focused on content); conducted via interviews and textual analyses. But it became a classic study of the second wave, about gender construction and “negotiation”: Defining Womenby Julie D’Acci.
Defining Women explores the social and cultural construction of gender and the meanings of woman, women, and femininity as they were negotiated in the pioneering television series Cagney and Lacey. Julie D’Acci illuminates the tensions between the television industry, the series production team, the mainstream and feminist press, various interest groups, and television viewers over competing notions of what women could or could not be–not only on television but in society at large. Cagney and Lacey, which aired from 1981 to 1988, was widely recognized as an innovative treatment of working women and developed a large and loyal following.
It is interesting that the “women-specific” approach is still (or again) being debated and experimented with. From the news a few days ago:
This week, TheWashington Post launched The Lily, a publication that is directed at millennial women. It is named after the first American newspaper for women launched by Amelia Bloomer in 1849. The site, which is hosted on Medium, mainly consists of Post stories that editors think will appeal to young women. It also includes original content, such as a personal essay by Post columnist Margaret Sullivan on advice from her mother that helped Sullivan to break multiple glass ceilings.
The columnist reporting of the development notes:
[P]erhaps this is the problem: The whole concept of women’s media seems to narrow, rather than expand, what is considered a millennial woman’s issue. It fails to acknowledge the fact that issues like welfare, minimum wage, foreign policy, and health care are all inextricably intertwined with gender issues.
Typical concern: gender as performative, created, resisted, a site of power struggles, fluid, with diverse meanings… Layers of power that intersect: gender, sexual orientation, class, race, age, geography… Active audiences actively constructing meanings (not just passively being manipulated by media representations).The question of the body in representations.
Since Lara first “bust” onto our screens in 1996 in Tomb Raider (Edios Interactive), she has been a focal point for critical debate surrounding the representation of the female protagonist and the gendered body in games. Nearly twenty years after her first appearance, the 2013 version of Tomb Raider (Crystal Dynamics) remakes Lara with a new body, a new author, and has sent her out towards a new generation of fans. In line with attempts by the games industry to provide a more appealing female protagonist, Lara has been significantly altered physically and in terms of her attitude, but what is perhaps most striking is the way that her narrative has also been redefined by a female writer, and then taken even further by a more gender-savvy fanbase willing to give Lara a second chance.
I chose this example as it highlights how feminist media studies is a strand of game studies (inter-disciplinary), with the focus on a game character and the body, and with regard to audiences and their changing gender savviness.
The issue of gender and gaming has been in the news quite a bit in the past days, due to the massive E3 Entertainment Expo that just took place last week. (Remember: Gaming is an immense, global, and ever growing segment of media industries.)
It seems that since GamerGate in 2014 — a set of events that revealed horrendous online harassment targeting a female game developer and a feminist game a critic — the issue of gender and gaming has been debated and discussed in many fora. Perhaps also because women constitute a lucrative market for games. And that, in turn, has evoked research like this, proving that women are equally skilled as gamers as men:
You guessed it. The truly global angle. Apart from the Global Media Monitoring Project, relatively few research efforts have tried to understand women and the media, gender and the media, gender and communication technologies in a comparative global context. (There are reports about media, gender, and development, and internet use and gender, but those are often statistics rather than scholarly analyses.) Admittedly, comparative research is difficult to organize and costly to execute. And, there have been some studies on the impact of globalization of the media on the Global South, as well as feminist analyses of diasporic communities, gender, and the media. Still, the idea of global feminism is to a great deal absent in the Western-dominated feminist media studies.
In addition, there are relatively few studies on the political economy of the media and comm tech, from a feminist perspective. As Micky Lee (Chapter 11, Current Perspectives…) notes:
The ultimate goal of feminist political economy is to understand why women are poor and how a distribution of wealth is essential to women’s status. (…)
Many scholars, politicians, and non-profit organizations have hailed new ICTs as solutions to women’s poverty… There is less focus on who benefits form the consumption of technology… Why are Microsoft, Google, and Facebook mostly headed by white men?…
And, Leslie Reagan Shade continues (Chapter 17, Current Perspectives), the above is especially relevant when we think of regulation and other policies related to the media and communication technologies. Are they supporting access and perhaps promoting more fair gender portrayal in the media? She writes this as a scholar who studies media policies but also social movements (sometimes called media reform and/or media justice movements) that see the media (access to, representation in) as a social justice issue and seek to influence policies and practice from that angle. (I regularly teach a course on Media Reform so if interested, feel free to check out the blog here).
Both media policies, and political economy at large, can be considered a major issue for global feminism and the media. They very much align with the very complex and complicated field of development communication, or, as the newer term goes, communication for social change. Very often these fields walk on the tight rope between a tension we already know about, that of theory and praxis — they seek to gather information, and develop frameworks, that can help in changing things for better.
Here’s a great 3-minute video that I can’t stop sharing, on the media’s impact in international development. When watching it, just think of the 4 ways in which the media influences development and try to imagine an example of media, gender, and development; whether in terms of political participation; education and other information sharing; mobilizing and organizing; and understanding other cultures and experiences:
So the entire idea of Global Feminism and the Media is an idea in the works. While important, it struggles with these tensions (global-local; general-individual; theoretical-practical; sex-gender), perhaps more than any other strand of feminist research. While the West may theorize about performative gender, sexual discrimination can be a case of life and death in some cultures.
As you have learned early on, your assignment this week is to review the very successful mediatized attempt to draw attention to gender inequality and women’s issues world-wide. There’s method to the madness: We are now bringing together everything we have learned so far.