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.


ICM836 Day 4 (6/8): Finding Theories and Concepts for Research

Research, Teaching

Today, we take another step  of research. We will start to search for resources and sources.

1.One More Self-Reflection! Simple and Telling.

Remember last week’s discussion on situated knowledge and “feminine” and “masculine” (perhaps arbitrary?) norms. You may have already seen Lauren’s self-assessment – mapping of her characteristics. Try it out yourself — and think about what the results of your mini auto-ethnography (self-analysis) might mean. Surely that the reality is more complex than stereotypes. But are stereotypes also changing? How culture-specific are they? (Might this list pertain beyond Western cultures?) Beyond gender, these attributes also have positive and negative connotations, and different ones in different contexts (what attributes would you like your teacher, your president, your doctor, your loved ones, to have?). And so on…

This is me, for better or worse (from my own perspective):

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This is an extra task the result of which you don’t need to share if you don’t feel like it. But try this as an intellectual exercise, even by just looking at the options and what they mean for you. Share your analysis or your thoughts on your blog, if you like!


2.Inspiration for Your Research: Search for Ideas, Concepts, Theories.

If you are still pondering about what to research for this course, no problem. Take a look at your colleagues’ posts and get inspired. There are clearly some common themes:

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The more focused you are, the easier the final project. So now we are going to work for a couple of days on getting more concrete by illustrating those themes with different kinds of materials.

  1. Choose 3 of the common themes.
  2. Find, for each team:
    1. A news story or (journalistic/expert) commentary
    2. An image (picture, or a video that, to you, symbolizes the theme)
    3. A scholarly-academic-professional text that would help you to theorize /analyze the specific theme. (Start with our course book Current Perspectives – the texts are short and showcase an array of global approaches; you might find a usable concept there! Also, go online. Many feminist academic journals are open access. And you can find many book chapters, and articles online as well. For example, here is a good introductory chapter on GENDER AND POPULAR CULTURE!)

Write a blog post on your own blog that briefly documents the above: the 3 general themes you chose of our common interests, and for each: one concrete empirical realization that relates to the theme (news/commentary), one visualization (image/video), and one academic inspiration (text – short description what you learned and what you can probably use in your research work). If you are interested in advocacy and campaigning (Nicole, Jehan?), you can naturally also use academic/professional PR literature.

Then, in a couple of sentences, reflect on how these three modes of knowing –(1) empirical, current issues; (2) symbolic, visual; (3) academic – conceptual —  inspired you and perhaps took you closer to your research focus and specific research questions.

So, the themes once more:

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NOTE: If you think I have missed a common theme, feel free to include that one in your chosen 3 themes!

This assignment is due 6/13 midnight in your own blog. Then check out and comment – help everyone else by Thu 6/15.

3. Optional Google Hangouts to Discuss Your Research

This is entirely optional! But if you want to brainstorm about your research work, or ask any other questions, I’ll be on Google Hangout:

Thursday 6/8  8-9pm

Friday 6/9 6-7pm

I will email you the link 10 min. before. You can join at any point during those times.

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ICM836 Day 3 (6/6): What do we talk about when we talk about feminism?


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…


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.

It is ironic, as we have already learned, that Beyonce used this text, after just having been bashed by the iconic bell hooks…

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 10.46.50 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 10.31.35 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 10.32.22 AM.pngHere’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.


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 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!

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