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Table of contents :
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
List of Contributors
Introduction: Squaring Feminist Scholarship with Media and
PART I: Reflecting the Past
1. Feminist Editing of a Mainstream Journal: Reckoning with Process and Content Related Challenges
2. The Lunchroom Sessions: Lessons in Vulnerability and Resistance from a Junior High Cafeteria
3. Designing Feminist Resilience
PART II :Taking Stock of the Present
4. A Feminist Odyssey from the Personal to the Public
5. Suffrage Media Historiography and Status Politics
6. Memory, Media, and Gender Violence in Kenya: Revisiting the St. Kizito Secondary School Crime of 1991
7. Feminist Endurance: Global Elisions and the Labor of Critique
PART III: Writing the Future
8. A Negotiated Feminist Agenda: Doing Politics, Researching News, Going Digital
9. Feminist Media Studies: We Need to Take Intersectionality Seriously
10. Global Feminist Positionality (GFP): Coordinates of Time, Space, and Location in Research
11. What Is Happening Here? Re-imagining Feminist Communication and MediaWork amid a Global Pandemic
Conclusion: Community, Deep Analysis, and Self-Reflexivity:
Feminist Media and Communication Scholars Urge That Our Work Must Be Intersectional
REFLECTIONS ON FEMINIST COMMUNICATION AND MEDIA SCHOLARSHIP
This collection brings together ten of the most distinguished feminist scholars whose work has been celebrated for its excellence in helping to lay the foundation of feminist communication and media research. This edited volume features contributions by the ﬁrst ten renowned communication and media scholars that have received the Teresa Award for the Advancement of Feminist Scholarship from the Feminist Scholarship Division (FSD) of the International Communication Association (ICA): Patrice M. Buzzanell, Meenakshi Gigi Durham, Radha Sarma Hegde, Dafna Lemish, Radhika Parameswaran, Lana F. Rakow, Karen Ross, H. Leslie Steeves, Linda Steiner, and Angharad N. Valdivia. These distinguished scholars reﬂect on the contributions they have made to diﬀerent subﬁelds of media and communication scholarship, and oﬀer invaluable insight into their own paths as feminist scholars. They each reﬂect on matters of power, agency, privilege, ethics, intersectionality, resilience, and positionality, address their own shortcomings and struggles, and look ahead to potential future directions in the ﬁeld. Last but not least, they come together to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women, marginalized people, and vulnerable populations, and to underline the crucial need for feminist communication and media scholarship to move beyond Eurocentrism toward an ethics of care and global feminist positionality. A comprehensive and inspiring resource for students and scholars of feminist media and communication studies. Stine Eckert is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at Wayne State University. Her research focuses on the intersection of media, gender, and minorities as well as the democratic potential of new media for publics. Ingrid Bachmann is Associate Professor in the School of Communications at Pontiﬁcia Universidad Católica de Chile. A former reporter, her research explores the role of the news media in the deﬁnition of meanings within the public sphere.
REFLECTIONS ON FEMINIST COMMUNICATION AND MEDIA SCHOLARSHIP Theory, Method, Impact
Edited by Stine Eckert and Ingrid Bachmann
First published 2022 by Routledge 605 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10158 and by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2022 selection and editorial matter, Stine Eckert and Ingrid Bachmann; individual chapters, the contributors The right of Stine Eckert and Ingrid Bachmann to be identiﬁed as the authors of the editorial material, and of the authors for their individual chapters, has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identiﬁcation and explanation without intent to infringe. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Eckert, Stine, editor. | Bachmann, Ingrid, 1958- editor. Title: Reﬂections on feminist communication and media scholarship : theory, method, impact / edited by Stine Eckert and Ingrid Bachmann. Description: New York, NY : Routledge, 2021. | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identiﬁers: LCCN 2021013645 (print) | LCCN 2021013646 (ebook) | ISBN 9780367609870 (hardback) | ISBN 9780367609832 (paperback) | ISBN 9781003102786 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Mass media and women. | Feminism and mass media. | Communication--Research. Classiﬁcation: LCC HQ1176 .R44 2021 (print) | LCC HQ1176 (ebook) | DDC 302.23082--dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2021013645 LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2021013646 ISBN: 978-0-367-60987-0 (hbk) ISBN: 978-0-367-60983-2 (pbk) ISBN: 978-1-003-10278-6 (ebk) DOI: 10.4324/9781003102786 Typeset in Bembo by Taylor & Francis Books
To Yoo Jae Song, the Teresa Award Fund benefactor, and her mother Teresa, for whom the award is named.
List of Illustrations Foreword List of Contributors Introduction: Squaring Feminist Scholarship with Media and Communications Studies Ingrid Bachmann and Stine Eckert
ix x xiii
Reﬂecting the Past
1 Feminist Editing of a Mainstream Journal: Reckoning with Process and Content Related Challenges Dafna Lemish
2 The Lunchroom Sessions: Lessons in Vulnerability and Resistance from a Junior High Cafeteria Meenakshi Gigi Durham
3 Designing Feminist Resilience Patrice M. Buzzanell
Taking Stock of the Present
4 A Feminist Odyssey from the Personal to the Public Lana F. Rakow
5 Suﬀrage Media Historiography and Status Politics Linda Steiner
6 Memory, Media, and Gender Violence in Kenya: Revisiting the St. Kizito Secondary School Crime of 1991 H. Leslie Steeves 7 Feminist Endurance: Global Elisions and the Labor of Critique Radha Sarma Hegde
Writing the Future
8 A Negotiated Feminist Agenda: Doing Politics, Researching News, Going Digital Karen Ross
9 Feminist Media Studies: We Need to Take Intersectionality Seriously Angharad N. Valdivia
10 Global Feminist Positionality (GFP): Coordinates of Time, Space, and Location in Research Radhika Parameswaran
11 What Is Happening Here? Re-imagining Feminist Communication and Media Work amid a Global Pandemic Ingrid Bachmann, Patrice M. Buzzanell, Carolyn M. Byerly, Meenakshi Gigi Durham, Stine Eckert, Radha Sarma Hegde, Dafna Lemish, Lana F. Rakow, Karen Ross, Radhika Parameswaran, H. Leslie Steeves, Linda Steiner, and Angharad N. Valdivia Conclusion: Community, Deep Analysis, and Self-Reﬂexivity: Feminist Media and Communication Scholars Urge That Our Work Must Be Intersectional Stine Eckert and Ingrid Bachmann Index
6.1 St. Cyprian Boys High School (former St. Kizito). Photo by Zaberio Gitonga Naaman.
6.1 Select Kenyan school GBV against girls since 1991.
This edited volume represents both a victory and a milestone in feminist communication research. It is the culmination of a scholarly movement within the International Communication Association (ICA) that began in the mid-1980s when the Feminist Scholarship Interest Group convened its ﬁrst meeting in Chicago, Illinois, at an annual ICA conference. In the years since, feminist scholars and their work—their scholarship—have changed the face, substance, and tone of communication and media studies. Feminist scholarship now populates every strand of the communications ﬁeld, employs every methodology, and represents a multitude of nations, voices, and concerns. In both great and small ways, feminist scholarship within the International Communication Association, one of several communication organizations where that scholarship took root in the 1980s, has evolved into a robust area of academic work teeming with diverse scholars asking vital questions about the ways that gender, race, nationality, sexuality, disability, class, and other markers of identity and power are implicated in mediated, organizational, interpersonal, and other aspects of communication in today’s world. This volume comprises the speciﬁc thinking of ten scholars whose work has been celebrated for its excellence in helping to lay the foundation of feminist communication research. Each is a recipient of the Teresa Award for the Advancement of Feminist Scholarship, which is annually awarded by the Feminist Scholarship Division (FSD) of ICA to a feminist communication scholar who has demonstrated excellence in scholarship and whose work has moved the ﬁeld forward in signiﬁcant ways. Each of these scholars has, in her own way, extended the boundaries of the investigative terrain of gender and communication. Editors Stine Eckert and Ingrid Bachman explore these authors’ chapters in the introduction and conclusion to this book. Our task in this foreword is to provide background information about the award and its importance.
The Teresa Award for the Advancement of Feminist Scholarship was initiated in 2007 by Dr. Yoo Jae Song of Ewha University in Seoul, before her retirement. As a feminist communication scholar herself, she had observed the ways that genderoriented research had been routinely overlooked by ICA and other professional academic associations in their annual awards processes. She believed the time had come for feminist scholars to have an award of their own. Working with the Feminist Scholarship Division, Song established an endowed award in the name of her late mother, Dr. Teresa Kyuguen Cho, a Korean-American pediatrician who had passed away the previous year at age 83. The award has been given annually since then—with the exception of one year—to a researcher whose work has made signiﬁcant contributions to the development, reach, and inﬂuence of feminist scholarship. The award has become known internationally as one of the most prestigious recognitions of excellence in feminist communication scholarship. The Teresa Award is a collective endeavor. For the ﬁrst ten years of its existence, the award process and the fund, which Yoo Jae Song so generously endowed, were overseen by former FSD chairs Carolyn Byerly and Marian Meyers, at Yoo Jae’s request. Marian stepped down from her position as co-trustee and co-chair of the award committee in 2017, and Natalia Rybas, also a former FSD chair, stepped into that role. Many feminist scholars have volunteered to make nominations and to choose among the nominees through collaborative deliberations and reﬂections on the nominees’ contributions. Recipients’ contributions typically consist of multiple projects and publications that have made a clear, coherent and sustained contribution, over time, to the advancement of feminist scholarship in the ﬁeld of communication. Recipients’ scholarly records must show that they have: (1) opened up new theoretical and/or methodological territory in feminist communication and media research; (2) made other important contributions to the advancement of feminist scholarship; and (3) engaged in feminist activism within academia that advanced feminist scholarship. Recipients of the Teresa Award are honored at a reception and ceremony sponsored by the Feminist Scholarship Division and held during the annual ICA conference. It has been a tradition at this gathering that the award recipient presents a lecture summarizing her work and laying the foundation for the future of feminist communication scholarship. It is from these talks that the chapters of this book have evolved, providing not only an overview of excellence in the ﬁeld of feminist communication scholarship, but also a link to the history of this work and the professional path of award winners, as well as a roadmap for feminist communication and media scholarship going forward. The Feminist Scholarship Division of ICA celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2016, and the agenda of the Teresa Award remains urgent: to acknowledge the best feminist scholars, to highlight their achievements in the context of communication studies internationally, and to maintain the record of excellence in feminist-oriented scholarship. The award is important in reaﬃrming the Division’s commitments to theory, research, and activism in the international arena and to
establish what it means to give priority to feminism as a global concern. This is where and why the award is unique in its scope and appeal. We hope that this volume will serve not only as a reference for scholarly excellence to date, but will also stimulate further scholarship and discourse emphasizing feminism and communication. Trustees, Teresa Award Fund, ICA: Carolyn M. Byerly (2006–present) Natalia Rybas (2017–present) Marian Meyers (2006–2017)
Ingrid Bachmann is Associate Professor in the School of Communications at Pontiﬁcia Universidad Católica de Chile. A former reporter, her research focuses on the role of the news media in the deﬁnition of identities and meanings within the public sphere. She teaches undergraduate and graduate level courses on news reporting, communication theory, and communication research methods. Her research has been published in Feminist Media Studies, International Journal of Communication, Journal of Gender Studies, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, Journalism Studies, and Women's Studies in Communication, among other journals. Patrice M. Buzzanell is Chair and Professor of the Department of Communication at the University of South Florida and Endowed Visiting Professor for Shanghai Jiaotong University’s School of Media and Design. Her research, teaching, engagement, and grants coalesce around career, work–life policy, resilience, gender, and engineering design. Previously she was Distinguished University Professor and Endowed Chair and Director of the Susan Bulkeley Butler Center for Leadership Excellence at Purdue University. Buzzanell received the Teresa Award in 2012. Carolyn M. Byerly is Professor and Chair in the Department of Communication, Culture and Media Studies, a doctoral-level department, at Howard University, USA. Her research takes a political economy approach to the study of gender and race aspects of media industries and policies, both within the United States and globally. She is the editor of the Palgrave Handbook on Women and Journalism, as well as the author or editor of other books, and articles that have appeared in the Howard Journal of Communication, Journalism Theory, Feminist Media Studies, and many edited volumes.
xiv List of Contributors
Meenakshi Gigi Durham is Professor and Collegiate Scholar in the University of Iowa’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Florida. Her research addresses gender and sexuality in the media, emphasizing embodiment, intersectional identities, and youth cultures. Her articles have appeared in leading communication journals, and she serves on many editorial boards. Her books include Technosex, The Lolita Eﬀect, and Media and Cultural Studies: KeyWorks. Among her numerous honors are the May Brodbeck Award Distinguished Achievement Award for Faculty and the President and Provost Award for Teaching Excellence from the University of Iowa. Durham received the Teresa Award in 2014. Stine Eckert is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at Wayne State University. Her research focuses on the intersection of media, gender, and minorities as well as the democratic potential of new media for publics. She has published articles in Feminist Media Studies, New Media & Society; Media, Culture & Society; Journalism: Theory, Practice & Criticism; the International Journal of Communication; the Journal of Communication Inquiry; CyberOrient, Public Relations Inquiry, and Health Communication and several book chapters. Radha Sarma Hegde is Professor in the Department of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University. She is the author of Mediating Migration (Polity Press, 2016), editor of Circuits of Visibility: Gender and Transnational Media Cultures (New York University Press, 2011), and co-editor of the Routledge Handbook of the Indian Diaspora (Routledge, 2017). She has served as the co-editor of Feminist Media Studies. She received the Teresa Award in 2019. Dafna Lemish is Distinguished Professor and Associate Dean at the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University, the founding editor of the Journal of Children and Media, and a Fellow of the International Communication Association (ICA). She is author and editor of numerous books and articles on children, media and gender representations, including recently KakaoTalk and Facebook: Korean American Youth Constructing Hybrid Identities (with Park, 2019); Fear in Front of the Screen: Children’s Fears, Nightmares and Thrills (with Götz & Holler, 2019); Beyond the Stereotypes: Images of Boys and Girls and their Consequences (co-edited with Götz, 2017). Lemish received the Teresa Award in 2009. Marian Meyers is Professor in the Department of Communication and is aﬃliated with the Institute for Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Georgia State University. Her research draws upon feminist media studies, journalism, and cultural studies to examine the media’s representation of women from an intersectional perspective that is tied to a political and economic agenda, which reﬂects society’s turn toward neoliberalism.
List of Contributors xv
Radhika Parameswaran is Herman B. Wells Endowed Professor (class of 1950) in the Media School at Indiana University, Bloomington. Her research areas span feminist cultural studies, globalization and media, postcolonial media studies, South Asia, and qualitative research methodologies. Her major publications include a 2013 Wiley-Blackwell edited encyclopedic volume on global audience studies, two monographs in Journalism & Communication Monographs, 28 articles in leading journals in communication and media studies (ﬁve reprinted as book chapters), and 14 original book chapters. She served as editor of Communication, Culture and Critique, a journal of the International Communication Association, from 2014 to 2016. She received the Teresa Award in 2015. Lana F. Rakow is Professor Emerita of the University of North Dakota, where she was Professor of communication and women’s studies and Director of the Center for Communication Engagement. She has published ﬁve books. She recently served as an associate editor of Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly and on numerous committees of the International Communication Association and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. She served on the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, as president of the North Dakota Professional Communicators, and on the board of the North Dakota Association of Nonproﬁts. Rakow received the Teresa Award in 2010. Karen Ross is Professor of Gender and Media, Newcastle University, UK. Her teaching and research are focused on issues of gender, media, and society including aspects of social media and political communication. She was Lead Researcher on an EU-funded project on Advancing Gender Equality in the Media (2017–2019) and led an earlier study on women’s careers in the media (EIGE, 2011–2013). She is Managing Editor of a major new reference work, the International Encyclopaedia of Gender, Media and Communication which will be published by Wiley-Blackwell in summer 2020 and is the UK and European coordinator of the Global Media Monitoring Project 2020. She received the Teresa Award in 2013. Natalia Rybas is Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Indiana University East (Richmond, IN, USA), is a feminist and critical researcher, who studies media and cultural practices, including learning, playing, and working at the intersections of online and oﬄine contexts. Her publications appeared in academic journals (e.g., Feminist Media Studies) and edited collections (e.g., Mediating Cultures, Cyberfeminism 2.0, and New Media and Intercultural Communication). H. Leslie Steeves is Professor and Senior Associate Dean for Academic Aﬀairs in the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon, USA. Prof. Steeves’ current research addresses overlapping topics on media in and about subSaharan Africa, including gender, media, and development/social change; media and gender violence; information and communication technologies (ICTs) for
xvi List of Contributors
development; and entertainment and tourism representations of Africa. In 2017 she received ICA’s Teresa Award for the advancement of feminist scholarship. She has received two Fulbright Scholar grants for teaching and research in Kenya and Ghana, and she directs an annual study abroad program in Ghana. Steeves received the Teresa Award in 2017. Linda Steiner is Professor in the College of Journalism at the University of Maryland and editor of Journalism & Communication Monographs. She has published over 100 book chapters and refereed journal articles. Recent co-edited books include Key Concepts in Critical-Cultural Studies (2010), Routledge Companion to Media and Gender (2013); The Handbook of Gender and War (2016); Race, News, and the City: Uncovering Baltimore (2017); Journalism, Gender and Power (2019); and Front Pages, Front Lines: Media and the Fight for Women's Suﬀrage (2020). Steiner is past president of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, and received the Teresa Award in 2018. Angharad N. Valdivia is Research Professor of the Institute of Communications Research and the Department of Media and Cinema Studies at the University of Illinois. Her books include The Gender of Latinidad: Uses and Abuses of Hybridity, A Latina in the Land of Hollywood, Feminism, Multiculturalism and the Media, A Companion to Media Studies, Latina/o Communication Studies Today, Mapping Latina/o Studies, and Latina/os and the Media. She served as the editor of Communication Theory and edited the sevenvolume International Encyclopedia of Media Studies. She served as the inaugural head of the Department of Media and Cinema Studies and as Interim Director of the Institute of Communications Research. Valdivia received the Teresa Award in 2011.
INTRODUCTION: SQUARING FEMINIST SCHOLARSHIP WITH MEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS STUDIES Ingrid Bachmann and Stine Eckert
It is not easy to conduct feminist research. It never has been. More than 30 years ago, Carole Spitzack and Kathryn Carter (1989) explained that feminist approaches were often met with resistance, and Lana F. Rakow (1989) argued that feminist scholars often had to convince others of the worthiness of their research. These authors stressed that the very label of “feminist” was fraught with negative connotations, both in society at large and in academic circles, more so when considering the avowedly political commitment of feminist scholarship to not only discuss the status of women and the concept of gender, but also to take action to change the situation for those who are oppressed. Well into the 21st century—and amid a pandemic that has underscored the pervasiveness of our gendered lives—addressing the role of all kinds of communications and media in reinforcing and defying assumptions about the status of women remains a mayor task. If anything, women’s lives and circumstances have proven to be as relevant an object of study as it was half a century ago. That is exactly what the Teresa Award of the Feminist Scholarship Division (FSD) of the International Communication Association (ICA) has been acknowledging over the past decade— work that advances feminist communication and media scholarship and expands its theoretical and methodological scope. Around the time when the Teresa Award was created in 2007, authors Bonnie J. Dow and Celeste M. Condit (2005) argued that feminist scholarship had made important inroads in being mainstreamed. Authors such as Lisa McLaughlin and Cynthia Carter (2013) have stressed that feminist scholarship has not only grown over the past decade, but that contributions of feminist research are increasingly recognized in diﬀerent contexts. This collection of essays by the ﬁrst ten Teresa Award winners showcases the depth and scope of feminist scholarship that has created or entered into various subﬁelds of communication and media studies, as well as DOI: 10.4324/9781003102786-1
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the diversity of the scholars conducting this—still groundbreaking—feminist research. As Liesbet van Zoonen (1994) explains, both gender and communication are social constructs, with the latter being one of the main spaces of interaction and processing of meanings and sense making, including women’s lives and experiences. The collective choice to use in this book a modiﬁed APA citation style in order to spell out authors’ full names upon ﬁrst reference, and thus honor and acknowledge their identity (for more on this, read Chapter 1 by Dafna Lemish in this volume) is a reﬂection of the commitment of feminist scholars to render the construction of gender visible and strive toward gender equity and social justice. The Teresa Award is not only important, but a necessary one as well. Exposing and challenging sexism and gender bias is a critical undertaking in today’s world, even though it is not well appreciated in all academic communities. The focus of this edited volume is on the theory, method, and impact of feminist communication and media scholarship, and comprises the insights from ten remarkable Teresa Award winners. The work of these scholars shows that feminist scholarship has plenty to contribute to our understanding of what gender as a category in our societies entails and how media and communication cannot be fully considered without the lens of gender and with it intersectional identities. Feminist theorizations have focused on a wide range of aspects aﬀecting women in the production, discursive spaces and representations, and perception of media and communication; feminist scholars’ insights into the ﬁelds of media and communication studies are among their richest contribution to the understanding realities of gender constructions (Carolyn Byerly & Karen Ross, 2006; Lisa Cuklanz, 2016; Josephine Donovan, 2012; Laura A. Wackwitz & Lana F. Rakow, 2006). Such range and impact are clearly illustrated by the list of Teresa Award winners, all authors of chapters in this book. The ﬁrst award recipient was Dafna Lemish in 2009. Then working at Tel Aviv University and currently at Rutgers University, Lemish’s research has focused on children and media, leading her to found the Journal of Children and Media. She was followed the year after by Lana F. Rakow (University of North Dakota), who has an extensive track record of examining the intersection of gender and communication, as well as philosophy of communication. In 2011, the Teresa Award went to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Angharad N. Valdivia, in recognition of her contribution exploring gender in combination with ethnic studies and Latin American studies. Patrice M. Buzzanell (then at Purdue University, now at the University of South Florida) received the award in 2012 as a renowned scholar of organizational communication from a feminist point of view, as she pioneered the Feminist Communication Theory of Resilience. In 2013, the award honored Karen Ross, then at the University of Liverpool and currently at Newcastle University. Both her research and teaching have extensively illuminated the (self-)presentations and representations of women politicians in news and new media. The University of Iowa’s Meenakshi Gigi Durham was granted the award in 2014 for her important contributions examining media and the politics of the body and sexualization, often focusing on women from the Global South. She was followed by Radhika
Parameswaran (Indiana University), whose work carved out a space to seriously consider transnational feminisms, gender, and media globalization. In 2017, the award recognized H. Leslie Steeves (University of Oregon), for her contributions to our understanding of women’s roles and representations in media especially in the African context. Linda Steiner (University of Maryland) received the award in 2018; she has used feminist theories and ethics to address a broad range of interdisciplinary issues in journalism and media, including the media making of suﬀragists in the Unites States and coverage of war, violence, and sex crimes. In 2019, Radha S. Hegde (New York University) became the tenth scholar to receive the Teresa Award, recognizing the signiﬁcant impact of her scholarship exploring power through a postcolonial lens and engaging feminist theory through the lenses of globalization and transnationalism. The work by these remarkable scholars has been inﬂuential and foundational in their comprehensive examination of the social, cultural, and political underpinnings of women’s status around the globe—and, in so doing, they laid the groundwork to establish feminist scholarship in media and communication as a crucial and rewarding line of inquiry. Further, these authors continue to strive and contribute to academia beyond feminist scholarship and have consistently worked to expand our understanding of the ﬁeld of media and communication. This is not a minor thing, and that is why this volume documents and celebrates each individual Teresa Award winner’s contribution to create and signiﬁcantly shape their subﬁelds and their individual academic contexts. It was not an easy path. As they detail in their chapters in this book, most of them had to establish themselves as media and communication researchers ﬁrst before they could situate themselves as feminist scholars. Several did not have formal training in feminist theory in graduate school and taught themselves as they made their ﬁrst inroads as junior faculty members. Others found themselves at the right time in the right place to learn about feminist theory during their masters or doctoral studies. As these scholars’ achievements show, one’s academic path is not set in stone and there are unaccountable elements of luck, perseverance, and everyday lessons learnt. To paraphrase Lana F. Rakow (in this volume), it often is an odyssey. In this book, this collective of feminist scholars oﬀers their honest and inspiring insights into their own paths as trailblazing scholars in diﬀerent subﬁelds of communication and media studies. All in all, reading these chapters by these speciﬁc scholars will greatly beneﬁt all communication and media scholars, because they underscore the challenges, shifts, and turns faced by those embarking on a journey in academia in the ever-changing ﬁeld of communication and media studies, and how making headway is an ongoing and demanding task.
Situating Feminist Research Feminist theories oﬀer a comprehensive framework to examine women’s deﬁnitions in our society and the ways in which women are contributing, (re)presented, and
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perceived in both the private and public spheres. Despite important inroads in recent decades worldwide, women still face many problems of marginality and oppression. Feminist communication and media scholarship has greatly contributed to these discussions by analyzing the emergence of particular discourses about women and their implications, such as the ever-changing mutations of sexisms and discriminations ﬁt anew into speciﬁc spaces, times, and political contexts (e.g., Stine Eckert, 2018; Stine Eckert & Linda Steiner, 2013; Tony Krijnen & Soﬁa van Bauwel, 2015; Karen Ross, 2017). While feminisms were forged through individual women joining to form social movements in speciﬁc contexts of time and space that promote women’s equal rights, feminist scholarship oﬀers a far broader vision than the advocacy of rights and respect for women and their constructed roles in society (Ingrid Bachmann & Valentina Proust, 2020; Patrice M. Buzzanell, 2020; Cuklanz, 2016; Linda Steiner, 2017; Rakow & Wackwitz, 2004). In that sense, feminist scholarship is an intellectual project that challenges conventions about women’s status, an interpretation of the condition of being a woman—which is the basis for a woman’s identity (Byerly & Ross, 2006; Judith Butler, 1999; Margaret Gallagher, 2014; McLaughlin & Carter, 2013). In so doing, it combines “theorizing, research and activism” (Gallagher, 2003, p. 34; see also Rakow & Wackwitz, 2004) at the same time as a theoretical critique of the conventions and arrangements that circumscribe women’s place and status. Accordingly, it allows for an understanding of the inequalities and oppression women experience. Feminist scholarship shows that the dynamics and structures of patriarchies—mendominated societies—set up men as the positive, or the norm, in society, and thus legitimize sexism (Buzzanell, 2020; Donovan, 2012; McLaughlin & Carter, 2013; Krijnen, 2017; Steiner, 2017; van Zoonen, 1994). As the root of women’s oppression and subordination, patriarchal relations operate at the level of ideologies—that is, values, beliefs, and ideas that are used to make sense of the world—that serve to legitimize all kinds of problematic behaviors (Ingrid Bachmann, Dustin Harp, & Jaime Loke, 2018; Byerly & Ross, 2006; Cynthia Carter, Linda Steiner, & Stuart Allan, 2019; Kaitlyn Mendes & Cynthia Carter, 2008). Feminist theory acknowledges women’s historical and current experiences and the problems generated by the power inequalities that diminish women’s agency. Women, however, are neither a monolithic nor a homogeneous constituency. Their experiences are diverse, and the understanding and analysis of such circumstances and identities are equally diverse and multifaceted (Buzzanell, 2020; Cuklanz, 2016; Krijnen, 2017; McLaughlin & Carter, 2013; van Zoonen, 1994). Thus, feminist theorizations are also heterogeneous, complex, and transdisciplinary. More so, feminist scholars disagree about the best approach to theorizing and challenging differences that are used to subordinate women (Lana F. Rakow & Laura A. Wackwitz, 2004), and each approach emphasizes diﬀerent aspects of the concept of gender and women’s identity (Buzzanell, 2020; Cuklanz, 2016; Gallagher, 2014; McLaughlin & Carter, 2013). Feminism itself has been inﬂuenced by the varied philosophical and cultural approaches that compose the intellectual heritage of humankind, and thus
what constitutes—or should constitute—the category of women is as variable as the signiﬁer “women” itself; after all, there is no common identity for all the women in the world, and feminist perspectives in communication research are positioned within this diverse landscape (Cuklanz, 2016; Donovan, 2012; van Zoonen, 1994). While feminist theories are not easily delineated as a whole, all of them pay attention to power and women’s subordination, and all have an explicitly political dimension—rather than just identifying problems, feminist approaches are committed to solving them by transformative action (Bachmann et al., 2018; Carter, Steiner, & Allan, 2019; Gallagher, 2014). This is particularly evident in the work of all the Teresa Award winners, as each one of them is known for engaging in feminist activism within academia, ranging from leadership positions in journals and associations to mentoring of emerging scholars and founding activist initiatives. In that sense, feminist scholarship can be distinguished from other approaches in that it not only theorizes about gender as a mechanism that structures the world but goes beyond the diﬀerences between a static binary of categories of women and men—real or otherwise—and oﬀers insights into the structures and concepts that deﬁne what is fundamentally deemed as woman in a gender spectrum (Buzzanell, 2020; Cuklanz, 2016; Gallagher, 2014; Krijnen, 2017; McLaughlin & Carter, 2013; Mendes & Carter, 2008; van Zoonen, 1994).
Theorizing Gender and Communication from a Feminist Lens For at least a couple of hundred years feminist scholars have tried to understand what being a woman entails and the inferior status many women suﬀer from in most societies. Accordingly, they have theorized gender as a complex and culturally constructed system of diﬀerentiation (Butler, 1999; Cuklanz, 2016; Rakow & Wackwitz, 2004; Wackwitz & Rakow, 2007) that organizes “biology and social life into particular ways of doing, thinking, and experiencing the world” (Rakow, 1986, p. 22). Gender is the cultural means by which sexual diﬀerence becomes the base for deﬁning men and women’s identities, roles and experiences, that is, transforming biological sexes into two discrete and hierarchized genders (Butler, 1999; see also Cuklanz, 2016; Steiner, 2017; Angharad Valdivia & Sarah Projansky, 2006). Gender is “never simply an individual’s attribute” (Wackwitz & Rakow, 2006, p. 263), but rather dictates behaviors and qualities that constructs women and men as very diﬀerent from one another (Buzzanell, 2020; Donovan, 2012; Eckert & Steiner, 2013; Steiner, 2017). As a classiﬁcation system, gender organizes the world and takes place as interaction and social practice, originating from those with the authority to make it so (Rakow & Wackwitz, 2004; see also Cuklanz, 2016; McLaughlin & Carter, 2013; Valdivia & Projansky, 2006). Historically, these have been men, and thus in patriarchal cultures the male/masculine is set up as the norm, whereas the female/feminine is deﬁned and marginalized in negative terms as “the other” (Carter, Steiner, & Allan, 2019; Ross, 2017; Steiner, 2017; van Zoonen, 1994).
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Gender is thus the product of social interaction and power relations (van Zoonen, 1994; Carter et al., 2019) and is linked to constructions of racial, ethnic, class, sexual, and even geographical identities (Butler, 1999; see also Kimberlé Crenshaw, 1989, 1991; Radha Hegde, 2011; Radhika Parameswaran & Kavitha Cardoza, 2009). Because of that, feminist scholars posit that it is impossible to separate gender from the political and cultural intersections that both produce it and maintain it (Butler, 1999). Moreover, gender is neither biological nor natural, but what Butler (1999) calls performative, “manufactured through a sustained set of acts” (p. xv) and thus has “no ontological status apart from the various acts which constitute its reality” (p. 173). As such, gender articulates presumptions about the limits and propriety of what counts as masculinity and femininity, as well as the ways in which various traits are assigned to diﬀerent sexes (Dow & Condit, 2005; Gallagher, 2014; Krijnen & van Bauwel, 2015; Ross, 2017), which ends up informing whole ways of life and ultimately leads to sexism to control gender performances. Gender is a crucial component of culture, a term encompassing the shared meanings used in processes of symbolization and representation of reality (Eckert, 2018; Steiner, 2017; Rakow & Wackwitz, 2004; Valdivia & Projansky, 2006; van Zoonen, 1994). Accordingly, feminist scholarship produces a cultural critique of these meanings and contested categories (Bachmann & Proust, 2020; Hegde, 2011; McLaughlin & Carter, 2013; Steiner, 2017; Rakow & Wackwitz, 2004). Gender identities are not ﬁxed and thus can be re-interpreted, negotiated, and shifted over time (Cuklanz, 2016; Eckert, 2018; Parameswaran & Cardoza, 2009; Rakow & Wackwitz, 2004; Steiner, 2017). While dominant meaning systems about gender vary within and across cultures, over time and from place to place, feminist scholars argue that they all have to do with conﬁgurations of power and economic, social, and political inequities (van Zoonen, 1994; see also Cuklanz, 2016; Hegde, 2011; Parameswaran & Cardoza, 2009; McLaughlin & Carter, 2013). In other words, gender and the cultural values assigned to diﬀerent genders inform assumptions about hierarchical relationships and naturalize such inequities, which make the concept of power a key element in feminist theory’s insights into patriarchy and women’s oppression (Byerly & Ross, 2006; Donovan, 2012; Dow & Condit, 2005). For instance, feminist scholars historically have been concerned with the publicprivate division that assigns women to domestic spheres. The functional roles circumscribed to the home or home-like environments have cemented an ideology of gender division that stresses women’s inferiority to men both in physical and intellectual terms and devaluations of the labor their provide in these spheres. This has led not only to women’s oppression, but also to women’s insights being ridiculed and denied (e.g., Carter et al., 2019; Eckert & Steiner, 2013; Hegde, 2011; Rakow & Wackwitz, 2004; Valdivia & Projansky, 2006). Because of power inequalities, oftentimes women have had little say or control over the realities that shape their lives, and thus feminist theories question the power relations and structures that secure men’s dominance in society (Bachmann & Proust, 2020; Byerly & Ross, 2006; Carter et al., 2019; Eckert, 2018; Ross, 2017). This power is not necessarily
secured by coercion or violence—although it can adopt such strategies—but also by the politics of hegemony and consensus, which promotes an ideological space that appears permanent, natural, and commonsensical, even if it is continually contested. Accordingly, the cultural meanings associated with gender have resulted in power diﬀerentials that are justiﬁed by arguments about biology and gender-appropriate behavior (Cuklanz, 2016; Gallagher, 2014; Rakow & Wackwitz, 2004). Further, power imbalances embedded in the construction of gender mean that women constitute an oppressed class. Feminist scholarship sheds light on sexism as an ideology of domination that permeates culture on various levels, and that can be related to other types of dominance, such as racism and classism (bell hooks, 1994; Gallagher, 2014; Krijnen & van Bauwel, 2015: Mendes & Carter, 2008). These hegemonic ideologies are so ingrained and interconnected in social systems that important structural changes are necessary to end sexist oppression. Actions such as enforcing equal rights, granting legal protection, or celebrating women as relevant actors in public spaces, as important as they might be, are not enough. Because of that, feminist scholarship advocates for transformative and interventionist approaches to improve women’s status, as dominant patriarchal structures are too powerful and long-standing to change overnight, or even over the course of several years (e.g., Buzzanell, 2020; Carter et al., 2019; Rakow & Wackwitz, 2004).
Feminist Scholarship and Epistemology Although feminist research deliberately theorizes gender and women’s experiences, many studies on women and gender issues have been criticized for being largely untheorized approaches (see for instance Rakow & Wackwitz, 2004). Simply adding women or gender considerations to any study without a theoretical linkage or clear rationale does not serve any purpose and assumes that gender is theoretically unproblematic (Wackwitz & Rakow, 2006; see also Buzzanell, 2020; Gallagher, 2014). Treating gender as a simple or sole variable ignores the complex structures and power relations that inﬂuence women’s status (McLaughlin & Carter, 2013; see also Carter et al., 2019; van Zoonen, 1994). It also disregards that gender is inﬂected by intersecting dimensions of identity such as race, ethnicity, class, immigration status, nationality, parental status, and ability (Collins, 2008; Collins & Bilge, 2016; K. Crenshaw, 1989, 1991; C. Crenshaw, 1997) at interpersonal, disciplinary, cultural, and structural levels. In that sense, while there is no distinctive feminist method of research—feminist scholars, across a wide variety of social science disciplines, gather evidence as any other scientist (see for instance Cuklanz, 2016; Buzzanell, 2020; Byerly & Ross, 2006; Sandra Harding, 1987; Kate Lockwood Harris, 2016; van Zoonen, 1994)—those analyses labeled as feminist have distinctive characteristics and particularities that can be thought of as epistemological (e.g., Harding, 1987; Krijnen, 2017). Using a critical lens, feminist research systematically adds to the understanding of women’s status and sexist oppression (Cuklanz, 2016; Gallagher,
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2014; Harding, 1987; Steiner, 2017) by not only looking at the way people experience, deﬁne, organize, and appropriate reality but choosing as points of inquiry those who suﬀer oppression for potentially better questions to ask of the status quo and those who beneﬁt from it (Harding 2008, 2009; Steiner, 2012; see also Krijnen, 2017). Feminist scholarship draws on theories of gender by acknowledging and analyzing the structural inequalities involved in and coming out of the process of meaning-making (van Zoonen, 1994; see also Carter et al., 2019; Krijnen & van Bauwel, 2015). This undertaking focuses on an interpretative strategy of power that is unequally distributed. Accordingly, feminist interpretations of gender acknowledge its relation to issues of culture and power, and try to be explanatory—e.g., make connections between concepts—while being political and transformative (Cuklanz, 2016; Rakow & Wackwitz, 2004; Ross, 2017) in an eﬀort to fully comprehend women’s status. Such a framework pays attention to diﬀerences, to voices and representations of all individuals, and to the constructiveness of dichotomous categories of gender that (re)produce certain identities and statuses, a task that is not particularly easy (Gallagher, 2003, 2014). Further, such an endeavor is not a sex-speciﬁc enterprise (Gallagher, 2014), just as the willingness to contribute to feminist understanding is not limited solely to women.
Overview of Chapters The chapters comprising this edited volume underscore the breadth and depth of feminist communication scholarship on particular theories, methods, and paths taken. Perhaps uniquely so, the authors deeply and honestly reﬂect on some of their own misunderstandings, shortcomings, and continuously evolving eﬀorts in their (ongoing) trajectories of working as feminist scholars, enacting the selfreﬂexivity that is a tenet of feminist approaches. This book is organized into three parts. Part I, titled “Reﬂecting the Past,” includes in Chapter 1 Dafna Lemish’s discussion of feminist editorship. Based on her experience as the founding editor of the Journal of Children and Media and as an outsider to mainstream academia, she reﬂects on the struggles and challenges of carrying out a feminist worldview in content-related and process-related issues of journal editing. In Chapter 2, Meenakshi Gigi Durham draws from her ﬁeldwork and the lessons learned from her informants to discuss the dynamics of agency, vulnerability, and resistance. She urges that a feminist ethics of care perspective should more strongly guide the methodologies employed in feminist communication scholarship. In Chapter 3, Patrice M. Buzzanell addresses how she developed feminist resilience theory and how this aﬀected her scholarship, teaching, and advocacy. She also ponders the processes for navigating today’s complex communication landscape: crafting normalcy, backgrounding negative emotions while foregrounding productive action, aﬃrming identity anchors, putting alternative logics to work, and maintaining and using communication networks.
Part II, titled “Taking Stock of the Present,” foregrounds current issues in feminist scholarship regarding intersectionality and media messages. In Chapter 4, Lana F. Rakow tackles two important concepts in feminist scholarship—power and the production and control of ideas— and maps out her own trajectory of growing as a feminist scholar. In so doing, she identiﬁes three tracks that have deﬁned her research: the personal as professional, as privileged, and as public. In Chapter 5, Linda Steiner candidly addresses theoretical and analytic problems she identiﬁes in her own work, such as overlooking racism and matters of privilege in early feminist thought and work. In Chapter 6, H. Leslie Steeves revisits the 1991 St. Kizito secondary school tragedy in Kenya to discuss matters of media, memory, and gender violence. Starting with an examination of her previous work on the event, she ponders why the school tragedy has largely been forgotten, what might be done now about this erasure, and how ethical considerations have shaped research on coverage of gendered violence. In Chapter 7, Radha S. Hegde develops a feminist critique of gender-based violence worldwide. Going beyond Eurocentric approaches, she argues for paying much more attention to the continuing strategic reproductions of gendered violence in ever-changing infrastructures concerning genders. Part III, titled “Writing the Future,” weighs in on new venues for theory and methods in feminist scholarship. In Chapter 8, Karen Ross highlights the nuances in the relationship between gender, media, and politics. She discusses how this subﬁeld, and her own research that contributed to it signiﬁcantly, have developed in the past decades and explores the ongoing challenges for feminist approaches to examining coverage of politics, more so with the development of digital forms of political communication aﬀorded by social media platforms. In Chapter 9, Angharad N. Valdivia addresses the concept of intersectionality and discusses how there is still much left to do with it in feminist scholarship. She acknowledges that intersectionality has grown in the ﬁeld, but warns that internationality has also served to marginalize and postpone both national and racial diversity in academic contexts and that there is much left to do on the topic. In Chapter 10, Radhika Parameswaran revisits the concept of positionality and invites us to view it in a more comprehensive way. Reﬂecting on her own research, she suggests a Global Feminist Positionality system to provide insights into feminist work and its contextual, historical, and biographical elements. Chapter 11 oﬀers a unique conversation between the Teresa Award winners recorded at the ICA Annual Conference in May 2020 and expanded in January 2021. The panelists came together to negotiate the meaning of this moment, in which a pandemic has upended life across to globe, in and for feminist communication and media scholars and their work. What are trends and concerns that can already be detected through a feminist lens? Which problematics surrounding gender issues has the pandemic brought to the fore? What are the next important benchmarks or considerations that feminist communication and media scholars needs to take on? Finally, in the conclusion, we pull together common threads that run throughout the volume: the rich feminist reﬂections on the inroads and
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challenges of exploring gender negotiations in diﬀerent societies through research in communication and media studies ﬁelds. The Teresa Award winners’ persistent and continuing work has moved feminist scholarship from the margins more toward the mainstream of communication and media studies. So much so that dissertations focusing on women or gender in many subﬁelds have become a new normal, or at the least less contested regarding their importance and relevance to contribute to our understandings of the workings of society. Research and publishing processes as well as the compositions of editorial boards, awards committees, and faculty still need more eﬀorts to fully reﬂect and implement the many insights from feminist scholars. But feminist scholars have created new subﬁelds/specialities and have built ﬁrm beachheads toward existing subﬁelds centering concerns disproportionally aﬀecting women, pushing race and intersectional identities into theoretical and methodological thinking. Communication and media studies are now unthinkable without considering feminist scholars’ contributions, making it much less likely to ignore the ever expanding and growing evidence of the intertwined and irresolvable relationship between communication, media, and gender.
References Bachmann, Ingrid, & Proust, Valentina (2020). Old concerns, renewed focus and novel problems: Feminist communication theory and the Global South. Annals of the International Communication Association, 44(1), 67–80. https://doi.org/10.1080/23808985.2019. 1647445. Bachmann, Ingrid, Harp, Dustin, & Loke, Jaime. (2018). Through a feminist kaleidoscope: Critiquing media, power and gender inequalities. In Dustin Harp, Jaime Loke and Ingrid Bachmann (eds), Feminist approaches to media theory and research (pp. 1–15). Palgrave Macmillan. Butler, Judith (1999). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity (10th anniversary ed.). Routledge. Buzzanell, Patrice M. (2020). Gender and feminist theory. In Anne M. Nicotera (ed.), Origins and traditions of organizational communication: A comprehensive introduction to the ﬁeld. Routledge. Byerly, Carolyn M., & Ross, Karen (2006). Women and media. A critical introduction. Blackwell. Carter, Cynthia, Steiner, Linda, & Allan, Stuart (2019). Introduction. In Cynthia Carter, Linda Steiner, & Stuart Allan (eds.), Journalism, gender and power (pp. xvi–xxii). Routledge. Collins, Patricia Hill (2008). Black feminist thought. Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. Routledge. Collins, Patricia Hill, & Bilge, Sirma (2016). Intersectionality. Polity Press. Crenshaw, Carrie (1997). Women in the gulf war: Toward an intersectional feminist rhetorical criticism. Howard Journal of Communications, 8(3), 219–235. Crenshaw, Kimberlé (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A Black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989 (1), 139–167.
Crenshaw, Kimberlé (1991). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review, 43, 1241–1299. https://doi.org/ 10.2307/1229039. Cuklanz, Lisa (2016). Feminist theory in communication. In Klaus Bruhn Jensen, Eric W. Rothenbuhler, Jeﬀerson D. Pooley, & Robert T. Craig (eds.), The international encyclopedia of communication theory and philosophy. https://doi.org/10. 1002/9781118766804.wbiect157. Donovan, Josephine (2012). Feminist theory. The intellectual traditions of American Feminism (4th ed.). Continuum. Dow, Bonnie J., & Condit, Celeste M. (2005). The state of the art in feminist scholarship in communication. Journal of Communication, 55(3), 448–478. https://doi.org/10.1111/j. 1460-2466.2005.tb02681.x. Eckert, Stine (2018). Fighting for recognition: Online abuse of women bloggers in Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. New Media & Society, 20(4), 1282–1302. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444816688457. Eckert, Stine, & Steiner, Linda (2013). (Re)triggering backlash: Responses to news about Wikipedia’s gender gap. Journal of Communication Inquiry, 37(4), 284–303. https://doi. org/10.1177/0196859913505618. Gallagher, Margaret (2003). Feminist media perspectives. In Angharad Valdivia (ed.), A companion to media studies (pp. 19–39). Blackwell. Gallagher, Margaret (2014). Feminist scholarship and the debates on gender and communication. In Aimee Vega-Montiel (ed.), Media and gender: A scholarly agenda for the Global Alliance on Media and Gender. UNESCO & IAMCR. Harding, Sandra (1987). Feminism and methodology. Indiana University Press. Harding, Sandra (2008). Sciences from below: Feminisms, postcolonialities, and modernities. Duke University Press. Harding, Sandra (2009). Standpoint theories: Productively controversial. Hypatia, 24(4), 192–200. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1527-2001.2009.01067.x. Harris, Kate Lockwood (2016). Feminist dilemmatic theorizing: New Materialism in communication studies. Communication Theory, 26(2), 150–170. https://doi.org/10. 1111/comt.12083. Hegde, Radha S. (2011). Circuits of visibility: Gender and transnational media cultures. NYT Press. hooks, bell (1994). Feminist theory: From margin to center (2nd ed.). South End Press. Krijnen, Tonny (2017). Feminist theory and the media. In Patrick Rössler, Cynthia A. Hoﬀner, & Liesbet van Zoonen (eds.), The international encyclopedia of media eﬀects. http s://doi.org/10.1002/9781118783764.wbieme0096. Krijnen, Tonny, & van Bauwel, Soﬁa (2015). Gender and media: Representing, producing, consuming. Routledge. McLaughlin, Lisa, & Carter, Cynthia (2013). Current perspectives in feminist media studies. Routledge. Mendes, Kaitlynn, & Carter, Cynthia (2008). Feminist and gender media studies: A critical overview. Sociology Compass, 2, 1701–1718. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-9020.2008. 00158.x. Parameswaran, Radhika, & Cardoza, Kavitha (2009). Melanin on the margins: Advertising and the cultural politics of fair/light/white beauty in India. Journalism & Communication Monographs, 11(3), 213–274. https://doi.org/10.1177/152263790901100302. Rakow, Lana F. (1989). Feminist studies: The next stage. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 6, 209–215. https://doi.org/10.1080/15295038909366746.
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Rakow, Lana F., & Wackwitz, Laura A. (2004). Feminist communication theory: selections in context. Sage. Ross, Karen (2017). Gender, politics, news: A game of three sides. Wiley-Blackwell. Steiner, Linda (2012). Sandra Harding: The less false accounts of feminist standpoint epistemology. In Jason Hannan (ed.), Philosophical proﬁles in the theory of communication (pp. 261–290). Peter Lang. Steiner, Linda (2017). Gender and journalism. Oxford research encyclopedia of communication. https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190228613.013.91. Valdivia, Angharad, & Projansky, Sarah (2006). Feminism and/in mass media. In Bonnie J. Dow & Julia T. Wood (eds), The Sage handbook of gender and communication (pp. 273–296). Sage. van Zoonen, Liesbet (1994). Feminist media studies. Sage. Wackwitz, Laura A., & Rakow, Lana F. (2006). Got theory? In Pamela J. Creedon & Judith Cramer (eds), Women in mass communication (pp. 257–271). Sage.
Reﬂecting the Past
1 FEMINIST EDITING OF A MAINSTREAM JOURNAL Reckoning with Process and Content Related Challenges Dafna Lemish
When I founded the Journal of Children and Media (JOCAM) in 2007, I did not think of it as a feminist project. Then, I aimed to give voice to a domain in our discipline that was not given an opportunity to be heard: Mainly occupied by women scholars, this disciplinary territory marginalized persons we refer to as “children”—who are mostly in the care, responsibility, and education of women. Furthermore, many of us envisioned ourselves as engaged scholars seeking to advance real-world improvements in children’s lives. In hindsight, how did I not see that this WAS indeed a feminist project? I recall apologizing at the time to my close friends in the Feminist Scholarship Division (FSD) of the International Communication Association (ICA) that this new project will take me away from FSD’s sessions as I will have to immerse myself in the development of the Children, Adolescents, and Media (CAM) division of the association. How did I not see that I was not moving away from FSD, but bringing FSD with me into CAM? By way of contrast, this chapter aims to assess and reconceptualize several key challenges to JOCAM, and academic editing in general, from a feminist perspective.
The Personal Is Professional: What I Brought to this Initiative For many years I maintained two parallel streams of research while residing in my homeland of Israel. I assumed my ﬁrst professional position during my master’s studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the Israeli Educational Television Center. Later, during my doctoral studies at Ohio State University, it was then junior scholar Ellen Wartella—later a prominent leader in our ﬁeld—who introduced and led me to study media and children. Initially, the research questions I asked were inspired by my three children. For example, when I had a baby at home, I studied DOI: 10.4324/9781003102786-3
“viewers in diapers” (Dafna Lemish, 1987); one of my kindergartners inspired me to understand this age group’s understanding of television genres (Lemish, 1997); and my daughter’s admiration for the Spice Girls led me to study tween culture (Lemish, 1998). In parallel to my initial entry into studying children and media, I underwent a gradual awakening to gender injustices in a society I naively assumed was free of gender inequalities; after all, I served in a leadership role during my mandatory military service in Israel and Golda Meir had been prime minister (1969–1974). Given that I was without any formal education in feminist scholarship I started to read feminist work on my own and to meet with feminist scholars. This growing awareness led me to research representations of women in advertising, news, and political campaigns (Lemish, 2004), as well as to be publicly engaged in the Israeli feminist and peace movements. I exhausted myself (and our old car) driving around the country to give lectures, facilitate consciousness-raising meetings, and participate in an endless stream of media interviews on media and gender equity issues. It was only later in my career that it dawned on me that these two areas of research could be merged naturally: that children are gendered too; that they use and are impacted diﬀerently by the media; and, consequentially, the media reﬂect to them who they are and should be. Upon reﬂecting on the contribution of feminist theory and research to my own study of children and media (Lemish, 2013), I realized that feminist theory promoted my thinking about childhood as a social construct. This understanding diﬀers in several key ways from conventional knowledge—then and now. First, rather than viewing “childhood” as a reductive, essentialist biological age, a social constructivist view understands that childhood (just like the concept of gender) varies by culture and historical period. Second, it acknowledges that agebased categories evolve through social-economic changes (e.g., creation of such categories as “tweens,” “young adults,” “millennials,” or “Generation Z”). Similarly, feminist theories led me to challenge conventional binary thinking that distinguishes between adulthood and childhood (echoing the rational/emotional binary, as well as the West/Rest one); school and leisure (echoing the culture/nature, and the public/ private binaries); study and play (echoing the mind/body and the rational/emotional binaries). Again, the fundamental understanding applied is that such categories are socially constructed and value-laden (Lemish, 2013). Such binaries are evident, for example, in the resistance of education journals and conferences to consider the roles of media in children’s lives (beyond implications for media literacy); in the emphasis on the eﬀects of media on children’s behaviors and cognition while neglecting their emotional inner worlds; and in methodological approaches that do not explore the richness of children’s private lives—their bedrooms, toys, collections, artwork, and make-believe worlds. The dominant paradigm in children and media research in the USA at the time of my graduate studies was grounded in developmental psychology and employed strong experimental and quantitative methodologies. My gradual exposure to alternative, mostly European approaches, oﬀered me alternatives grounded in
Feminist Editing of a Mainstream Journal 17
cultural studies and qualitative methods that were better suited to my own ways of thinking. Consequentially, I also adopted several key aspects of feminist research methodologies: First, rejection of claims and aspirations for objectivity and value-free scholarship. Second, nonhierarchical exploration of human behavior. Furthermore, I continue to seek, provide for, and honor individualized voices of diverse participants, even when they are ﬁve years old; refrain from comparing their social-psychologicalphysical abilities and skills to those of adults as the “ultimate” human being, and respect their experiences at each stage of their development. Finally, consistent with my Jewish heritage’s principle of “Tikkun Olam” (translated from Hebrew: “repair the world”), I re-committed myself to creating knowledge that explores social structures, is attuned to injustices and inequalities, and that has the potential to better the lives of real children, worldwide. According to this principle, humans are responsible for repairing a world made unjust by them, and doing so collectively increases chances for the longevity of their transformations. Founding and editing JOCAM was a huge undertaking, well beyond what I anticipated. Based on my training and scholarly endeavors for two decades, it had become very clear when I started planning for it in 2004 that JOCAM needed to be interdisciplinary, international in scope, multi-method, multi-media, committed to social change, and dedicated to the wellbeing of children. Accordingly, throughout the years, JOCAM published work from all disciplinary traditions and methods, from many countries, on a host of topics. It became a shared space for the discipline, which I named unsurprisingly in my farewell commentary upon stepping down as editor in 2018 “A room of our own” (Lemish, 2019), a respectful adaptation of the title of Virginia Woolf’s book (1929). Creating a community of children and media scholars as well as a collaborative space of solidarity and shared purpose, were clearly central goals imported from my feminist worldview. This noted, editing a journal involves so much more than is captured in focusing on its mission. In sharing, here, my critical reﬂections on my experiences as an editor as well as the struggles and challenges of employing a feminist worldview in this scholarly endeavor, I hope to highlight the contributions of feminist principles for the editing project itself, independent of topics explored and/or theoretical frameworks of the articles submitted and published in the journal. Accordingly, the following discussion of the feminist editorship addresses process-related as well as content-related issues in scholarship and journal editing, their interactivity, as well as how they contributed to formal editorial policy and informal practices of the everyday labor of journal editing.
Process-Related Editorial Issues Overall, I found that intense labor was required to accomplish even the slightest editorial changes. In doing so, I learned, nearly immediately, how two
fundamental feminist principle-values function through an entangled, symbiotic inter-relationship—equitable representation and mentorship.
Equitable Representation Diversiﬁcation Representation concerns have haunted and challenged me throughout my tenure as editor in such activities as establishing an editorial board, recruiting and constantly expanding the pool of reviewers, as well as eﬀorts to recruit and support research from the margins of English-language-centered academia. The following are among the key questions I was considering as I approached such activities: How can we guarantee that we are not creating a limited forum for scholarship where we speak to ourselves about our own research, done in our own societies, about our own interests, for our own audiences, from our own standpoint while “pretending” that we are addressing global realities—in this case—of research on children, adolescents, and media? How do we correct through an editorial process for structural inequalities of resources and opportunities for scholars from minoritized academic backgrounds? (Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs et al., 2012). How can we oﬀer a fair and equal chance of exposure when the playing ﬁeld is unequal to start with? Furthermore, what role does a journal have in promoting the visibility of “the invisible children of media research” (Amy Jordan & Katherine Prendella, 2019); for example, children from the Global South, marginalized populations, and disabled children. As entrée to discussing the dilemmas involved, let me recount how establishing the journal’s editorial board proved to be a representational challenge. On the one hand, I understood that the composition of the editorial board served, too, as a statement of the journal’s vision, interests, and commitments. Thus, viewed broadly, I needed to invite scholars from all relevant disciplinary domains, theoretical perspectives, methods, countries, areas of inquiry, diversity of social categories, and various levels of seniority in academia. On the other hand, I knew that members of an editorial board lend status and prominence, especially in the case of a new journal, and as such can assist, greatly, in assembling a community of scholars. However, at the time, the “big names” of the leading, most prominent scholars, were all white and mostly from the Global North. Thus, their reputation, expertise, networks, and endorsement supported a wobbly, toddler-of-a-journal as it learned to stand on its own feet; yet, in doing so, we perpetuated the existing exclusionary publishing practices. Furthermore, ﬁnding and including less well-represented voices in academia was—and still is—a challenge: not everyone publishes in a certain version of “White” English, not everyone employs the same standards and style in writing that we have learned to associate with and expect as the accepted norm of reliable knowledge that counts in Western academia (April Baker-Bell, 2020). Indeed, I struggled with representational issues a decade before our discipline started to openly
Feminist Editing of a Mainstream Journal 19
and painfully come to terms with our built-in historical disciplinary and institutional biases in the debates that erupted under the hashtag #CommunicationSoWhite (Paula Chakravartty et al., 2018; Roopali Mukherjee, 2020). As these lines are being written, ICA’s President Claes de Vreese announced two new policies: ﬁrst, guidelines to address the need to diversify editorial boards; second, authors of submissions to ICA journals will need to respond to questions about inclusivity (2020).
Gender Imbalance The dominance of women researchers in our ﬁeld is a representational issue of a diﬀerent order. Factually, men constituted 30 percent of CAM division’s members in June 2020. I found a similar percentage in an inclusive review of the JOCAM contributors (2007–2018; Lemish, 2019). Most recently, I attended two COVID-19related children and media events. The ﬁrst, an information session during the virtual Prix Jeunesse International Festival (June 7, 2020), presented research undertaken in 42 countries about the roles media had in children’s lives during the pandemic. Apart from the session’s host, only three of the 21 presenters were men. Organized by the Center for Scholars and Storytellers, the second event (June 26, 2020) convened a virtual “think tank” to develop guidelines for creating quality media for children during the pandemic. Thirty-four scholars and professionals in attendance were selfselected representatives of key industry players in children’s media, including Apple, Disney, Google, HBO, Netﬂix, Nickelodeon, PBS, YouTube, and others. Five participants were men. As in other domains of society, this imbalance has included women’s struggle with status devaluation in our institutions as well as the scarcity of positions and resources to support research on children and media. While there was always a small core of excellent men scholars among us, who contribute signiﬁcantly to the ﬁeld, there has been a noticeable growth in their presence in academic associations in recent years, perhaps as a result of the growing prestige of the ﬁeld as well as the expansion into the study of digital technologies associated traditionally with masculinity and reproduction of patriarchy (Judy Wajcman, 1991). Applying analyses of the relationship between gender and technology in communication research (e.g., Wajcman, 2010), one might argue that the development and application of more “hardcore scientiﬁc” methods for inquiry of children’s media consumption are contributing to the attraction of more men scholars to the ﬁeld (e.g., use of monitoring devices adapted from medical research as well as sophisticated software and data analytical methods). The growing investment and interest in children as a market for digital devices and smart toys may also be contributing to their perception as valuable economically and thus more attractive to men-researchers. Similarly, proponents of techno feminism argue that the digital age is more welcoming to women, leading to a possible blurring of the clear gender divide that characterizes the ﬁeld of children and media. At the same time, however, we ﬁnd that gender inequalities persist online as well, with harassment, abuse, and
sexualization of girls and women, and thus the optimism that characterized earlier expectations seems to be melting (Stine Eckert, 2018). Beyond these few facts and speculations, these issues remain insuﬃciently explored. We have yet to identify all dimensions, engage in a deeper structural analysis of what constitutes disciplinary boundaries, employ inclusive criteria to deﬁne who belongs and needs to be represented within it, and who does not. Clearly, gender has, and continues, to play a signiﬁcant role in the development of the ﬁeld, and thus it also remains a consideration when editing a journal on children. Of course, this represents the other side of feminist concerns that have been voiced, often, in the general ﬁeld of communication and media: Namely, many of our journals, particularly the more established and mainstreamed ones, have been dominated by men scholars and research done by men. Indeed, several years ago this realization led to the advocacy for a new ICA journal. This initiative was led by Marian Meyers and supported by Carolyn Byerly, both members and oﬃcers of FSD and the ﬁrst trustees of the Teresa Award Endowment. The results of these proactive eﬀorts brought about the establishment of the journal Communication, Culture & Critique (2008), with the intention that it would promote critical approaches and qualitative methods to the ﬁeld, including feminist theories. This journal quickly gained prestige and prominence and has become an important outlet for advancing research and theory less welcomed in other journals. Hopefully, the success of Communication, Culture & Critique will lead to the self-reﬂection of editors and editorial boards of other ICA journals and result in eliminating disciplinary and methodological biases and preferences.
Mentorship Deeply intertwined with representation is the issue of mentorship, a longstanding focus of feminist scholarship and activism. I worked to infuse mentorship on all levels of the JOCAM endeavor: from mentorship aspects of occasional meetings of the editorial board (during ICA annual conferences), during email correspondence, as well as sharing decision letters and anonymous reviews with all of the reviewers of each manuscript. In all these and other cases, the intention was to foster mutual support and learning from one another. In addition, on occasion, I intervened when, due to cultural and/or personal insensitivities, I felt I needed to edit a reviewer’s use of potentially harmful language; such as subtly racist, sexist, nationalistic, or just impatient and mean phrases. In every case, I explained my decision and expectations for norms of expression to the reviewer. Throughout the years I found that one of the most diﬃcult decisions was rejecting manuscripts from scholars working in countries largely underrepresented in Englishlanguage publications. I recall my excitement when, for example, a manuscript from Iran, Nigeria, or China appeared in the queue on the journal website, as well as my disappointment when I realized after a close reading that it was very unlikely that the submission would be approved for publication. Admittedly, it would have been very
Feminist Editing of a Mainstream Journal 21
easy to just send a polite rejection letter, explaining that it is not up to the standards of the journal—and move on. After all, there were many other submissions in the queue that needed reviewers, so I couldn’t “waste” reviewers’ precious time and contribute to the author’s misguided expectations for months. So, what is one to do? Struggling with this dilemma, I decided that in the spirit of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA) I should view this as a mentoring opportunity. Thus, early in JOCAM’s existence, I implemented an informal mentorship of these authors. I tried to accompany the rejection letter with constructive, detailed comments amounting to a full manuscript review of my own. This added both emotional intensity and intellectual labor. Similarly, on occasion, I sent key articles to authors who told me they lacked access to resources needed to complete a solid literature review. I made speciﬁc suggestions for improvement that sought to enable authors to realize more fully the article’s publishing potentiality, or at a minimum, prepare them better for a future submission of a research article. These actions noted, I was highly selective in deciding when to take upon myself the role of informal mentor: For example, a weak article coming from a Ph.D. student in an established institution in a high-resource country, with full library access, and strong faculty members to lean on and learn from was politely rejected. In contrast, an article from an academic in the Global South, working on their own, with little resources and support, was prioritized to receive such mentorship. Granted, this was not equal treatment to all. Rather, I viewed it as an act of “aﬃrmative action;” a kind of treatment of those in need who did not have the same opportunities for success. In so doing, I was applying a guiding feminist principle of constantly aiming my academic work toward contributing to a more equitable social world; trying to correct academic disparities created by historical socio-political structures. Over time it became clear that this informal approach needed to be formalized and broadened. To do so, I searched for editorial board members willing to serve as mentors for submissions that showed signs of signiﬁcant potential. These mentors were expected to work with the authors to prepare them to submit a manuscript ready to be advanced through the unbiased triple-anonymous review process (i.e., authors do not know who the reviewers are, reviewers do not know who the authors are, and reviewers do not know who other reviewers are). Editorial board members volunteered their expertise, time, and energy to provide mentorship to authors whose academic reality was disadvantaged. This initiative, as well as other policy decisions and initiatives, was strongly supported and carried on by my coeditor Amy Jordan and passed on to the new co-editors and associate editors that came after me. To date, progress in expanding academic research beyond the English-speaking world has been slow. At the end of my tenure as editor, from its launch in 2007 through 2018, I found that 50 percent of the articles published originated in the USA; authors of the other 50 percent were located in 35 countries, mainly from Europe, Canada, and Israel; only a handful of JOCAM articles originated from other
countries around the world (Lemish, 2019). Thus, unfortunately, huge parts of the world remain a “black hole” in terms of sharing knowledge in English. Obviously, systematic inequities in resources and academic training and support cannot be easily overcome by benevolent eﬀorts of individuals, as well-intended as they are. Finally, on a more positive note, whether authors were established scholars from reputable institutions or students from an unknown institution—drafting very detailed and respectful constructive reviewer letters that are educative, thoughtful, conscientious, and ethical was a beacon of the editorial process. Rejection should never feel like a rejection of character and scholarly potential— but always as guidance for improving future work. I have always felt that a good review process is the one where the author feels heard, respected, and pushed to do better. This is much in line with applying a feminist approach in all academic endeavors, including nonhierarchical approaches to empirical research, administration and leadership, education, and mentorship. By way of illustrating the importance of mentoring in academic editing, this last sentence is one of many additions I added following the excellent suggestions of the book editors Stine Eckert and Ingrid Bachmann to an earlier draft of this chapter. This noted, mentorship must be multi-directional, and so had to go “up” the editorial hierarchy, not only “down” and “sideways”. I was constantly mentored by my co-editors, editorial board members, reviewers, and authors who raised reasonable concerns about some criticisms of their work. While reversing decisions was rare, it did happen on occasion. Overall, learning from all stakeholders and constantly improving editorial work has become the main characteristic of the project. It also resulted in mentoring “up” to our publisher about the nature of our ﬁeld, mission, and special support needs. We met regularly with the publisher’s editorial team during ICA annual conferences to establish personal and trustworthy relationships and to talk about vision and practices.
Content-Related Editorial Issues When it came to the subject of the research submitted on multiple occasions, I found myself calling authors’ attention to the fact that there is a whole world of scholarship in their area already present in feminist media studies that they seem to overlook. This was obvious when investigating topics such as media and body image or sexual development, as well as social media networking and mental health. For example, a great deal of scholarship in this disciplinary ﬁeld is grounded in developmental psychological approaches to the study of children and media, which is relevant, legitimate, and valuable. Thus, I felt totally justiﬁed in calling authors’ attention to the need to at least acknowledge that there are other aspects, perspectives, methods, conclusions around this same research question that could and should be explored via extant feminist media scholarship. Indeed, there are many substantial issues that call for the application of feminist sensibilities in investigating children, adolescents, and media, even if not conceived as
Feminist Editing of a Mainstream Journal 23
such, as seen in these two principles: First, a recognition that all knowledge is situated and that context—cultural, geographical, social, political, technological, etc.—is key to our understanding of all social phenomena (e.g., as recaptured recently in Srividya Ramasubramanian & Banjo Omotayo, 2020). This understanding led me to press authors to develop their discussion of the speciﬁc circumstances of their study rather than assume that a phenomenon is universal and can be explained objectively. Second, debates over feminist standpoint theory inspired me to consider the complexity of power relationships, the “matrix of domination” created, among others, by racism, sexism, colonialism, classism, and homophobia that devalue productions of lived knowledge (Patricia Hill Collins, 2009). More broadly, I was looking to increase the application of critical understandings in our disciplinary scholarship. My comments to authors, for example, asked them to be aware of the distinction they were making between “our” children and their familiar childhoods, and childhoods of marginalized “others” when studying the role of media in their lives. I commented on cases in which universalism was assumed by authors, who often reside in the USA, when an ethnocentric inﬂuence can be seen in their citations of location (e.g., “participants were recruited from an urban area in the west coast”—west coast of what? Where?). Similarly, I clariﬁed how authors of USA-based studies were not asked by reviewers to consider contextual matters, and hence the language they used in presenting ﬁndings was perceived to be universal, while studies conducted outside the USA were framed as case studies, and treated as examples of otherness. This was expressed, for example, when reviewers suggested the author consider the question: “How does this speciﬁc study in Singapore/Israel/ Brazil/Hungary apply elsewhere?” In my attempt to break what I consider to be a default mindset that does not recognize the value of contextual knowledge, I insisted on a policy that, ﬁrst, speciﬁed the location of the study in the title and the abstract of each manuscript; and, second, identiﬁed and elaborated on the importance of context in the text itself. This policy was the most contested during my tenure as editor, as over the years the editorial board held several in-depth discussions about it. Some members claimed that this policy narrows perceptions of the applicability and generalizability of articles published in the journal. Others raised concern for the politics of citations and promotion procedures due to the sense that many USA scholars tend to disregard studies (and scholars) from outside their country and thus will refrain from citing them. Furthermore, they claimed that my policy may discourage submissions for these same reasons and thus I am inserting sticks in the spokes of my own proverbial wheels. While I agree these are valid assertions, my point was that to be complacent is, in this case, to perpetuate inequalities, i.e., the assumption that studies conducted in the USA and other resource-rich societies represent universal knowledge, while studies from other countries are too speciﬁc to be valuable beyond their geographical or cultural boundaries. As acknowledged in my farewell JOCAM commentary (2019), my insistence on this policy is grounded in my own point of view and personal experience. Indeed, as
a researcher coming of age in Israel, I was imbued with a sense of marginality imposed by the mainly North American-centric academic world on research undertaken in the “periphery.” I feel my rationale is summarized succinctly by the adaptation of the feminist statement “the personal is political” into “the intellectual is the personal is the political,” proposed by my colleague Angharad (Anghy) Valdivia (1999, p. 159), who also contributed to this collection. Striving for and maintaining a non-culturally-biased language, too, should manifest itself in various other ways. For example, rather than writing “data were collected during the winter of 2018,” I asked authors to cite speciﬁc months; as winter is experienced at diﬀerent times in the Global South from the Global North. I asked authors to amend descriptors such as “ﬁrst-grade children” to include an age range, as children enter school at diﬀerent ages around the world; and, “during the Christmas holiday” to a more culturally sensitive descriptor and so acknowledging that there are major populations around the world who do not celebrate Christmas. In addition, there was a constant tweaking of language following the ﬂuidity of norms and expectations: Should we use African American, Afro-American, or Black? Is it Black and Brown people or people of color (don’t white people have color too?). Should Black be capitalized in recognition of race, but white should not, as the latter is understood by critical race theory to be a social construction rather than race? Should ﬁrst names of authors be spelled out in citation to honor their identity, against APA rules, in recognition of the fact that many women’s last names tie them to their fathers and/or husbands and many Black names tie them to their slave owner progenitor? Is it children with disabilities or disabled children? Is it queer, gay, or LGBTQ identities? Seemingly small nuances, some might argue, but as noted by Baker-Bell (2020) the struggle for “linguistic justice” involves considering, on the one hand, the complexities aﬀorded by language and its power to impact reality, while recognizing, on the other hand, multiple interpretations are possible, embedded, and constantly evolving. Critical feminist understandings were applied in cases where the demographics of the study’s sample were detailed (e.g., breakdown of age, gender, race, socioeconomic status) and diﬀerences and/or similarities in the ﬁndings presented in a matter-of-fact as descriptive indicators, with no meaningful analysis or discussion. Unfortunately, while considering gender, race, and class in the presentation of samples has become commonplace in our discipline (and beyond), actual rigorous discussion of the diﬀerences, their roots, meanings, and consequences have not (as recently posed by Ramasubramanian & Banjo, 2020). For example, the consistent ﬁnding that boys and girls spend as much time with digital media seems to dissuade authors from considering gender as an interesting diﬀerence in their studies. However, when diving deeper into the diﬀerent uses and meanings that boys and girls make of their digital environment, we ﬁnd the following: As an overall generalization, while “game culture” via video and computer games is dominant for boys, girls prefer communication cultures aﬀorded by social media. This was recently conﬁrmed in a study of 4,200 children in 42 countries surveyed during
Feminist Editing of a Mainstream Journal 25
the COVID-19 crisis (Maya Götz & Dafna Lemish, forthcoming). Grounding possible explanations for these diﬀerences in feminist scholarship provides an opportunity for meaningful contributions to the literature on the role of media in children’s lives. This becomes more complicated with the growing awareness and concern for children who identify as nonbinary, an area of feminist scholarship that is yet to make a signiﬁcant contribution to the study of children and media given its contested—even taboo—status in many societies. As a matter of fact, studies of queer children’s media use have been few and far between, and it seems that any reference to queerness in children’s media is still a source of anxiety and debate (Lemish, 2011). Another thorny issue is the use of normative terminology when referring to children, for example, the use of “subjects” instead of the term “participants” that aﬀords them agency. Language that respects their unique stage of development in its own right would avoid the use of deﬁcit terminology that frames them as lacking cognitive skills, being uninformed, and/or victims. In the childhood studies literature, these qualitative diﬀerences contrast children as in the process of “becoming” adults, and thus still lacking something and being deﬁcient, versus children as “being” in their own right, imbued with their own unique characteristics and agency (Lemish, 2015). Over the years I learned and developed strategies to help authors—and reviewers—think of gender, race, and age not as variables to control for, but as meaningful diﬀerences to understand and appreciate. Why does gender matter? What can racial diﬀerences reveal to us? What is the explanatory value of age? How does an intersectional perspective that considers the convergence of various social identities and diﬀerent power structures illuminate something new that we have not understood before, that goes beyond the sum of the parts? Finally, a signiﬁcant substance-related, feminist-grounded editorial decision of a diﬀerent order was the inclusion of a unique Review and Commentary section. Here engaged scholars shared how they applied research to related areas of policy, education, and industry. The underlying goal shared by initiatives presented in this section (e.g., during the tenure of the section’s editor Vicky Rideout) is to make knowledge accessible to the wider public. Such social impact involves bridging academia and research with institutions (e.g., media industries, educational systems, policymakers) that make a real diﬀerence in the lives of real children (Lemish, 2014). Harnessing knowledge to serve the better good is certainly a high feminist value. I could not imagine a journal whose presence will remain limited to the physical or virtual shelves of libraries and subscribers and which would not have an impact on the lives and wellbeing of real children and youth.
Reﬂections on Unresolved Issues The processes and content considerations discussed here evolved over the years through ongoing reﬂection, decisions, practices, and procedures. This was by no
means a gloriﬁed success story, but more of a Sisyphean task. Input by and debate with co-editors, editorial board members, reviewers, and authors played important roles in this evolution, as did the ongoing assessment, adaptation, and re-commitment to our vision and value-principles discussed here. Challenges we faced sometimes led to unsettling compromises, particularly when issues were perceived as having an impact on institutional norms mostly in the USA and several other countries’ higher education institutions, and the related challenges they created for prestige, funding, employment, and promotion. Over the years, the journal—and the ﬁeld more generally—gained momentum, reputation, and recognition (e.g., in the growth of distribution and readership; formal indexing and assignment of an impact factor; parallel growth of divisions devoted to the ﬁeld in international associations; prestigious awards for leading scholars; the proliferation of publications, symposia, and conferences in the ﬁeld; and other markers of a maturing discipline). In my view, feminist editing principles have served it well in achieving such maturity. This noted, two overarching questions remain unresolved. The ﬁrst asks whether the principles outlined above are unique to feminist editing or if they just represent good editing by a responsible, ethical, and committed editor? Is our professionalism diﬀerent because it embodies feminist principles? Early in my tenure as editor, as I was gradually developing my editorial style and principles, I invited the following feminist colleagues, each of whom served diﬀerent editorial roles during their careers, to participate in an informal brainstorming session about feminist editing (held during ICA’s annual meeting in Chicago in 2009): Karen Ross, Linda Steiner, and Anghy Valdivia (who are featured in this collection) as well as Sharon Mazzarella and Norma Pecora. Crowded in a quiet corner of the hotel’s second-ﬂoor corridor, I started us oﬀ by asking: “Is there feminist editing? How diﬀerent is it from just good editing?” This was a good eclectic conversation, with lots of bonding and fun, but we did not arrive at any consensus, at the time, nor fully in the future. In a way, even posing the question is itself a victory lap for the mainstreaming of feminist values. If professional editing is indeed equivalent to feminist editing, then perhaps feminist scholarship has made signiﬁcant strides already in the editorial realm. The second unresolved issue is much harder for me to reconcile: I keep reﬂecting on the nature and structures of the commercial academic journal publication enterprise. One might argue that the participation of academics is undertaken voluntarily, for the most part (David Kaplan, 2020). Authors and reviewers do not receive any compensation for sustaining the system with their laborious eﬀorts. Editors invest many hours weekly, year-round, to maintain a successful and well-managed journal. They receive a modest stipend that many use to pay for administrative support and to travel to conferences to promote their journal. Thus, these three key academic roles, under the control of commercial publishers are for the most part unpaid labor; as are many other caregiving professions (occupied mainly by women). True, we all beneﬁt indirectly: These activities play a role in our promotions, strengthen our networking in the ﬁeld,
Feminist Editing of a Mainstream Journal 27
expand our knowledge, and open up opportunities for us. This is what the journal business model is based on—this mutual dependency, a “quid-pro-quo” of sorts: Publishers ﬂourish because we need publications to succeed in our careers. Is this an exploitive system? Bringing a political economy perspective to this structure reveals the obvious: publishers sell scientiﬁc knowledge, which is to a large degree publicly funded, that we academics provide them for free, for their own proﬁt. We, academics in formal institutions of higher education, are for the most part complacent, and as editors we promote such a complacency. As members of the academic associations that negotiate contracts with big publishers, we gain valuable access to journals, but these deals may be driving subscription rates for academic libraries, many of which have been unable to continue to carry the burden (Armin Beverungen et al., 2012). Would not a radical feminist perspective rethink this model and oﬀer an alternative, progressive academic publishing world that promotes the creation and distribution of new knowledge in alternative ways? And if this is so, is this entire enterprise to which I devoted such a signiﬁcant part of my career, too conservative in its eﬀort to work from within a capitalist system of inequalities? Were my modest decolonizing eﬀorts in both process as well as substance-related editorial matters just liberal-feminist strategies working within existing neoliberal structures? The open-access movement has addressed related questions. Initiatives such as the collective of small independent open-access publishers deﬁne its goal as “Towards an inclusive open science for social and environmental well-being” (Open and Collaborative Sciences in Development Network, n.d.). It rejects reliance on big commercial publishers and advocates for open access that is more inclusive, collaborative, values all forms of knowledge and voices, and aims to increase people’s participation and agency in scientiﬁc production. In an informal collaborative exchange of views on inclusive academy webinar, Leslie Chan (2020), the Principal Investigator of the OCSD referred to the big publishing houses as institutions that are “deeply colonial in structure,” “highly oppressive historically,” that contribute to the perpetuation of inequalities in the academy. Do open-access models, such as the one they are oﬀering, indeed dismantle hierarchies, publish and distribute valuable and collaborative knowledge, and sustain themselves ﬁnancially over time without taking advantage of free labor? What would a feminist perspective to open access models oﬀer uniquely? For example, the issue of knowledge control via copyright law on which academic publishing structures are based, has been challenged by a feminist perspective (Carys Craig et al., 2011). ADA: A Journal of Gender, New Media and Technology is an illustrative model of a free, open access, feminist journal with an open review process most worthy of examination. Clearly, such a perspective to open access disrupts publication norms and practices and seeks more equitable knowledge production and distribution. Yet, I question the will and capability of our institutions to adapt to the implications of such changes to our systems of hiring,
promotions, and reward. Furthermore, economically, adoption might modify the ﬁnancial prestige structures to either require authors to pay a signiﬁcant amount of money to have their article available in “open access” or result in devaluating open-access publications that are completely free. I leave you—and myself—with these two related yet unresolved questions, as, while I stepped down from the role of editor in 2018, I remain conﬂicted over them, as an editor with a feminist worldview.
References ADA: A Journal of Gender, New Media and Technology. https://adanewmedia.org/. Baker-Bell, April (2020). Linguistic justice: Black language, literacy, identity, and pedagogy. Routledge. Beverungen, Armin, Böhm, Steﬀen, & Land, Christoph (2012). The poverty of journal publishing. Organization, 19(6), 929–938. https://doi.org/10.1177/1350508412448858. Chakravartty, Paula, Kuo, Rachel, Grubbs, Victoria, & McIlwain, Charlton (2018). #CommunicationSoWhite. Journal of Communication, 68(2), 254–266. https://doi.org/ 10.1093/joc/jqy003. Communication, Culture & Critique. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/17539137. Chan, Leslie (June 30, 2020). Comments made during a webinar entitled: Inclusive citations-inclusive academy, led by Maha Bali, the Center for Learning and Teaching, The American University in Cairo, Egypt. Collins, Patricia Hill (2009). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. Routledge. Craig, Carys, J., Turcotte, Joseph F., & Coombe, Rosemary J. (2011). What is feminist about open access?: A relational approach to copyright in the academy. Feminists@law, 1 (1), 1–35. Eckert, Stine (2018). Fighting for recognition: Online abuse of women bloggers in Germany, Switzerland, the UK and US. New Media & Society, 20(4), 1282– 1302. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444816688457. Götz, Maya, & Lemish, Dafna (Eds.) (forthcoming). Children around the world and media at a time of a pandemic. Gutiérrez y Muhs, Gabriella, Niemann, Yolanda F., González, Carmen G., & Harris, Angela P. (Eds.). (2012). Presumed incompetent: The intersections of race and class for women in academia. University Press of Colorado. Jordan, Amy, & Prendella, Katherine (2019). The invisible children of media research. Journal of Children and Media, 13(2), 235–240. Journal of Children and Media. https://doi. org/10.1080/17482798.2019.1591662. Kaplan, David H. (January 1, 2020). The publishing paradox or how the publishing model may be broken. American Association of Geographers. http://news.aag.org/2020/01/ the-publishing-paradox/. Lemish, Dafna (1987). Viewers in diapers: The early development of television viewing. In Thomas Lindlof (Ed.), Natural audiences: Qualitative research of media uses and eﬀects (pp. 33–57). Ablex. Lemish, Dafna (1997). Kindergartners’ understandings of television: A cross cultural comparison. Communication Studies, 48(2), 109–126. https://doi.org/10.1080/10510979709368495. Lemish, Dafna (1998). Spice Girls’ talk: A case study in the development of gendered identity. In Sherrie A. Inness (Ed.), Millennium girls: Today’s girls around the world (pp. 145–167). Rowman and Littleﬁeld.
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Lemish, Dafna (2004). Exclusion or marginality? Portrayals of women in the Israeli media. In Karen Ross & Carolyn Byerly (Eds.), Women and media (pp. 39–59). Blackwell. Lemish, Dafna (2011). “Can’t talk about sex”: Producers of children’s television around the world speak out. Sex Education Journal, 11(3), 267–278. https://doi.org/10.1080/ 14681811.2011.590082. Lemish, Dafna (2013). Feminist theory approaches to the study of children and media. In Dafna Lemish (Ed.), The Routledge international handbook of children, adolescents and media (pp. 68–74). Routledge. Lemish, Dafna (2014). Audience transformations and social integration: Building bridges and making a real diﬀerence in the world—Report of the WG4 dialogue with stakeholders. In Geoﬀrey Patriarche, HelenaBilandzic, Nico Carpentier, Cristina Ponte, Kim C. Schrøder, & Frauke Zeller (Eds.), Building bridges: Pathways to a greater societal signiﬁcance for audience research (pp. 131–136). EU: COST. http://www.cost.eu. Lemish, Dafna (2015). Children and media: A global perspective. Wiley-Blackwell. Lemish, Dafna (2019). “A Room of Our Own”: Farewell comments on editing the Journal of Children and Media. Journal of Children and Media, 13(1), 116–126. https://doi.org/10. 1080/17482798.2019.1557813. Mukherjee, Roopali (2020). Of experts and tokens: Mapping a critical race archaeology of communication. Communication, Culture and Critique, 13(2), 152–167. https://doi.org/10.1093/ccc/tcaa009. Open and Collaborative Science in Development Network. https://ocsdnet.org/. Ramasubramanian, Srividya & Banjo, Omotayo O. (2020). Critical media eﬀects framework: Bridging critical cultural communication and media eﬀects through power, intersectionality, context, and agency, Journal of Communication, 70(3), 379–400, https:// doi.org/10.1093/joc/jqaa014. Valdivia, Angharad (1999). A guided tour through one adolescent girl’s culture. In Sharon R. Mazzarella & Norma O. Pecora (Eds.), Growing up girls: Popular culture and the construction of identity (pp. 159–171). Peter Lang. Wajcman, Judy (1991). Feminism confronts technology. Polity Press. Wajcman, Judy (2010). Feminist theories of technology. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 34 (1), 143–152. https://doi.org/10.1093/cje/ben057. Woolf, Virginia (1929). A room of one’s own. Hogarth Press.
2 THE LUNCHROOM SESSIONS Lessons in Vulnerability and Resistance from a Junior High Cafeteria Meenakshi Gigi Durham
I will begin with a story about a boy I’ll call Diego, although that was not his name. Diego was 13 years old, with brown hair bleached by the sun and sparkling eyes. Diego was in honors classes in the 7th grade, but his teachers conﬁded in me that his home life was rough, and they worried that he—like many other boys at Chavez Middle School—might soon join a street gang. Chavez Middle School (a pseudonym) was the site of my ﬁrst ﬁeldwork, and it was eye-opening to me. Located in an extremely impoverished area of a large city in the Southwestern United States, the school’s students were mainly African American (60 percent) and Latino/a/x (26 percent). Many students came from homes that fell below the federal poverty level, and many had parents who spoke no English. “Don’t leave your purse in the car,” my university colleagues warned me when I ﬁrst began going to Chavez to conduct ﬁeld observations. “Don’t take your eyes oﬀ your recording equipment or it will disappear. Don’t go to the school in the evening.” I had not realized until then that a school could be a danger zone. These warnings meant that I approached Chavez with some trepidation, but I was soon beguiled by the students I came to know there, as well as by the teachers who worked with them—and, even more importantly, believed in them. My research topic was adolescent girls’ engagements with media culture. But, as happens when one is immersed in the ﬁeld, I learned a great deal more than that during the course of my ﬁeldwork. As they grew more comfortable with my presence, the students invited me to sit with them at lunch in the cafeteria; while we eyed the congealed vegetables and taupe-colored “mystery meat” on their trays, they told me about their families, their interests, their dreams, their church communities, their quinceañeras; they commented on my taste in fashion and asked me why, in my early 30s, I didn’t have children yet: their mothers were my age, they said. DOI: 10.4324/9781003102786-4
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Although Diego was not in the group that I was most interested in studying, he was intrigued by my presence and talked to me frequently. He was a charming young man, friendly and curious. His teachers mentioned a physically abusive stepfather, frequent absences from school, their desire to keep him away from gangs. I, too, hoped that Diego would be all right. I had a feeling he would. And then, one morning, Diego bounded into school, full of energy as always, and in a sudden burst of enthusiasm leapt up and smacked an electronic clock high on a wall. The clock stopped instantly. But it was wired to other clocks throughout the school, on some sort of circuit, and they all went out at once as a result of Diego’s high spirits. Diego was sent to the principal’s oﬃce, and eventually, a police car pulled up; Diego was led away in handcuﬀs. I heard later that he had been charged with vandalism. I have thought of Diego often over the years. Every time I recall that morning, and the sight of Diego leaving the school in fetters (and in tears), I know that if he had been a white child, his fate would have been entirely diﬀerent. There would have been a reprimand, perhaps; a call to his parents—but not a police report for an accident caused by nothing but a boy’s impulsive burst of exuberance. I tell Diego’s story here because it revealed to me, at the time and even more powerfully now, how vulnerable the teenagers at Chavez were. In this chapter, I want to explore that vulnerability, not because it positions the Chavez students as passive or weak or victimized, but because vulnerability is a powerful concept that grounded their lifeworlds, in ways that opened up speciﬁc ways of seeing and being. The students at Chavez were acutely aware of their marginalized social locations. The views and attitudes they expressed were underpinned by a cleareyed awareness of how marginalization and vulnerability played out in their lives, which included their lives as media consumers. Without romanticizing or papering over the realities of living with precarity, I argue here that vulnerability was a driving force in the teens’ recognition of the conditions, institutions, and ideologies that marked their worlds and presaged their futures. In addition, vulnerability lit the spark for their resistance to these exigencies. Working with these realities that emerged from my ﬁeldwork at Chavez, in this chapter I connect vulnerability as a concept with feminist activism and epistemology, exploring how feminist media scholarship could develop new progressive research agendas by re-envisioning vulnerability as a linchpin of resistance.
Rethinking Vulnerability The legal scholar Martha Fineman (2008, 2010) reminds us that we are all vulnerable: she proposes the notion of “universal vulnerability” in order to reject the norm of the autonomous liberal (or neoliberal) subject and replace it with a vulnerable subject whose varying needs, across the lifespan, should be the driver of social policy. Indeed, we are all vulnerable to illness, accidents, assault and injury, bereavement and grief, job loss, humiliation, exploitation, environmental disaster.
Vulnerability, writes the philosopher Erinn Gilson, “is pervasive, fundamental, shared, and something we cannot ever entirely avoid” (2013, p. 2). Indeed, human life is constantly fraught with the possibility of harm. The recognition of universal vulnerability recasts the term, shifting its connotations away from victimization and passivity to an undeniable fact of human existence that demands recognition, respect, and redress. However, it is important to recognize that we are not all equally vulnerable: our levels of vulnerability diﬀer due to structural injustices and socio-political inequities. Vulnerability is increased through lack of access to resources to fulﬁll basic needs such as food, shelter, and health care; it is increased by legacies of historical oppression and the privation of certain groups of people by virtue of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, or citizenship status. Vulnerability “may be caused or exacerbated by the personal, social, political, economic, or environmental situations of individuals or social groups” (Catriona Mackenzie et al., 2014, p. 7). Vulnerability may be a given, but some people are more vulnerable than others, through no fault of their own. There is growing recognition in the scholarly literature that vulnerability is a heuristic that can “mobilise awareness and political action and … circulate information about global injustice” (Britta Knudsen & Carsten Stage, 2014, p. 1). Rather than labeling certain individuals or groups as inherently vulnerable, scholars are calling instead for “a social and political account of how vulnerability is produced and distributed” (Judith Butler et al., 2016, p. 2). Understanding vulnerability as structurally produced and historically entrenched by systems of power redeﬁnes it as a starting point for progressive activism. In this chapter, I reﬂect on the potential for using vulnerability to envision a new research agenda in feminist media studies. Vulnerability is institutionally created and reinforced. Practices, policies, and patterns of prejudice work to shore up power diﬀerentials, especially those driven by intersectional categories of race, gender, nation, sexuality, age, and disability. In the United States, racism, in particular, has functioned to deny resources to nonwhite people, increasing their vulnerability by preventing their fundamental needs from being met and their pathways to ﬂourishing lives from being easily attained. The United States’ legacy of colonization, slavery, and racial segregation has kept nonwhite peoples from obtaining the levels of employment, health care, education, and safety essential to basic human wellbeing; and it is against these institutionalized barriers that people of color have relatively recently won any kind of civil rights, societal standing, and life success. “Race and class are constructs that control and constrain the material and discursive realities of oppressed communities,” note the education scholars Anthony Brown and Noah De Lissovoy (2011, p. 595); they coined the term “economies of racism” to express “the complex unity that brings white supremacy and capitalist accumulation together in a single dialectic” (p. 596). Gender is a complicating variable in this matrix, intersecting with race and class in dynamic and multiform ways. To this day, state and private institutions continue to deliberately perpetuate inequities of race, class, and gender: the institutions
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purportedly designed to aid, support, and protect people in societies have often worked to enforce racial segregation and to dispossess people of color, particularly women. For example, for decades, banks and federal agencies in the United States have denied credit and loans on the basis of race and gender, “redlining” neighborhoods with predominantly nonwhite residents (Douglas S. Massey, 2013; Willy E. Rice, 1996; Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, 2019), practices that contribute to housing segregation while economically disadvantaging people of color. As a result of this institutionalized discrimination, “African Americans are three times more likely than whites to lose their homes,” and African American women are even less likely to be able to own homes and accrue the associated economic beneﬁts (Daren A. Conrad & LaTanya N. Brown, 2012, p. 300). These realities in turn aﬀect health care disparities: “Racial and ethnic minorities disproportionately live in physical environments that lack the resources necessary to generate and sustain health” (Lynne Richardson & Marlaina Norris, 2010). There is also strong evidence that people of color receive a lower quality of health care as a result of implicit bias on the part of medical practitioners (Brian Smedley et al., 2003). In the current moment, the COVID-19 pandemic is devastating communities of color in the United States: this impact is due to “societal policies, driven by institutional racism, that are producing the results they were intended to produce,” according to Dr. David Williams, a public health researcher at Harvard University (Linda Villarosa, 2020, para. 27). Again, women are particularly vulnerable: women of color, especially those with lower socioeconomic status, generally experience poorer health and less access to health care than men (Susan W. Hinze et al., 2012). Women of color are bearing the brunt of the economic fallout from COVID-19 (Naomi Cahn, 2020). Education, too, is an institution that has been, and continues to be, used to disenfranchise communities of color. Jonathan Kozol (2005) refers to “apartheid schooling” in the United States: public schools are highly racially segregated, a fact borne out by the demographics of Chavez Middle School. This racial segregation is linked with diminished resources. In many states, public schools are funded through neighborhood property taxes, so that schools in impoverished areas lack that funding base. “Racial isolation and the concentrated poverty of children in a public school go hand in hand,” notes Kozol (2005, p. 20). At Chavez, this was clear. Every semester, the teachers there banded together to purchase food, clothing, and school supplies out of their own pockets, because otherwise the students would not have been fundamentally equipped to attend classes. The dropout rates at Chavez were high, mirroring national trends. Again, gender complicates the picture. Kimberlé Crenshaw et al. (2015) observe that in school, girls of color “face risks that are both similar to and diﬀerent from those faced by boys” (p. 8). Children of color of all genders are excessively surveilled and severely punished for minor infractions: boys of color are considered aggressive and problematic, while Black and Latina girls may experience sexual violence that is not taken seriously by school oﬃcials (Crenshaw et al., 2015; Anthony Peguero et al., 2019). Little information is available about the experiences of trans youth in schools in the US, but in general, trans children face discrimination
and misunderstanding, and they “are more likely to miss school, have lower grades, and view their school climate negatively” (Madeline Will, 2019). These issues are likely intensiﬁed for trans children of color. Overall, as Patricia Hill Collins pointed out decades ago, a “seamless web of economy, polity, and ideology functions as a highly eﬀective system of social control” designed to increase the vulnerability of people of color (1990, p. 7).
Mediated Vulnerability The media, too, are institutions that contribute to systemic discrimination in the United States, as demonstrated by a longstanding body of research. Across genres and platforms, the media have propagated negative stereotypes of people of color that have endured over time and contributed to systematized racist and sexist beliefs. People of color have long been “targets of the media,” represented via caricatures that “catered to White society’s images of people of color, such as the camel-riding Arab, bandana-wearing Black mammy, Indian chief in feathered war bonnet, greasy Mexican bandito, and South Paciﬁc maiden wearing a grass skirt” (Clint C. Wilson et al., 2013, p. 44). News coverage has consistently portrayed people of color as “problem people” who are either criminalized or exoticized via festival stories— renderings that imply they “exist outside the bounds of legitimate social behavior” (Don Heider, 2000, p. 42) and that “limit the public’s ability to see people of color in a wider range of roles” (p. 37). It is clear that the media are central to “the pervasiveness of racial stereotypes” (Mary Beth Oliver et al., 2007, p. 286), reinforcing race-based inequalities and inﬂuencing dominant attitudes toward nonwhite individuals, communities, and cultures. Representations, writes the ﬁlm scholar Richard Dyer, “delimit and enable what people can be in any society” (2002, p. 3). The students at Chavez were deeply engaged with the media. Like all teenagers, they were attentive to popular culture, which marked their lives in a variety of ways. Their conversations often included references to movies, TV shows, musicians, and celebrities (the internet was still in its infancy then, and social media were nonexistent). The kids were keenly attuned to the racial overtones of mainstream media messages: the girls were often derisive of the “skinny white girls” in fashion magazines, and they commented on advertisements for cosmetics and hair products that they observed would “never work” with their skin tones or hair textures. Nonetheless, they avidly read the magazines—Seventeen, YM, Girls’ Life—in the absence of any similar items marketed to girls of color. But their intermittent critiques of the images and advertisements indicated a sensitivity to the gatekeeping strategies by which they were unmistakably marginalized and excluded from the presumptive readership of these media. Girls like them—girls of color, girls with dark skin and curly hair, from working-class or poor families, girls whose parents worked multiple shifts at jobs involving manual labor, girls whose families used food stamps and the free medical clinic—were conspicuously absent from the pages and screens they so avidly viewed, and they knew it.
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For young people, media representations serve as touchstones for identity development. “The media,” write the scholars Jane Brown and Joanne Cantor, “are a powerful force in the socialization and cognitive development of youth” (2000, p. 3). The media have “the authority and power to provide pictures, sounds, and role models in attractive lifestyles from which adolescents learn” (Gordon Berry, 2000, p. 58). Contemporary transnational media present viewers with ideals of beauty, taste, and ways of life; they signal the most desirable and prized aspects of culture and society, as well as delineating the least valued elements. To be erased from representation sends a powerful message to young people: it tells them they have no value, that they are invisible because they are not worth representing. The issue of absence from media representation arose frequently in my lunchroom conversations with the Chavez students. Many of them were biracial, and they were perturbed that they never saw families like theirs in mainstream media. “Why they never got no mixed families on TV?” asked Ariana, whose mother was Latina and father African American. “I never see any families like mine,” agreed Marta (Latina/Native American). The students at Chavez understood that these absences were more than gaps or oversights: they were erasures. Richard Dyer (2002) oﬀers the concept of “structuring absences,” deliberate omissions that carry meaning. A structuring absence … refers to an issue, or even a set of facts or an argument, that a text cannot ignore, but which it deliberately skirts round or otherwise avoids, thus creating the biggest “holes” in the text, fatally, revealingly misshaping the organic whole assembled with such craft. (p. 83) Structuring absences are calculated forms of symbolic annihilation (George Gerbner, 1972); they are, as Dyer notes, revealing. By excluding advertisements for products intended for girls of color, by denying the reality of mixed-race families, the media created “holes” where the Chavez students’ lives should have been. The Chavez students recognized this eﬀacement as an exercise of power. To be erased from representation is a form of violence, along the lines of “disappearing” a person or a culture. The historian Patrick Wolfe (2006) describes the “logic of elimination” at work in the decimation of Native tribal cultures in the US, a logic used to justify white colonial invasion and sustain hierarchies of race and class. Of course, symbolic annihilation is not directly comparable to the savagery of genocide or ethnic cleansing. But a form of the same logic underpins it, and its impact is farreaching. Erasure is a cruel marker of vulnerability: to be rendered invisible is to be extinguished, invalidated, delegitimized. Michel Foucault (1977) observed that only certain bodies are “intelligible” in cultural terms; following his line of thought, Judith Butler (1993) has argued that the “regulatory schemas” and cultural constraints of society produce “a domain of unthinkable, abject, unlivable bodies” that “do not matter in the same way” as those validated by the dominant culture (p. xi). And
indeed, “when certain groups are not valued [in a] culture, the media tend not to include them in their storylines and, in the process, cast them aside and disenfranchise them by not showing them” (Hugh Klein & Kenneth Shiﬀman, 2009, p. 57). A great deal of media aimed at youth, especially teen girls, routinize, and thus naturalize, the absence of stories and images of teenagers like the students at Chavez. As media consumers, the Chavez kids were supposed to accept these absences as the “common sense” of American life. They were not supposed to notice their own mediated erasure. But they noticed. The students’ questioning of the absences signaled nascent resistance to the hegemonic race and class oppressions imposed through media protocols of presence and absence. Their recognition of their vulnerability—as marked by their erasure from the pleasurable depictions they engaged with every day—gave rise to critique and vexation, starting points for oppositional readings of media texts. To read oppositionally is “one of the most signiﬁcant political moments” of resistance to dominant ideology (Stuart Hall, 1980, p. 138). The students’ reﬂexivity about the ways their own lives diverged from media ideals at once recognized the vulnerability of their social locations and drew upon that recognition to challenge their erasure and its implications.
Vulnerability and Imagination I will pivot now to another form of vulnerability that subtended the lives of the Chavez teens. The school drop-out rate was high, for a range of reasons. Some students left to take jobs in order to earn a living or help support their families. Many of the boys were “gang-aﬃliated,” as the teachers called it, leaving school to run with street gangs. Many of the girls became pregnant and dropped out as a consequence. Yet, among the girls taking honors classes, there were two—Maria and Nydia, both 15—who said they planned to go to college. At the time, the TV show A Diﬀerent World oﬀered a glimpse of life at a ﬁctional historically Black college; the girls talked occasionally about the show, interested in the possibilities that college life seemed to promise. They both emphatically declared that they would not fall into the trap of teenage motherhood. “I am not getting married till I am older,” Maria announced one day. “Like 60. And I’m not having no babies.” Nydia agreed. “I don’t want a baby messin’ up my life. I’m gonna wait till after college.” Despite her resolve, Maria became pregnant that year and dropped out of school. Nydia’s grades began dropping and her school attendance was sporadic as I completed my ﬁeldwork. I do not know if she went on to high school. Nevertheless, A Diﬀerent World sparked the girls’ imagination of a future diﬀerent from the typical path of a Chavez student. The social anthropologist Arjun Appadurai sees imagination as “a form of work … a negotiation between sites of agency (individuals) and globally deﬁned ﬁelds of possibility” (1996, p. 31). In his view, imagination is mobilized in part by the media environment, which oﬀers images and messages “out of which scripts can be formed of imagined lives” (p.
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35). Maria and Nydia’s imagined future drew on television culture to challenge the vulnerability created by their environment and social location. Yet that vulnerability could not be overcome by their dreams of ﬁnding a diﬀerent world. The everyday practices of their lifeworlds intervened to derail their bravely declared goals. In reﬂecting on this, I ﬁnd myself wondering if there might have been a way to use A Diﬀerent World more proactively during my time at Chavez, perhaps as a teaching tool to give the girls more information about how one might prepare to attend an institution like Hillman College, the ﬁctitious site of the show. At the time, as an inexperienced researcher trying to maintain an emotional distance from my research participants, it did not occur to me to follow up on their aspirational comments to advocate for them, to help them see college as an achievable goal that called for speciﬁc modes of preparation—or even to convey the conversation to teachers or guidance counselors who might have had the means to work with them. Instead, I watched as the community’s norms of girlhood engulfed them, vaporizing their resistance.
Centering Vulnerability in Feminist Media Research The emphasis in feminist media studies today is on active reading. Scholars tend to privilege agency and valorize individuals’ ability to critique and negotiate with media texts. But this focus on agency elides the signiﬁcance of vulnerability, even in practices of active reading; it has bypassed the ways in which vulnerability shapes the environment as well as the capacities of the media reader. Vulnerability is complex. It is important to understand it as structurally produced and not simply as an individual trait or failing. It calls attention to the fact that “to be human is to be involved in complex relationships, not only with other people, but also with the humanly shaped environment” (David Stark, 2014, p. 61). When the students at Chavez navigated their lives in relation to media culture, they encountered stark contrasts that mobilized reﬂection and imagination; these contrasts may be conceptualized as signifying diﬀerences, as they mark the vulnerability of the students’ lives against the fantasies of media representation. I see this recognition of diﬀerence as a practice, a mode of analysis and consciousness-raising, sometimes resistant, sometimes visionary. Butler et al. (2016) challenge “the basic assumption that vulnerability and resistance are mutually oppositional,” instead re-envisioning vulnerability as “one of the conditions of the very possibility of resistance” (p. 1). Along these lines, when the Chavez students questioned the absences in media texts, they were using those texts to both reify and resist their own social vulnerability. And when a media text oﬀered a life path with greater opportunities, Maria and Nydia saw a promise of possibility—but it was a promise that was ultimately unrealizable because of the vulnerabilities caused by their structural conditions. It is not always possible to be resilient in the face of vulnerability. As Patrice Buzzanell points out in this volume, resilience is an indicator of inequities and risks.
She reﬂects that in the case of gender-based inequities and vulnerabilities, “Women who cannot deploy discursive and material resources to frame resilient or successful neoliberal selves are stigmatized in ways that incur further disadvantage when others do not recognize communal responsibilities for accomplishing resilience” (2020, p. 6). Without this acknowledgement of communal responsibility, “resilience,” like agency, becomes the popular counter to vulnerability: it is the neoliberal conceit that reduces responsibility for one’s well-being to the individual rather than the state or the larger social system. This version of resilience turns away from vulnerability, and the way it does so can be seen as symptomatic for contemporary subject formation, [in that] neoliberal subjectivity is built on a denial of vulnerability, which is deemed shameful, and on a disidentiﬁcation with dependence, need, and other kinds of vulnerability. (Sarah Bracke, 2016, p. 59) But dependence, need, and vulnerability are not shameful. They are human conditions too often wrought by an inequitable distribution of resources. To sustain capitalist hegemony, some lives are deliberately rendered more vulnerable than others, even as those in vulnerable situations remain acutely aware of it. Clearly, rather than valorizing and insisting on resilience, it becomes important to examine vulnerability as an eﬀect of power and to work for social justice that diminishes those consequences. Such an approach does not erase the possibility of resilience as “an unending design project grounded in situated lives” (Buzzanell, Chapter 3, p. 47). Rather, it reasserts a concept of resilience as a feminist communal project that accounts for vulnerability. To re-center vulnerability in feminist media studies involves the radical recognition of structure as a context for the types of political acts that might occur through textual decodings and other media-related practices. The deep imbrications of gender, race, and class constitute the conditions of vulnerability, and we need to understand them not as hurdles to be overcome by autonomous subjects, but as productive factors in the ways people understand their relationships to media texts and discourses—the way they might produce meanings and identities in terms of vulnerability, as the Chavez students did. For feminist ﬁeld research in media studies, this calls for reimagining methodological perspectives and procedures. Our research needs to delve more deeply into how engagements with media are aﬀected by vulnerability as a valid and potent epistemological position or stance. Rather than using vulnerability as a kind of “straw man” to knock down in order to prove the agency or resilience of media consumers/prosumers, we might instead turn toward vulnerability to discover its salience and signiﬁcance in media culture; we might see vulnerability as “a condition of potential rather than an already determined condition of harm” (Gilson, 2013, p. 8). In my experience at Chavez, I was struck by the students’ reﬂexivity about their vulnerability and the power of that awareness to generate
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both opposition and imagination. I am reﬂecting now, years later, on the missed opportunity to follow up on that reﬂexivity to explore the multi-layered dimensions of vulnerability and its powerful entailments. The recognition of vulnerability speaks to a speciﬁcally feminist ethical practice, one that focuses on a moral obligation to care for the vulnerable, a responsibility that extends beyond individual caregivers to societies. As Virginia Held points out, Having grasped the value of caring relations in such contexts as these more personal ones, the ethics of care then often examines social and political arrangements in light of these values. In its more developed forms, the ethics of care as a feminist ethic oﬀers suggestions for the radical transformation of society. (2006, p. 12) Rather than seeing this caring practice as patronizing or paternalistic, feminist ethics emphasizes caring as directed toward supporting people’s autonomy and self-determination, with the understanding that autonomy is derived from strong social support systems. This would require that societies “do more than protect its citizens from unavoidable human vulnerabilities; it must develop social, economic, legal, and political institutions” that foster human ﬂourishing (Catriona Mackenzie, 2014, p. 34). For media scholars, I believe this ethical framework would impel us to craft research questions that examine the role of vulnerability as it relates to media culture and associated practices and processes. Do some of these practices and processes—of reception, of reading, of “prosumer” activity—exacerbate vulnerability? Do others oppose or diminish it, or have the potential to do so? What would questions focusing on vulnerability, and the associated structures and power diﬀerentials that create or alleviate it, look like? How might they sharpen and broaden our understanding of the context of media production, text, and reception? At this point, I don’t have answers, but the questions will, I hope, provoke conversations and inventive ideas. The foregrounding of vulnerability also connects with aspects of feminist methodology, which “embody an ethic of caring” (Rebecca Campbell & Sharon M. Wasco, 2000, p. 778) in their sensitivity to the voices and standpoints of research participants. Feminist ﬁeldwork is attuned to the relationships between researcher and researched, in terms of their aﬀective dimensions as well as the ways in which research itself can create vulnerabilities on both sides. Researchers tend to hold power in any ﬁeld experience, and we also tend to “study down” as anthropologists put it: we study those who are more vulnerable than we (privileged by education, class, socio-economic status) are, mostly because we have more access to their lives. (Corporate boardrooms, doctors’ oﬃces, and political cabinet meetings are closely guarded spaces where scholars dare not tread.) For researchers, it is crucial not to betray the trust that research participants place in them, especially when they are revealing intimate details of their lives. Linda Tuhiwai Smith (1999) writes of the
harms done to vulnerable peoples and their lived environments by research that has disrupted, intervened in, and exploited them, sometimes with callous disregard, sometimes with beneﬁcent intentions but paternalistic and colonizing approaches. The research agendas developed by indigenous people, against Western and colonizing methodologies, involve survival, healing, recovery, transformation, decolonization, self-determination. These are dynamic processes that “underscore the signiﬁcance of our relationships and humanity” (p. 120). I see vulnerability as a concept with the potential to mobilize feminist media research methodologies for working in collaboration with research participants to advance social justice by prioritizing issues that our current frameworks close oﬀ. These thoughts and insights were inspired by the clear voices and visions of the students at Chavez Middle School, whose lives were marked by poverty, racism, violence, abuse, psychological trauma, sex, drugs, peer pressure, and the media environment. In the parlance of the day, they were “at risk”—and they knew it, even as they deﬁed the label on their own terms. In recognizing risk and vulnerability as resources for resistance, critique, and imagination, they devised a new research agenda, one I ﬁnd particularly compelling in an era marked by a raging pandemic, confrontations with systemic racism, environmental crisis, the collapse of safety networks, the rise of despotic political populism, and the dereliction of duty by heads of state. Vulnerability is on the rise. As feminist scholars, we must recognize its meaning as an important subject position, one with the capacity to mobilize media prosumers’ reﬂexive awareness of inequity and to revise scholars’ understanding of media in society. We must rethink and engage vulnerability as a catalytic starting point for ethical and activist feminist media scholarship linked to the empowerment of disenfranchised people and oﬀers an intersectional vision of social justice.
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Butler, Judith( 1993). Bodies that matter: On the discursive limits of “sex.”Routledge. Butler, Judith, Gambetti, Zeynep, & Sabsay, Leticia (2016) Introduction. In Judith Butler, Zeynep Gambetti, & Leticia Sabsay (Eds.), Vulnerability in resistance (pp. 1–27). Duke University Press. Cahn, Naomi (2020, May 10). COVID-19’s impact on women of color. Forbes. https:// www.forbes.com/sites/naomicahn/2020/05/10/mothers-day-and-covid-19s-impa ct-on-women-of-color/#5d04761541ac. Campbell, Rebecca, & Wasco, Sharon M. (2000). Feminist approaches to social science: Epistemological and methodological tenets. American Journal of Community Psychology, 28 (6), 773–791. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1005159716099. Collins, Patricia Hill (1990). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. Routledge. Conrad, Daren A., & Brown, LaTanya N. (2012). The impact of macroeconomic ﬂuctuations on the likelihood of African American female homeownership. The Review of Black Political Economy, 39(3), 299–309. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12114-011-9113-3. Crenshaw, Kimberlé, Ocen, Priscilla, & Nanda, Joyti (2015). Black girls matter: Pushed out, overpoliced and underprotected. African American Policy Forum. DesAutels, Peggy, & Waugh, Joanne (Eds.) (2001). Feminists doing ethics. Rowman & Littleﬁeld. Dyer, Richard (2002). A matter of images (2nd ed.). Routledge. Fineman, Martha A. (2008). The vulnerable subject: Anchoring equality in the human condition. Yale Journal of Law and Feminism 20(1), 1–23. Fineman, Martha A. (2010). The vulnerable subject and the responsive state. Emory Law Journal 60(2), 251–275. Foucault, Michel (1977). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. Vintage. Gerbner, George (1972). Violence in television drama: Trends and symbolic functions. In George A.Comstock, & Eli Rubinstein (Eds.), Television and social behavior, Vol. 1, Content and control (pp. 28–287). Government Printing Oﬃce. Gilson, Erinn (2013). The ethics of vulnerability: A feminist analysis of social life and practice. Routledge. Hall, Stuart (1980). Encoding/decoding. In Stuart Hall, Dorothy Hobson, Andy Love, & Paul Willis (Eds.), Culture, media, language (pp. 128–138). Hutchinson. Heider, Don (2000). White news: Why local news programs don’t cover people of color. Routledge. Held, Virginia (2006). The ethics of care: Personal, political, and global. Oxford University Press. Hinze, Susan W., Lin, Jielu, & Andersson, Tanetta E. (2012). Can we capture the intersections? Older black women, education, and health. Women’s Health Issues, 22(1), E91– E98. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.whi.2011.08.002. Klein, Hugh, & Shiﬀman, Kenneth S. (2009). Underrepresentation and symbolic annihilation of socially disenfranchised groups (“out groups”) in animated cartoons. The Howard Journal of Communications, 20(1), 55–72. https://doi.org/10.1080/ 10646170802665208. Knudsen, Britta T., & Stage, Carsten (2014). Global media, biopolitics and aﬀect: Politicizing bodily vulnerability. Routledge. Kozol, Jonathan (2005). The shame of the nation: The restoration of apartheid schooling in America. Crown. Mackenzie, Catriona (2014). The importance of relational autonomy and capabilities for an ethics of vulnerability. In Catriona Mackenzie, Wendy Rogers, & Susan Dodds (Eds.)
Vulnerability: New essays in ethics and feminist philosophy (pp. 33–59). Oxford University Press. Mackenzie, Catriona, Rogers, Wendy, & Dodds, Susan (2014). Introduction: What is vulnerability and why does it matter for moral theory? In Catriona Mackenzie, Wendy Rogers, & Susan Dodds (Eds.), Vulnerability: New essays in ethics and feminist philosophy (pp. 1–29). Oxford University Press. Massey, Douglas S. (2013). Undoing the bitter legacy of segregation and discrimination. In Chester Hartman & Gregory D. Squires (Eds.), From foreclosure to fair lending: Advocacy, organizing, Occupy, and the pursuit of fair credit (pp. ix–xiv). New Village Press. Oliver, Mary Beth, Ramasubramaniam, Srividya, & Kim, Jinhee (2007). Media and racism. In David R. Roskos-Ewoldsen & Jennifer L. Monahan (Eds.), Communication and social cognition: Theories and methods (pp. 273–287). Erlbaum. Peguero, Anthony A., Merrin, Gabriel J., Hong, Jun Sung, & Johnson, Kecia R. (2019). School disorder and dropping out: The intersection of gender, race, and ethnicity. Youth & Society, 51(2), 193–218. https://doi.org/10.1177/0044118X16668059. Rice, Willy E. (1996). Race, gender, redlining, and the discriminatory access to loans, credit, and insurance: An historical and empirical analysis of consumers who sued lenders and insurers in federal and state courts, 1950–1995. San Diego Law Review, 33, 583–699. Richardson, Lynne D. & Norris, Marlaina (2010). Access to health and health care: How race and ethnicity matter . Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine: A Journal of Translational and Personalized Medicine, 77(2), 166–177. https://doi.org/10.1002/msj.20174. Smedley, Brian D., Stith, Adrienne Y., & Nelson, Alan R. (2003). Unequal treatment: Confronting racial and ethnic disparities in health care. National Academies Press. Smith, Linda Tuhiwai (1999). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous people. Zed Books. Stark, David (2014). On resilience. Social Sciences 3(1), 60–70. https://doi.org/10.390/ socsci3010060. Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta (2019). Race for proﬁt: How banks and the real estate industry undermined black homeownership. University of North Carolina Press. Villarosa, Linda (2020, April 29). A terrible price: The deadly racial disparities of COVID19 in America. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/29/maga zine/racial-disparities-covid-19.html. Will, Madeline (2019, September 16). When school’s a battleground for transgender kids, teachers learn to protect, aﬃrm them. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/ew/a rticles/2019/09/18/when-schools-a-battleground-for-transgender-kids.html. Wilson II, Clint C., Gutierrez, Felix, & Chao, Lena (2013). Racism, sexism, and the media: The rise of class communication in multicultural America. Sage. Wolfe, Patrick (2006). Settler colonialism and the elimination of the native. Journal of Genocide Research, 8(4), 387–409. https://doi.org/10.1080/14623520601056240.
3 DESIGNING FEMINIST RESILIENCE Patrice M. Buzzanell
The year 2020 changed the ways people go about their everyday lives and consider their freedoms. With the COVID-19 pandemic, routine life stopped as many individuals, organizations, and communities socially isolated to reduce virus spread and provide time to scale up medical personnel and equipment. Those in service and health care industries, among others labeled as essential workers, could not isolate. These workers were disproportionately women and minoritized populations at lower income levels (USBLS, 2020). As the paid labor of essential work disproportionately burdened women and minorities, most women in the labor force bore the brunt of exacerbated unpaid care labor including homeschooling and eldercare while isolating at home. In summer 2020, the murder of George Floyd and later Breonna Taylor went viral on social media in the United States and beyond— bringing centuries-long everyday and institutional (police) brutalities against people of color into the homes of white middle-class America and across the globe. Such injustices had been captured on video and were elevated in voice and force through Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests and advocacy to redress racial inequalities since 2013, but the isolation wrought by pandemics, coupled with faces and names (e.g., “Say her name” and “Say their names” were/are popular chants at protests with their response “Which one?”), and increased attention to Black health and mortality disparities ﬁnally exploded into recognition of diﬀerential vulnerabilities (see Meenakshi Gigi Durham, Chapter 2). Compounding these disruptions in the United States, education was under assault by mandates to reopen and deter international students from starting or continuing studies and, subsequently, from jobs, given visa, work and/or study permit, and residential status restrictions. Although seemingly disparate events, these intertwined issues—COVID-19, health disparities, police brutality, racial justice protests, educational chaos, and calls for accountability—exposed societal disparities in ways in the United States that DOI: 10.4324/9781003102786-5
could no longer be denied. As people of color and their white allies took to the streets and spoke out online, redesigning feminist inquiry and its social justice activism became paramount. Feminisms resurged not only because of moral commitments to create awareness of inequities, advocate for change, and produce knowledge and practices that promote wellbeing and equal participation of women and other vulnerable people in all societal sectors (Patrice M. Buzzanell, 1994), but also because institutional restructuring that is not grounded in ongoing, iterative assessments of what works (and does not work) based on people’s lives in situ cannot be sustained. At the start of my feminist scholarship (Buzzanell, 1994), my metatheoretical matrix disrupted masculine systems through contrast. The disembodied workplace member situated in organizational patterns distinguished between women and men in discursive and material forms, (e.g., policy documents and promotion criteria) and aligned with organizational logics that seemed neutral but structured advantage of white men and masculine systems (Joan Acker, 1990). Over 25 years later, gender equality and human resources policies still attend mostly to cisgender, heterosexual, white women, thus minimizing the (overlapping) needs of nonbinary individuals, women, and men of color, LBGTQAI folks, and other underrepresented minorities (Carolina García Johnson & Kathleen Otto, 2019). Media still depoliticize feminist narratives in service of misogyny (Sarah Banet-Weiser, 2018) and movements, such as the alt-right and other manosphere sites, still decry feminisms’ roles in displacement of privileged men-dominated orders (e.g., Sean Eddington, 2020; Alice Marwick & Robyn Caplan, 2018). Embodied experiences and knowledge production of minoritized, indigenous, and other people de-humanized by diﬀerence and prevailing organizing through whiteness, heteronormativity, ableism, and colonization are being incorporated into policies and human resource decisions to a greater extent today than even a few years ago (e.g., Patricia Parker et al., 2017). These eﬀorts incorporate contradiction, intersectionalities, diﬀerence writ large, mediated or networked feminisms, and organizational and societal requirements for inclusion and accountability (for overviews, see Banet-Weiser, 2018; Buzzanell, 2020a; Kimberlé Crenshaw, 1989; Jaime McDonald, 2020; Parker, 2020; Raka Shome, 2006). What still needs exploration are feminist frameworks for working with these many interlocked contestations such that communication scholars and activists can advocate for sustainable transformation—namely, a Feminist Communication Theory of Resilience (FCTR). My aim is to examine how relationships between gender within intersectional conﬁgurations and resilience are co-constituted and politicized and how attention to design processes can disrupt tendencies toward adaptation beneﬁtting the status quo. To accomplish my aim, I describe my theoretical moves ﬁrst by laying out the bases of a Feminist Communication Theory of Resilience (FCTR) and then by reframing Communication Theory of Resilience (CTR) processes as feminist resilience practices. In doing so, I revisit the original ﬁve CTR resilience processes and reimagine how they could forestall change when taken to extremes or adopted without reﬂection about intersectional consequences in situ.
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Toward a Feminist Communication Theory of Resilience (FCTR) The turn toward resilience in diverse communication contexts has grown exponentially. Interest can be gauged by handbooks (e.g., Martha Kent et al., 2013; John Reich et al., 2010; Matthias Ruth & Stefan Goessling-Reisemann, 2019), book chapters and conference panels, expansions in metatheoretical and methodological perspectives, and special issues (e.g., Journal of Applied Communication Research, 48(1), 2020 and 46(1), 2018; Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 23(2), 2018). Resilience’s popularity is evident in many ways. The term resilience circulates in mass and social media (e.g., Rosalind Gill & Shani Orgad, 2018; Jessica Lu & Catherine Steele, 2019); it is imbued with social desirability and micro-macro linkages to positive regard, wellbeing, national policy, and beneﬁts regardless of context (Hamilton Bean, 2018). Although Kyle Grayson (2017) ties the emergence of homo resilio to the “American heartland”, this subject position resonates with neoliberalism insofar as it privileges individualism, mobility, self-preservation, and adaptation in ways that subordinate alternatives, particularly possibilities aligned with gender, race, and diﬀerence. Resilience is resonant with people around the globe, yet, as Simin Davoudi et al. (2012) point out, “it is not quite clear what resilience means, beyond the simple assumption that it is good to be resilient” (p. 299). In theorizing about resilience, I explicate resilience as constitutive, feminist, and design.
Resilience as Constitutive Resilience explains how people communicate to reintegrate from and engage in meaning-making about disruptive events to construct new normals. Resilience is cultivated over the course of individuals’, families’, communities’, and nations’ lives in particular socio-historical-economic and political conditions. CTR proposes that resilience is constituted communicatively through ﬁve processes that interact, are prioritized diﬀerently, and/or are sequential in the diﬀerent circumstances whereby people confront ordinary and extraordinary disruptions (Patrice M. Buzzanell, 2010). (1) Crafting normalcy means talking, interacting, and behaving in ways that either maintain familiar routines and rituals and/or construct new ones that seem to ﬁt changing circumstances. (2) Backgrounding/foregrounding “is a conscious decision to acknowledge that one has the legitimate right to feel anger or loss in certain ways but that these feelings are counterproductive to more important goals” (p. 9). (3) Aﬃrming identity anchors occurs when individuals, families, or communities perform identities (and uphold those of others) that are essential to who they are, what roles they feel are most salient, and what they value as they reintegrate. (4) Putting alternative logics to work involves creativity, workarounds, reframing, and/or ﬁnding humor, joy, and silver linings at times of loss, disaster, and trauma. (5) Maintaining and using communication networks encourages people to interact online or face-to-face for emotional support, information, family and business resources, and advice or camaraderie.
Although grounded in a constitutive approach to communication that is discursive and material, CTR recognizes diﬀerences in physiological, economic, cultural, and relational capacities to enact resilience (Patrice M. Buzzanell et al., 2009). As a result, CTR is based on realistic assessments of human conditions and on the agentic capacities of people to socially construct, critique, and change their worlds. This is because CTR is situated in the both/and nature of communication processes and strategies rather than individual diﬀerences in personality factors, coping responses for adaptation, and attempts to measure eﬀorts as thriving, hardiness, and other outcomes (Patrice M. Buzzanell, 2010, 2018, 2019; Kristen Lucas & Patrice M. Buzzanell, 2011). Resilience operates within, and can transcend, adaptive and transformative interactions in talk, stories, linguistic choices, and structures that support ongoing meaning-making in the moment and over time. These distinguishing features of CTR indicate how resilience itself is not the goal or outcome: resilience is the process whereby people keep on living—stumbling, struggling, leaping with joy, and mindful of advantage and disadvantage that can shift overnight—despite of, and perhaps because of, hardship. It is not bouncing “back” (to a prior state) nor optimistic life orientations.
Resilience as Feminist This basic orientation toward community, relational networks, and adaptabilitytransformation is at the heart of CTR, but feminist resilience also attends to epistemic oppressions and structural disparities. Surprisingly, there is not much scholarship in feminist communication resilience per se. Yet much of what feminist praxis is about is resilience. Elizabeth Flynn et al. (2012) contend, “feminist rhetorical resilience includes actions undertaken by rhetors, usually women, who, with varying degrees of success, discursively interact with others, resulting in improved situations despite contexts of signiﬁcant adversity” (p. 1). In rightfully contending that a “feminist perspective, for instance, can demonstrate that Buzzanell’s processes always take place within hierarchies in which some enjoy considerable privilege while others suﬀer deprivation” (pp. 2–3), Flynn et al. draw attention to missing—impoverished, immigrant, dual career, global, and queer— voices and structures that marginalize people. To this critique, I add Elizabeth Harrison’s (2013) description of the many inequities grounded in raced and gendered policy, normative practice, and vulnerable groups’ social positioning vis-à-vis their relations to others. These inequities can be codiﬁed as risks—food insecurity, work precarity, global economic crises and recessions, lack of educational opportunities, societal changes that have eroded community institutions, and diﬀerential health care access—amidst ordinary circumstances and pandemics, particularly though not solely for women and children (e.g., Buzzanell, 2020b; Harrison, 2013). Women who cannot deploy discursive and material resources to frame resilient or successful neoliberal selves are stigmatized in ways that incur further disadvantage when others do not recognize communal
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responsibilities for accomplishing resilience. Even so, resilience is presented one of the “right” characteristics for economic survival, good work, and future rewards (Emma Lamberg, 2020) against the “classed and gendered landscape of discourses of resilience” (Gill & Orgad, 2018, p. 479).
Resilience as Design Of importance in the formulation of CTR is the recognition that constituting resilience is an unending design project grounded in situated lives. It is an intentional process, thus shifting to strategic goal-oriented feminist practices. Because resilience is grounded in design, its many layers of adaptation and/or change occur over time and within particular places. One design for feminist transformation cannot account for all possibilities of reintegration, any more than one form of feminism could solve all the inequities in the world. Instead, design aﬀords an iterative, contradiction-oriented, messy, human-centered procedure for delving into interlocked structures, politicized diﬀerence, and stakeholder interests to aﬀect change. In general, design considers the resources at hand for producing sustainable products, services, and transformational plans. In particular, feminist design considers intertwined systemic roots and consequences for women’s subordination and unhealthy living environments (Buzzanell, 1994). Rather than clinging to one intervention or set of interventions to construct better conditions for women, feminist design encourages communal development of prototypes that are (re)tested and altered with awareness that no single solution can meet all equity speciﬁcations in every context and that, as conditions change and interventions (inevitably or partially) fail, so too would there be needs for modiﬁcations and fresh practices. For instance, mentoring has been touted as a means of equalizing career knowledge, networks, and strategies for women, yet such advice-giving also needed sponsorship, advocacy, women role models, safe “identity spaces,” and education about “second generation gender bias” (i.e., ordinary organizational comments and situations in which women fail to thrive and achieve potential, Herminia Ibarra, Robin Ely, & Deborah Kolb, 2019; see also Tina Harris & Celeste Lee, 2019). Manifestations of these evolving changes include: #CommunicationSoWhite, #citeblackwomen, and eﬀorts to decolonize communication pedagogy. Productive design involves deviation amplifying strategies. These strategies involve: researching what has worked elsewhere to see what might be transferrable (Buzzanell et al., 2008), learning from failure, avoiding design ﬁxation, and aﬃrming the never-ending commitment to prototyping since social justice is complex and its problems are wicked (Buzzanell, 2017; Eddington et al., 2020). In design for feminist transformation from an intersectionalities lens, one takes new learning and expands the range of possible solutions through ongoing formative and evaluative assessments—not to pit one form of diversity or need for social justice against the other— but to seek out what works and does not work in every design instantiation for potential transferability (with cultural and identity group modiﬁcation). There are
three characteristics of design in feminist resilience that enable adaptation, change, and hope. First, feminist resilience is human-centered design (HCD). HCD is an iterative process that ideally centers speciﬁc people(s) as partners and/or co-designers in the development from initial problem/interest formulations through speciﬁcation delineation, ideation, prototyping, testing, and sustainable results (Carla Zoltowski et al., 2012). To me, HCD is isomorphic with current feminist dilemmatic views of paradox in which tensions and contradictions are inextricably interwoven in simultaneously productive and constraining, resistant and complicit ways (Kate L. Harris, 2016; Linda Putnam & Karen Lee Ashcraft, 2017; see also Buzzanell, 2020a). Like design, dilemmatic approaches encourage attention to both sides of dualisms and perceived incompatibilities to oﬀer pragmatic approaches for deand re-stabilizing interactions and structures, particularly those centered in gender. For both, emphases on embodiment and situated action encourage practices that challenge assumptions and interests by asking questions, thinking past what is said and done, and sorting through the material and social entanglements that reproduce and change realities. One dilemma is scoping, namely, where to focus and how to gain traction on practices designed for change, recognizing that all needs to be accomplished but in that eﬀort, nothing might get done. The focus on dilemma as the design “problem” is embedded in wicked or intractable conﬂicts such as gender inequality, racial injustice, and destructive action against diﬀerence (Buzzanell, 2017; Eddington et al., 2020). Feminist design enables researchers and activists to envision resilience as an essentially contradictory process with pragmatic and moral imperatives that sometimes pull people in seemingly nonsensical and/or (un)productive and/or ambivalent ways (e.g., selling diversity and feminisms that reproduce whiteness and nonegalitarian behaviors in neoliberalism, Luzilda Carrillo Arciniega 2020; Suzy D’Enbeau & Patrice M. Buzzanell, 2011; Jeremy Fyke & Patrice M. Buzzanell, 2013; see also Banet-Weiser, 2018; Lamberg, 2020). These contradictions enable women (and men) to maneuver in cultural settings, like mainland China, where interwoven resilience processes, consistent with traditional gender philosophies, can be exploited in pursuit of feminist goals and provide bases, as subjective resilience resources, for transformation (Zhenyu Tian & Hannah Bush, 2020). In these ways, CTR practices are synergistic insofar as some changes or questionings are used as levers to change other aspects, easing the way for people to ask “why not?” when faced with possibilities. Designing feminist resilience, then, is a collaborative process that is neither utopian nor dystopian. As such, it requires reﬂexive becoming as interactions (re) construct contexts, proactive improvisation of constraints are negotiated, and colearning partnerships guided by feminist ethics and critical empathy (i.e., realization that one can never truly and deeply know the lives of others, see Remke, 2006; see also Ziyu Long et al., 2019). Third, resilience communication practices are interwoven with and situated in context. Creating a new normal or cultural change that truly meets people’s needs
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and interests is diﬃcult and time-consuming. In design, promising beginnings or prototypes would be matched with evolving understandings of interests and diverse metrics for measurement. Even if interventions only partially meet speciﬁcations (but do not cause harms), then they would necessitate embeddedness (institutionalization) in families and communities sooner rather than later so that memory and momentum are not lost. FCTR maintains that people can enact the ﬁve resilience processes to create locale-speciﬁc strategies to construct social justice. To not consider how changes could prevent (re)occurrence of, for example, gendered and minoritized coronavirus deaths, police brutality, structural inequalities, and other micro-meso-macro injustices, is, in design parlance, a missed opportunity. In this section, the ﬁve original CTR resilience processes are re-imagined in terms of where and how they might forestall change when taken to extremes or when adopted without reﬂection about consequences. Within these subsections, two moves are made to describe resilience as inhibiting feminist transformation and resilience as inclusionary to prevent mindless adoption of processes as advantageous universal practices.
Resilience as Inhibiting Feminist Transformation CTR theorizes that trigger events activate the ﬁve aforementioned resilience processes (i.e., crafting normalcy, back/-foregrounding productive action, aﬃrming identities, using alternative logics, and networking). When taken to extremes, each process can obscure key struggles, causes, facts, and problematic issues when people attempt to maintain or revert back to a discriminatory and unjust status quo. Moreover, focus on one or two processes, to the exclusion of others, also might maintain or provoke unhealthy and discriminatory conditions.
Resilience Triggers First, trigger events activate the ﬁve CTR processes that communicatively constitute people’s reintegration into a new normal. Resilience does not emerge fully formed at the time of disruption nor do triggers need to be singular events. Resilience is constantly in a state of becoming—and sometimes triggers have been developing for a long time. COVID-19 is a virus that has resulted in awareness of health care disparities in the United States among white people who did not realize many inequalities in their country and might not otherwise have questioned inequality. Microaggressions or observed retaliations against vulnerable members of their workplaces, can build up over time until they reach a tipping point (Derald Sue et al., 2019). Of importance for feminist transformation is identifying the nature of triggers and designing appropriate actions. In movements addressing complex issues such as gender and racial inequalities, triggers are multifaceted and deeply embedded in societies worldwide. Attacking one trigger leaves other, perhaps less visible, causes and activations of feminist awareness and needs
untouched (see Buzzanell, 1994). Attacking one can result in singular and/or simplistic outcomes (e.g., social media narratives that transgender people should “feel better” post-transition without regard to multiple re-traumatizing triggers, Oliver Haimson, 2020).
CTR Processes When I delivered my ICA Presidential Address, I had sketched out the ﬁve CTR processes in a form accessible to non-academic audiences but not suﬃciently explicated or nuanced for academic pursuits (see Buzzanell, 2010). In later talks, I began to add complexity, contradiction, and critical lenses to the original theory and ﬁve CTR processes, particularly in surfacing tensions and multiple and/or intertwined power dynamics. For example, sticking to well-worn routines, identities, and networks in the face of disaster and evolving circumstances might prompt unreﬂective adherence to resilience practices that have become unworkable. With feminist repositioning, CTR processes oﬀer possibilities for navigating today’s complex and politically fraught world: (a) crafting normalcy; (b) backgrounding negative emotions while foregrounding productive action; (c) aﬃrming identity anchors; (d) putting alternative logics to work; and (e) maintaining and using communication networks. Crafting normalcy means talking, interacting, and behaving in ways that maintain familiar routines and rituals and/or construct new ones to ﬁt changing circumstances. Normalcy is considered positive—stability in times of upheaval and uncertainty— and a mark of privilege and resources. Dilemmas happen when people neither know what to do nor have the resources to readily adapt and/or change. For instance, refugees and inmates struggle to engage in mundane activities or treasured routines, even to the point of buying “nonessential goods like tea and candy to feel more normal” with laws, stigma, and lack of home deterring expressions and embodiment of normalcy (Virginia Sánchez Sánchez & Helen Lillie, 2019). Dilemmas happen when gender and race ideologies, poverty, and stigma coalesce around paradoxical actions. In Satish Kedia et al.’s (2019) study, Black women living with HIV constructed normalcy and pride through motherhood, a socially acceptable identity. They lived for their children, but also hid their HIV status from them by not always taking antiretroviral medications. They experienced daily health and ﬁnancial disruptions, meaning that they could not always achieve their desired new normal of consistent care and stability. Living in societies that devalue poor Black mothers means that the infrastructural support for resilience—even curbing evictions (Matthew Desmond, 2016)—is lacking, thus reinforcing neoliberal messages that people are on their own. In backgrounding negative emotions, while foregrounding productive action, personal reactions to loss and trauma are legitimized as knowledge that can become bases for feminist action. This resilience process acknowledges people’s rights to be upset, but also their (constrained) agency (Lynn O’Brien Hallstein, 1999). Backgrounding negative emotions can be taken to unhealthy extremes when people
Designing Feminist Resilience 51
maintain relationships in which others do not honor their identities, fears, and experiences (e.g., marginalized family members, Elizabeth Dorrance Hall, 2018; disenfranchised/unacknowledged grief or episodes of violence, Linda HughesKirchubel, 2020). They might try to move forward without adequately considering the bases for the disruptive event, e.g., taking one action at micro-levels while expecting to dismantle complicated racist inequality regimes (Patricia Hill Collins & Sirma Bilge, 2015). For instance, Elizabeth Craig et al. (2020) described how young women who experienced adverse childhood experiences, such as domestic violence or parental substance abuse, struggled to develop behaviors and relationships predicated on empowerment, agency, and self-esteem, through interactions with humans and nonhumans (e.g. horses). Several intertwined CTR processes encouraged these women to cultivate embodied performances of resilience (e.g., crafting identities of empowerment while also engaging both in legitimizing negative feelings and in alternative logics through goal-oriented, self-aﬃrming, goals-oriented talk). Although not analyzed through CTR, Angela Gist-Makey (2018) indicated how working-class men backgrounded feelings about their stigmatized classist and racist interactions with job search agency personnel, to strategically foreground white middle-class language, appearance, and networks for social capital, technology utilization, and job procurement performances. Their adaptation ﬁt many resilience theories but was neither transformative for the men nor for societal structures. Third, aﬃrming identity anchors occurs when individuals, families, or communities perform roles essential to what they most value at times of disruption. They require that others uphold their most salient identities, such as when women have breast cancer and their partners validate their selves as whole women who also are mothers, spiritual, and attractive (Helen Lillie et al., 2018). Sometimes identities are communal and associated with materialities such as when economic uncertainties for workingclass families became linked to accepting US-government-issued cheese: “the cheese was not solely a marker of hard times. It also was a stability point for communal identity and camaraderie among family, friends, and neighbors who were in the same precarious position” (Lucas & Buzzanell, 2011, p. 105). However, continuing with an identity anchor when it has never been, or no longer is, functional or when it becomes all-consuming can be counterproductive. In the 2018 Netﬂix movie, Nappily Ever After, a young Black woman, Violet, recognized that her seemingly perfect life (symbolized by long straight hair and consistently well-groomed appearance) did not make her happy or feel fulﬁlled. As she resisted others’ control over her life, she also embraced her natural hair, a move that Black women’s posted commentary about Violet’s decision celebrated as they saw themselves in this media representation about societal pressures on Black women. Kristin Rowe (2019) described how Black women reclaim and refashion “nappy” as a site of pride to subvert hegemonic meanings and enact agency in aﬃrming themselves and their communities. From a feminist resilience lens, aﬃrming identity anchors productively often means embracing or negotiating contradictions. As an example of navigating contradictions,
young women in creative and cultural industries in Lamberg’s (2020) study reﬂected upon their need to portray themselves as excessively productive even as they challenged assumptions through ambivalence and creation of complex self-deﬁnitions conducive to their values. Likewise, Kamesha Spates et al. (2019) described how Black women in the United States deal with complicated dilemmas associated with gendered and racial trauma. They resisted societal strictures on their behaviors and self-images and relied on religious and spiritual values. Rather than employing simple strategies for resilience, these Black women negotiated their multiple marginalized identities for their safety and health. However, Eddington (2020) found that men establishing their masculinity through The Red Pill (TRP) neither embraced ambivalence and contradiction, nor developed identity anchors that could coincide with their long-term goals of self-esteem. In their unidimensional identity anchor construction, they ironically constituted resilience through talk and embodiment of themselves as agents who ruled over women to enhance their sexual market appeal. They needed other TRPers to aﬃrm their decisions and lifestyles to withstand identity challenges. Identity anchors become problematic when people neither reﬂect upon whether these identities are productive and/or optimal ways of viewing themselves and others, nor understand the intense pressures on others’ identity performances. In teaching about resilience, students often equate resilience with strength. They talk about how they tried to work through losses on their own, feeling that reliance on others is a form of weakness. These tendencies to align resilience with masculine culture, autonomy, and independence neglect the fact that everyone needs others to cultivate and enact resilience. They also fail to acknowledge that particular settings exacerbate vulnerabilities and suspicion. Engineering women faculty of color needed to be vigilant and were exhausted by how masculine, male-dominant culture wore on their bodies (Buzzanell et al., 2015). Bernadette Marie Calafell (2007) described threats to her identity and normative interactions in which she needed to be “exemplary and exceptional” as she navigated through “loneliness” in an “increasingly hostile space” (pp. 428 & 430). Resilience is constituted through aﬃrmations of worth, knowing that one is not alone in harassment fatigue and trauma (e.g., Brenda J. Allen, 2000; Berry et al., 2020; Maria Butauski & Haley Horstman, 2020; Jessica Ford & Sonia Ivancic, 2020; Kristina Scharp et al., 2020; Sánchez Sánchez & Lillie, 2019). Fourth, alternative logics form the heart of feminist resilience. This process is grounded in struggles to anticipate, reframe, work with paradoxes, and entertain diﬀerent normalcies of equality. To look past what is and move toward a diﬀerent world takes courage. Resilience is relationally constituted, particularly when others believe women and minoritized people have lost touch with reality (e.g., being cast as paranoid, constantly vigilant, out of step or naïve, a troublemaker, too emotional, and not professional or rational enough, Allen, 2000; Sara Ahmed, 2016; Tian & Bush, 2020). It is here where the accumulation of ongoing inequities based on gender and other diﬀerences may act as disruptions in ways that others may not understand at ﬁrst (Eddington et al., 2020; Sánchez Sánchez & Lillie, 2019). Black
Designing Feminist Resilience 53
feminist standpoints oﬀer knowledge and mechanisms for change in socialization through multilevel adaptive-transformative talk, interactions, and policies that can create new normals (Allen, 2000; see also Cerise Glenn, 2020). In documenting ways of transforming their normals, Debalina Dutta (2019) examined narratives of women in science and engineering careers in Singapore to expand CTR through imagined or anticipatory resiliencies. Alternative logics form in discourses and materialities, such as how resilience is enacted online by Black people on two platforms, Twitter and Vine, to amplify Black joy amid hardship using the hashtags #freeblackchild, #carefreeblackkids, and #CareFreeBlackKids2k16, and Black oral culture (Lu & Steele, 2019). Black women also enact resilience in “how…hip-hop feminism invites new questions about representation, provides additional insights about embodied experience, and oﬀers alternative models for critical engagement” (Aisha Durham et al., 2013, p. 722; see also Raven Maragh-Lloyd, 2020). Fifth, maintaining and using communication networks involves strong and weak ties, or connections online and oﬄine with people one knows well or not. Rather than maintaining networks, as theorized by Buzzanell (2010), outcasts live authentically by improvising families, renegotiating boundaries, reforming ingroup–outgroup dynamics, and legitimizing their experiences while rebuilding their lives (Dorrance Hall, 2018; Scharp et al., 2020). Maintaining and using networks also involves human–nonhuman interactions such as mentoring through chatbots (Buzzanell, forthcoming), healing with animals that have suﬀered trauma (Craig et al., 2020), and exploring semantic networks for entangled constructions of whiteness and privilege for multiprong interventions.
Discussion FCTR broadens how people understand the necessities for anticipating or imagining new normals, and how they talk and structure interactions to engage in feminist praxis. Rather than advocating for singular causes and interventions, FCTR takes a human-centered design lens to promote situated understandings of people’s interests, speciﬁcations for problem articulation, and iterative generation of prototypes, while engaging in critical empathy and embracing failure as necessary in transforming lives and institutions. Feminist problematizations of resilience display how people struggle with the both/and of resilience—anticipatory–reactive, adaptive–transformative, coping– resistance, present–future, constrained–agentic, (singular) identity–intersectionalities; oﬄine–online, and self–other—noting that resilience can be aﬃrmational and/or destructive (if taken to extremes). Because of these complexities in the constitutive nature of resilience, it is diﬃcult to reframe and disrupt sedimented notions of resilience as enduring traits, skills, or characteristics possessed by entities, and processes solely or mainly imbued with positivity. Although messy, FCTR expresses the best of humans—creativity, courage, inventiveness, inclusion, and hope. The ultimate
paradox about resilience is that hardship is the foundation of resilience, but such disruption may not always be regretted when reintegration changes the world for the better.
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Taking Stock of the Present
4 A FEMINIST ODYSSEY FROM THE PERSONAL TO THE PUBLIC Lana F. Rakow
If one is not born a woman but becomes one, as Simone de Beauvoir (1949/1953, p. 267) observed in The Second Sex, it has not been the case that she also is expected to become a feminist. The odds are against it, in fact. How, then, is it that some of us, even many of us, do, even while we are entering into identities of diﬀerence set out for us? The answer tells us much about power and resistance, about experience and knowledge, about ideology and contradictions, all foundational issues for feminist theories across academic disciplines. Each, woman and feminist, is the expression of diﬀerent and conﬂicting systems of beliefs and cultural and economic intersections, not biological fact nor psychological misfortune. What we become results from an undertaking of paths with diﬀerent starting points and indeterminate ends. Whose ideologies, for whose beneﬁt, lead us to which paths and what part do we play in traveling them? As I write this in our current perilous times, during a pandemic of yet unknown proportions, in the face of raw and public misogyny and white supremacy, when the results of the 2020 US presidential election oﬀer hope but no guarantees of a path forward, and when democracy has been perilously close to slipping through our grasp, these may seem arcane questions. Four years of outrage began with a 2016 US election producing an immediate world-wide women’s march and ending with Black Lives Matter protests over police killings of Black women and men. These overt reactions stirred support across genders and races. In recent days these were followed by spontaneous joy at the selection of a new US president, oﬀering a glimpse of a better future. But even as we feel the pressure of such immediate dangers and possibilities, we should not neglect to understand the historic conditions that gave rise to them, both in and outside the academy. There was an era when questions about what it means to be a woman and a feminist were not only a part of our embodied and embattled political experience but also the subject of intense academic debate, the precursor to some of what we have seen in the streets in recent years. DOI: 10.4324/9781003102786-7
I experienced some of that history. When I entered the doctoral program at the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois in UrbanaChampaign in 1983, a critical insurgence was underway in the academy that put questions about gender and race front and center for some of us. Graduate school at that time and place was an immersion experience in confrontations to the academy by postmodernism, post colonialism, feminist theory, and critical race studies. It was here I got my bearings in feminist theory and feminist academic praxis, although I was already a feminist activist. I had already seen the discrepancies and inconsistencies in beliefs about women and political platitudes about democracy and equality. If biology is not destiny, I concluded, communication was the source both of our problems and their solutions. From its study we could learn how and why ideologies are generated and then manifested in our identities and communities. What part could feminist scholarship in communication play in doing something about it? Thus began my odyssey with and through feminist scholarship. It was not the odyssey of a Greek hero but that of a wanderer who, over the course of a long and indeterminate journey, experienced changes of fortune and changes of direction. I was lucky to have walk with me at various points extraordinary feminist colleagues and other allies: those alongside me in this book, others who co-authored with me, and those who struggled with me to create or carry out or challenge programs, processes, and priorities of institutions. As I myself and the world around me changed, I watched the academic fortunes of feminist scholarship change over the next three decades and cheered on those feminist colleagues who had successes along the way—making room for new journals and heading old ones, leading associations, publishing important work, mentoring stellar graduate students, changing the curriculum at their institutions, taking administrative positions. But of course there were also the bitter losses: a lawsuit against my home institution in my own case (see Lana F. Rakow, 2000), and in the case of others, battles over tenure and promotion and opportunities denied and of harassment and bullying endured. Yet, with the arduous work of so many and despite the maddening and unreﬂexive reproduction of racism and other -isms in too much of our own scholarship and actions, it seemed some progress was made in the US. During some of those years, in national matters of policy and practice, in ﬁts and starts and with court setbacks and conservative opposition, the federal government sometimes had our backs. In the academy, where talk but not the walk is valued, plans were loudly proclaimed to increase diversity among students and faculty and in the curriculum. The same was true for our professional associations and journals, where spaces were made (usually grudgingly) for feminist and critical race scholarship. Then technology came riding in to save us, or so one might think from the over-eagerness in our ﬁeld of those who foresaw a quick ﬁx to the lack of opportunities for public expression and for those happy to capitalize on the rise of digital technologies and social media platforms to the beneﬁt of their careers. But the disturbing back pedaling had already begun, gutting voting rights and aﬃrmative action, for example.
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The US presidential election of 2016 brought us all up short, revealing the ugly truth: misogyny and racism and nativism had only been covered with a thin veneer, and social media can organize hate and suspicion as much as resistance. Change can be reversed at the stroke of a presidential pen and with a barrage of tweeted lies. In the academy, attacks from conservatives, white supremacists, and anti-feminists make our work, always risky for our personal and professional wellbeing, more perilous, and an unchecked contagion has put us at the mercy of institutional, state, and federal political power plays. In the midst of such dramatic setbacks, the past looks quite diﬀerent, even irrelevant. Does it really matter now what arguments we used to make? Does it really matter how systems of diﬀerence sink their teeth into us, naturalizing injustice, when we are experiencing and witnessing the outcome? I think it does, if we sift through that groundwork for what is important to carry on the next leg of the journey. With that thought in mind, this chapter provides some of that sifting, a reﬂection on my feminist learning, my mistakes and attempts at contributions. I was drawn forward in my odyssey by my own experiences and observations of marginalization and of privilege, trying but not always nor often succeeding at recognizing how much my experiences as a white woman are limited and part of the problem. How do we account for power and enable participation but not reproduce injustice as we are doing it? What visions for the future can we sustain for creating a world based on participation and self-autonomy while we reimagine the hierarchies of diﬀerence of which we are now a part? These complexities and complicities can be seen in the several paths that my work took, themes that I now see in retrospect. This chapter will take up three of them, drawing on and ﬂeshing out second-wave feminism’s slogan that the personal is political. These were paths of praxis, where my work set out to question givens and to apply feminist arguments to make change in diﬀerent contexts, in the public and in the ﬁeld, with the assumption that all work—identity work, activism, scholarship—starts with the personal and has political implications. In my case, I was led to attempts at changing the professional academic world of the ﬁeld of communication, to recognizing and identifying (all the while unwittingly playing out) diﬀerence and privilege, and to envisioning a better world of public participation in democratic decision-making. Steps on the ﬁrst path, the personal in the professional context, began in the 1980s to address our ﬁeld and its shortcomings, including the lack of feminist theory behind its research on women, the absence of marginalized groups from its theories and narratives, and the reiﬁcation of structures of power through the curriculum and the ﬁeld’s associations and programs. The second path took me through attempts at understanding privilege and the gaps in my own experience that hindered my ability to make signiﬁcant contributions to feminist theory. Themes from feminist activists and theorists of voice, diﬀerence, and representation captured where I believed we in communication could make a contribution through feminist communication theory. I was ultimately led to the uncomfortable scrutiny of white women and our complicity and resistance to our use as a sign for “woman.” The
third path, the personal as public, was a doubling back to ﬁnd bigger solutions by changing the ways that ideologies are created and enforced, a reﬂection of my early interests in how to make a democracy that works for everyone. This is the place where I discovered my aﬃnity for feminist pragmatism, a position which helps us draw hope for a shared future built on the human capacity for caring for each other and solving our collective problems.
The Personal as Professional The momentous theoretical insights of feminist scholars from other disciplines had not found their way into communication studies much by the early 1980s, despite the battles of women in the ﬁeld for acknowledging women as communication professionals and for recognizing women as important topics of research. We had much to learn about gender and race as cultural and ideological conﬁgurations, not biological givens. One of my ﬁrst publications, “Rethinking Gender Research in Communication” (Rakow, 1986b) tried to encapsulate the argument and shake up assumptions that sex is biological and gender is cultural. Gender is a verb, I argued, something we do and something we think with. Gender is a meaning system, a set of organizing categories used to make sense of the world (including the biological) and our experiences. We are, therefore, created by and creators of communication. Feminist theorists like Marilyn Frye (1983) and Suzanne Kessler and Wendy McKenna (1978) were inﬂuential to my understanding of how we all work at signaling and assigning two mandatory distinct and asymmetrical genders. From language use and vocabulary to interpersonal relationships to organizational impediments to media representations, we take in gendered expectations and embody them more or less, unconsciously or not, with ease or reluctance or opposition or enjoyment. Fortunately, resistance from transgender and gender-ﬂuid individuals, played out in public in recent years, has shaken a belief in an immutable, binary natural system of gender mapped onto sexuality. The more we encounter alternative and contradictory ideologies, the more likely we are to resist compulsory ones. If the ﬁeld of communication were to take such issues seriously, I believed then and now, it needed to confront the fact that its histories and theories were incomplete, wrong, and harmful when built on the experiences of white men. Concepts of standpoint, voice, experience, marginalization, and borderlands from feminists like Dorothy Smith, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Maria Lagunes, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Gayatri Spivak needed to be reckoned with. The “Master’s Tools will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” (see Audre Lorde, 1984) became our mantra, little recognizing the extent to which those of us who are white are tools of the master. The ﬁeld was not simply ignoring structures of power and privilege but was complicit in them, reproducing and justifying them as normative. Our associations, our research agendas, our research methods, our curricula needed to change. Indeed, the way we think of the world as subject and object begins the process of othering. A
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number of my early publications and my early professional association work tried to make those arguments. Some addressed how communication concepts and concerns change when we consider the experiences of women and the analysis of feminists, such as “Feminist Approaches to Popular Culture” (Rakow, 1986a) and “Gendered Technology, Gendered Practice” (Rakow, 1988). Giving voice to other women’s lost and neglected experiences and resistance led to two books, The Revolution in Words, with Cheris Kramarae (Rakow & Kramarae, 1990) about the national newspaper The Revolution published by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton from 1868 to 1871. Gender on the Line (Rakow, 1992b), from my doctoral dissertation, an ethnography of women and the telephone in a rural community, made the case that women’s use of technologies had been neglected and disdained too long. Why had communication scholars scoﬀed at the telephone, when for many women it was a lifeline, as well as a domestic responsibility, a site for both gender work and gendered work? The edited book Women Making Meaning (Rakow, 1992c) was meant to showcase to the rest of the ﬁeld an array of feminist communication scholars and scholarship that it needed its attention. It is a snapshot now of a network of topics and “femships” that developed in those early days when we found each other through associations like the new Feminist Scholarship Interest Group (FSIG) of the International Communication Association (ICA) (see Rakow, 1992a)—now the Feminist Scholarship Division. Further, curriculum reform was needed to address the discrepancy between what the public mission of universities and mass communication programs should be and the servitude to communication industries and employers that constrained critiques of journalism, public relations, and advertising and stiﬂed creative alternatives to commercial media. Like every feminist scholar I knew, my research and writing and my professional activism were interrelated, evident in my appointment to the Commission on the Status of Women of the US-based Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) and the ﬂedgling FSIG, where we created academic homes for feminist scholarship. I served as chair of the Teaching Standards Committee of AEJMC and two terms on the US Accrediting Council on Journalism and Mass Communication Education. In these roles I argued for curriculum change that addressed diversity, for the importance of research by faculty to challenge taken-for-granted canons of knowledge, and for our responsibility to the public rather than to the proﬁts of commercial media. The arguments also appeared as publications in feminist and non-feminist places (see, for example, Rakow, 1993a; Rakow, 1993b; Rakow, 2001).
The Personal as Privileged My own life experiences had given me both insights and limitations about understanding privilege. Growing up as I did on the geographic margins of the US, the national centers of power and politics and media attention were located far in the distance. Further, I was resentful early on of restrictions on girls and women. But as a
member of the dominant northern and western European and Christian cultural environment of the Midwest, I was mostly oblivious to the regional situation of Native Americans and to the lack of racial and cultural and religious diversity of the area. When I was fresh out of graduate school and a new assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside the full extent of what I had to learn became apparent. A colleague and I wrote a grant to have our institution take part in a Ford Foundation Women of Color in the Curriculum grant project coordinated by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The grant required a commitment by our liberal arts departments to agree to participate in campus workshops we presented and for faculty volunteers in each department to change their courses to include women of color. Working with material by women of color from every liberal arts department, including the sciences, made me more resolved that the ﬁeld of communication studies needed to look outside its own boundaries for new perspectives. Laura Wackwitz and I eventually assembled a collection of writings from outside of the communication discipline for Feminist Communication Theory (Rakow & Wackwitz, 2004), hoping to demonstrate that concerns and debates about diﬀerence, voice, and representation have been articulated by women from a range of geographies and identities, activists and scholars, with extraordinary signiﬁcance for feminist communication work. Diﬀerence was among the most prominent and contentious of themes. Science and religion have both insisted on their own explanations of gender and race as universal and immutable and natural, one argued on biological grounds and the other on metaphysical ones. No one is born a woman but must become one (de Beauvoir, 1949/1953), situated among other identities of difference that are also active creations, so appropriately and insightfully labeled intersectionalities by Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989) and advanced by Patricia Hill Collins (2019). The voices of so many warned white women that we are duped by our white privilege into thinking that the consequences of the social and political creation of diﬀerences between women and men provided a common ground with women of color, ignoring the matrix of domination among women, in Kaya Ganguly’s (1992) important phrase. Sadly, assumptions about the solidarity and stability of the category “woman” had to be resisted from within and from without feminist scholarship, a point that will be taken up later. Voice, another theme we believed to be critical for feminist communication theory, points to the ways in which women are silenced, their experiences dismissed, and their outlets and styles of expression denigrated. To have voice, we argued in the book, is to have both the opportunity to speak and the respect to be heard (Rakow & Wackwitz, 2004, p. 9). Examples abound of women being silenced and of asserting their speaking rights. Women’s lack of access to the means of speech, their attempts to name their experiences and challenge language authorities, to assert their conversational and interactional rights and preferences, and to create their own means of communicating have been prime material for feminist communication scholars. At the same time, having a position of privilege to choose who speaks and about what reinforces the very structural relation in
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need of radical alteration, demonstrating how fraught with problems is the simplistic assumption that those of us with platforms to speak can “let” other women “speak for themselves.” Representation, the book’s third theme, had been identiﬁed by feminists as the means by which hierarchies of gender and race are displayed as if natural rather than authorized by particular motivations. Documenting women’s images was an early task of feminist scholars looking at media and popular culture, and the patterns became obvious: Latina women displayed as noblewomen or cantina girls, Native American women as squaws or princesses, Asian American women as geishas or dragon ladies, African American women as mammies or matriarchs, and white women as madonnas or whores. Moving beyond the documentation to a theoretical analysis was more diﬃcult, with a confusion or conﬂation between an epistemological sense of the word and a political one. On one hand, because of the widespread acceptance of the epistemological position of realism, media representation typically has been understood as an accurate or inaccurate mirror of reality, rather than an expression of the meanings ascribed to the original subjects. Representation also is used to justify one part assuming the privilege of speaking and acting on behalf of the rest, the part standing for the whole (Rakow & Wackwitz, 2004, p. 172). Systems of representation that yield political and material advantages for some groups at the expense of others require remedy, not simply better representations. Who authorizes—underwrites—these representations, and what should the ﬁeld of communication studies be doing to reimagine these systems? The eﬀort to amplify the voices and representations of women of color is inevitably only a short-term strategy that does little to alter structural relationships between those with platforms and those without. It does little to aid our understanding of the origin and practice of white privilege and its relationship to other systems of oppression. As transnational feminism became more clearly the necessary approach needed by feminist theory (only the globally privileged subject positions can ignore the global and thereby perpetuate colonialism, Raka Shome  warned us), my place as a feminist scholar became even more problematic. What should a white feminist do? How can she contribute to theory-making without recentering herself and whiteness and Western colonial imperialism? If I enter into feminist theory, my race enters with me like the nose of the camel. When and where do I enter, to hold a mirror to Paula Giddings’ (1984) piercing examination of Black women’s resistance work? But I am always, already there. I am there in representations of (white) feminist theory, as a particular scholar and in the discourse transnational feminism is positioned against (see Amos & Parmar, 1984, on imperial feminism). I am already there in the representations of white woman, a semiotic tool of political and economic actors and in “circuits of visibility” reproducing the hegemony of the West in the global imaginary (Radha Hegde, 2011, p. 3). My dilemma came to a head when I encountered an award-winning documentary video, The Glow of White Women, an autobiography of and by Yunus Valley (2007), about growing up in the 1960s during apartheid in South Africa. The
video drew me down a path that encountered issues of agency and complicity, resulting in a presentation at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (Rakow, 2014). In the ﬁlm, Valley calls white women both villains and victims as he unravels a tale of his childhood growing up as a Muslim and Indian/Black under the oppression of apartheid, legal from 1948 to 1994, and having little contact with whites except through magazines with provocative displays of white women. Extramarital sexual relations between whites and Blacks and interracial marriage were illegal. He eventually joined the intelligentsia, worked against apartheid, and had numerous selfreported sexual encounters with white women. He describes his relationship with these representations of white women: “My relationship with these images was far more signiﬁcant [than my sexual encounters]—they were around long enough, under the bed, in the cupboard, on the wall. Those were probably more meaningful because they had my full attention” (Valley, 2007). Expressing his contempt, he asserts that white women’s sexuality is “an empty continent. It’s a scared, petty, trivial, empty, vacuous continent that, served up, ﬁnds some recourse in being little bossy madams because it’s so frigid and empty.” He interviews a white woman who was a paid model for magazines, a white woman journalist who was raped (in a country where rape is widespread), and Mrs. South Africa 2006, all purportedly speaking as and for themselves and all complicit in some way in the ideologies which they carried out. I could not ignore this text: I am already in it. As a white woman, I am invoked, hailed, interpellated, and represented by the text. “I think all black men should be obsessed with white women because they were denied them,” Valley tells us in the documentary. I could not unsee the poster trailer of four young blonde white women arranged like an adoring halo around Valley under the title The Glow of White Women in words appearing to be cut from a magazine like a child’s birthday note. The ﬁlm is a piece of resistance to an ideology in which white women are both a material and a semiotic tool serving as the linchpin for a gender system holding in place structural racism. Such notions about race and sexuality are used in other regions of the world as well, where diﬀerentiation from non-whites is critical for white social mobility, where exploitation is rationalized, and biological reproduction of whiteness is used to structure humans into racial hierarchies (see Gregory Smithers, 2009). What should we make of this generic and universalized white woman that he invokes, derived from a long genealogy of representations of white women who wear the face at the intersection of white supremacy and patriarchy? The women chosen and posed in the poster are “real women” orchestrated to represent this sign. What should we make of them and the particular white women he interviews, complicit and privileged, yet used or victimized for their sexuality? They are not the authors of their own representations but stand in for other “real women,” serving to validate the representations to which he is both attracted and repelled. It was transnational feminist theory that gave me tools to approach my analysis. Chandra Mohanty (2003) helped me unravel the distinction between “woman” as a
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cultural and ideological composite constructed in discourses, and “women” as material subjects in history. From Angharad Valdivia (2004) I had learned how the female body is used in the struggle over national imagery. Radha Hegde (1998) had turned my attention to the critical ways in which representations are authorized by particular relations of power. White women are made, not born, in the context of representations not usually or often of their own making in which they are undifferentiated by their own ideological positions, class, or other markers of intersectionality. The sign “woman” is white, made from models and actors authorized by the global beauty industry, political regimes, and publishers, reporters, advertisers, artists, and ﬁlm makers. At the same time, there are “real women” in public discourse by choice or selection appearing within webs of meaning about gender and race. Contemporary invocations of the epithet “Karen” for a particularly petty yet dangerous and racist (middle-class) white woman in the US have crystalized a countersign to what have long been the positive and aspirational values of beauty and sexuality and goodness we are told are held by white women. The damaging and lethal ideological system of white supremacy and patriarchy now also bears the face of this other universalized “real” but viliﬁed white woman with the agency to carry out everyday racism. This may be a useful, even necessary step, to break the monopoly of other representations but it does not crack the code of white supremacy and the complicity and resistance of white women in it. It does hide the agency of white men who largely hold the keys to large scale institutional and structural forces. Masculinity studies have so far gotten individual white men oﬀ the hook by seeming to de-essentialize masculinity, identifying a range of acceptable and unacceptable characteristics which they can take on, from toxic to hegemonic to positive. We have not done the same for white women but should, not because we white women need to be let oﬀ the hook for racism and the exercise of privilege but because racism is not an essential (biological or natural) feature of white women but a learned one. We need to document patterns in lived experiences and meaning systems, using such feminist methods as interviews, participant observation, and textual analysis, which can enable us to name alternatives to toxic white femininity, including nonbinary and alternative identities based in nonracist and anti-racist ideological world views. The work is not done. We are left to answer questions about who authorizes and beneﬁts from white women’s representations, how white women are complicit or resistant to various ideologies, and what agency white women exert in creating meanings under conditions not of their own making.
The Personal as Public If each is to have an opportunity for voice and the ability and opportunity to represent themselves and be represented as they wish, we will need the conditions for participatory democracy. It was in graduate school that I had this insight which never left me. My fervent feminist analysis of what was wrong had no path to move it forward. Solutions to the problem of exclusion from the processes by which
knowledge is made and reproduced seemed out of reach. From Dorothy Smith (1978) I gained the powerful metaphor of women excluded from the circle of men who attend to their own interests and make their own knowledge to beneﬁt themselves. Patricia Hill Collins (1990) schooled us all on how the outsider produces a knowledge from their speciﬁc historical standpoint that is not available to others not similarly situated. But what was the solution? It was my encounter with US philosopher John Dewey’s The Public and Its Problems (John Dewey, 1927) that made it clear what was needed and why. Writing in the 1920s against elitist opinions like those of political columnist Walter Lippmann, when democracy was under ﬁre for the failings of public opinion, Dewey argued for more democracy and for the conditions to create intelligent public opinion. We need the public, he argued, those aﬀected by an issue, to have the means by which they contribute their experiences to the production of knowledge for collective decision-making. The public has been eclipsed in the US by the intervention of large corporate interests who stand between us and our own government. Newspapers and publicists have become propaganda machines that prevent the free circulation of what needs to be known to make good judgments. Experience is the foundation of all knowledge, according to Dewey, but we lack the means for people to contribute theirs to knowledge production. We have failed to create new local community methods for generating shared meaning and to connect the local to our national needs. Dewey’s idea of a democracy grounded in the participation of all made great sense to me. We can only alter relations of domination if we create new systems of communication that enable participation in the production of knowledge needed to guide collective decisionmaking. Over the years, I tried to put some of Dewey’s ideas to the test through the Center for Community Engagement at the University of North Dakota. With other academic and public colleagues, we created a nonproﬁt newspaper, an annual community forum, and a journal with the purpose of building and sharing knowledge from the ground up and directing the questions and ideas of the public to decision-makers. The results from this praxis gave me a sense that such models are worth pursuing (see Rakow & Nastasia, 2011). Eventually I was led to write my last book, this one on John Dewey (Rakow, 2019), to highlight the contribution he had and could make to the ﬁeld of communication. It was in my research on Dewey for the book that I was stunned to ﬁnd that I had been part of a philosophical tradition of feminist scholars of which I was almost completely unaware: feminist pragmatism. Pragmatism is characterized by its position on truth, that truth can only be judged by its consequences, not in advance by its accurate mapping of reality (which is realism) or by its recognition of a priori ideas (idealism), neither of which can provide any standard against which truth can be judged. Truth is, instead, what is good for us to believe, Dewey argued, and that “us” cannot be simply an elite who believes they know what is best, but all of us contributing what we know from experience. Dewey was himself inﬂuenced by feminists and feminism, and in return, contemporary feminist pragmatism has found Dewey to be a sympathetic and insightful
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companion to our work, along with early feminists unrecognized for their contributions to this philosophical position (see Charlene Haddock Seigfried, 1991, and Marta Vaamonde Gamo, 2014). Feminist pragmatism looks to the place of experience in creating knowledge, in the plasticity of human nature and behavior infused by culture, and in the value (indeed necessity) of community over individualism (see Rakow, 2019, pp. 120–121). I had found an intellectual home in feminist pragmatism that I only regret was not available to me earlier. From Dewey, I gained the conviction that our ﬁeld has been derelict in its responsibility to reimagine our local and national communication systems in the US that are not simply consumer goods, proﬁt generators, and the means for distribution of lies and confusion. Our ﬁeld has been embarrassingly absent from the most important discussions of this now and during the past century. What communication systems do we need to enable people to be part of creating their own identiﬁes, communities, and destinies?
Conclusion Now, in a world of political, economic, and physical uncertainties, the personal and professional paths we were on may have ended abruptly or taken us far aﬁeld from our intended destinations. There are new odysseys to be undertaken. There is no sure footing and no known end to the paths drawing us forward, as we may have once led ourselves to believe. The paths I traveled were often more obscured than clear. I had hoped to be part of changing our ﬁeld and changing how communication is understood as the source and the method for who we are and what we become. What is important to theorize, what disciplinary genealogies continue to have relevance, what academic battles are worth ﬁghting when many are ﬁghting for the lives, their livelihoods, and their humanity? We can begin with our own experiences while recognizing that the personal has its limitations unless it is connected to an understanding of the life worlds of others, to privilege and its discontents, and to the professional worlds of academic disciplines and institutions who carry forth ideological commitments. We need to look for a new sense of the public engaged in communal systems of knowledge-making, leading to new representations and new ideologies. In the midst of such deep uncertainties about our future as communities, countries, and a planet, we need to draw on all the wisdom we can. All of us are made not born. What will we make of ourselves?
References Amos, Valerie, & Parmar, Pratibha (1984). Challenging imperial feminism. Feminist Review, 17(July), 3–19. Collins, Patricia Hill (1990). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. Unwin Hyman. Collins, Patricia Hill (2019). Intersectionality as critical social theory. Duke University Press. Crenshaw, Kimberlé (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A Black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics.
University of Chicago Legal Forum 1989(1, article 8), 139–167. https://chicagounbound. uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1052&context=uclf. de Beauvoir, Simone (1953). The second sex. (H.M. Pashley, Trans.). Knopf. (Original work published 1949). Dewey, John (1927). The public and its problems. Swallow Press. Frye, Marilyn (1983). The politics of reality: Essays in feminist theory. Crossing Press. Gamo, Marta Vaamonde (2014). The interpretation of communication from Dewey’s empirical naturalism. Consequences for feminism. Pragmatism Today, 5(1), 18–27. Ganguly, Keya (1992). Accounting for others: Feminism and representation. In Lana F. Rakow (Ed.), Women making meaning: New feminist directions in communication (pp. 60–79). Routledge. Giddings, Paula (1984). When and where I enter: The impact of Black women on race and sex in America. HarperCollins. Hegde, Radha S. (1998). A view from elsewhere: Locating diﬀerence and the politics of representation from a transnational feminist perspective. Communication Theory, 8(3), 271–297. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2885.1998.tb00222.x. Hegde, Radha (Ed.). (2011). Circuits of visibility: Gender and transnational media cultures. New York University Press. Kessler, Suzanne J., & McKenna, Wendy (1978). Gender: An ethnomethodological approach. John Wiley. Lorde, Audre (1984). Sister outsider: Essays and speeches. Crossing Press. Mohanty, Chandra Talpade (2003). Feminism without borders: Decolonizing theory, practicing solidarity. Duke University Press. Rakow, Lana F. (1986a). Feminist approaches to popular culture: Giving patriarchy its due. Communication, 9, 19–41. Rakow, Lana F. (1986b). Rethinking gender research in communication. Journal of Communication, 36(4), 11–26. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.1986.tb01447.x. Rakow, Lana F. (1988). Gendered technology, gendered practice. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 5(1), 57–70. https://doi.org/10.1080/15295038809366685. Rakow, Lana F. (1992a). The ﬁeld reconsidered. In Lana F. Rakow (Ed.), Women making meaning: New feminist directions in communication (pp. 3–17). Routledge. Rakow, Lana F. (1992b). Gender on the line. University of Illinois Press. Rakow, Lana F. (Ed). (1992c). Women making meaning. Routledge. Rakow, Lana F. (1993a). A bridge to the future: How to get there from here through curriculum reform. In Pamela J. Creedon (Ed.), Women in mass communication: Challenging gender values, 2nd ed. (pp. 363–374). Sage. Rakow, Lana F. (1993b). The curriculum is the future. Journal of Communication, 43(4), 154–162. Rakow, Lana F. (2000). Workplace abuse at the University of North Dakota: Parallels to domestic abuse[paper presentation]. Northland Community and Technical College, Thief River Falls, MN. https://www.researchgate.net/proﬁle/Lana_Rakow2/publications. Rakow, Lana F. (2001). Shifting from industries to publics. In Jeremy Cohen (Ed.), Symposium: Journalism and mass communication at the crossroads. Journalism and Mass Communication Educator, 56(3), 11–14. Rakow, Lana F. (2014). What will we make of white women?Transnational feminism and white woman/women as sign. Global Media Research Center (March 18). Southern Illinois University Carbondale. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUvP8IgQXm8. Rakow, Lana F. (2019). John Dewey: A critical introduction to media and communication theory. Peter Lang. Rakow, Lana F., & Kramarae, Cheris (Eds.). (1990). The revolution in words. Routledge.
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Rakow, Lana F., & Nastasia, Diana (2011). Community Connect: A network of civic spaces for public communication in North Dakota. In Philip M.Napoli & Minna Aslama (Eds.), Communications research in action: Scholar–activist collaborations for a democratic public sphere (pp. 197–217). Fordham University Press. Rakow, Lana F., & Wackwitz, Laura (Eds.) (2004). Feminist communication theory: Selections in context. Sage. Seigfried, Charlene Haddock (1991). Where are all the pragmatist feminists? Hypatia, 6(2), 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1527-2001.1991.tb01390.x. Shome, Raka (2006). Transnational feminism and communication studies. The Communication Review, 9, 255–267. https://doi.org/10.1080/10714420600957266. Smith, Dorothy E. (1978). A peculiar eclipsing: Women’s exclusion from man’s culture. Women’s Studies International Quarterly, 1(4), 281–295. Smithers, Gregory D. (2009). Science, sexuality, and race in the United States and Australia, 1780s–1890s. Routledge. Valdivia, Angharad N. (2004). Latinas as radical hybrid: Transnationally gendered traces in mainstream media. Global Media Journal, 3(4). https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/ Latinas-as-Radical-Hybrid%3ATransnationally-gendered-Valdivia/eb25e9dbfed4c606e daa32a75472aacc52fde0ac. Valley, Yunus (2007). The glow of white women. Link Media.
5 SUFFRAGE MEDIA HISTORIOGRAPHY AND STATUS POLITICS Linda Steiner
Two journalists preparing a podcast series on the US suﬀrage movement recently asked me to discuss coverage of women’s enfranchisement by the 19th-century press—clearly referring to the mainstream American press. Having studied the 19thcentury women’s suﬀrage press, I knew only what suﬀrage editors quoted from newspapers of the day, plus Lauren Kessler’s (1983) research on how mainstream Oregon newspapers covered Oregon’s referenda on women’s suﬀrage between 1884 and 1906.1 When I could not answer their question about pre-1900 coverage, the journalists asked how suﬀrage newspapers covered suﬀragists. My answer was that suﬀrage periodicals didn’t “cover” suﬀragists. They created them. Nineteenth-century suﬀrage editors scripted, auditioned, rehearsed, and dramatized the new women they wanted to be. The US women’s suﬀrage press enabled women to invent, advocate, and celebrate new ways of being women. They oﬀered up new, if provisional, versions of womanhood that were signiﬁcant and honorable. They dramatized new ways of being women that imbued women’s lives with coherence, purpose, and meaning as appropriate to the emerging modern culture. These new versions were diﬀerent, on principle, from the ideal commended by clergy, mainstream editors, teachers, political and intellectual leaders, and even by parents. Suﬀragists disagreed on the precise features of the new woman. Some of them, but not all, renounced fashion dictates of the day and wore clothes that facilitated vigorous movement and health. Some insisted on keeping their maiden names if they married and rewriting standard marriage vows. For some, but not all, labor conditions, access to higher education, property rights, and the banking industry were critical issues. But they all demanded enfranchisement. As political beings who deserved respect, prestige, and esteem, these new women were conﬁdent they deserved the vote. DOI: 10.4324/9781003102786-8
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Scholars began investigating the role of suﬀrage periodicals in the early 1970s, when women often wanted to study women, especially if they could ﬁnd ways to underscore women’s agency. At Illinois, where James Carey was essentially establishing American cultural studies, which rejected Whiggish accounts of heroic editors, I studied about 70 US women’s suﬀrage newspapers and magazines published between 1848 and 1900. Both the subject and approach continue to engage me. In this chapter, nevertheless, I acknowledge several instructive conceptual problems and methodological blinders on my part. My status politics logic never gained much traction among suﬀrage historians. More importantly, my dissertation, completed in 1979, only brieﬂy acknowledged the racist logic of white suﬀrage editors and publishers, and my published articles (1993, 1991, 1983) failed to interrogate the whiteness of the periodicals I studied. Ultimately, I will suggest new ways of thinking about these issues.
Cultural Studies and Status Politics One of my key working assumptions was that periodicals published by and for a marginalized group could bring together otherwise geographically far-ﬂung, socially isolated readers into an aﬀective community. The mainstream press could never accomplish this. Suﬀrage editors correctly insisted that “ladies’ magazines” would misunderstand their political interests while the “ordinary papers” would either misrepresent or bury their stories. Their “re-visioning” of womanhood emerged through reading, producing, and writing for the group’s own media, which generated new languages, concepts, and deﬁnitions—essentially, new recipes for life. Then, having articulated and dramatized a new way of being, these papers taught their readers how to argue for legitimacy, which they understood in terms of winning the vote. Voting per se was not why 19th-century suﬀragists sought enfranchisement. Rather, it was the status implied by the right to vote. This explains why anti-suﬀragists opposed enfranchisement and why suﬀragists spent little time debating what they would actually do once enfranchised. Suﬀrage editors framed this in terms of war, fought by an “army” of suﬀragists. Paulina Wright Davis, a suﬀrage editor known for her lofty, mild-mannered literary tone, claimed: To refuse to consider a cause actively was not simply neutrality, but was to oppose reform and to support the status quo. When the blood-stained heroism of the battleﬁeld demands the homage of our admiration, we must either bravely rebuke the ruﬃan crime or partake its guilt. (Davis, 1853) A related assumption was that symbols are consequential, as is status. Symbols which give order and coherence to individual and communal experience. All people need to believe their lives to have meaning. Moreover, social recognition and aﬃrmation of the community are crucial. We want other people to respect our meanings, our ways of being, our ideas, our lives. I drew on Max Weber’s attention to how status
groups command diﬀerent degrees of prestige, honor, respect, and esteem, what we now call, following Pierre Bourdieu, symbolic capital. Also helpful was Joseph Gusﬁeld’s (1963) notion of status politics. He suggested that in the United States, where class distinctions are weak, people essentially must act “to preserve, defend, or enhance the dominance and prestige” of their own group’s way of being (p. 3). Notably, Gusﬁeld found that lack of social esteem is probably experienced most keenly by people who have fewer material compensations. Yet status battles are fought most vociferously when people at the top sense that they are losing that status to a rising group. Jeﬀrey Alexander (2006) emphasizes that civil sphere solidarity is grounded in an emotional identiﬁcation with the other members, a feeling of shared destiny. According to Alexander, social movements represent others in polluted categories and re-present the group in “sacred” terms. Material and instrumental relations are not the only things that matter. Thus, altering the representational order is a matter of symbolic recognition, not facts. Work on status politics, particularistic loyalties, and symbolic politics was crucial to my understanding of the gendered implications of major economic, cultural, political, technological, and social changes in the United States. First, industrialization and the resulting separation of workplace and home produced and then enforced a new strict division of spheres, making informal preparation for non-domestic work more diﬃcult for women and undermining the value of the work newly designated as women’s domain (i.e., the home). Urbanization also discursively (and in practice for the white middle class) relegated women to domestic consumption. In cities, the birthrate decreased once large families became more a burden than a resource and people needed to and could live in increasingly small homes. Immigration reduced labor shortages, further pushing women out of the paid workforce. Meanwhile, monetary reward was widely heralded as the mark of success in the emerging “modern” American culture, so women’s domestic and therefore unpaid duties were regarded as decorative, not materially productive. The cumulative, intersecting impact of these changes meant that the activities and responsibilities that once were the grounds for a meaningful, satisfying womanly identity became superﬂuous. In combination, these upheavals undermined the symbolic standing of mid-19th-century women. One solution was idealizing the so-called “true woman” for her moral purity, domestic virtues, and cultivation. Being put on this pedestal, where she would not be contaminated by contact with the “outside” public sphere, comforted some white women and aligned with the interests of white men. In the 1880–1920 period, the Black middle class advocated what Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (1993) called “respectability politics”: they distanced themselves from cultural, social, and moral practices deemed low-class in order to portray their values (cleanliness, thrift, manners, sexual purity, abstemiousness) as compatible with white middle-class values. The white suﬀrage movement’s “new woman” was yet another plausible, if more controversial, response to this same set of challenges and associated status disruption. Two points are worth making here. First, for African Americans, as Elsa Barkley Brown (1994) points out, enfranchisement was not symbolic, as it was for white
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suﬀragists. For the recently emancipated African Americans, the vote was a community-owned tool that could potentially protect them. It was held collectively, not an individual possession. African American women “viewed African American men’s vote as equally theirs. They believed that franchise should be cast in the best interest of both” (Brown, 1994, p. 124). Reinforcing the sense of collective enfranchisement, Southern Black women literally accompanied Black men to polling places. Brown’s account underscores not only how Black and white women had diﬀerent standpoints on voting, but also how time and place matter in understanding who had access to the public sphere and what constituted the public sphere in the ﬁrst place. Voting per se is an unstable term needing sophisticated historical contextualization. Second, standards of charity, purity, or ﬁdelity may be consistently ignored in practice yet remain important statements of what is publicly approved as virtuous. Unlike human limbs, Gusﬁeld (1963) observed, norms do not necessarily atrophy through disuse. The fact that the virtues of the “true woman” enjoyed standing as the white ideal did not mean that all women practiced womanly virtues, although neither did it mean that this ideal suﬃced for all women. Gusﬁeld himself analyzed the Temperance movement in terms of a zero-sum status conﬂict between long-esteemed Protestants and urban immigrant Catholics. Gusﬁeld noted that changes in law, and especially changes in the Constitution are the most clear and emphatic declaration of changes in status: banning alcohol sales and consumption would honor Protestants and dishonor urban immigrants, illustrating how laws confer “respect upon the norms of the victor and disrespect upon the norms of the vanquished” (p.174).2 A Constitutional amendment to enfranchise women would likewise unambiguously and deﬁnitively symbolize the national prestige and public standing of new women. Again, white anti-suﬀragists’ solution was to celebrate the so-called “true woman” who deserved prestige in her role as nurturer, homemaker, and agent of moral and cultural socialization. Indeed, this embodiment of piety and purity was presented as if she had always been at the top of the status hierarchy within this special domestic sphere, ignoring that this rigid division of public and private spheres was also constructed. Susan Marshall (1986) emphasized that anti-suﬀrage counter-movement periodicals acknowledged how suﬀragists’ eﬀorts to integrate public and private spheres reduced the social distance on which the “true” women’s privilege depended. Essentially echoing the same status language of suﬀragists, anti-suﬀragists articulated the debate over women’s status in manifestly symbolic terms. The Remonstrance, the oﬃcial publication of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suﬀrage, asserted: The whole question of Woman’s Suﬀrage rests on something deeper than the point at issue. No suﬀragist is really ﬁghting heart and body for the doubtful advantage of going to the voting booth; she is ﬁghting for the ideal which that act symbolizes, the new ideal of womanhood. (Quoted in Marshall, 1986, p. 337)
After the ratiﬁcation of the Nineteenth Amendment, another anti-suﬀrage publication, The Woman Patriot, acknowledged this “something deeper” when it warned, “nobody but the mentally blind ever expected the Feminist movement ‘to stop at the winning of the vote’”; correctly predicting that reproductive rights were next, the Patriot went on to discuss an apparently ominous article from the Birth Control Review (Lori Ginzberg, 2020). My early work (1983, 1991) acknowledged that middle-class urban women, factory workers, and rural women experienced diﬀerent disruptions and to diﬀerent degrees. I also acknowledged, but only brieﬂy, how women of color and poor or working-class women experienced change diﬀerently from white middle-class women. The latter apparently never considered how complaints about women’s “enslavement” and “bondage” were alienating to Black women; how their approach to honoring abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth was patronizing; or how representing Black women as the ultimate victims of the Fifteenth Amendment, which enfranchised African American men, was hypocritical. I did not discuss how white middle-class suﬀragists wrongly presumed to speak for all women, and even asserted that they should do so. I will return later to my failure to critique the whiteness of all versions of the new women proposed by white suﬀragists.
Versions of the New Woman Editors experimented with several versions of the new woman, with writers and readers proposing, rejecting, amending, and reﬁning various conceptions of how new women talked, dressed, and conducted domestic and public life. The publications tried out diﬀerent rituals and symbols, diﬀerent histories and futures, diﬀerent villains and heroines. They tolerated, or condemned, diﬀerent stances about moral issues such as divorce, smoking, and alcohol. In the February 4, 1882 issue, one Woman’s Journal writer aptly described suﬀrage periodicals as “our own camping ground … where we may indulge in private rehearsals and scan our own mistakes with a critical eye, the truest wisdom being not to ‘pass our imperfections by’” (p. 35). Four pre-Civil War periodicals proposed the “sensible” women who were smart, self-reliant, practical, energetic, healthy, and capable of responsible action and intelligent analysis. This sensible type was dramatized in Elizabeth Aldrich’s Genius of Liberty (1851–1853); Paulina Davis’s Una (1853–55); the Indiana-based Mayﬂower (1861–1865); and especially the Lily (1848–1856). Under Amelia Bloomer’s (1851) editorial leadership, the Lily’s focus shifted from temperance to woman’s rights and the importance of emancipating women from cruel enactment of Unjust Laws by which her rights and inalienable claims to equality have been subverted, from the blighting inﬂuence of Prejudice by which she has been denied the privilege of being heard in self-defense, and from the blind, soul-destroying Bigotry by which she has been taught to look upon herself. (p. 93)
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A “strong-minded woman”—advocates and critics alike explicitly used this term— emerged in the Revolution (1868–1870), edited and published in New York City by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, with an abolitionist friend, Parker Pillsbury. Its ﬁrst masthead asserted: “Principle, not policy; Justice, not favors.” This was soon amended to add: “Men, their rights and nothing more; Women, their rights and nothing less.” As its title and credos suggested, the Revolution vigorously supported women who were always assertive, sometimes willful, often dogmatic. In contrast, anti-suﬀragists were “driveling, dependent imbeciles” whose crowning achievement was physical degeneracy and whose “chief delight is to believe themselves born to cling to whatever is nearest, in a droopy, like the ivy-to-the-oak way, and to be viney, and twiney, and whiney throughout” (Stanton, 1868, p. 1). The Woman’s Journal was established in 1870 in Boston by Lucy Stone, her husband Henry Blackwell, and several of their reform-minded friends. In 1866 Stone and Blackwell had sent out a prospectus for a paper called Universal Suﬀrage that would advocate recognition of social and political equality of women and Black people. Life circumstances intervened. But Stone moved forward with a periodical and suﬀrage organization, both of which proposed a vision for new women very diﬀerent from Stanton’s highly politicized militance. The Woman’s Journal prescribed a more conservative, reasonable, calm, “responsible” woman who was moderate in aims and claims. Especially in the 1890s, the Journal publicized Black women’s clubs and organizations, as well as the Woman’s Era, but it also published news of southern suﬀragists. By the time the Journal ended in 1931, it was advocating an equal rights amendment. The politics of respectability (Higginbotham, 1993) emerged in yet another ideal type, the “earnest” women of the Woman’s Era, which encouraged reﬁnement, respectability, and uplift among Black women (Steiner, 2020). Josephine St. Pierre Ruﬃn, who also founded the Women’s Era Club, edited and published the weekly with the help of her daughter. Ruﬃn complained that men editors never found space for speeches given at a Congress of Women: Sometime our women will come to realize that only through the columns of a paper controlled by themselves will the hard and beneﬁcent work they are doing all the time be made known to the world, and so bring to them the respect and dignity they so richly deserve.3 Many prominent journalists who wrote for both the white and Black press also contributed to the paper, such as Gertrude E.H. Bustill Mossell, its Philadelphia correspondent, and Victoria Matthews. The Woman’s Era described Matthews as a prominent progressive woman “desirous of doing what she can for her race” (S. Elizabeth Frazier, 1894). The magazine’s primary content was club news and reports of the activities of Black women’s groups around the country, but an unbylined front page article in its ﬁrst issue honored Ruﬃn’s friend Lucy Stone as “an ardent, consistent, and persistent abolitionist” who “consecrated” herself to suﬀrage only after
the emancipation and to whom all women owed a signiﬁcant debt. It also addressed health, exercise, and etiquette, illustrating that for Black women, suﬀrage politics was “bound up” with broad concerns and diﬀerences among women, including racial diﬀerence (Martha S. Jones, 2007). All these papers represented themselves as communications of and for women. Amelia Bloomer (1849) declared that the Lily “is edited and published by Ladies, and to Ladies it will mainly appeal for her support. It is woman that speaks” (p. 1). Elizabeth Aldrich (1852a) promised subscribers that Genius of Liberty “belongs to All; every one will be heard in her own style, principle, and want; ‘tis the common property of Woman” (p. 1). In 1854 Paulina Wright Davis boasted that the Una reached women who could never attend suﬀrage conventions or lectures: It has been a voice to many who could not have uttered their thoughts through any other channel—and we have abundant evidence that it has been a source of consolation, looked for every month with anxious expectation, to those who are in solitary places. (p. 376) The Woman’s Era’s debut issue (March 24, 1894) insisted in its “Greeting” that “women of all races and conditions” had long needed “such a journal as a medium of intercourse and sympathy.” That said, the movement was hardly uniﬁed about the new social reality it proposed. Already in 1852, the editor of the Genius of Liberty said: As a class we have been uncollected, unmarshalled, and destitute of a cementing spirit; no general duty has awakened us; no common eﬀort has ever brought us together … We want a common nervous circulation, we want a general excitement, a common sensibility, a universal will, and a concordant action. (Aldrich, 1852b, p. 12) And this largely remained the case, or better, remains the case.
Approaches That Never Made Headway Ignoring how 19th-century women activists tackled a slew of important issues, suffrage historians in the 1970s and 1980s typically treated suﬀrage ideology as if the aim were solely enfranchisement and as if the internal arguments turned entirely on the best strategies for winning the vote. This reading “constitutes” ratiﬁcation in 1920 as a hard-won victory, culminating 70 years of struggle. Some recent revisionists dispute this “master narrative” (Nancy Hewitt, 2010) or “mythology” (Lisa Tetrault, 2014). Yet, perhaps ironically, many more recent historians criticize mid-19th-century women’s rights reformers for going beyond suﬀrage, with suﬀrage often not being their top priority. As Liette Gidlow (2020) put it in summarizing the views of
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dispirited revisionist historians, “the Nineteenth Amendment was a bust: the voter turnout for women in the 1920s was low, the suﬀrage coalition splintered, and the newly enfranchised women failed to push through a fresh wave of progressive reform” (p. 12). But other narratives are possible, if narrower in their application. One acknowledges that precisely because the new law’s import was symbolic, it importantly legitimated the new public power of white women. This view is not to ignore the elitism, nativism, or racism of the early white suﬀragists or how voting functioned diﬀerently for women of color. Eventually, for example, Black women did constitute a voting bloc. More to the point, now, when states deprive certain groups of people of their right to vote, the aim is to prevent people from voting, not to diminish or decenter their status. Status wars continue to be fought, but now turn on wholly diﬀerent issues. Furthermore, whether they were historians of US politics, the suﬀrage movement, or journalism, most historians have treated suﬀrage periodicals as rich deposits of information about the suﬀrage movement per se. Even when scholars studied coverage, they rarely regarded the periodicals as themselves interesting, much less important. This approach, too, largely remains the case, although the structure and operations of suﬀrage and other alternative presses have also garnered scholarly attention. A large majority of the other suﬀrage-oriented media research has focused on mainstream coverage of the ratiﬁcation campaign or the spectacular events of the 1910s, such as parades, marches, and the suﬀragists who, starting January 1917, protested outside the White House, carrying banners that urged President Woodrow Wilson to change his mind on women’s suﬀrage.4 Linda J. Lumsden (2019), whose thorough historiography valuably references much literature of this kind, underscores the paucity of research on what she calls the “symbiotic relationship between the American suﬀrage movement and mainstream media” (p. 10). Until the turn of the century, in my view, US suﬀragists had no “symbiotic relationship” with mainstream media. Until after the turn of the century, when the arguments and strategies dramatically switched, suﬀragists depended on their own “media” as a space in which they could experiment. In their own newspapers and magazines, they could try on diﬀerent versions of womanhood, propose diﬀerent ways of legitimating their right to vote as well as other needs and interests, try out diﬀerent ways of doing journalism. Nevertheless, if this experimentation successfully convinced suﬀrage converts of the rightness of their cause, the eﬀorts were noticeably insuﬃcient in winning the right to vote, especially at the federal level, which, again, represented the ultimate marker. The earliest laws on women’s suﬀrage, it must be added, were designed to deprive women of a right they had previously held, at the state level. In 1777, New York, which originally referred to “his or her ballot,” oﬃcially disenfranchised women. (In 1917 it was the ﬁrst Eastern state to fully enfranchise women.) By the time the United States Constitution was ratiﬁed, only in New Jersey could women still vote in state elections; in 1807, New Jersey, too, ended women’s suﬀrage. The battle to reverse this was painfully slow. Territories went back and forth, with polygamy and
statehood being complicating factors; Western states were relatively early in enfranchising women in some situations (school board or municipal elections, and sometimes state-wide). In 1867 Kansas held the ﬁrst of multiple state referenda on enfranchisement of women and of Black men (both were rejected). After the turn of the century, then, suﬀragists became noticeably frustrated and increasingly laser-focused on the federal victory. They more frequently turned to claims about women’s moral superiority and resorted to events that would attract national exposure and publicity. The way that this change in focus and strategy rendered the suﬀrage periodicals less central is evident in the compressed history of the Missouri Woman, begun in 1915. Mary Semple Scott (1920), the monthly’s editor from 1916 to 1919, explained the original rationale for a local suﬀrage news outlet: “The suﬀragists were continually obliged to do something spectacular in order to be mentioned. This was felt to be a great drawback to the cause; moreover, the leaders were women who abhorred the sensational” (p. 372). In 1919, however, the state suﬀrage association decided: [T]he great need for an oﬃcial suﬀrage organ had passed; …the need of the future lay in wider publicity through the daily and weekly press … Whereas in the old days it had been impossible to get our news into the papers, at this time it was impossible to keep it out. Reporters listened eagerly to every word of our opinions; our leaders were accurately photographed; everything we did was featured and not on the Woman’s Page, but in the general news. (pp. 376–377)
What I Missed Part of my problem involved beginning with the most famous and provocative periodicals—the ones that I could locate and either access on paper (I spent a summer at the Library of Congress and spent several weeks in other cities) or microﬁlm. Moreover, because I emphasized that the 19th-century newspapers tackled an enormous range of other reforms and issues, I ignored periodicals that began in a fundamentally diﬀerent place although they embraced women’s suﬀrage—the periodicals of farm women, of Mormon women.5 Most critically, by analyzing suﬀrage publications, I missed Black women’s speeches and the journalism of Black activists that did not address women’s suﬀrage. For example, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper wrote about a broad range of issues for many white and Black reform-oriented periodicals, but her suﬀrage views were expressed almost exclusively in her ﬁction (Bettye Collier-Thomas, 1997). Ida B. Wells-Barnett is famous ﬁrst for her anti-lynching investigations, and secondarily as a suﬀragist; the Black and white press covered her intersecting crusades against lynching and for suﬀrage. But I did not know about The Alpha Suﬀrage Record, the newsletter of the Alpha Suﬀrage Club that Wells-Barnett founded in Chicago in 1913;
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the club informed Black women about candidates and local ballot issues. On WellsBarnett’s advice, the newsletter’s editor regularly sent announcements to the Black press, which in turn covered club activities (Lori Amber Roessner, 2018). Moreover, I emphasized how 19th-century suﬀrage periodicals used news articles, ﬁction, poems, editorials, anecdotes, biographies, essays, advertising, cartoons, and other graphics to deﬁne women’s interests broadly.6 The Una, whose slogan was “Devoted to the Elevation of Women,” operationalized this in a way that indicates that breadth. The interests included: “The Rights, Relations, Duties, Destiny and Sphere of Woman: Her Education-Literary, Scientiﬁc, and Artistic; Her Avocation-Industrial, Commercial, and Professional: Her InterestsPecuniary, Civil, and Political.” I missed, however, how the “women” were white middle-class women. I missed the implicit racism in these publications, probably due to several factors, in combination. Intent on avoiding biography, I missed what Catherine Mitchell (1993) observed, i.e., that suﬀrage editors “were themselves privileged, White, and ﬁnancially comfortable” (p. 61).7 Perhaps because I fell in love with my subjects for their feisty feminism, I was overly accepting of the Revolution’s claim that “[t]o us the Black women of the south are as precious in the scale of being as the men.” In opposing the Fifteenth Amendment for not enfranchising women, Stanton had claimed that “as an abolitionist we protested against the enfranchisement of the Black man alone, seeing that the bondage of the women of that race, by the laws of the south, would be more helpless than before” (p. 248). Likewise, I gave a shallow reading of Stanton’s tricky rhetoric. Jen McDaneld (2013) gives a detailed account of how Stanton alternated between arguing about Black women’s particular degradation but then meaning white women when editorializing about why “women” deserved the franchise. Taking the contemporary consensus about white suﬀragists’ racism as a given, she analyzes the Revolution’s racist representation of Black women as positioning white woman suffragists “as victims of male privilege on the one hand and inheritors of White privilege on the other—as both oppressed and oppressing” (p. 244). McDaneld emphasizes the deep racism of Stanton’s rhetoric when Stanton asked whether a Black woman was really helped by being freed of white men’s chains “if the ignorant laborer by her side, who has learned no law but violence, her equal to-day, is henceforth to become her master” (p. 248). Faye Dudden (2011) features the bitter Reconstruction-era falling-out between white and Black suﬀragists. Dudden blames Stanton and Anthony’s abandonment of their long-held commitment to Black rights and of their friendship with Frederick Douglass, who signed the 1848 Declaration of Sentiments, on racism, money (i.e., needing ﬁnancial support for The Revolution), and political maneuvering. Her book literally begins: “[Stanton] dipped her pen into a tincture of White racism and sketched a reference to a nightmarish ﬁgure, the Black rapist” (p. 3). Over the last 25 or so years, scholars have not pulled their punches about the white suﬀragists, including ones whose work I addressed. Stanton’s status is especially diminished. With others, I had appreciated how The Revolution incorporated several
rights that women sought, including to work and to control her money and property. The Revolution also confronted questions of co-education, wages, child-rearing, physical exercise, dress reform, marriage, divorce, sexual politics, partisan party politics, and women’s role in religion. Stanton also addressed labor and class conﬂict. Recent scholars, however, emphasize Stanton’s attacks on immigrants and the working class, as well as her racism, in writing and in speeches. Racism and elitism deﬁned Stanton’s philosophy, with long-lasting, damaging consequences (Ginzberg, 2009). Nell Painter (1996) and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn (1998) accused Stanton and the other editors of the six-volume History of Woman Suﬀrage 8 of excluding some Black feminists while mythologizing the formerly enslaved Sojourner Truth, presumably because Truth’s illiteracy left her less likely to question how she was represented and because her disagreements with white suﬀragists were indirect.
Remembering, Re-Remembering, and Revising History The journalist Isabel Wilkerson (2020) argues that the United States has a “shapeshifting, unspoken, race-based caste pyramid” (p. 31), a powerful, insidious, invisible infrastructure that ﬁxes each group in its place. Directly drawing comparisons to India, she explains, “Caste is the granting or withholding of respect, status, honor, attention, privileges, resources, beneﬁt of the doubt and human kindness to someone on the basis of their perceived rank or standing in the hierarchy” (p. 33). Her examination of the interaction of race and caste is profound and moving. That said, the rigid language of caste probably overstates the workings of status hierarchy and underestimates opportunities for groups to successfully challenge their standing. The various formations of new womanhood dramatized in the 19th-century suﬀrage press were not the end of the story. One reason is that status conﬂict is inherently ongoing and dynamic. New contenders emerge and demand status—and then greater status. The racial blinders of 19th-century white women suﬀragists largely continued into the 20th century. Indeed, for all our sincerely professed commitment to intersectionality, I must concede, that same legacy marks 21st-century feminism and feminist activism. One of the rare white feminists to oﬀer a class-based intersectional analysis, Zillah Eisenstein emphasizes how white supremacy is embedded in capitalism. Economic exploitation, racial domination, patriarchy, and imperialism are connected. Eisenstein’s Abolitionist Socialist Feminism (2020) insists that moderation is insuﬃcient for antiracist white women; we must listen to Black women, she says, and act against all forms of white privilege. A more inspiring invocation of listening and conversation, and a far more satisfying way to end this chapter, however, comes in a lovely essay urging historians to foreground diﬀerence, speciﬁcally racial diﬀerence. Elsa Barkley Brown (1992) borrows, from dancer and storyteller Luisah Teish, the creole term “Gumbo ya ya,” which means ‘Everybody talks at once.’” Referring to how Teish’s family members all talked simultaneously whenever trying to ﬁll her in on everything that happened
Historiography and Status Politics 85
while she was away, Brown notes, “To relate their tales separately would be to obliterate that connection” (p. 297). Historians, she says, try to isolate one conversation and to explore it, but the trick is then how to put that conversation in a context that makes evident its dialogue with so many others. Historians must do better to analyze how race shapes the lives of everyone and recognize the relational nature of racial diﬀerences. As Brown says, the process requires re-remembering and careful listening to what others have to say: one must learn from others before joining in the conversation and collaborative action.
Notes 1 Coverage of suﬀrage issues, Kessler found, especially of suﬀragists’ ideas and philosophy, was minimal until 1905, i.e., until woman suﬀrage was widely perceived as legitimate. 2 The Eighteenth Amendment prohibited the production, sale, and transport of “intoxicating liquors”; it was repealed after three years of increases in organized violent crime and in social acceptance of ﬂouting the law. 3 “Two to Our Correspondents and Subscribers,” Woman’s Era, January 1896. All references to The Woman’s Era are from the Emory Women Writers Resource Project’s electronic version (which lacks page numbers). http://womenwriters.digitalscholarship. emory.edu/advocacy 4 Most famously, in June 1917 police began arresting and jailing these Silent Sentinels; some of them were beaten and tortured. In response to a jailhouse hunger strike organized by Alice Paul, head of the National Women’s Party, some were even force-fed. 5 Noting that many suﬀrage editors were members of state press associations, Elizabeth V. Burt (2000) wondered about the impact of ties with other organizations of suﬀrage editors, such as Emma Pack, whose Farmer’s Wife, a publication of the Farmer’s Alliance, was secondarily a suﬀrage publication. In any case, the fact that some suﬀrage editors joined press organizations does not mean that they began, much less ended up, as conventional journalists. 6 Ellen Carol Dubois (1978) likewise presented suﬀragists as radical in their complex understanding of women’s subordination; she disputed the criticism that the suﬀrage movement was unconnected to other ideas about women’s rights and social justice. Her second edition, however, acknowledged the racism of white suﬀragists and their conservative focus on voting. 7 Again, most of the scholarship on Black women’s eﬀorts began appearing in the 1990s, by which time I had moved on to other research interests. I would add, although this is no excuse, that my dissertation committee members were all white men; and my Ph.D. cohort was entirely white. 8 All four women (Stanton plus Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage and Ida Husted Harper) who produced the History, published 1881 to 1922, were involved in suﬀrage journalism and drew signiﬁcantly on suﬀrage periodicals.
References Aldrich, Elizabeth (1852a, October 15). The last year’s subscribers. Genius of Liberty, 1. Aldrich, Elizabeth (1852b, November 15). Strength in union. Genius of Liberty, 12. Alexander, Jeﬀrey C. (2006). The civil sphere. Oxford University Press. Bloomer, Amelia (1849, November 1). The Lily. The Lily, 88. Bloomer, Amelia (1851, December). Prospectus for 1852. The Lily, 93.
Brown, Elsa Barkley (1992). “What has happened here”: The politics of diﬀerence in women’s history and feminist politics. Feminist Studies, 18(2), pp. 295–312. Brown, Elsa Barkley (1994). Negotiating and transforming the public sphere: African American political life in the transition from slavery to freedom. Public Culture, 7(1), 107–146. https://doi.org/10.1215/08992363-7-1-107. Burt, Elizabeth V. (2000). Journalism of the suﬀrage movement. American Journalism, 17(1), 73–86, https://doi.org/10.1080/08821127.2000.10739223. Collier-Thomas, Bettye (1997). F.E.W. Harper: Abolitionist and feminist reformer 1825– 1911. In Ann D.Gordon & Bettye Collier-Thomas (Eds.), African American women and the vote, 1837–1965 (pp. 41–65). University of Massachusetts Press. Davis, Paulina W. (1853, November). The inﬂuence of opinions on the character. Una, 168–169. Davis, Paulina W. (1854, December). To our readers. Una, 376. Dubois, Ellen Carol (1978/1999). Feminism and suﬀrage: The emergence of an independent women’s movement in America, 1848–1869. Cornell University Press. Dudden, Faye E. (2011). Fighting chance: The struggle over woman suﬀrage and Black suﬀrage in reconstruction America. Oxford University Press. Eisenstein, Zillah (2020). Abolitionist socialist feminism. Monthly Review Press. Frazier, S. Elizabeth (1894, May 1). Mrs. Wm. E. Matthews. Woman’s Era (n.p.) Gidlow, Liette (2020). Introduction. Journal of Women’s History, 32(1), 11–13. http://doi. org/10.1353/jowh.2020.0001. Ginzberg, Lori D. (2009). Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American life. Hill & Wang. Ginzberg, Lori D. (2020). Radical imaginings: The view from atop a slippery slope. Journal of Women’s History, 32(1), 14–22. http://doi.org/10.1353/jowh.2020.0002. Gusﬁeld, Joseph R. (1963). Symbolic crusade: Status politics and the American temperance movement. University of Illinois Press. Hewitt, Nancy (2010). From Seneca Falls to suﬀrage?: Reimagining a “master” narrative in U.S. women’s history. (2010). In Nancy Hewitt (Ed.), No permanent waves: Recasting histories of U.S. feminism (pp. 15–38). Rutgers University Press. Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks (1993). Righteous discontent: The women’s movement in the Black Baptist church, 1880–1920. Harvard University Press. Jones, Martha S. (2007). All bound up together: The woman question in African American public culture, 1830–1900. University of North Carolina Press. Kessler, Lauren (1983). The ideas of woman suﬀrage and the mainstream press. Oregon Historical Quarterly, 84(3), 257–275. Lumsden, Linda J. (2019). Historiography: Woman suﬀrage and the media. American Journalism, 36(1), 4–31. https://doi.org/10.1080/08821127.2019.1572405. Marshall, Susan E. (1986). In defense of separate spheres: Class and status politics in the antisuﬀrage movement. Social Forces, 65(2), 327–351. McDaneld, Jen (2013). White suﬀragist dis/entitlement: The Revolution and the rhetoric of racism. Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers, 30(2), 243–264. Mitchell, Catherine (1993). Historiography: A new direction for research on the woman’s rights press. Journalism History, 19(2), 59–63. http://doi.org/10.1080/00947679.1993.12062360. Painter, Nell I. (1996). Sojourner Truth: A life, a symbol. W.W. Norton. Roessner, Lori Amber (2018). “The modern Joan [of] Arc”: Press coverage of Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s campaign for woman’s suﬀrage. In Lori Amber Roessner & Jodi L. Rightler-McDaniel (Eds.), Political pioneer of the press: Ida B. Wells-Barnett and her transnational crusade for social justice (pp. 63–80). Lexington.
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Scott, Mary Semple (1920). The Missouri woman. The Missouri Historical Review, 14(3– 4),372–377. Stanton, Elizabeth Cady (1868, January 15). Home truths. The Revolution, 1. Steiner, Linda (1983). Finding community in nineteenth century suﬀrage periodicals. American Journalism, 1(1), 1–16. Steiner, Linda (1991). Evolving rhetorical strategies/evolving identities. In Martha M. Solomon (Ed.), A voice of their own: The woman suﬀrage press, 1840–1910 (pp. 183–197). University of Alabama Press. Steiner, Linda (1993). Nineteenth century suﬀrage periodicals: Conceptions of womanhood and the press. In William Solomon & Robert McChesney (Eds.), Ruthless criticism: New perspectives in U.S. communication history (pp. 66–97). University of Minnesota Press. Steiner, Linda (2020). Nineteenth-century suﬀrage journals inventing and defending new women. In Linda Steiner, Carolyn Kitch, & Brooke Kroeger (Eds.), Front pages, front lines: Media and the ﬁght for women’s suﬀrage (pp. 42–60). University of Illinois Press. Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn (1998). African American women in the struggle for the vote, 1850– 1920. Indiana University Press. Tetrault, Lisa (2014). The myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the women’s suﬀrage movement, 1848–1898. University of North Carolina Press. Wilkerson, Isabel (2020, July 5). America’s enduring caste system. New York Times, pp. 26–33, 49–50. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/01/magazine/isabel-wilkerson-caste.html.
6 MEMORY, MEDIA, AND GENDER VIOLENCE IN KENYA Revisiting the St. Kizito Secondary School Crime of 1991 H. Leslie Steeves
In mid-July 1991, 306 boys at the St. Kizito Mixed Secondary School in Tigania, Kenya, a town in Meru County northeast of Nairobi, attacked a dormitory housing 271 girls. Nineteen schoolgirls died, 71 were raped, and over 80 were otherwise injured. The attack took place during a time of unrest in Kenya’s schools. Boys had commonly raped girls, but without consequences. Because of the many casualties, St. Kizito sparked extraordinary media coverage in the following weeks, as well as feminist activism against gender violence. I was living in Nairobi at the time and therefore had many conversations with my Kenyan students and colleagues about the incident. Later, I wrote a monograph on the local and international coverage of St. Kizito and its 12-month aftermath, including the trials of accused boys (H. Leslie Steeves, 1997).1 Analysis showed that most of the reporting was abysmal, revealing erasure of gender violence or rape myths, and exposing victims while protecting assailants and oﬃcials who failed to adequately respond. The study showed how the discourse allowed some space for feminist viewpoints, for instance, explicitly framing the attack as gender violence, not just a tragic outcome of student protests. This is consistent with hegemonic process that accommodates resistant content, but not enough to challenge the dominant trope. The poor coverage was partially explained as well by Western/neocolonial news values and biases, which pervade most news globally. As the authoritarian Kenyan government of the 1990s would not approve human subjects research on institutions of government control, including journalism, my study was based on texts. I expected that others eventually would interview journalists, victims, perpetrators, witnesses, and government and church oﬃcials, and would keep the memory alive. To my knowledge, no subsequent studies have been done, and St. Kizito has been almost entirely forgotten. Yet gender-based violence (GBV) in Kenya has continued, including sexual violence in schools. Feminist activism has also grown DOI: 10.4324/9781003102786-9
Memory, Media, and Gender Violence in Kenya 89
considerably since then, as have Kenya’s laws and policies around GBV. In October 2016, I interviewed three reporters who covered the St. Kizito story. They lamented that St. Kizito has been forgotten, while GBV continues. My essay therefore uses the St. Kizito case study to explore: Why is collective memory signiﬁcant and how do media forms contribute? Why and how may gender violence be remembered? What might be done three decades later? First, I review relevant scholarship on collective memory. Next, I summarize the global and Kenyan anti-GBV movements that rely on data, testimonies, memorial events, and media coverage to enact change. The subsequent sections discuss GBV in schools since St. Kizito, report interviews with journalists, reﬂect on why the incident has been forgotten, and consider the possible challenges, risks, and beneﬁts of initiatives to memorialize the victims.
Collective Memory A discussion of GBV memory requires a brief overview of memory studies, particularly the interdisciplinary subﬁeld of cultural or collective memory studies. Barbie Zelizer (1995) separates the concept from personal memory: “Used intermittently with terms like ‘social memory,’ ‘popular memory,’ ‘public memory,’ and ‘cultural memory,’ collective memory refers to recollections that are instantiated beyond the individual by and for the collective” (p. 214). Scholars trace the concept to the French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs and his landmark 1925 book, Social Frameworks of Memory (Astrid Erll, 2008; Jeﬀrey Olick et al., 2011). Erll states that globally and across disciplines Halbwachs’ works on collective memory are the “foundational texts of today’s memory studies” (p. 8). Halbwachs argued that memory is highly shaped by social context (1925); in fact, it is “impossible for individuals to remember in any consistent or persistent fashion outside of their group contexts; these are the necessary social frameworks of individual memory” (Olick et al., 2011, p. 18, emphasis in original). Many highlight the centrality of mediality, i.e., varied means of mediating shared meaning, in sustaining cultural memory: According to Erll, “It is only via medial externalization (from oral speech to writing, painting, or using the Internet) that individual memories, cultural knowledge, and versions of history can be shared” (Erll, 2008, pp. 12–13). Holocaust memorials and visuals are commonly cited mediators of powerful collective memories. Journalism can be an especially eﬀective mediator. Zelizer (1998, 2008) argues that although most journalists view themselves as interrogating the present, journalism is nonetheless a memorial practice. Zelizer discusses the kinds of journalism that may contribute to collective memory. Journalism that “strategically weaves past and present,” in contrast to superﬁcial deadline-driven work, can be impactful (1998, p. 382). Size and reach of the outlet is another consideration. Intentionality is important too in that journalists may consciously choose to engage in commemorative discourse.
Zelizer (1995) identiﬁed six premises in collective memory work. First, collective memory is a process and evolves over time and space. Second, memory is unpredictable in that unanticipated events can aﬀect memory. Third, memories are partial. Fourth, and particularly signiﬁcant, collective memory is usable, and can be a tool toward goals. Fifth, memory is both particular and universal. The same memory may have a speciﬁc meaning for certain groups, such as those who experienced it ﬁrsthand, while having broader meaning for others. Sixth, collective memories have materiality, in that they are evidence-based, with the evidence taking many forms: visual and written records, artifacts, monuments, and oral history. Geoﬀrey Hartman (1993) argues that audio and visual oral histories are especially valuable in sustaining public memory, safeguarding memory from erasure or revisionism. Acts of GBV constitute potential content for collective memory. Gender-based violence is a broad term that historically referenced acts resulting in “physical, sexual or psychological harm or suﬀering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life” (United Nations, 1993, p. 2). In 2018, the UN broadened the meaning, deﬁning GBV as “violence directed towards, or disproportionately aﬀecting, someone because of their gender or sex.” Numerous forms of gender violence have been recognized, including sexual violence, domestic violence, traﬃcking, femicide, female infanticide, violence against LGBTQI persons, and more (p. 7). Christine Bold et al. (2002) deﬁne memory-making of gender violence as “cultural countermemory,” in that there is often resistance to recognizing its scope “as an ongoing, everyday, systemic social fact” (p. 126). There are many ways this is done, such as by treating incidents as though ungendered (e.g., “domestic violence”) and/or as isolated events without context. The fact that collective memories are usable, as Zelizer (1995) points out, means that groups in power may seek ways to sustain them or, more often, to erase or minimize them. Bold et al. (2002) and Hartman (1993) discuss the crucial symbiosis between memorializing and activism. A memorial alone may sanction forgetting the past by giving it “a decent burial” (Hartman, 1993, p. 242). Notable gender violence memorials include those commemorating the December 6, 1989 massacre of 14 female engineering students at École Polytechnique Montreal. In Canada, December 6 is now a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Bold et al. (2002) analyze the complex blending of activism and memorializing at Marianne’s Park, named for a murdered feminist, that has served as a site for December 6 and other anti-GBV events. The park’s white founders and Marianne’s white identity have complicated events there, with speakers reminding “those of us who are white that however oppositional we feel ourselves to be, we participate in the privileges of race,” a “productive discomfort” that is “entirely consistent with the logic of countermemorializing” (p. 136). Bold et al. conclude: “Countermemorializing keeps the issue of violence against women visible and on the political agenda. It resists the memorializing tendency to carve history in
Memory, Media, and Gender Violence in Kenya 91
stone” (p. 145). Others have examined collective GBV memory in Global South contexts, thereby invoking dimensions of nation, class, and colonialism, as well as of race. Ruth Galván (2016) exposes the ways mainstream media accounts of femicides in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico have trivialized the many killings and have failed to recognize intersectional and colonial dimensions. She also shows how Chicana and Mexicana feminists are remembering and teaching these histories via literature and public art installations. Mary Maxﬁeld (2016) analyzes local and international versions of #BringBackOurGirls, which has aimed to ﬁnd and return 276 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by the militant group Boko Haram in 2014. Nigerian activists have sought to memorialize previous and subsequent losses in addition to the one event and sustain pressure on Nigeria’s government and military to take action. In contrast, the international campaign has tended to be superﬁcial and acontextual, revealing imperial tropes of African victims in need of Western intervention.
Global Context of Anti-Gender Violence Activism A discussion of St. Kizito as an impetus for activism and memory work must be situated within the context of global and Kenyan anti-GBV activism. The global movement is usually traced to the 1970s with Take Back the Night anti-GBV marches and events in the United States and soon in many other nations (Lauren Hutton, n.d.). The issue moved to the international agenda formally via the 1975–1985 Decade for Women when it was placed on a series of programs for action at conferences in Mexico City (1975), Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985), and the Fourth World Conference in Beijing (1995).2 These UN-sponsored meetings were complemented by NGO forums, which allowed women at the grassroots to develop global networks (Martha Alter Chen, 1995, p. 47). Other actions within the UN, such as the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), also identiﬁed GBV as a global problem and began to deﬁne the cultural contexts in which this occurs. At the 1980 Copenhagen conference controversies arose around GBV and culture. For instance, Global South delegates argued that female genital mutilation (FGM) should be addressed by those who understood the contexts. Those participants also sought to discuss intersectional structures of apartheid and colonialism, whereas Global North delegates wanted to focus on women (e.g., S. Laurel Weldon, 2006). At the 1985 Nairobi conference, the impact of Global South feminists and activist NGOs was profound (DAWN, n.d.). Delegates established violence against women as a global priority and called on governments to legislate against GBV (United Nations, 1985). Numerous anti-GBV conferences followed, as did speciﬁc recurring events. For instance, 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence was initiated as an annual campaign from November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, to December 10, Human Rights Day. Global concern was circumscribed in numerous other documents, and in 1998 a Rome Statute established the International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes, often
including GBV, with the UN Security Council’s adoption of resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security two years later. Many subsequent events have followed to the present time.3 Gender discrimination and GBV have long been widespread in Kenya. For nearly 70 years, the Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organization (MYWO), a national NGO, has worked to promote women’s empowerment and leadership development. MYWO also has been credited as the ﬁrst women’s organization to call for a ban on FGM (COVAW, 2017). Kenyan activism against GBV since the mid-1970s has aligned with global events reviewed above in that Kenyans have been involved in all of them and have sought to leverage global resolutions and policies. In 1984, Kenya ratiﬁed CEDAW, and Kenyans had major leadership roles at the 1985 Nairobi conference. In 1995 Kenya’s Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW) was founded to combat GBV as a crime requiring state enforcement. In 1999 the Center for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) was formed to champion women’s and girls’ rights and social justice. Several anti-GBV legislative acts were subsequently passed: the Kenya Children’s Act (2001); the Sexual Oﬀenses Act (2006); the Prohibition of FGM Act (2011); and the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act (2015). Also, in 2010 Kenya’s Constitution for the ﬁrst time guaranteed freedom from discrimination on any grounds, including gender, and the National Gender and Equality Commission was created in 2011. In 2013, the extensive multi-volume Report of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission of Kenya (2013a, 2013b) importantly recognized and addressed human rights violations against women and children and sexual violence from the colonial era to 2008. Despite this progress, gender violence remains all too common. The World Bank (2019) reports that 42 percent of women globally have experienced sexual violence or assault by an intimate partner or a non-partner; as many as 38 percent of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner; and 200 million women have experienced FGM. Incidents of GBV in Kenya in general, and in schools speciﬁcally, have continued since St. Kizito, although available statistics undoubtedly undercount cases, and rape myths contribute. Paula Tavrow et al. (2013) studied rape myths in rural Kenya and found that about half of the participants “blamed the victim for her own rape unconditionally” and only about a ﬁfth blamed the man without invoking victim-blaming myths (p. 2164). COVAW (2017) found that in 2014, 47 percent of Kenyan women between 15 and 49 reported GBV. Further, 24 percent of girls under 11 years reported GBV.4 Sara Jerop Ruto (2009) surveyed over 1,200 Kenyan schoolchildren and found that 84 percent of the girls and 75 percent of the boys reported sexual assault, most frequently by peers. UNESCO (2017) states that data on GBV within school settings are especially limited, as victims fear being shamed by teachers/peers, not being believed or suffering retaliation (p. 25). Nonetheless, “In Kenya, one in ﬁve women and men who experienced sexual violence before the age of 18 reported that the ﬁrst incident occurred in school” (p. 27). Noam Ondicho et al. (2019) surveyed nearly 24,000
Memory, Media, and Gender Violence in Kenya 93
schoolchildren in two Kenyan counties and found that 36 percent had experienced physical harassment in schools—from unwanted touching to rape, though nearly all indicated some form of sexual harassment. A feature in The Standard reported that between 2015 and 2018 the Kenya Teacher Service Commission deregistered 162 male teachers for sexually harassing schoolgirls; however, few were successfully prosecuted (Augustine Oduor, 2018). Ruto (2009) likewise found that when girls were impregnated by teachers, 75 percent of teachers received minor or no consequences.5 Rape myths remain widespread, though they are increasingly called out. For instance, the University of Nairobi recently apologized for blaming “reckless” women students for rape (Citizen TV, 2020). On another hopeful note, in 2018, CREAW received a grant to support litigation ensuring that cases of GBV against girls in schools are prosecuted (Vanessa Bwale, n.d.). Also, FIDA-Kenya (n.d.), an association of women lawyers, pursues justice for women and girls and provides counseling.
Post St. Kizito Reporting Table 6.1 summarizes publicly reported incidents of GBV against girls in Kenyan schools since St. Kizito. Despite the immense harm at St. Kizito and continued school GBV, little has been done to memorialize and use St. Kizito for activism. A search of news stories about St. Kizito since the timeframe of my previous study yields few.6 In 1998, a brief Daily Nation story announced that Kenyans would remember girls killed in the “rape orgy” at St. Kizito during 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence events (Nation Reporter, 1998). In 2005, the Daily Nation published two stories revisiting the event. One featured a survivor who spent two months in a hospital recovering, and another who was fortunate to be absent the day of the attack (Nation Reporter, 2005). Though brief, it is clear that the girls remained traumatized. The other much longer story featured three males (Mildred Ngesa, 2005). Of the two jailed, one had “gone mad,” according to villagers, and did not want to remember. Another claimed innocence and said the deaths were unintentional: “Perhaps if it was rape, then rape was normal. But I really do not think they intended to kill anyone.” The third was not charged, and complained that former St. Kizito boys were stigmatized in their new schools. A later story brieﬂy noted that the girls were “much traumatized” and the four convicted assailants had diﬃculty completing school following incarceration (County Review, 2018). Also, The Standard published a story about schoolgirls’ safety following rape incidents at Moi Girls and brieﬂy mentioned St. Kizito (Wachira Kigotho, 2018). Another 2018 story summarized the incident and quoted an interview with a probation oﬃcer, Francis Machira Apollos, as saying that previously, rape was common in schools:
TABLE 6.1 Select Kenyan school GBV against girls since 1991.
St. Kizito Mixed Sec. School
Hawinga Girls Sec. School
Mareira Mixed Sec. School
Keveye Girls School
Bombolulu Girls’ Sec. School
Kangubiri Sec. School
Kilgoris Girls Sec. School
Jamhuri Primary School
St. Caritas Mariana Sec. School Moi Girls High School
Rusinga Girls Sec. School
Masai Girls High School
Madende Sec. School
Highridge Girls School
Ndutumi Sec. School
19 girls killed, 71 raped and many injured by male peers 15 girls raped by robbers Several girls raped by male peers and villagers 12 girls impregnated by 3 male teachers 26–30 girls killed in dormitory ﬁre; cause unknown 20 or more girls raped by villagers protesting school conditions Boys at neighboring school sexually assaulted several girls 2 girls sexually abused by teacher Widespread sexual abuse of girls 1 girl raped, 2 others assaulted Man sneaked into school and attempted to rape girls Girls protested sexual harassment by staﬀ member Man teacher arrested on allegations of raping a girl School leaders accused of covering up deﬁlement of a girl by a teacher Teachers arrested on allegations of deﬁling a girl
Note: At least two sources were identiﬁed for all incidents except Kilgoris, referenced by Ruto (2009, p. 188). Aside from the Bombolulu ﬁre that killed 26–30 girls and may have been femicide, St. Kizito stands out for the magnitude of the harm.
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Boys would come into the dormitories [and] take the screaming girls out into the tall grass that surrounded the buildings and raped (sic) them. If you are a girl, you take it and hope you don’t get pregnant. If girls hadn’t died in this, we wouldn’t have known about it. (Michael Musyoka, 2018) In 2016 I interviewed three journalists who covered St. Kizito: Irungu Ndirangu and Joseph Olweny for the Daily Nation, and Alex Riithi, for the Kenya Times. All said that the reporting experience was painful; they didn’t initially think of it as gender violence; it quickly became evident that rape had been common; and they were unaware of follow-ups. Ndirangu was a Nairobi-based education reporter and one of the ﬁrst journalists on the scene along with his Meru-based colleague, the late Imanene Imathiu (Ndirangu & Imathiu, 1991). Ndirangu recounted the initial scene in detail: It was traumatizing … I went to the dormitory where this thing happened. The boys were on one side and the girls were sleeping on the other, so the boys switched oﬀ the main light and the entire school was in darkness. And the watchmen must have run away because I think the boys were singing war songs … then they crossed over to the girls’ side and so everything in the girls’ dormitory was trampled and clothes and beddings were all over. The beds were broken. The windows were broken. It was absolute chaos. I just couldn’t imagine what those girls went through … They must have been through hell that night … Yes, it was absolute mayhem … Yes, absolute terror, just terror, tragedy, the parents were traumatized. We had a lot of parents coming over to look for their daughters and the bodies were collected and taken to the mortuary … I was absolutely traumatized. (Ndirangu, personal communication, October 18, 2016). Ndirangu acknowledged the reporters’ failure to frame the early stories as gender violence: “I think the story [ﬁrst] came in from our correspondent there, that there was a ‘tragedy.’ At that time, we did not think of gender violence. We thought about tragedies because these things had not been categorized.” Relatedly, the journalists recalled that rape had been common at the school, though Alex Riithi broke the shocking multi-source story on July 24, 1991, quoting several school oﬃcials, including the headmistress: “The boys never meant any harm against the girls. They just wanted to rape.” In our interview, Riithi also recalled speaking with the headmaster: “He confessed that rape was normal in the school … He said this was just a joke turned sour” (personal communication, October 17. 2016). Likewise, Olweny recounted that “society had probably come to accept it [rape] as normal” (personal communication, October 18, 2016). The journalists all had observed increased consciousness of GBV in reporting since then, but also continued incidents. According to Ndirangu, “People are very, very keen these days on stories of this nature; but the tragedy also is, these things are still
happening … I know things are not right in our dormitories, particularly girls’ dormitories.” According to Olweny, it is still “not uncommon in certain parts of Kenya to ﬁnd boys from one school going to sneak into a girls’ school at night.” Regarding memory of St. Kizito, Olweny recalled little of the aftermath except that St. Kizito became a boys-only school, was quickly renamed St. Cyprian (see Figure 6.1), and the St. Kizito students were distributed to other schools: “So it is something that we want to forget rather than remember.”7
St. Cyprian Boys High School (former St. Kizito). Photo by Zaberio Gitonga Naaman.
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Ndirangu lamented that St. Kizito has been seldom mentioned in the years since: There has not been any follow up. That is the tragedy of it all. I don’t know what can be done to wake up our journalists … We should look for all these people. The Catholic Church was involved. The government was involved. Some of them may be dead. The girls, I’m sure about 80% of them are alive, and we need to remember … And the boys too. Ndirangu further emphasized the journalists’ urban bias, that unless a story has “something to do with Nairobi, normally they will not bother.” He expressed particular concern about the girls’ welfare and was unaware that they received counseling. “There was none … Those who did not look like they had injuries were told to go home with their parents. So I do not know how they turned out [and] I’m sure it has aﬀected them to this day.”8 Finally, Joseph Nyanoti, a Nairobi-based journalism professor checked with two contacts in Meru, a former journalist and a Meru county employee (personal communication, August 13, 2020). He also spoke with a current journalist at the Daily Nation. All three reported that the story of St. Kizito is “hardly known in Meru;” there is no marker at the site; and few in “the younger generation, including journalists” have ever heard of the incident. According to the former journalist, “To the locals it is just St. Cyprian, that’s all.” The current journalist in fact grew up nearby and said he ﬁrst heard about St. Kizito as a graduate student in the United States.
Memorializing St. Kizito As reviewed in previous sections, St. Kizito must be situated within the context of anti-GBV activism. Over the past several decades Kenya’s legal and organizational infrastructure around GBV has been enormously strengthened. Anti-GBV protests aligned with global initiatives, plus local events, are more frequent (e.g., Rael Ombuor, 2019). However, as also narrated above, GBV at schools has continued, with many incidents unreported. In Kenya, the GBV that has been most documented thus far occurred during times of political and/or ethnic conﬂict, particularly during the Mau Mau uprisings prior to Kenya’s 1963 independence, the Shifta Wars (1963–1967), the Wagalla massacre (1984), the Mt. Elgon insurgency (2005), and following the elections of late 2007 and 2017. Kenya’s Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (2013a), which operated between 2009 and 2013, received 1,104 statements from adults regarding sexual violations against 2,646 women and 346 men (p. 712). Human Rights Watch further interviewed women and men who survived and/or witnessed the election-related sexual violence of 2007–2008 and 2017, largely at the hands of soldiers and police (Human Rights Watch, 2016, 2017; Agnes Odhiambo, 2016). The research deliberately aimed to keep the memory alive, as is clear in the title of Odhiambo’s report: “In Kenya, forgotten rape survivors have stories to tell.” Kenyan and international activists, health workers, police, and witnesses were interviewed too. Both investigations detail
the extreme suﬀering and lasting emotional and physical harm to victims, including traumatic ﬁstula, HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancies, stigma, abandonment, and negative economic and educational consequences (Human Rights Watch, 2016; Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, 2013a). Though both call for reparations, including health services, reparations have yet to be provided. Nonetheless, the research has preserved victims’ voices and therefore serves as a potential resource for activism. While TJRC, in particular, covers many decades of human rights violations, devotes hundreds of pages to gender discrimination and sexual violence and provides valuable ﬁrst-hand accounts, there is scant mention of sexual violence against children. The section on “Children and Gross Violation of Human Rights” (Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, 2013b) devotes only four pages to sexual violence and less than two pages to sexual violence in schools, with brief mentions of St. Kizito, sexual assaults at Hawinga Girls School in 1993 and at Kangubiri Girls in 2006, and child deﬁlement by a teacher in Busia. The report cites studies on child sexual abuse by teachers and notes that during the timeframe of the Commission, 1,000 teachers were sacked for sexual abuse (pp. 192–193). No statements from victims of school violence are included.
Conclusion This essay aims not to deﬁnitively conclude that St. Kizito should be memorialized, but perhaps to help start a conversation. I do believe, as do the Kenyans with whom I have consulted thus far, that systematic work to document and memorialize the deaths, injuries, and sexual violence that happened at St. Kizito deserves consideration—and soon, while victims, perpetrators, witnesses, and others involved, including journalists, teachers, church oﬃcials, police, health workers, and others, are still living and able to testify. This memory work would be diﬃcult, given widespread resistance to memorializing gender violence (Bold et al., 2002). Also, the immediate renaming of St. Kizito (Figure 6.1) signiﬁes an attempted public erasure of even the potential to forge collective memory. The work would need to be carefully planned and carried out to ensure: participation is voluntary, anonymity is maintained, harm to survivors and witnesses is minimized, and beneﬁts result in providing enduring archival resources for education, prevention, and activism. The TJRC’s interviews on sexual violence, for instance, were conducted by same-sex individuals who were experienced, specially trained, and conversant with the history and laws of Kenya. Guidelines were followed in order to treat victims “with the utmost sensitivity and respect,” monitor interviewees’ reactions and know when to take a break or discontinue an interview, and observe cultural sensitivity (Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, 2013a, pp. 712–713). Much has been written on best practices for research involving victims of GBV and on interviewing cross-culturally (e.g., Pamela Lamb et al., 2020; Liamputtong, 2010; Rosalie Tung & Alain Verbeke, 2010; World Health Organization, 2001). Regarding culture, Kenya is diverse, and ethnic stereotypes are common
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there, as elsewhere globally. My 1997 study found that many news narratives presumed violence, including rape, was common within the Meru ethnic community. The journalists I interviewed in 2016 and other Kenyans since then have referenced the “violent” or “ﬁghting” nature of the Meru, indicating that the stereotype persists.9 Cultural beliefs like those regarding the Meru require interviewer knowledge and reﬂexivity to recognize and interrogate possible bias. The meaning of GBV, GBV-related legislation, and anti-GBV activism varies crossculturally and historically as well (e.g., Brett Shadle, 2008). Likewise, memory making and the kinds of memorials that may be appropriate and eﬀective as resources for social change—visual and written records, artifacts, monuments, literature, art, named spaces, etc.—must be carefully considered within the context of Tigania town, Meru County, and Kenya. Journalists should consciously play a role, avoiding “simplistic narratives, recounting without context, and a minimization of nuance,” but rather engaging in true commemorative discourse (Zelizer, 2008, p. 382). Further, the internet and social media have brought new platforms to report, memorialize, and mobilize for anti-GBV activism (e.g., Maureen Kangere et al., 2017; Maxﬁeld, 2016).10 Anniversaries of St. Kizito and other incidents, as well as new crimes of GBV, may provide opportunities that must be regarded not in isolation, but rather within larger patterns of abuse. Various media forms can contribute to countermemory activism, and may constitute eﬀective interventions in themselves, as in the use of photovoice methods in Rwanda (J. Umurungi et al., 2008) and ﬁlm in South African Secondary Schools (Nokukhanya Ngcobo, 2015). These and other successful initiatives should be reported too. In Kenya, there have been successful curricular projects addressing men’s attitudes toward women, consent classes, and interventions at family planning clinics (Sabrina Boyce et al., 2020; Jennifer Keller et al., 2017; Bashiera Parker, 2019). A postcolonial lens relatedly will be necessary, as Kenya’s political, economic, and ideological institutions—government, media, education, religion, and business—have been largely shaped by colonial and neocolonial interventions, and reveal norms and values that may exacerbate GBV attitudes and behaviors and/or undermine anti-GBV projects (Shadle, 2008; Steeves, 1997). Finally, it is important to remember that memorials alone are not useful and risk merely giving a horriﬁc event “a decent burial” (Hartman, 1993, p. 242). The girls who died and the survivors of St. Kizito and other sexual violence at schools deserve to be remembered and heard in ways that provide support services, preserve their voices, and lead to enduring social change. Journalists, scholars, artists, and feminists must collaborate to keep the memory alive by merging resources and activism for the project to be truly worthwhile.
Notes 1 I examined a census of stories: 279 local stories and 60 international reports. Most of the early international reports relied on the local coverage, and therefore reﬂected the same sources and frames.
2 3 4 5 6
For a history of the four conferences, see UN Women (n.d.) and Weldon (2006). See Advocates for Human Rights (2018). See also Nancy Agutu (2019). See also Center for Reproductive Rights (2015). The issue of school safety/violence is broad, including numerous incidents of arson, strikes, and stampedes, as well as some terrorist attacks. My search was not exhaustive. Space limitations preclude reviewing all stories on school safety, including a few others mentioning St. Kizito. However, numerous reports indicate that safety and government inaction are problematic, with gendered consequences and disproportionately aﬀecting girls. A decision to move the girls to nine girls-only schools within Meru County was made the day after the attack. The boys were moved to 20 schools, both boys-only and mixed, all outside Meru (Steeves, 1997, pp. 84–86). The school was renamed within a year of the attack (p. 34). A Sunday Nation story a year later reported that the girls received some counseling, also that their academic performance had fallen (Steeves, 1997, p. 86). The former journalist interviewed by Joseph Nyanoti stated that it is “the nature of the Meru people” to forget such negative events of the past (personal communication, 2020). However, it is also human nature generally to suppress negative memories, certainly including acts of GBV (Bold et al., 2002). New platforms have brought gender violence dangers as well (e.g., Stine Eckert, 2018).
Acknowledgments I am grateful to Irene Awino for retrieving numerous documents and setting up my 2016 interviews with Kenyan journalists, and to Joseph Nyanoti for securing additional accounts. I also thank Elinam Amevor, Carolyn Byerly, Leah Komen, Gabriela Martinez, Radhika Parameswaran, Wagaki Wischnewksi, Stine Eckert, and Ingrid Bachmann for their assistance and feedback.
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7 FEMINIST ENDURANCE Global Elisions and the Labor of Critique Radha Sarma Hegde
Feminist scholarship gains its edge from a political commitment to stay focused on questions of erasure, elisions and absences concerning gender. The vision of a just and democratic world is precisely what inspires a transnational feminist perspective and drives my own intellectual search for vantage points from where to theorize. For roughly four decades, feminist scholars in the ﬁeld of communication and media studies have been striving to create spaces for critical knowledge that decenter and interrupt long-standing assumptions based on the masculinist and Eurocentric foundations of the ﬁeld. Quite simply, examining the world through the optics of gender enables us to address the complex architecture of global inequalities. To understand and critique the ways in which gender and sexuality are normalized or manipulated by political and economic forces requires sustained intellectual labor and is a ﬁrst step towards actualizing the feminist worlds we envision. However, as feminist scholars well know, this is an ongoing task which involves confronting resistance from both within and beyond the academy. Interrogating the gaps in the scholarship about gender and sexuality and making marginalized identities and contexts visible is a prerequisite for a decolonial global feminist critique. It is this strong sense of political commitment that provides continuity and coherence to the choice of inclusive methodologies and analytical directions. Feminist work, in my opinion, requires grit and stamina to navigate, among other things, institutional support, ﬁnd intellectual spaces and overcome the analytical obstacles imposed by disciplines and their canons. Sara Ahmed (2017) writes that feminists ﬁnd out very quickly that “so much feminist and antiracist work is the work of trying to convince others that sexism and racism have not ended; that sexism and racism are fundamental to the injustices of late capitalism; that they matter” (p. 6). Feminists, Ahmed adds, have to engage in the political labor of insisting on “the ongoing existence of the very things we wish to bring to an end” DOI: 10.4324/9781003102786-10
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(p. 6). I would venture to guess that most feminist scholars, at some point or other, encounter some version or versions of this hostile response. Ideologies which we want to transform or end continually assume revised guises as they circulate through reconﬁgured digital and social infrastructures. Global systems of gendered injustice and violence continue to reproduce in newer registers and in the process solidify gendered hierarchies. With the onset of the global pandemic, it is becoming clear that contexts change but systemic obstacles continue to linger and challenges persist. The dominant and inﬂuential globalization discourse of the 1990s largely discounted, or even outright ignored gender (see Saskia Sassen, 1998). In contrast, for those engaged in postcolonial, feminists and critical race scholarship, the focus has been on the cultural politics of global interdependence and the violent disjunctures caused by the hierarchical ordering of cultures and communities. For instance, in the aftermath of the events of 9/11, critical scholars paid greater attention to connecting contemporary issues of inequity and access to historical structures of empire and racial and gendered domination. In recent times, the worldwide resurgence of aggressive ethno-nationalist agendas has led to new regimes of discipline and surveillance and also exacerbated older forms of exploitation directed at gendered bodies. The staggering crises that the world faces today from climate change, transnational migration combined with the volatilities of the neoliberal economy have all signiﬁcant gendered repercussions. Recent developments around the coronavirus outbreak have laid bare the inhumane expendability of vulnerable population worldwide and unleashed high levels of gendered violence even within the supposedly safe conﬁnes of the home.1 The feminist call for producing situated knowledge from the ground up is ever important today in order to expose and understand the impossible and continuing liminality experienced by the global precariat. For example, feminist analyses that begins from the perspective of Guatemalan migrants forced to ﬂee, the transnational labor struggles of Filipina care workers, or from the sexual violence suﬀered by Rohingya refugee women, radically change conventional theorizations about borders, mobility, labor and risk. These contexts deﬁned by complex circuitry of power demand diﬃcult examinations that register local particularities, and at the same time pay attention to the broader global assemblage of factors that constitute the violence experienced. Racial and gendered systems of power have a way of solidifying their reproductive presence with logics that justify and even strategically hide profound gender inequities. The current global pandemic is a moment of reckoning for feminist scholars who strive to both globalize and decolonize knowledge production in the academy and this project is beset with a series of recurring challenges. In an important and inspiring essay written after the events of 9/11, Joan Scott (2002) oﬀered a critique of the binaries which were being used to describe world events such as good against evil or modernity against tribalism. According to her, “lines are being drawn, categories produced, to give schematic coherence to the messy entanglements of local, national, regional and international politics” (p. 5). Scott’s views about the contrived coherence being imposed on everyday life
continue to be important for feminist scholars today. This deceptive coherence forces an ideological through line connecting various domains of control and tethering bodies to roles and stereotypes. These lines of power and entitlements are incorporated into the everyday naturalizing forms of racialized and gendered discrimination in public discourse and social life. When the systems we are working against ﬁnd insidious ways of appearing in new guises or lurking behind benign fronts, there is much critical work for feminist scholars to do and endurance to build. While it is not surprising that disciplines, including media and communication studies, rest on masculinist and Eurocentric foundations, it is of great concern that many of these biases continue to inﬂuence knowledge production. The ideologies that we want to interrupt and dismantle are deep-rooted and ﬁnd their way into the very organization and research apparatus of disciplines, presenting, undoubtedly, a series of hurdles. Negotiating these issues is a signiﬁcant aspect of feminist scholarly practice. In this chapter, I reﬂect on the challenges of doing decolonial feminist research and grappling with questions concerning gendered precarity. First, all feminist scholars have a tale to tell about navigating disciplinary spaces and here I oﬀer mine. Next, I deal with the politics of research and the persistent issues that feminist media scholars encounter in terms of the weight of archives, the speed of data and the distractions of solutionism. The discussion unfolds in the spirit of insistence that feminist intellectual work is vital today and must remain of necessity, work in progress.
Disciplinary Spaces Feminists scholarship and disciplines typically have a diﬃcult relationship. Feminist scholarship distinguishes itself as oﬀering new paradigms that can expand a ﬁeld by introducing perspectives that have not been represented or heard. Writing about the relationship between feminist scholarship and its relationship to disciplinary formations, Marilyn Strathern (1987) argues that the fact that feminist scholarship works across disciplines means it cannot be parallel with them and this is awkward in relation to the idea that feminist insights might modify work in any single discipline (p. 276). Three decades later and despite the awkwardness, feminist research and critique have made signiﬁcant theoretical impact on disciplines; however, the relationship continues to have its tensions. I focus here mainly on how the discipline of communication and media studies and its formation have impacted the study of gender and globality. Since the early days of its institutionalization, the discipline of communication has valorized behavioral approaches and positivist approaches to knowledge production which have been, by default, premised on a worldview that is both Eurocentric and masculinist.2 Even the more humanistic traditions in the ﬁeld have been largely focused on Western classical traditions of rhetoric. In the early organizational mapping of the discipline, there was a clear separation of the domestic from the global, and the study of other cultures was largely contained within particular enclaves of study such as international or intercultural communication (see Radha Sarma Hegde,
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2006). Representations of other cultures and communities, especially non-Western cultures, were contained by the logic of area studies, a model which grew out of Cold War organization of academic disciplines. The instrumentalist thrust that drove this perspective supported the production of stereotypical and essentialized Orientalist representations of cultures. So, while global feminist politics urged a broad, outward-looking vision of the world, the academy historically advocated a more compartmentalized view. While postcolonial feminist scholars tried to extend our intellectual reach both geographically and historically, the discipline contained us within its limits; when we tried to make scholarship responsive to the politics of the real world, the discipline depoliticized and personalized our research. Things, no doubt, look diﬀerent in many ways today. Canonical vocabularies and inherited frameworks have proved, over time, to be largely inadequate and present various types of challenges to feminist scholars studying intersections or mapping transnational and historical connections. As Lisa Lowe (2015) points out academic disciplines have traditionally focused on discrete areas and objects of interest to the modern national university and produced separate scholarship about single societies, peoples or regions and obscuring connections between them. These lingering legacies can still be felt as we strive to trouble assumptions and decenter notions of universality. For feminist scholars across disciplines, theorizing from the margins, with a view of introducing perspectives that have been silenced or underrepresented, has served as a powerful methodological shift. This has inspired the privileging of diverse voices and subaltern perspectives in order to address the complex ways in which power structures and systems are naturalized. Geopolitical forces and the political landscape also impact the production and reception of feminist knowledge in the academy. For example, after 9/11, the aggressive assertion of American exceptionalism and the justiﬁcation of military action hinged on the civilizational argument about the incommensurability of the West and its Other and the need to save abject women of the Global South. The overt racism and arrogance of Western power triggered political responses in the academy, and produced renewed postcolonial intellectual energy. Arguments about the sexual depravity of immigrant men and the primitive mindset of women in the non-West continue to be mobilized strategically by rightwing populists in their anti-immigrant discourse. The material consequences of such discourse and policies have social, economic and political implications that exceed boundaries and extend transnationally. The feminist intellectual challenge is to rethink categories such as nation, modernity, culture and gender as mobile and multiple rather than as territorial and ﬁxed (see Hegde, 2011a). Tracking the circulation of ideologies, bodies and media technologies requires deep contextualization and multi-sited inquiry. Moving between the scales of the national and transnational is a diﬃcult methodological move but one that is integral to introduce, interpret and historicize the issues of precarity. If we agree that the objective of feminist intervention is to address these systematic elisions and critique the justiﬁcation of these silences, then it is imperative to question
the categories of analysis that have been normalized within disciplines. Have dominant categories outlived their utility? What assumptions underlie deﬁnitions of categories or theories that circulate as universal? To what extent does the universal subject represent or capture the levels of diﬀerence and discrepancies in contemporary society? These questions are about ways of seeing the world which in turn reﬂect the ways in which we name a problem. While these questions may have been asked by critical scholars in the past, they become relevant at political conjunctures when there are renewed elisions of race and gender. A feminist vision connects academic work to the inequities of the world outside with critical attention to epistemological structures, even those we inherit as best practices in disciplines. As forms of oppressions, extraction and exploitation are reframed transnationally, it is increasingly clear that subject of our inquiry cannot be neatly contained with preset academic boundaries. Hence this necessitates an interdisciplinary and collaborative search for new vocabularies and feminist frameworks. The challenges are many and feminist scholars would agree that the obstacles are stubbornly repetitive. Next, I turn to the challenges that I have encountered and continue to deal with in the study of globalization and the constitution of gendered precarity.
Archival Weight The burden of the colonial archive and the weight of its a priori history is an ongoing challenge for decolonial feminism. Historically, the woman from the global South has been represented as a static portrait of victimization—passive, stereotypically fecund, a body in the stupor of oppression (see Chandra Mohanty, 1984). On the concept of representation, Rajeswari Sunder Rajan (1993) writes that “our understanding of the problems of ‘real’ women cannot lie outside the ‘imagined’ constructs through which ‘women’ emerge as subjects” (p. 10). These representations of gender have long colonial genealogies and have shaped the ways in which gendered violence in colonized countries have been both identiﬁed and studied. Sexuality continues to play a central role in the ways in which dominant Western views on diﬀerence are coded. The abject ﬁgure of the Global South is reproduced in order to justify the civilizational superiority and the benevolence of the West. The Afghan woman whose body was used as a justiﬁcation for the US invasion of Afghanistan stands as an enduring example. The paternalistic tone and imperial attitude towards the non-West continue with newer iterations of the Orientalist archive. What these images collectively achieve is the eviction of embodied locations as contextualized within a particular constellation of power relations. These archives of representations have cumulatively shaped and continue to inform the gaze directed on the Global South with signiﬁcant gendered repercussions. Consider the 2012 gang rape and eventual death of Jyoti Singh in New Delhi which put India at the center of global media attention. While the rape and the protest for justice received an unusually long span of global media attention, a distinct register of condescension accompanied the horror and sympathy for the victims. News about other horriﬁc
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rapes on women and young children emerged from various parts of the country. The media was abuzz with commentators oﬀering explanations for why Delhi is the rape capital of the world and India is easily the worst nation to be a woman. Issues begin to converge and connect in problematic ways. In the national scene, several explanations were oﬀered using the violence to further ideological agendas. Major global media outlets made the easy slide from the crime to pointing with certainty to the regressive mindset of the nation, its chaotic legal and security infrastructure, its docile women and repressed male citizenry. The tragedy of the gang rapes set into motion a discursive machinery warning India about its ruptured pathways to global modernity. How do these media narratives illustrate the enduring optics used to both represent and discipline Indian public culture and modernity? The media in the West continued the long genealogy and Orientalist optics of representing violence in India. Major publications from the West assumed an air of condescension in reporting the crime and have called attention to the innate violence of Indian men, and the chaotic law and order systems of the country. Time magazine’s Krista Mahr (2013) reported: “this unimaginable crime and so many more like it have become a stain on modern India,” a country with “attitudes stuck in the Dark Ages.” The media narratives mark the gang rape as the ultimate disqualiﬁcation in terms of India’s global image and its entry into the global club. Sexual politics is inserted into ﬁgurations of global modernity, even as violence is culturalized. This article and several other global media outlets similarly berate an India that boasts economic development but lacks the moral and physical infrastructure to enter the portals of globality. By recouping this particular logic, the narrative presses into action a stereotypical, but by now familiar, ordering of cultures with the West ever forward-looking and in the present and by default the rest of the world as retrograde and incapable of participating in the contemporary. Culturalist explanations add to the reproductive power of this line of discourse about gender, violence and backward national mindsets. In this case, as the article argues, it is precisely morality and mindset issues that the West claims hold back India from being/ becoming the big globalization player. The widely shared double standard maintained by global media is that India needs to do some catching up and hence deserves some ﬁnger-wagging, sympathy and condemnation. The coverage of the rape in India slid easily from the crime to pointing to the regressive mindset of the nation, its chaotic legal and security infrastructure and immorality. What emerges is a seamless continuity that buries the gendered violence within the stereotypes of the colonial archive and its condescension. In the visual ﬁeld of coverage as well, the genealogy of the Orientalist gaze and its expulsions reappear with naturalized momentum. The coverage of gender violence in the global media continues to stereotype cultures and communities of the non-West. Other examples abound where neo-Orientalist images continue to populate global media archives and keep alive the so-called civilizational hierarchy with the West on the top. Given that these hierarchies have become naturalized, feminist scholars have to continue to highlight the insidious and oppressive nature of essentialist assertions and racist
categorizations. Violence against women is a global problem and we need to deal with the weight and reproductive power of archives in order to grapple with ongoing gender violence in structural terms and through historically informed analysis.
Data Speed I move next to questions of data, speed, and more recently deﬁned spaces of information and their gendered implications. Information has always been used in the service of power and control. Statistical records and inventories have been gathered about groups and communities to prop up the agendas of states and empires. Today, the same collection of information is happening at an unprecedented speed and being disseminated and commodiﬁed often with little public transparency. Big data today occupy an exalted status as credible resource for the eﬃcient management and delivery of all aspects of everyday life. Data today is the frontier where ideological continuities and disruptions are being enacted. In a conversation with Jenny Sharpe (2003), Gayatri Spivak says that the virtual conversion of the rural subaltern into data draws them into abstract systems of global knowledge and power structures. Feminist scholars today have to contend with how data enables and hastens conditions of precarity and turns populations into usable and immaterial commodities. As our lives are increasingly entangled within computational systems, these digital infrastructures and their transport of oppressive ideologies needs both feminist attention and political intervention. Lauren F. Klein and Catherine D’Ignazio (2020) argue that before there are data, there are people involved in every aspect of the collection, visualization and utilization of data. And more importantly, they add that there are inevitably people who go uncounted and problems that cannot be represented by data alone. Data ultimately are embedded within unequal power structures and making this visible is a very signiﬁcant part of the feminist project. The same civilizational logic that put Western cultures at the top of the social and political global hierarchy carries over into digital structures. Racial and gendered stereotypes are essentially inventories of attributes which cling together in sets and result in these systematic elisions. Women of color have historically been the target of these biases and continue to deal with the onerous weight of these perceptions and their more recent algorithmic translations (see Saﬁya Umojo Noble, 2018). The way data are mobilized to circulate regimes of control at national borders is illustrative and an area that has interested me for long. Borders are where the surveillance machinery of the state sorts people into exclusionary categories based on behaviors that they are likely to exhibit. In fact, border security processes are sites where the biased operations of a dataﬁed society are revealed (Koen Leurs & Tamara Shepherd, 2017). The border, in fact, gains its legitimacy from political histories of immigration and the accumulated layers of gendered and racialized assumptions. Orientalist stereotypes continue to exert a spectral power over the process of sorting and classifying bodies that are perceived to be threatening or dangerous to national safety. These inventories of suspicion are now worked into the politics of nationalism and its digital surveillance machinery.
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From the perspective of producing situated and embodied knowledges, we need to ask what data surveillance means when experienced from the perspective of a gendered body deemed at risk or bodies controlled through preemptive security logics? When one begins from these experiences and locations, then we can pose a diﬀerent set of questions about dataﬁcation and resist the assumption of its neutrality. In this context of hypervigilance, high-risk proﬁles are attached ﬁrmly to bodies predetermined as posing a threat to national safety. The head-covering practices of Muslim women, for instance, unleash a complex range of responses that play right into the preemptive and anticipatory logics of surveillance. The Muslim woman becomes the mobile locus of anxiety in the West whose very bodily presence is conjured up to be both a threat and an anachronism, a ﬁgure out of step with modernity (Hegde, 2019). Minoritized experiences serve as an important reminder to rethink how bodies as data are transformed, registered, circulated and surveilled. The current focus at the border is to collect information about suspicious bodies which can be coded, communicated across diﬀerent authorities and compared. All searches of bodies and devices at the border have to be contextualized within the global drive for big data that are continuously collected, aggregated and distributed. Drawing information from the body and about the body has become a center piece of governance today and its exclusionary practices. In order to translate a person’s biography into data, bodies have to be mined and extracted as information only to be further assembled, reassembled or disassembled as modular arrangements. These processes of stripping and disassembly take on complex gendered and racialized inﬂections. The political implications of these security structures and their continuance of older forms of exclusion and discrimination are signiﬁcant. The power of technology and its utopian potential to solve problems has been ﬁrmly established in the public imaginary particularly when it concerns national safety and border control. I turn in the next section to how the feminist imaginary and the exalted place of technology meet.
Fixes and Solutions Unfortunately, it has become fairly routine that the subjects examined by feminist scholars are often dismissed or not considered research-worthy by many both inside and outside the academy. Doing feminist scholarship entails balancing many balls in the air including in-depth historicizing, contextualizing problems and working with inclusive methodologies. It also involves, as I have discussed earlier, active critique and deconstruction of the theoretical legacies and disciplinary vocabularies that we utilize in our research. We do this in order to read the assumptions that underlie and perpetuate the gendered imbalances in everyday life. All of these aspects get even more complicated when they are deﬁned transnationally. I want to stress that this type of research takes time and producing deep knowledge about systemic violence and oppression is a necessary step towards the change we are striving for. However, the neoliberal digital economy and the culture of publicity and innovation, under
which we live, work and write, deﬁne gender and identity in terms that are often quite antithetical to feminist goals. The possibilities unleashed by technology today have spawned a pervasive culture of solutionism. The entrepreneurial ethos of our times dictates that problems have to be dealt with quickly and innovatively. With the power of technology, it is widely believed that problems can be ﬁxed, things can return to normalcy or even be improved. Advancing the notion of solutionism, Evgeny Morozov (2013) critiques the increasing tendency to recast complex social situations as neatly deﬁned problems with deﬁnite solutions or as transparent and self-evident processes. He argues that how problems are composed matters every bit as much as how problems are resolved. When it comes to gender, the inequities and violence we are discussing are embedded in complex social formations that have been normalized over the years and continue to be reinvigorated. In fact, quick ﬁxes and solutions have a strong potential to depoliticize and even derail the possibility of systemic change that feminists are hoping for. The very solutions that are rampant today and how they came to be should also be factored into our investigations and feminist critique. Technology as the ultimate solution is deeply rooted in national imaginaries. In 2005 in Bangalore, India, a young woman who was working the night shift in a multinational call center was raped and murdered en route to her place of work by the driver of a transportation company. Public discourse, even then, was ﬁlled with speculations about how digital innovations could have predicted and prevented the violence. I argued in an essay (Hegde, 2011b) that the violence was perceived as an aberration and related to the unpredictability of the chaotic local world that stood in contrast to the order of the multinational corporate environment that she worked for. In a sequence of events which revealed how neoliberal globalization rests on privatization and deferral of responsibility, the young woman’s murder was once again seen as a blotch and aberration that needed to be ﬁxed. Instead of addressing the violence from a systemic angle, the response to these crimes was focused on ﬁxing the problem with technology which typically rested on older logics of protecting and safeguarding women. The police, media and the public at large seemed to hold that the violence had occurred due to a scheduling glitch whereby the driver’s credentials had been unchecked. If only a better technological infrastructure had been in place, this could have been predicted and hence averted. Developers oﬀered a slew of digital options to help solve the uncertainties and fear of urban life. The technological solutions stem from the belief in the power and linear trajectory of progress guaranteed by machines and devices. However, these solutions remain completely embedded within existing patriarchal ideologies of restraining women’s freedom in the name of protection. The highly publicized gang rape of Jyoti Singh in Delhi in 20012 was also followed by an overwhelming number of digital solutions that promised to keep women safe. Violent events such as this one raise questions about how cities are imagined and developed as gendered spaces. There are sharp disconnects between the material concerns women face both in terms of public and private spaces and the
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ways in which security and safety are imagined. A number of safety apps which have been developed by both the police and private developers claim to help women navigate the metropolitan spaces. Feeding into the surveillance structure, there are apps which ask a woman traveling by taxi or public transportation to register her whereabouts with her trusted network and the police. In the rush to solve the problem many questions are not addressed, such as how does class and access to the internet impact these solutions, who are they designed to protect, what type of devices will decide your safety, where and to what ends do these large inventories of data reside? The apps also deﬁne public and private domains, the home and the outside in reductive binary frameworks which assume that the home is a completely safe space. During the time of the global pandemic in 2020, there has been a sharp rise in the number of domestic violence cases revealing the complex contradictions and violence that is already inscribed in the putatively safe zones of the home. Women are not able to use their phones or are simply denied access to phones. Digital communication devices, so quickly oﬀered as solutions, easily transform into being disciplinary technologies of control. The critique of the solutionist approach is not about denying the possibility of change or transformation. Rather it is a reminder to maintain focus on the type of change that we imagine and be aware of the detours that the so-called solution recommends. Yes, for those who have been waiting endlessly, a quick ﬁx does have its momentary allure. However, the logics of solutionism and their focus on immediacy and speed are not always helpful to the longer goal of systemic change and democratic social transformation. A security patch, program or device cannot be a long-term answer for social change and the ready-to-go solutions have to be factored into our inquiry. As Jack Halberstam (2011) writes, “we may, ultimately, want more undisciplined knowledge, more questions and fewer answers” (p. 10). Technological solutions, the new salve on lingering problems, complicate and reconﬁgure the terrain of our endeavor.
Looking Ahead To sustain our motivation and feminist political spirit, it is vital to remember that the theories and methods we inherit in disciplines are not about immutable truths or reusable templates. The gender inequalities and violence in the world are complex and multi-layered problems which cannot be wished away but need sustained attention from scholars and activists alike, and even more in collaboration. This chapter is my attempt to share some of my research experiences on how feminist scholarship can get weighed down by the archive, derailed by the speed of preemptive logics and patched up by a combination of technological solutions and patriarchal benevolence.3 The global coronavirus pandemic has revealed the deep divisions and inequalities that exist in our societies and complex forms of gendered and racial elisions. Recent assertions of populist nationalisms, an extractive global economy and the circulation of misinformation are all part of the assemblage that regulate and control the global present. We are also witnessing an alarming increase in
xenophobia, racism and gender-based violence all aided by the circulatory force of social media. Even as the marketplace appropriates versions of popular feminism, it energizes and breathes greater life into cultures of misogyny, as Sarah Banet-Weiser (2019) has forcefully argued. There is a constant chorus in the public domain about the onset of a new normal in our post-pandemic world. The feminist focus has to be on what has been normalized and naturalized in terms of the politics of gender and sexuality. For this, we need to pay close attention to the issues and voices that are globally entangled and elided systematically. I use the word elision in this essay to capture the omissions that are naturalized. However, elisions from a linguistic perspective are also about dropped syllables and the deletions of sound. This aspect of the word invites a rethinking of the feminist project as a process of “de-eliding” sounds and syllables in order to recognize the submerged and unheard in profoundly new ways.4 A feminist critique of the normal today requires incisive and inclusive global analysis with a recognition of the likelihood that with every step forward, there is the real possibility of falling (or being pushed) behind a few more. It is, however, not a board game and we cannot aﬀord to cast the die and hope for an upward turn. The social and political issues and their gendered consequences are complicated, connected and intertwined. The critical work ahead is diﬃcult but necessary, and to produce edgy, meaningful work requires feminist endurance.
Notes 1 Since the coronavirus pandemic began, there has been a sharp spike in the number of domestic violence cases all around the world, see https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/ stories/2020/4/statement-ed-phumzile-violence-against-women-during-pandemic 2 For a history of the ﬁeld see Jeﬀerson Pooley (2016) and for a discussion on feminist theory in communication see Laura Wackwitz and Lana Rakow (2004). 3 For each of the issues raised, there are many more recent examples, but in the spirit of engaging with the arc of my work, I stayed with ones that have arisen in my own research. 4 This idea of “de-eliding” leading to new feminist discourse was inspired by a comment made by Shani Orgad (London School of Economics and Political Science) in September 2020, during a conversation about this essay.
References Ahmed, Sara (2017). Living a feminist life. Duke University Press. Banet-Weiser, Sarah (2019). Empowered. Duke University Press. Foucault, Michel (1972). The archaeology of knowledge and the discourse on language. Pantheon Books. Halberstam, Jack (2011). The queer art of failure. Duke University Press. Hegde, Radha Sarma (2006). Globalizing gender studies in communication. In Bonnie Dow and Julia Wood (Eds.), Handbook on Gender studies in communication (pp. 433–449). Sage. Hegde, Radha Sarma (2011a). Introduction. In Radha Sarma Hegde (Ed.) Circuits of visibility: Gender and transnational media cultures (pp. 1–17). New York University Press. Hegde, Radha Sarma (2011b). Spaces of exception: Violence, technology and the transgressive gendered body in India’s global call centers. In Radha Sarma Hegde (Ed.)
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Circuits of visibility: Gender and transnational media cultures (pp. 178–195). New York University Press. Hegde, Radha Sarma (2019). Itinerant data: Unveiling gendered scrutiny at the border. Television & New Media, 20(6), 617–633. https://doi.org/10.1177/1527476419857686. Klein, Lauren F., & D’Ignazio, Catherine (2020). Data feminism. MIT Press. Leurs, Koen, & Shepherd, Tamara (2017). Dataﬁcation & discrimination. In Mirko Tobias Schäfer and Karin van Es (Eds.), The dataﬁed society (pp. 211–232). Amsterdam University Press. Lowe, Lisa (2015). The intimacies of four continents. Duke University Press. Mahr, Kathryn (January 14, 2013). India’s shame. Time Magazine. http://content.time.com/ time/subscriber/article/0,33009,2132718,00.html. Mohanty, Chandra (1984). Feminism without borders: Decolonizing theory, practicing solidarity. Duke University Press. Morozov, Evgeny (2013). To save everything, click here: The folly of technological solutionism. Perseus Books. Noble, Saﬁya Umoja (2018). Algorithms of oppression: How search engines reinforce racism. New York University Press. Pooley, Jeﬀerson (2016). Communication theory and the disciplines. Encyclopedia of Communication Theory and Philosophy (pp. 1–16). https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118766804. wbiect261. Sassen, Saskia (1998). Globalization and its discontents. New Press. Scott, Joan Wallach (2002). Feminist reverberations. diﬀerences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 13(3), 1–23. https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-13-3-1. Sharpe, Jenny, & Spivak, Gayatri C. (2003). A conversation with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: Politics and the imagination. Signs, 28(2), 609–624. https://doi.org/10.1086/342588. Strathern, Marilyn (1987). An awkward relationship: The case of feminism and anthropology. Signs, 12(2), 276–292. https://doi.org/10.1086/494321. Sunder Rajan, Rajeswari (1993). Real and imagined women: Gender, culture, and postcolonialism. Routledge. Wackwitz, Laura A., & Rakow, Lana F. (2004) Introduction. In Feminist communication theory: Selections in context (pp. 1–28). Sage.
Writing the Future
8 A NEGOTIATED FEMINIST AGENDA Doing Politics, Researching News, Going Digital Karen Ross
Over the past few years, I have organised any number of workshops for women who want to develop their careers in the academy. They usually start with three or four senior women talking about their own career journeys, what helped and what hindered and what they would tell their younger selves. What is always so surprising about these events is realising both how women’s career paths have been so very diﬀerent to each other, let alone to their men colleagues, but also how the opportunities and threats have been so very similar. Importantly, especially for women in social science disciplines, their routes into academia are often not traditional ones but the consequence of serendipity or opportunity or a moment out working in the world when something changed. When I graduated after my ﬁrst degree, I took a job as a youth worker supporting young people from minority ethnic backgrounds into employment. During my year there, I understood for the ﬁrst time what it meant to be Black in Britain in the late 1980s. I would set up interviews on the phone and then accompany a young person to the interview, only to discover on meeting the manager that the job had apparently been ﬁlled just an hour before. At ﬁrst, I thought it was just bad luck but then quickly realised that I was vicariously experiencing racism: the young people I worked with were remarkably sanguine about such incidents, showing a level of maturity which was heart-breaking in their youthful understanding of what had just gone down. As someone who is proud of her mixed heritage but who has always passed for white and thus never experienced racism ﬁrst-hand, it was an appalling eye-opener. I write this in the weeks following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, USA by a white policeman, and thinking back to those days more than 30 years ago and the civil disturbances in Brixton in the 1980s which saw violent confrontations between mostly white police oﬃcers and mostly African Caribbean youth, among whom I worked at that time. It is sobering, not to DOI: 10.4324/9781003102786-12
mention horrifying, that so little has changed at a really fundamental level in the USA and the UK. I’m making this biographical point to underline the importance of experience and values in determining the choices we make, the work we pursue, the issues we research. My experiences at the youth project prompted me to undertake a PhD focusing on the ways in which ethnic diversity was represented on mainstream TV and how the white majority audience comprehended issues of race and ethnicity in the “real” world through their consumption of diﬀerent TV genres. I had been taught a hard lesson at the youth project, having been told quite bluntly that I had been employed, as the only white person on the staﬀ, to be the acceptable face of the project when we needed to attend meetings, liaise with local authority managers over funding and visit potential placement providers and employers, all of whom were overwhelming white. My job, essentially, was to persuade other white people to support the project; it was not to speak for, on behalf of, or instead of, Black people. I learnt that lesson very quickly and it came in useful for when I switched tracks to focus on issues of gender (which of course also includes intersectional elements of race and ethnicity among many others) and would suggest to feministidentifying men that they could be most helpful by working on and with other men to challenge misogyny and the patriarchy. This is not to say that men can’t be allies to women or that white people can’t work in concert with Black people, but it is to say that no matter how much we empathise and even identify with ‘the other’, we cannot know their experiences, we cannot be or speak for them. What we can do is use whatever access or privilege we may have, to ﬁnd ways to support those diﬀerent others to ﬁnd their own voice and tell their own stories. Having spent several years occupying a sometimes quite awkward space as an apparently white woman researching race and representation, when I discovered feminism it was both intellectually stimulating but also experientially comfortable. No one has ever asked why I research sex and gender whereas I have been asked many, many times why I was interested in race because I looked like a white person, as if only Black people could or should be interested in exploring race-related issues While it could be seen as rather cowardly to abandon the discomﬁting landscape of racism for the slightly less turbulent waters of sexism, I believe my work on gender and political communication has had more impact than anything I might have achieved with a diﬀerent focus. And of course, I entirely recognise the signiﬁcant privilege that my skin gives me, allowing me to switch foci as I wished because anything was possible. My ﬁrst book, Black and White Media: Black Images in Popular Film and Television was published in 1996 but I more or less stopped writing about race and representation thereafter and since then, almost all my research has focused on the relationship between gender and media in diﬀerent contexts, diﬀerent countries, across diﬀerent platforms. The development of the ﬁeld of feminist media analysis in relation to politics and news is also the story of my own research journey. In 1994, I took up a one-year ﬁxed-term appointment at the highly-regarded Centre for Mass Communication Research (CMCR) at Leicester University, an
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important research centre in its own right but also the cradle of one of the two international academic associations in our ﬁeld, the International Association of Media and Communication Research (IAMCR), so credited largely because of the work of one of CMCR’s pioneering researchers, James Halloran. It was here, under the careful eye and tutelage of the then Director of CMCR, Annabelle Sreberny, that I ﬁrst found my feminist feet and took my ﬁrst steps along a path which I still travel today. In the short time I spent at CMCR (1994–1995), I undertook my ﬁrst commissioned research for the Fawcett Society on women and news-making in the European elections, conducted my ﬁrst solo study on gender and politics, and published my ﬁrst article on the topic. That early work and its focus was a direct result of what was happening in my personal life since I had been campaigning for the Labour Party and had stood as a candidate in my parish council elections in 1994. It was precisely this personal experience of media interest which prompted my switch in research focus and my personal, professional and academic lives continue to be intertwined 25+ years later. At the time, as a young-ish (at least compared with the competition) woman candidate, the local news media were very interested in me as a woman and a wife but not all interested in me as a politician. Journalists commented on my style, my love of Doc Martens, my eccentric jewellery and my domestic arrangements, but not on my views about enlarging the incinerator at the local hospital or my thoughts on the upcoming European elections and the decision of one of the women candidates to campaign in her husband’s name because her family name was German and she was worried about a racist backlash. I began to wonder if my experience was being replicated a bazillion times among other women in other places, and so the research interest which was to sustain me for the rest of my career was launched. What was astonishing then about the media’s treatment of women generally and elite women in particular—the situation in the 2020s is a step-change improvement on my early studies in the 1990s—was the casual use of profoundly sexist language as if it was the most natural thing in the world, perpetuated by both women and men journalists. For example, during the UK’s Labour leadership elections in 1994, the only woman in the running, Margaret Beckett was described as a ‘gargoyle’ and ‘home-wrecker’ whereas Tony Blair was seen as the virtuous church-goer whose fecundity gave him natural instincts to protect the nation (Karen Ross, 1995). But we were so inured to it, as audience members, as citizens, and it wasn’t until I took a deep-dive into analysing news discourse that I properly understood the persistent and routinised ways in which women were both marginalised (a conspicuous absence) and trivialised (a stereotypical presence). That this double-whammy of disregard and disdain was as much the case for women politicians as for any other woman was another important realisation. Indeed, as subsequent iterations of the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) have shown (Sarah Macharia, 2015), women politicians are actually less likely to appear in political news than any other genre, represent a very small percentage of the total number of women who appear in the news overall and are under-represented in relation to their proportion in any given legislature (see also Ross, 2020).
And of course, 1995 was a crucially important year for feminist media scholars because of two related events, the ﬁrst being the 4th World Conference on Women, which produced the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA), and the second being the publication of the ﬁrst report from the GMMP, an initiative which emerged directly from the BPfA’s call to arms. The BPfA set out an ambitious agenda to promote gender equality and included among its actions were those under Section J which called for an end to gender stereotyping in the media (representation) and the promotion of women’s access and voice in the media (employment). The GMMP set out to monitor the global visibility of women (qua men) in both news media content and news media practice, constituting an important benchmark for the aspirations of Section J. Since that ﬁrst study, the GMMP has monitored the news media every ﬁve years, with the latest exercise taking place during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and the longitudinal ﬁndings make depressing reading. At the time of writing, the results of the 2020 data-gathering are not available but at least one report on the in/visibility of women’s voices during the ﬁrst ﬁve months of reporting the pandemic are depressingly familiar. In her analysis of 146,867 articles related to the coronavirus published between March 1 and July 31, 2020 drawn from 15 sources across the UK, Australia, and the US, Jones (2020) found that for every quote by a woman scientiﬁc expert, there were 19 quotes from an equivalent man and male economists featured ﬁve times more frequently than their female counterparts. But the point about the year 1995 is that it prompted a blossoming of research into the gender/ media nexus, not only resulting in a signiﬁcant increase in publications which drew attention to the problems of gendered inequality across all aspects of the media sector, but also supported the development of international collaborations through joint projects as well as an expansion of scholarly networks of women working on this sub-topic. Perhaps I’m being overly sentimental about my feminist sisters and other disciplines provide similarly supportive environments, but it seemed to me at the time, in my ﬁrst serious academic position, that there was something wonderful and inclusive about feminist scholars in their embrace of new recruits to the cause, manifest in the collegiality of conference sessions, women’s dinners and informal mentoring. I found friendship among all the women associated with this edited collection through my involvement in the International Communication Association’s Feminist Scholarship Division, in almost all cases going back to the mid- and late 1990s. I developed similar friendships with women whom I met at Gender Section sessions at conferences of the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR), becoming chair of that section for a period in the 2000s. Making another biographical point here is, I believe, important, because it recognises the power of supportive mutuality and the value of sharing viewpoints in shaping our own intellectual development, honing our own arguments and perspectives and forging collaborative and productive long-term professional relationships. For example, I have co-authored and co-edited several books and numerous papers with women whom I have now known for more than 20 years, women who are both colleagues but have also become friends. This is certainly not a unique experience
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and many scholars enjoy fruitful collaborative relationships over many years, but the regular assaults and pushbacks against feminist research and indeed feminist more generally, binds us ever closer. So, it’s late 1995 and I have just secured my ﬁrst full-time permanent contract, I have found a new research focus, I am poised to begin my big adventure into the academic world and starting to research and write. What I quickly realised as I began to explore the literature around my chosen topic at this time and for the rest of that decade, was that, of the little research which then existed around women/politics/ media, the vast majority focused on the United States context, most notably the foundational work undertaken by Kim Fridkin Khan (1991, 1994, 1996). While there was a considerable and growing literature on the more general topic of women in politics, with several important ﬁgures in the ﬁeld on both sides of the pond, including Pippa Norris and Joni Lovenduski (Lovenduski, 1996; Norris, 1996; Norris & Lovenduski, 1993), there was very little which focused on women politicians in media representation and still less which gave those women a voice. In some ways, this was entirely understandable: the proportion of women politicians across the globe at that time was tiny, just 11 per ccnt in 1997—although by 2017 this number had more than doubled to 23 per cent.1 But with relatively few women in parliaments and even fewer in the positions of inﬂuence and authority which would aﬀord them media interest, most of my early work looked at representation in news discourse, exploring the gendered tics and sexist ﬂourishes which seemed to aﬄict the journalistic body politic in their coverage of women politicians. However, my new university position carried with it a modest amount of research funding and I decided to embark on a series of interviews with women politicians, starting with Westminster (1995) and then further aﬁeld pivoting to Australia (1998) and South Africa (1999) (Ross, 2002). I look back on that period with something not dissimilar to wonderment because it was so easy to set up interviews, even with very senior women politicians, even with ministers. There was an eagerness to share their stories, to talk about their relationships with political journalists, to talk about the strategies they had devised to mitigate the journalistic tendency to trivialise or undermine or misquote. There was a generosity of spirit exuded by the vast majority of the women I interviewed, some ringing their colleagues while I was with them to ask if they had time to do a quick interview with me. Others were taking me for tea and cake in one of the many parliamentary cafés, and one even worked behind the scenes to obtain a month-long ID pass for me so I didn’t have to keep checking in and out every day when I was visiting Parliament (Ross, 2000). I cut my interviewing teeth on those early conversations, learning how to ask the right question at the right time, to probe or remain silent, to empathise or remain neutral. I had read up on feminist methodologies, knew how important it was to establish rapport, how to privilege the subject’s agenda and go with her ﬂow and not mine (see, for example, Mary Maynard & June Purvis, 1994; Dorothy Smith, 1990; Liz Stanley, 1990). Feminist standpoint epistemology (Sandra Harding, 1993) argues that women and men “know” diﬀerently as socially constructed and lived realities
and truths cut through with any number of biographical and intersectional elements (see Patricia Hill Collins, 1993). I was always clear, at least in the early days, that I wasn’t interested in hearing about men politicians’ experiences because so much extant political communication research focused almost exclusively on men but masqueraded ﬁndings as if for a universal everypolitician, ignoring gender diﬀerences (if indeed any women were included in samples) as if they were inconsequential. Deciding to only interview women was, in itself, an act of feminist epistemology (Alison Wylie, 2003), an explicit recognition that women and men have diﬀerent knowledges although, as it turned out, sometimes my interviewees refused to allow themselves such an acknowledgement themselves, seemingly determined not to be circumscribed by their sex. While this is, at some level, understandable—we mostly cannot nor want to change our biological sex—denying that our sex or gender or indeed any other identity marker impacts and inﬂuences our lives, our decisions, our relations, our practices, is to deny the history of the patriarchy, a history of power and control, a denial of ourstory. What was interesting about that early work was the extent to which I was frequently asked why I was only focusing on women, with the “helpful” suggestion that if I undertook comparative work, then my ﬁndings would have more force. My response then was that we already knew a lot about men politicians because most politicians were men and thus comprised the dominant sample for any research project. Plus, it is not necessary to always consider one group in relation to another: we are “allowed” to research lesbians without always comparing them with heterosexual women, we can focus on older women without having to also consider teenage girls. The experiences of this or that group are still valuable to understand in their own right, not just in relation to whoever is seemed to be their “opposite.” This isn’t to say there isn’t value in precisely those comparative analyses and my later work has indeed included men but that’s because my research questions have changed and they are now more focused on comparisons not least because the increasing number of women politicians around the world makes meaningful comparisons more possible. Of course, feminist methods texts also discuss the issue of power in the context of the uneven relations which exist between the researcher and the researched, telling us to be mindful to not exploit the vulnerabilities of our interviewees (see Jennifer Scanlon, 1993), but the implicit assumption about that power dynamic is that the woman from the university is always more powerful than the woman in the community. While this is no doubt the case in many situations, it is most certainly not the case when it comes to interviewing elites. Although it was amazing that so many women agreed to be interviewed, a signiﬁcant amount of my time in the ﬁeld was spent hanging around in outer-rooms, waiting for my interviewee to ﬁnish her phone call or return from a meeting which had overrun or even, on a few occasions, waiting for her to ﬁnish several meetings because she had forgotten I was coming. Sometimes the interview would be paused because the division bell suddenly rang out and the politician had to go into the Chamber to vote, often on something about which she had not been paying attention to because she had been talking to
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me. I did wonder then about the logic of the democratic process where votes were being cast so casually on issues which could aﬀect the lives of the nation’s citizens. Sometimes the interviews were incredibly awkward, especially when the woman I was interviewing expressed views which were diametrically opposed to my own, with sentiments expressed in such a way as to encourage my collusion and agreement. In order to avoid betraying my own politics and potentially alienating an interviewee, I quickly found ways to acknowledge women’s testimonies without having to agree with their perspectives, gently steering them back to the topic in hand with a non-committal, “yes, that’s an interesting point.” I have thought since (Ross, 2000) about how to square the circle of practising a feminist scholarship which values the lived experience but doesn’t have to condone it. I did my best, and still do. But it remains challenging to give as much space in my work to the women with whom I don’t agree as to those whose worldview I share, although I have moved away from interview-based work in the past few years, so this has become less problematic. None of us are immune to the attractions of our own echo chambers, but we also need to venture outside occasionally, if only to test the continuing credibility of our own arguments and assumptions. By the time I was interviewing my third cohort of women parliamentarians, there were clear patterns emerging and what was so salutary for me was hearing the same sentiments about media discourse being articulated by women working in very different national contexts, from all sides of the political spectrum, at all levels. They talked about sexist language, marginalisation, trivialisation, and disavowal, that their sex seemed to be the most interesting thing about them, regardless of their politics or their position, that what they wore was more likely to be commented upon than what they said or did or believed. I heard my own, very minor mediated experience being expressed over and over, a narrative on perpetual repeat, a universal experience of dismissal and disdain. What was surprising, though, and indeed heartening, was hearing women expressing support for women on the other side of their own politics who had also experienced sexist news reporting about them, their shared experience of journalistic disgust overcoming their political diﬀerences. The ability to both empathise with political opponents and work together in common purpose is characteristic of many women politicians, at least in Britain, and a good example is the 300 Group, formed in 1980 to support more women going into politics and comprising women politicians and activists from across the political spectrum. Its founding was partly a consequence of campaigners recognising that in the year after Britain elected its ﬁrst woman Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, her new Parliament included 19 women MPs out of a total of 635 (3 per cent). Forty years later, at the 2019 General Election, a record 220 women were elected (34 per cent), in no small part because of the eﬀorts made by decades of activism both inside and outside Parliament, along with speciﬁc strategies such as all-women shortlists. Researching media discourse of the changing face, literally, of British politics over time has given me a good understanding of how things have changed but also how much has stayed stubbornly the same.
But reﬂecting back on those early years of research with women politicians, what I was able to oﬀer them, thinking about the reciprocity advocated by feminist modes of enquiry, was some of the strategies which other women had adopted and some of the lessons learnt along the way. This sharing of experience is something to which I returned, in more formalised sessions of continuing professional development workshops, with women members of the Welsh Assembly in the late 2000s and Labour women (and men) MPs in New Zealand in 2013. I also ran several workshops for women media professionals in several venues including the University of Lodz and at regional BBC oﬃces in the mid-2000s. Again, looking back to those training events, they were opportunities to both share experiences and ideas but also to engage in genuine dialogue, to really listen to each other and try and learn something useful from what research was telling us. Perhaps they were more innocent times when the role of the academic was still vibrant and appreciated, virtues which have been systematically undermined and indeed viliﬁed in the harsher, antiintellectual climate which characterises too much of contemporary political thinking. But surely there has never been a more urgent time for feminist media scholarship than in this moment inﬂected so heavily by fake news and macho posturing (Tom Phillips, 2020), by the misogynistic trolling of women in the public eye including politicians and journalists but also, more hopefully, by the pushback of feminist resistance documented so well by Kaitlynn Mendes and her colleagues (2019). What gives us hope, perhaps, is the way in which social media platforms are being leveraged so eﬀectively by media- and tech-savvy feminist researchers both as research resources but also as means for dissemination, reaching audiences of a size which would have been simply unthinkable a decade ago. Having spent some time dwelling in and on the past, I now turn my attention to where I am researching now, focusing on the use of social media platforms by women politicians as they develop strategies online to subvert mainstream media’s propensity to silence them. By the 2010s, although I continued to undertake research on gendered politics and representation, particularly focused on election campaigns when women candidates are the most visible in news discourse, I was rarely interviewing women politicians themselves, with the exception of my new-found interest in New Zealand politics, more of which later. What I had come to realise was that my frustration with women’s reluctance to advocate for other women was all to do with me and not at all to do with them. Women enter politics for many of the same reasons as men, but I was projecting onto them the pursuit of an equality agenda as a rationale when often it simply didn’t exist. I was told many times in interviews, that this or that woman politician had been elected by both women and men and that their duty was to represent all their constituents, not just the female ones. While I entirely agree with that general principle, if women are not prepared to campaign for more breast and cervical cancer screening centres, or abolishing a tax on sanitary protection or continuous funding for rape crisis advice lines, can they really rely on their male colleagues to do that? I think not. So, for personal as well as technological reasons, I began to shift my research focus away from witnessing and representation towards
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what was fast becoming a much more popular site for exploring political communication, and that was social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. My ﬁrst study in this new direction was in 2011 on the occasion of that year’s general election in New Zealand, followed by several further studies of social media messaging in both New Zealand and the UK. There was already a burgeoning literature on digital political communication but, as with so much of the literature on legacy media, gendered analyses were almost completely absent. Once again, the few studies which did have an explicit aim to consider if and in what ways gender might inﬂuence online political messaging were heavily biased towards the US landscape, notably work by Heather Evans (2016) and Lindsey Meeks (2016), so my (mostly collaborative) work on the UK and New Zealand contexts began to ﬁll an important gap (Ross et al., 2015, 2019, 2020). What those studies showed, each one in increasingly more persuasive detail, was the importance of gender and party in determining message content but also style and tone. They also demonstrated the importance of culture and political norms, since the data on gender diﬀerences within a British and New Zealand context showed important diversions from the data emerging from the US. This is a crucial point to understand because so often, when we read research accounts and particularly literature reviews which are necessarily synoptic, it is tempting to imagine gender diﬀerences as if they are universal and essentialist, but they are not. A good example is to consider negative campaign tactics such as hostile tweets, where the US data suggest that women are more likely to engage in such behaviour than their male colleagues (Heather Evans & Jennifer H. Clark, 2016), whereas the UK and New Zealand data showed the opposite tendency. There are also diﬀerences in political behaviour and communication style, with a more “civil” tone characterising the messaging of UK and New Zealand politicians when compared to that exhibited by their American counterparts. In some quite important ways—and nowhere is this more evident than in the media environment around and immediately after the US elections—the US could be considered as a unique case in Western political communication, which makes it even more important to expand the geographical scope of political research to embrace other countries so as to better understand the more nuanced geopolitical landscape. My developing interest in New Zealand politics was both gendered and serendipitous. Gendered, because unlike anywhere else in the Western world, the country has a very creditable history of electing women Prime Ministers. The ﬁrst, Jenny Shipley, served one term, 1997–1999, immediately followed by Helen Clark who had three terms in oﬃce (1999–2008), followed by the current incumbent, Jacinda Ardern (2017–present), albeit with two male PMs in between. The country’s Parliament has had relatively high numbers of women parliamentarians since Shipley’s term, so it seemed an ideal context to explore women’s experiences, their media representation and latterly, their developing social media presence. Serendipitous because in the mid-2000s, I had established a collaborative relationship with colleagues working at Massey University in New Zealand, formed during a visiting
professorship at Queens University, Belfast, where I met Susan Fountaine during a yoga class run as an extra-curricular activity, such is the accidental nature of so many academic friendships. She said, “If you ever visit New Zealand, look me up,” and so I did, in 2008 when I visited the country for the ﬁrst time to conduct interviews with women parliamentarians during the general election campaign period. As a brief aside, one of the two women politicians with whom I spent some time on their campaign trails, ﬁlming them as they went door-knocking, was Jacinda Ardern. She was charming and generous and as much as it was a great opportunity to produce research data which was moving image-based rather than the more regular interview transcript, my videographic activity also served to create a buzz around Ardern’s campaign, since many citizens assumed that I was ﬁlming her for a broadcast news item. I returned to New Zealand in 2013 to work with Labour MPs on developing eﬀective communication strategies on social media, and again in 2017, the latter visit timed to coincide with the elections that year where my colleagues and I broke new ground in undertaking a comparative study of mainstream news coverage of the ﬁve Party Leaders juxtaposed with how they represented themselves (or at least how they wanted to appear) on Facebook (Ross et al., 2020). Ardern was the stand-out candidate that year not only because she was the only woman, but also because she ran a campaign which focused on hope, renewal, and young people with a deft use of social media which encouraged relatability. In general terms, as could have been anticipated, there was little consonance between news media campaign topics and those promoted through the Party Leaders’ Facebook posts. Interestingly, although Ardern’s campaign was considerably media-savvy, she (or her campaign team) posted considerably fewer comments on Facebook than almost all her rivals but her followers, perhaps because she had a more genuinely supportive fanbase, were much more likely to like and share her posts than any of the other Party Leaders, so they had considerable reach and traction. Having settled into a new research rhythm of social media analyses, albeit still keeping my representation hand in with a series of short opinion pieces around the gendered aspects of recent elections and other political campaigns (see for example, Ross, 2017), my gender antennae started twitching in April 2020 when my regular news feeds began to feature a trickle of articles around the apparently amazing “discovery” that women were actually pretty competent leaders, at least in crisis times like the one we are living through right now. One article after another featured headlines which were variations on the theme of what a great job women prime ministers and presidents were doing in responding to the unfolding tragedy of COVID-19, such as: “What do countries with the best Coronavirus responses have in common? Women leaders” (Aviva Wittenberg-Cox, 2020) and “Are female leaders more successful at managing the coronavirus crisis?” (Jon Henley & Eleanor Ainge Roy, 2020). As someone who has tracked media discourse on the topic for decades, it was ironic that all those decades of gendered disavowal were being conveniently forgotten in the rush to compare Jacinda Ardern with Donald Trump, to show how well Angela Merkel was doing against Boris Johnson. The emotional
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intelligence and empathic leadership of a handful of people-friendly women was explicitly pitched to serve as stark counterpoint to the arrogant and disastrous failures of tone-deaf hard men. Suddenly it was a good thing to be empathic, to be a good listener, to be collegial, all traits associated with women’s leadership style and routinely disparaged as being weak and feminine. While on the one hand, it was gratifying to see the media ﬁnally ceding power, authority, and competence to political women, the biological essentialist arguments being put forward were not helpful. At the beginning of 2020, 12 out of 193 elected heads of government were women,2 eight of them leading European countries, most of them being the ﬁrst and/or the youngest woman leader in their country, most of them leading left-leaning governments. However, while Ardern must absolutely be praised for her approach and New Zealand’s enviably low number of deaths from COVID-19, her leadership was very diﬀerent to that of Merkel because the two women are diﬀerent to each other as are their countries, cultures, and politics. Their gender will most certainly play a role in their leadership style but there are so many other salient factors in the mix. Serbia and Bangladesh also have women leaders, but their rather less empathic approach has prompted criticism rather than praise. For the peak months of the COVID-19 pandemic up to July 2020, Belgium led the world in the number of deaths from COVID-19 per million population and it also has a woman prime minister. In the same period, there were ﬁve countries in the top 30 for the highest number of COVID-19 deaths per million population which also have women heads of government: Belgium, Bolivia, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland.3 It’s not always all about gender, stupid. But really, what’s the problem here? As feminist media scholars, should we not be celebrating a shift in journalistic discourse which highlights the importance of women’s contribution to society, given that so much of our research shows a conspicuous lack of such coverage? For me, the problem is that swapping out one gender stereotype for another simply obscures the reality of most women’s actual lived experience. Ardern and Merkel cannot stand as proxies for all women leaders; they should not have to bear the burden of representing some kind of identikit womanleader, not least because when they misstep, the accusation will be that you can’t trust a woman after all, a popular discursive thread which ran through much of the British media after Margaret Thatcher was succeeded by John Major in 1990. When Theresa May became Britain’s second woman Prime Minister in 2016, she was constantly compared with Thatcher, who was PM nearly 40 years earlier, not with her immediate Conservative predecessor David Cameron. The other signiﬁcant problem with the media’s sudden interest in women’s competence is that it is often ﬂeeting and so it was here as well. That one month in the early phase of the pandemic saw several articles promoting women’s competent political leadership was partly due, I would suggest, to journalistic laziness and bandwagoning, since most of the handful of articles were remarkably similar in argument to the ﬁrst one written by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic (2020) and published online in Forbes magazine on 10 April. Of course, it may have been simply coincidental that several other journalists all published pieces on the same topic within days of each
other, all coming up with the same “surprising” analysis. But after their brief moment in the April sun, women leaders were soon put back in their boxes. While there continued to be sporadic coverage of Ardern and Merkel, at least in the British press, no one was really talking about gendered competence any more. Perhaps this is a good thing, that the public doesn’t need to be told that women can be as eﬀective as men because some of them have demonstrated this very comprehensively, but I worry that they remain vulnerable to backlash reporting any time they do or say something which shows their human fallibility, or which is seen as unpopular or misguided by sections of the media and/or the twitterati. But for now, I content myself with some momentous achievements by women politicians during an otherwise devastating 2020: Ardern’s landslide victory in the New Zealand elections in October; the election of Cori Bush, the ﬁrst Black congresswoman in the history of Missouri. In the US elections in November and of course, with the selection and then election of Kamala Harris as the ﬁrst Black woman Vice-President in that same election. I look forward to researching news coverage of politics which is likely to be both gendered and ‘raced’ over the coming months in the wake of these momentous victories. Bring it on.
Notes 1 See http://archive.ipu.org/wmn-e/arc/world251297.htm. 2 See http://archive.ipu.org/wmn-e/arc/world251297.htm. 3 See https://www.statista.com/statistics/1104709/coronavirus-deaths-worldwide-per-m illion-inhabitants/.
References Chamorro-Premuzic, Tomas (2020, 10 April). Are women better at managing the Covid19 pandemic? Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomaspremuzic/2020/04/ 10/are-female-leaders-better-at-managing-the-covid19-pandemic/#4d61e05d28d4. Collins, Patricia Hill (1990). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. Unwin Hyman. Evans, Heather (2016). Do women only talk about “female issues”? Gender and issue discussion on Twitter. Online Information Review, 40(5), 660–672. Evans, Heather K., & Clark, Jennifer H. (2016). “You tweet like a girl!”: How female candidates campaign on twitter. American Politics Research, 44(2), 326–352. https://doi. org/10.1177/1532673X15597747. Harding, Sandra (1993). Rethinking standpoint epistemology: What is “strong objectivity”? In Linda Alcoﬀ & Elizabeth Potter (Eds.), Feminist Epistemologies (pp. 49–82). Routledge. Henley, Jon, & Roy, Eleanor Ainge (2020, 25 April). Are female leaders more successful at managing the coronavirus crisis? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/ 2020/apr/25/why-do-female-leaders-seem-to-be-more-successful-at-managing-thecoronavirus-crisis. Jones, Laura (2020) Women’s representation and voice in media coverage of the coronavirus crisis. Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, Kings College London. Khan, Kim F. (1991). Gender diﬀerences in campaign messages: The political advertisements of men and women candidates for US Senate. Political Research Quarterly, 46(3), 481–503.
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Khan, Kim F. (1994). The distorted mirror: Press coverage of women candidates for statewide oﬃce. Journal of Politics, 56(1), 154–174. Khan, Kim F. (1996). The political consequences of being a woman: How stereotypes inﬂuence the conduct and consequences of political campaigns. Columbia University Press. Lovenduski, Joni (1996). Sex, gender and British politics. In Joni Lovenduski & Pippa Norris (Eds.), Women in Politics (pp 1–16). Oxford University Press. Macharia, Sarah (2015). Who makes the news?WACC. Maynard, Mary, & Purvis, June (Eds.) (1994). Researching women’s lives from a feminist perspective. Taylor & Francis. Meeks, Lindsey (2016). Gendered styles, gendered diﬀerences: Candidates’ use of personalization and interactivity on Twitter. Journal of Information Technology & Politics, 4, 295– 310. https://doi.org/10.1080/19331681.2016.1160268. Mendes, Kaitlynn, Ringrose, Jessica, & Keller, Jessalyn (2019). Digital feminist activism: Girls and women ﬁght back against rape culture. Oxford University Press. Norris, Pippa (1996). Women politicians: transforming Westminster? In Joni Lovenduski & Pippa Norris (Eds.), Women in Politics (pp. 91–104). Oxford University Press. Norris, Pippa, & Lovenduski, Joni (1993). Gender and party politics in Britain. In Joni Lovenduski & Pippa Norris (Eds.), Gender and party politics (pp. 35–59). Sage. Phillips, Tom (2020, 25 March). Bolsonaro says he “wouldn’t feel anything” if infected with Covid-19 and attacks state lockdowns. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/ 2020/mar/25/bolsonaro-brazil-wouldnt-feel-anything-covid-19-attack-state- lockdowns. Ross, Karen (1995). Gender and party politics—how the press reported the Labour leadership campaign, 1994. Media, Culture & Society, 17(3), 499–509. Ross, Karen (1996). Black and White Media: Black images in popular ﬁlm and television. Polity Press. Ross, Karen (2000). Unruly theory and diﬃcult practice: issues and dilemmas in work with women politicians. International Feminist Journal of Politics, 2(3), 319–336. Ross, Karen (2002). Women politics media: Uneasy relations in comparative perspective. Hampton Press. Ross, Karen (2017) It’s the way I tell ’em: car crash politics and the gendered turn. In Einar Thorsen, Daniel Jackson, and Darren Lilleker (Eds.), UK election analysis 2017: Media, voters and the campaign (p. 80). PSA/Bournemouth University. Ross, Karen (2020). The mediaworld vs. the real world of women and political representation: questioning diﬀerences and struggling for answers. In Monika Djerf-Pierre and Maria Edstrom (Eds.), Gender Equality and Media. Nordicom. Ross, Karen, Fountaine, Susan, & Comrie, Margie (2015). Facing up to facebook: Politicians, publics and the social media(ted) turn in New Zealand. Media, Culture & Society, 37(2), 251–269. https://doi.org/10.1177/0163443714557983. Ross, Karen, Fountaine, Susan, & Comrie, Margie (2020). Facebooking a diﬀerent campaign beat: party leaders, the press and public engagement. Media, Culture & Society, https://doi. org/10.1177/0163443720904583. Ross, Karen, Jansen, Marloes, & Lidwien van de Wijngaert (2019). Gender, politics and the tweeted campaign: Tweeting about issues during the UK’s 2017 General Election campaign. European Journal of Politics and Gender, 2(5), 323–344. https://doi.org/10. 1332/251510819X15662922007747. Scanlon, Jennifer (1993). Challenging the imbalances of power in feminist oral history: Developing a take-and give methodology. Women’s Studies International Forum, 16(6), 639–645. Smith, Dorothy E. (1990). The conceptual practices of power: A feminist sociology of knowledge. Northeastern University Press.
Stanley, Liz (Ed.) (1990). Feminist praxis: Research, theory and epistemology in feminist sociology. Routledge. Wittenberg-Cox, Avivah (2020, 13 April) What do countries with the best Coronavirus responses have in common? Women Leaders. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/aviva hwittenbergcox/2020/04/13/what-do-countries-with-the-best-coronavirus-reponses-havein-common-women-leaders/?sh=49644fa73dec. Wylie, Alison (2003). Why standpoint matters. In Robert Figueroa & Sandra G.Harding (Eds.), Science and Other Cultures: Issues in Philosophies of Science and Technology (pp. 26– 48). Routledge.
9 FEMINIST MEDIA STUDIES We Need to Take Intersectionality Seriously Angharad N. Valdivia
The point is not to create words but to use words to create action. (Nubras Samayeen, Adrian Wong, and Cameron McCarthy, 2020) I was shocked that so many in the ﬁeld were shocked when word spread that there was so little diversity in terms of publications; do they not look around at faculty meetings, conference panels, keynote addresses and plenaries, the books on their shelves? (Myra Washington, 2020)
Rhetorical support of intersectionality does not necessarily result in intersectional scholarship, intersectional ﬁelds, or intersectional politics, as Samayeen et al. (2020) above remind us. Within Feminist Communication and Media Studies, the usual process of focusing on Western/Global North, heteronormative white middle-class women—in theory and practice—has slowly begun to include a broader range of theories and populations. Within the International Communication Association (ICA) and the US-based National Communication Association (NCA) as well as the ﬁeld, the academy at large, and, indeed, nationally and globally, the inclusion has been extremely slow, non-linear, and contested, prompting scholars to call out “the suﬀocating whiteness of communication studies” (Lisa B. Y. Calvente et al., 2020, p. 202). Within ICA, activating the “I” for international has arguably displaced underrepresented US-based scholars (Angharad N. Valdivia, 2011). This is neither new nor unusual. As many of the chapters (e.g., Saﬁya Umoya Noble & Sarah T. Roberts, 2019) in Racism Postrace document, internationality has been used as a device to once more marginalize and postpone national racial diversity in Silicon Valley and the US. Mohan J. Dutta (2020) adds another wrinkle to this “internationalization” move, noting that those in the Western academy who speak on behalf of the Global South are often articulated by elite networks. Indeed, this was part of the reason that calls for a New World International and Communication DOI: 10.4324/9781003102786-13
Order (NWICO) in the 1980s failed, as spokespeople were not only gendered but also only addressed elite networks (Colleen Roach, 1990). Plus ça change. Nor that adding gender to the mix has necessarily addressed issues of ethnic and racial inclusion. To wit, Dreama G. Moon and Michelle A. Holling (2020, p. 253) assert that contemporary “white supremacy in heels” serves to erase women of color in an ongoing process of discursive violence. The circle of exclusion thus renews itself, as Washington (2020) calls it the academic version of Groundhog Day (1993)1, where we keep reliving the vicious cycles of the past. This book was proposed, and we turned in our abstracts in, in what now seems a land before time. Neither the COVID-19 global pandemic nor the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in the USA, which would be echoed globally as well, were on our horizon or immediate research agenda as a collective of feminist communication scholars. Moreover, whereas Rachel Dolezal, a former instructor at Eastern Washington University in the USA and local chapter head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) who had posed as a Black woman, had come and gone and sporadically resurfaced, we had yet to meet the latest iteration of ethnic/racial usurpation in the body of Jessica A. Krug, a former associate professor of history at George Washington University in Washington, DC. Krug’s self-promotion as a racialized person, self-outing, and swift debacle, further complicate the complex cultural politics that we experience in the maelstrom known as 2020. The fact that none of our original abstracts presaged a pandemic, foregrounded BLM, nor addressed diﬃcult issues of academic inclusion of faculty/feminists of color speaks to our immense privilege and distance from the everyday lived experiences of so many in the world, whose lives and issues should be of importance to all scholars. The pandemic, as it turns out, was only a matter of when, not if. Viewing the previous season of Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak (2019) on Netﬂix was a bit too real, as all of the worst-case scenarios identiﬁed a year ago in that series are continuously borne out in the USA and many other countries such as India in 2020. Indeed Contagion (2011), once categorized in the disaster movie genre, began to be considered a realist ﬁlm, sort of a documentary. And in the midst of the diﬃcult conditions generated by physical distancing measures, which have been borne disproportionately by women and people of color, on May 25, 2020, a Minneapolis policeman is caught on camera asphyxiating a Black man (Helen Lewis, 2020). The Black Lives Matter/ #blacklivesmatter/ BLM movement erupted into mainstream social consciousness, ﬁrst in Minneapolis-St. Paul and then throughout the USA. Despite BLM’s existence since 2013, founded by three intersectional activist women—Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi—BLM had only occasionally and sporadically appeared in mainstream news (Valdivia, 2019b). After George Floyd became a symbol of the movement, Breonna Taylor’s death, which preceded Floyd’s but resulted in no arrests, further incensed those seeking the end of police brutality and racialized violence. Then, on Thursday September 3, 2020, I woke up to what I originally thought was an ironic article in The Onion but was
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actually a self-disclosure in Medium, where Jessica Krug detailed her long process of assuming racialized identities as she made her way in the academy, beneﬁting from the scarce resources carved out to increase the presence of women of color. Thus, as our deadline neared and went by, my original intention for this chapter shifted dramatically. It became impossible to continue business as usual when the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racism bubbled out of control in our midst, and when we have to acknowledge that “reverse racial passing” (Cheryl Thompson, 2018) scholars apparently live among us,2 even in the hallowed halls of top-ranked research universities in the USA. How can we, Teresa Award winners of the Feminist Scholarship Division of the International Communication Association, speak to our complicity in processes that serve to valorize and visibilize normative feminist issues, and therefore to invisibilize or back-burner intersectional issues? What are the possibilities for moving beyond the incremental changes and seemingly inevitable slippages always rooted in the normativity of whiteness and USA-Eurocentric elite privilege? How can we not only learn but also develop a dynamic sensitivity to the multiplicities of systems of oppression—the intersectionality—facing so much of the global population and that small percentage of our ﬁeld that have somehow managed to cross or climb over the many walls and roadblocks that academia continually produces and reproduces that serve to keep out intersectional scholars? I am not going to even deign engaging with discourses of pipeline and scarcity, both of which, as Lisa A. Flores and Logan Rae Gomez (2020) and Saﬁya U. Noble (2018) have amply demonstrated, are only about ways of seeing, or rather, ways of not seeing the abundance of highly trained scholars and professionals of color. Indeed, this chapter, as do most of my publications, relies primarily on the scholarship of feminists of color, whose work ought to be foundational but seldom is mentioned in our ﬁeld. Moreover, this chapter explores some recent media examples that illustrate the potential of an intersectional approach to feminist media studies. Ending on the theme of hope (Rachel Wood & Benjamin Litherland, 2018), the essay identiﬁes moments of rupture and inclusivity that might expand and intersectionalize our ﬁeld.
Intersectionality Intersectionality (Kimberlé Crenshaw, 1989) was theoretically conceptualized as a way to account, within the law, for the fact that Black women faced both gender and racial oppression. Overlapping gender and racial systems of oppressions (among many possible others, such as class, nation, sexuality, ability, etc.) converge in the body and lived experiences of Black women. Treating intersectional systems of oppression as separate or parallel rather than mutually or multiply constitutive fails to account for their interaction. Foundational to Critical Race Theory, the concept of intersectionality applies to all of us. White women, at the very least, live at the intersection of gender and race—their whiteness is an intersectional position empowered by race although checked by gender, by being women. To understand
intersectionality, we must identify systems of oppression and of privilege. Thus, as Moon and Holling (2020) assert, white feminism in the academy, and in the ﬁeld of communication, occupies a position of privilege: in the interest of improving white women’s positionality within a white power structure, (white) feminism ideologically grounds itself in a gendered victimology that masks its participation and functionality in white supremacy. By erasing women of color, positioning women as victims of white male hegemony, and failing to hold white women accountable for the production and reproduction of white supremacy, (white) feminism manifests its allegiance to whiteness. (p. 253) This article and statement by Moon and Holling represent a direct result of and response to the so-called DSA NCA 2019 controversy when on June 10, 2019 Marty Medhurst, the editor of Rhetoric and Public Aﬀairs (RPA) and a member of NCA’s Distinguished Scholar Award (DSA) community publicly bemoaned, in a pre-release of an editorial he planned to include in the forthcoming issue of RPA that increasing diversity in the DSA would sacriﬁce excellence. The immediate scandal resulted in, among other measures, an NCA-controlled rather than a DSA-controlled process of selection of incoming Distinguished Scholars, the removal of that scholar’s editorship, the establishment of another journal, renewed eﬀort to diversify recipients of awards in NCA, and a range of publications including the intersectional special issue of Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies (2020, 17(2)) wherein the articles by Calvente et al. (2020), Dutta (2020), Flores and Gomez (2020), Moon and Holling (2020), and Washington (2020) that I reference and cite in this chapter appeared. As another response, on social media many white colleagues and scholars of color asserted that the time had come to diversify syllabi. I could not believe that in 2019 scholars were publicly admitting that they had yet to diversify their syllabi! This declaration was followed by posts that shared “diversiﬁed” syllabi, that often consisted of throwing in a little Stuart Hall, and returning to the mostly white and male-dominated canon. ICA, as a sister organization to NCA, also released a public statement on the issue of diversity on July 2, 2019, trying to head oﬀ the juxtaposition of diversity and excellence: “We robustly aﬃrm that merit and diversity are not mutually exclusive principles, and we remain ﬁrmly committed to enhancing both academic excellence and diversity.” ICA’s statement actually also uses the word “intersecting,” and lists a number of measures the organization will take including a new code of ethics, a task force, and encouraging the ICA Fellows (the ICA equivalent of the NCA DSA) to further diversify. Speaking from the positionality of an intersectional member of ICA, NCA, and the academy, a task force is the least inspiring measure—many a social movement has died in the process of a task force, and there are actual and virtual ﬁle cabinets full of task force reports, which remain just that, reports in a ﬁle cabinet. #CommunicationSoWhite is mentioned in ICA’s diversity statement. Yet, as Washington (2020) writes, and many of the scholars at the 2018 Race and Media
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Conference discussed, none of what appears in that 2018 article is news to those of us in the race and media community, and it should not be news to anybody who has been working in the ﬁeld for at least some years. Washington (2020) asks whether anyone noticed faculty members, committees, conferences, awards, and syllabi are not inclusive of diversity. The evidence was there, for anyone to see. The #CommunicationSoWhite article in the Journal of Communication (Paula Chakravartty et al., 2018) indexed discourses of power, mapping out what and who was published in the top journal of the ﬁeld. It also quantiﬁed that which has been quantiﬁed and qualiﬁed in other journals. ICA’s high-ranked Journal of Communication seldom publishes articles on race and/or gender. Intersectional scholars, by and large, know better than to send their/our excellent research to be desk-rejected by editors of the dominant paradigm who do not recognize our work as research. Indeed, the Journal of Communication has only ever been edited by white men,3 so that it cannot be analyzed by Moon and Holling’s (2020) study titled “white supremacy in heels” as not even white women have ever been editors of this journal. The Chakravartty et al. (2018) publication generated a re-enactment of the “myth of discovery” wherein we intersectional scholars were “discovered” by the ﬁeld, as if we had not been there for decades already. In addition to being “discovered” by the ﬁeld, intersectional feminist scholarship was championed by Paula Gardner (2018) in her address as ICA President during the 2018 ICA annual conference, which drew on post-colonial and feminist scholarship to sound a clarion for greater inclusivity in ICA: ﬁrst … we must reform research that ﬂattens subjects into homogenous populations (e.g., women; people of color; Islamic women) that marginalize them. Second, we must update research approaches to examine how multiple identity categories (e.g., identiﬁcation as woman, brown, Muslim, migrant) produce exponential biases for subjects. Third, we must work to ensure that our research tracks how historical legacies (e.g., of colonialism or gender bias) produce slippery new practices of marginalization. (p. 3) To be fair, Gardner admitted she was drawing on feminist postcolonial scholarship. The fact is that members of ICA and FSD (the Feminist Studies Division of ICA) and even Teresa Award winners, such as Radha Hegde and Radhika Parameswaran, are feminist postcolonial scholars who have been writing about this for decades. Indeed, Gardner mentioned them. However, Latina and Black feminists in the ﬁeld received no mention in this article, which serves as another example of displacing US scholars of color through invoking the postcolonial. Moreover, and as usual, Gloria Anzaldúa was mentioned, in lieu of contemporary scholarship in Latina feminist media studies (Valdivia, 2019b). I quote from the end of the “Latina Media Studies” article in the journal Feminist Media Histories:
we Latina media scholars regularly experience the Gloria Anzaldúa moment when a mention of her name appears to absolve dominant culture scholars, including feminist ones, from reading or referencing any of our work. While we are all indebted to the work of this great writer, who passed away in 2004, she would be the ﬁrst person to urge us to stay abreast of the research carried out. Whereas Anzaldúa … wrote foundational material on Chicano Studies, Gender Studies, and Queer Studies—all of which served to inspire emergent ﬁelds such as Latina media studies, she did not write about media studies. (Valdivia, 2019b, p. 104) Whereas Myra Washington (2020) references Groundhog Day as a metaphor for the “myth of discovery” that repeats itself every so often in regard to the presence/absence of racialized members of our ﬁeld, I feel that for Latinas Horton Hears a Who! applies to the muted presence of our research in this ﬁeld despite proliﬁc and high-quality research (Maria Elena Cepeda, 2015). It is like we keep saying “We are here! We are here!” but the ﬁeld does not hear us. The call to diversity that takes up the global but not necessarily local marginalization is precisely why the Race and Media Conference is such a welcome and unusually utopic space for those of us whose research falls outside of the Venn diagram of diversiﬁcation through internationalization. Also following the Chakravartty et al. (2018) publication, a pre-conference entitled #CommunicationSoWhite was held prior to 2019 ICA in Washington, DC, attended mostly by the same scholars who attend the Race and Media Conference, but giving ICA the patina of having begun to address issues of inclusion, albeit at the margins, as pre-conferences are by deﬁnition marginal. A panel on #CommunicationSoWhite in the conference itself rounded out the visibilization of that narrative, in a summer and year full of hashtag activism, so much of which failed to make its way beyond social media (Valdivia, 2019a).
Media Visibilization of Intersectionality In her inﬂuential article on “Post Feminism? New Feminist Visibilities in PostFeminist Times”, Rosalind Gill (2016) identiﬁes four types of visibilizations of feminism within the contemporary post-feminist sensibility. Two of them, feminist activism in the media and feminism in the media, bear particular relevance to this analysis. Within post-feminism, feminism, Gill (2016) and many other scholars note, is always articulated to address “individual rather than systemic issues” and arrives “always-already trivialized” (p. 616, emphasis hers). Moreover, coverage highlights white individuals, such as Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia University former student who walked around carrying a mattress to visibilize the issue of date rape on college campuses as well as her own assault, in which the university chose not to punish the assaulter, and the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, global poster girl for environmental issues. Whereas both Emma and Greta advocate for collective and structural feminist issues, the coverage in the mainstream press singles them out as individuals (Sarah Projansky, 2018).
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Furthermore, before Emma and Greta, women and girls of other races, including the founders of Black Lives Matter and Autumn Peltier, an indigenous girl activist, have been advocating for intersectional understanding of the issues of race, violence, class, sexuality, and gender with little visibility. Feminist activism, Gill (2016) ﬁnds, generates “relatively limited coverage” (p. 616) and activist coverage generally focuses on men, such as Black Lives Matter. As previously mentioned, Black Lives Matter was founded by three women, yet it required an additional hashtag—#SayHerName—to remind us all that some of the police brutality was borne by women. Tragically, before George Floyd there were Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, and many others. The visibilization of activism around the issue of race follows the traditional patterns of gender: ﬁrst cover men, then, maybe, women.
Mainstream Visibility of Intersectionality Black Lives Matter has generated some interesting, albeit unusual moments of intersectional reﬂexivity. In the remainder of this chapter, I present and explore a few instances, what I call ﬂashpoints of intersectional visibility, that appeared in mainstream media, undoubtedly as a result of the visibilization of structural sexism and racism during the pandemic, linked both to health and police brutality issues. I choose the word “ﬂashpoint” to signify their short-lived presence. One area of intersectional visibility is the post-racial application of color-blind casting (Isabel Molina-Guzmán, 2018). However, it is diﬃcult to assert color-blindness in a culture so divided by racial policies and narratives that pit underrepresented groups against each other in a terrain of underemployment and underrepresentation. Whereas white actors have historically represented the entire racial spectrum through brown face, black face, yellow face, etc., racialized actors have to compete in an uneven playing ﬁeld with white actors and assert some type of authenticity at a strategic and/or essential level. The visibilization of Latinas largely foregrounds light brown actors such as Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Alba, and Soﬁa Vergara. AfroLatinas such as Michelle Rodriguez, Rosario Dawson, and Zoë Saldana have to compete with African American actors for roles, are treated as inauthentic and/or outsiders by both groups, and are cast in more embodied/tough roles (Mary C. Beltrán, 2004). The whitening tendencies of mainstream popular culture in the United States result in AfroLatinas and, even, light Latinas being cast for African American roles. Witness Jessica Alba’s casting in Honey (2003) as an ambiguous African American hip hop dancer and choreographer. Nonetheless when AfroLatinas are cast as African Americans, the resulting controversy speaks of narratives of authenticity as well as the very small number of roles available to any racialized actor in Hollywood. Such an occurrence makes visible the tensions arising out of scarcity that get coded in terms of belonging and authenticity, but only brieﬂy. On August 6, 2020 the BBC published an online article covering Zoë Saldana’s Instagram live apology for her “black face” portrayal of Nina Simone in the 2016 biopic Nina. At the time of the production and release of the movie, despite the refusal of Simone’s estate to endorse the movie and Simone’s daughter
entreaty to Zoë to not do it, Saldana held that because she was AfroLatina and an actress, she could represent the famous jazz singer. As early as 2013, MolinaGuzmán (2013) published an article in which she traced reactions to Saldana’s casting to 2012 in The New York Times, noting that “for some audiences and cultural activists, cinematic performance of African American identity are informed by popular expectations of authenticity bound with biological notions of race tied to skin color and other phenotypic markers of blackness.” The reaction and controversy to Nina’s casting embodied the tensions between authenticity and biological notions. Originally Saldana held that as an AfroLatina she could do justice to the role. For that role Saldana had to wear a prosthetic nose and darkened skin, i.e., black face. By 2020, after Black Lives Matter hit mainstream visibility, Saldana issued an apology that included the following: I should have done everything in my power with the leverage that I had 10 years ago, which was a diﬀerent leverage, but it was leverage nonetheless … I should have done everything in my power to cast a black woman to play an exceptionally perfect black woman. Saldana alludes to agency, power, and a leverage that she had begun to acquire after she played major roles in Avatar (2009) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, 2017, 2021). As a racialized actor, she had little leverage in 2012. Yet in 2020, following a summer of Black Lives Matter, Saldana reverts to a narrative of authenticity regarding an “exceptionally perfect black woman.” Ironically Nina Simone herself insisted on calling out “the cultural politics of the black Atlantic that extend far beyond the borders of the United States” (Molina-Guzmán, 2013). In a similar public apology also reported on the BBC, Viola Davis on July 15, 2020 expressed regret for having played the character of Aibileen Clark, one of the maids whose story is told in The Help (2011) by the white protagonist Skeeter, played by Emma Stone. Davis acknowledged that the entire movie illustrated the white savior trope, wherein blackness is processed through a white optic. Instead of the blackface of Nina, The Help cast black actors Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Cicely Tyson to play the stereotypical roles of maids/mammies with a twist; Davis and Spencer also contributed to the book, about their own lives, written within the movie. The geographical displacement of locating the narrative in the South of the USA and in the historical period of the US Civil Rights movement in 1963 serves to distance our understanding of racism as something in the past beyond cities that supposedly no longer operate under racial logics. Viola Davis’s character Aibeleen functions as the narrative connection between Skeeter the white protagonist and the Black knowledge/data that Skeeter needs to publish the book. At the movie’s end Skeeter is moving back to the East Coast, to New York City, in fact, to pursue her dream of being a writer, with a contract in hand, and Viola Davis as Aibileen has been ﬁred from her maid/nanny position and envisions another future for herself as a writer, though she is essentially unemployed.
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Undoubtedly both of these attritional moves are spurred by the recent visibilization of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, the partial attention to gender issues within BLM, and the Latinx support of Black Lives in self-reﬂexive analysis of the Latinx community’s rather muted support of its AfroLatinx members. These conversations and discussions about intraracial and interracial solidarity previously circulated at the margins of the mainstream, in Black and Latinx Twitter, online mags like The Root and Remezcla, and various other digital spaces wherein BIPOC people discuss such matters, including Instagram and YouTube. The diﬀerence after Black Lives Matter was the visibilization of these mea culpa announcements through the BBC, arguably a centrist, mainstream, global news source. Saldana, an AfroLatina actor, feels compelled to issue a public apology. Nina was unsuccessful as a movie, and Zoë’s career was not enhanced as a result of the movie’s failure. Compounded by lingering resentment at her, individually, as an actor who chose to engage in blackface in 2016, Saldana not only apologizes but simultaneously gains a ﬂashpoint of visibility (2020). Her subsequent successes provide Saldana with the “leverage” to renounce that unsuccessful and controversial role. Similarly, Viola Davis, now a successful Hollywood star, can refer to her breakout cross-over role and retract it. As underpaid and undervalued labor, both actors had to work in compromising roles with diﬀerent success. Both Nina and The Help can be analyzed through an updated intersectional and critical lens that takes gender and Black lives seriously. Nina bombed. The Help was a box oﬃce success. Indeed, The Help, re-released on Netﬂix in summer of 2020 during the peak of BLM protests and the COVID-19 pandemic received renewed attention as it quickly became one of the most watched Netﬂix oﬀerings and was immediately re-criticized for its racist depictions. Simultaneously, Netﬂix temporarily pulled Gone with the Wind (1939) from its movie line-up while it reassessed its racist representation of the Civil War, yet it nonetheless re-released The Help as it contributed to increased traﬃc in its livestream delivery. As yet another wrinkle in this intersectional story, Olivia de Havilland, the last surviving major star from Gone with the Wind died at 104 on July 26, 2020 in Paris. Despite the fact that major newspapers usually release the obituaries of such famous stars immediately, as they are pre-written like so much of the news is, the Washington Post released hers at least six hours later, perhaps amending her obituary to include BLM and hyperlinks to the racial issues in Gone with the Wind. The intersectional mea culpas by Zoë Saldana and Viola Davis speak to the complex and overlapping issues aﬀecting the presence, visibility, and salience of intersectional subjects in addition to the complicated swirl of transnational ﬂows that belie any attempt to assert purity and authenticity. Within feminist media studies, intersectional and transnational research informs our ability to understand such complex and ubiquitous issues. The nexus of Nina Simone–Zoë Saldana and the parallel nexus of Olivia de Havilland–Hattie McDaniel–Viola Davis–Emma Stone reveal that nothing in mainstream Hollywood lies outside of complex and diverse subjectivities. To begin with, Nina Simone (née Eunice Kathleen Waymon) was a globally renowned singer and Civil Rights activist, who like many African American
musicians of her time, left the USA for political, economic, and cultural reasons. Simone found it diﬃcult to breathe in the USA and moved to Barbados, then Liberia, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and ﬁnally settled in Southern France. Saldana, who was chosen to play Simone in the biopic, hails from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic—a well-trodden path from a Caribbean nation, to a colonial outpost of the USA, to the mainland of the USA. Olivia de Havilland moved to Paris decades ago and lived there for the rest of her life. Viola Davis and the ﬁctional characters of The Help remain within the representational and narrative terrain of the “pure” USA—another major ﬁction given that “the South” writ large contains multiplicitous African, Asian, European, and Caribbean migration ﬂows that belie its representation as an authentic location of pure blackness, whatever that is. Purity is a fantasy. Authenticity is a strategic weapon. Intersectionality implicates us all. At this point, as if matters were not complicated enough, for people’s daily lives and existence and, much less importantly, for scholars trying to make intersectional sense of it all, on September 3, 2020 Jessica Krug outed her minstrel performance on Medium as a preemptive measure since she was about to be outed by scholars. In her own words, Krug inhabited and created ﬁctional personas as follows: “ﬁrst North African Blackness, then US rooted Blackness, then Caribbean rooted Bronx Blackness.” Her performances throughout her academic career culminated in a tenured position at George Washington University and publication of two well-received books. Krug’s debacle was swift: faculty in her department and students in separate documents asked for her resignation; Krug was immediately relieved of her teaching assignment; and by September 7, 2020 the university announced that Krug was no longer working at the university. Krug was neither the ﬁrst nor last person to engage in reverse racial passing (Thompson, 2018), which others have called a “racist caricature” (Touré Reed, 2020). Before Krug there was Rachel Dolezal, who in 2015 and thereafter deﬁantly held that race is a social construct and a structure of feeling within which she identiﬁed aﬀectively, politically, and culturally as Black. Dolezal’s contract at Eastern Washington University and her roles as the President of the local NAACP chapter and member of the city council in Spokane ended shortly after her parents outed her as white. After Krug outed herself, social media posts and an article in Medium outed CV Vitolo-Haddad, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who had been reverse passing as Black. By September 6, 2020 Vitolo-Haddad had also written the ﬁrst of two articles in Medium outing themselves, had resigned from their teaching assistant appointment at the University of Wisconsin, and was un-hired by Fresno State University. Since then, other reverse passings continue to be outed. A much longer article is needed to tease out the theoretical, political, and cultural implications of this gendered practice of passing as Black. Although it is rather interesting that only women are being outed, it is unlikely that only white4 women do this. This seems to imply a gender ﬂip in coverage. Normally men are foregrounded, even in
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Black Lives Matter, but outing/visibilizing reverse racial passing/cultural appropriation/ racial transgression focuses only on women as transgressors. Nonetheless all three women “chose” to perform a racialized identity by maintaining a “new Afro,” which Thompson (2018) reminds us is a hallmark of post-feminist neoliberal sensibilities, choice, and agency as individual matters resolved through the marketplace. Cultural appropriation through ﬂoating signiﬁers is central in a neoliberal economy where ethnicity becomes yet another item in the marketplace (Marylin Halter, 2000). Similarly, blackness is commodiﬁed within post-feminism where whiteness is the norm and race becomes a marker of diﬀerence subsumed to whiteness (Kristina Brüning, 2019). In the media marketplace, each of these instances of appropriation appear as ﬂashpoints, highlighting the contested and malleable race work engaged by some white women. That these three women were able to convince academic institutions of their authenticity through their performance of stereotypical ethnicity—for example, Jessica Krug always wore huge hoop earrings, tight and highly patterned dresses, and spoke with a constructed Bronx accent—speaks of the fact that gatekeepers at these academic institutions accepted her stereotypical performance as a mark of authenticity. In other words, in performing a highly stereotypical AfroLatinidad, Krug was able to convince institutions partly, mostly, or wholly because their perception and/or knowledge about AfroLatinas relies on stereotypes. After all, Media Studies scholars know that in the absence of personal experience, people base their knowledge of others partly on media tropes. The original ﬂash of the story—“White woman impersonates Black/Latina woman in the academy” follows a pattern: reveal/outing, aghast reaction of hurt and betrayal by those who knew her, recourse to issues of mental health on the part of the perpetrators, and swift (in terms of academic speed) separation from that individual by academic institutions. News coverage provides photographs of the reverse racial passing in action at conferences etc., childhood photos to demonstrate original/actual race, and photos of campus landmarks, usually without any administrator or person—just the gate to the campus, for example. Five years after Dolezal’s outing, both Krug and Vitolo-Haddad used the online magazine Medium to air their own outing. They did so only after it became clear to them that they were about to be outed. As such, they get to exercise a degree of agency in controlling the terms and original discussion about their transgression. In the Krug case, after the university announced they had terminated their contract with her, the story sort of fell out of the news cycle. In fact, Jessica Krug beneﬁted from impersonating an AfroLatina to gain entry into research university employment as well as gaining many highly coveted grants and contracts targeting women of color in the academy. Ultimately, she probably negotiated a settlement on her way out, thus beneﬁting from her white woman status and a well-paid lawyer. As we do not know the terms of her exit, this last sentence is informed speculation.
Conclusion Thompson (2018) proposes that “if we are to think relationally about postfeminist representations of women as freely choosing, we must recognize the intersectional processes through which racial tropes, discursive spaces, and media texts combine” (p. 172). I urge us to think of ourselves as subjects in a ﬁeld that is part and parcel of the discursive formation that circulates knowledge about feminism and the media. As such the topics we choose, the literature on which we draw, and the connections that we make are part of a process of inclusion or exclusion depending on our choices and agency. Faculty of color, as people of color, labor under precarious conditions in an academy that rhetorically values diversity and continues to endlessly produce task forces to address issues of diversity, yet really has little tolerance for diversity (Ahmed, 2012). Furthermore, the beloved task forces—which are no more than rhetorical strategies to avoid meaningful social change—are forcibly populated by faculty of color who have nearly everything to lose from their participation in these largely futile exercises: ﬁrst, most are not in a position to decline invitations to these committees; second, all are already overburdened, partly due to their [in] voluntary participation in these task forces; and third, most are not able to engage in truthful discourse as anything they/we say in such settings will be held against us. The voices included in the special issue of Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies speak to the frustration with these nearly intractable issues. The fact that this was a “special issue,” a response to the most recent eruption of frustration within the ﬁeld, reiterates the marginal status of our presence, our scholarship, and our inﬂuence. The mediated visibilization of gender within contemporary public life and mainstream popular culture is but another site where the issues in the previous paragraph are found. Not only is feminism commodiﬁed within post-feminism to sell a weightless feminism (Gill, 2017), but Blackness is commodiﬁed within post-feminism to visibilize whiteness (Brüning, 2019). Popular media seem unable or unwilling to deal with intersectionality—similarly to academia. When Saldana, Davis, and Krug appear in mainstream news—becoming ﬂashpoints for the importance and utter necessity to understand and discuss intersectionality and its visibility—the appearance of these stories, women, and issues disappear nearly immediately. Within Latinidad, there is much work to be done. Flashpoints of visibility and tension reveal the ﬁssures that have yet to heal. For example, Arcelia Gutiérrez (2020) addresses these when she remarks: “many Latinxs have faced a moment of racial reckoning by addressing Afrolatinx erasure and anti-Blackness in their communities and challenging Latinx ‘whataboutisms’ when it comes to discussions about police brutality against African Americans” (p. 18). Facing the blind spots within the very communities to which we belong paves the way for a long and uneven road of learning and healing. Further events might make connections to previous utterances, but more than likely will be treated as new “discoveries.” Again, the myth of discovery is alive and well in the media, and it is no less present in academia and in our ﬁeld.
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What about hope? The other day I ended a Zoom conference by asking participants for words of hope—which might very well be the academic equivalent of the wish for world peace among beauty contestants, as in Miss Congeniality (2000). I was surprised to hear from one of the panelists that hope was a white sentiment of closure, thus racializing this most human of emotions. Wood and Litherland (2018) remind us that we must avoid foreclosing the possibility that elements of feminism that challenge cultures of habit, and even social structures, might be “let in” at the same time, with unpredictable results … Feminism remains potentially disruptive, it retains properties of interruption and noise-making, or, as [Angela] McRobbie argues, feminism can still be a “discursive explosion” in contemporary capitalism (2015). When feminism is let in, it can become challenging to leave out those ideas that may come to confront neoliberal forms of inequality. (p. 917) This chapter expanded this sentiment by demonstrating that letting feminism in, on its own, unnamed and unmarked serves to reproduce neoliberal forms of (in)equality. This chapter does not argue against hope, nor do I agree that hope is a white sentiment. Rather this chapter exhorts us to look at ourselves in the mirror and recognize our complicity in holding up blocks against those in the pursuit of social justice. Through identiﬁcation of ﬂashpoints of visibility, let us not pat ourselves on the back prematurely. And I say this recognizing that even within Latinidad, there is much work to be done.
Notes 1 Netﬂix released an updated version of this movie entitled Palm Springs in summer of 2020. 2 After Krug, there have been other outings circulating on social media, including another from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which is where Dr. Krug earned her Ph.D. 3 Silvio Waisbord, the previous editor, is Argentinian so therefore from the Global South. 4 Whiteness is also multiplicitous: Jessica Krug is Jewish white, CV Vitolo is Italian/Sicilian American, and Rachel Dolezal’s parents are of Nordic ancestry.
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Noble, Saﬁya Umoya, & Roberts, Sarah T. (2019). Technological elites, the meritocracy, and postracial myths in Silicon Valley. In Roopali Mukherjee, Sarah Banet-Weiser, & Herman Gray (eds.), Racism postrace (pp. 113–133). Duke University Press. Projansky, Sarah (2018). From pro-equality to anti-sexual violence: The feminist logics of Title IX in media culture. In Jessalyn Keller & Maureen E. Ryan (Eds.), Emergent feminisms: Complicating a postfeminist media culture (pp. 126–142). Routledge. Reed, Touré F. (2020, September 6). “Jess La Bombalera” and the pathologies of racial authenticity. Jacobin. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2020/09/jess-la-bombalera-and-thepathologies-of-racial-authenticity. Roach, Colleen (1990). The movement for a New World Information and Communication Order: A second wave? Media, Culture & Society, 12(3), 283–307. https://doi.org/ 10.1177/016344390012003002. Samayeen, Nubras, Wong, Adrian, & McCarthy , Cameron (2020). Space to breathe: George Floyd, BLM Plaza and the monumentalization of divided American Urban landscapes. Educational Philosophy and Theory. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131857.2020.1795980. Thompson, Cheryl (2018). The new afro in a postfeminist media culture. In Jessalynn Keller & Maureen E. Ryan (Eds.), Emergent Feminisms: Complicating a postfeminist media culture (pp. 161–173). Routledge. Valdivia, Angharad N. (2011). Activating the “I” and ramiﬁcations for International Communication Association journals and members. Communication Theory, 21(4), 317–322. https:// doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2885.2011.01388.x. Valdivia, Angharad N. (2018). Latina Media Studies. Feminist Media Histories, 4(2), 101–106. Valdivia, Angharad N. (2019a, May 24–28). #Communicationsowhite: ICA Journals and the Politics of Inclusivity. International Communication Association. Valdivia, Angharad N. (2019b). #IntersectionalActivism: Tales of origin and intersectional negotiations. Interactions: Studies in Communication and Culture, 10(3), 159–168. https:// doi.org/10.1386/iscc.10.3.159_1. Viola Davis, I betrayed myself and my people in The Help (2020, July 25). BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-53416196. Washington, Myra S. (2020). Woke skin, white masks: race and communication studies. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies. https://doi.org/10.1080/14791420.2020. 1770820. Wood, Rachel, & Litherland, Benjamin (2018). Critical feminist hope: The encounter of neoliberalism and popular feminism in WWE 24: Women’s Evolution. Feminist Media Studies, 18 (5), 905–922. https://doi.org/10.1080/14680777.2017.1393762. Zoe Saldana apologises for playing Nina Simone: “She deserved better” (2020, August 6). BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-53676550.
10 GLOBAL FEMINIST POSITIONALITY (GFP) Coordinates of Time, Space, and Location in Research Radhika Parameswaran
I am sitting with a senior undergraduate student—a young Black woman—who had contacted me to talk about feminist research for a class assignment in a sociology course. We had agreed to meet outside on a beautiful autumn day on the terrace of our student union building. I was simply not sure what to expect, but I did know from our earlier correspondence that she is an eager, enthusiastic, and committed student. We were meeting well ahead of her assignment deadline, and she had taken care to spell my somewhat diﬃcult last name correctly each time. From her very ﬁrst message expressing interest in interviewing me, it was clear that she had scoured my online proﬁle and even read some of my articles. She had also told me of her visit to Mumbai, India, a year ago for her brother’s wedding (his wife is from India). After exchanging pleasantries, she dives right in with a set of questions neatly typed out on a sheet of paper. Here are a few examples from her longer list:
After having visited India, I must ask how you bring together such diﬀerent worlds in your personal and professional lives. Yes, there are some similarities and I saw those on my visit, but still, my head was spinning. Hope you are not oﬀended by this question. So much of India is rural, but almost all your work addresses urban issues. I am curious to know why. And I heard so much about caste when I was in Mumbai, but I do not see a big focus on this in your work. You mention class and gender, but caste much less. Your research on colorism and beauty spoke to me because colorism aﬀects the Black community too. But, I did encounter some blatant racism in India … and want to ask if those are connected. I think so, but wonder what you think.
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I was not fully prepared to answer all her questions that day, at least not to my satisfaction and I found myself shaken with some unexpected discomfort that left me tongue-tied. I complimented the student on the depth and breadth of her interview questions, and then we arranged to meet again a week later (but only after I snatched her sheet of paper). While my interview with this bright and inquisitive young woman reached some closure that fall semester of 2018, her aerial-view questions pitched at probing the temporal, spatial, and political dimensions of academic research labor lingered and fermented in my mind and heart. My training in feminist media ethnography since the beginning of graduate school in the early 1990s had taught me to take such everyday life moments seriously, as unexpected invitations to pause and probe my research priorities and directions, even if I could not fully attend to these moments immediately. Indeed, as I discovered in my quieter moments later on and in further conversations with friends and peers, I had only inaugurated the process of thinking through these satellite-level macroscopic questions. The seismic imprint of my interaction with this astute student, whose class assignment had triggered some introspection during an otherwise hectic semester, pushed me towards writing this chapter. The following questions drive my reﬂection here: How is our feminist research structured by the pressures and contingencies of knowledge production in the disciplinary ﬁelds we inhabit? How do the located histories of colonialism and the dislocated conditions of globalization privilege elite postcolonial feminists working in Euro-American academies? In what ways do the diﬀerent subject positions of ﬁrst-generation immigrant woman, upper-caste Indian/Indian American, US academic, woman of color, and feminist stalk my intellectual path in dialogic and conﬂicting ways as a scholar, teacher, and global citizen? And most importantly, what are the voices and perspectives that got silenced in my research due to a combination of biographical, geographic, and institutional factors? But, why ask such questions and to what end? The inward-looking project of research reﬂexivity—particularly in combination with ethnographic and qualitative research methods—has rightly received some criticism for (1) encouraging scholars to be self-indulgent and perhaps even narcissistic (Linda Finlay, 2002; Kevin Haggerty, 2003; Jennifer Robertson, 2002); (2) promoting the idea that researchers have full access to their motivations (Clive Seale, 1999); (3) casting confessional personal stories as a route to mitigating structural privilege and power diﬀerences (Carol Lynne D’Arcangelis, 2018); and (4) conﬂating memoir-style revelation with advancing social change or indexing an activist social consciousness (Audrey Kobayashi, 2003). The virtues and purposes of research reﬂexivity are thus up for constant debate with no ﬁrm resolution in sight, and what one critic dismisses as unnecessary and excessive disclosure may well be perceived as necessary and appropriate by another critic. I endorse and share these reservations about reﬂexivity’s contested cultural politics, but still think public contemplation has some value if one is modest and circumspect about its usefulness, whether it is deployed to probe the ethnographic research process or to look back in the rear-view mirror at one’s own
trajectories of research with a critical eye. My own humble and prudent goals in outlining the ways in which my global feminist positionality shaped the messy and changing contours of my work are targeted at demystifying research labor for a new generation of scholars in feminist cultural and media studies, underscoring arenas of inquiry that fell through the cracks, and outlining the power diﬀerentials within and outside the academy that shape what we study. This chapter begins with a brief review of key ideas on positionality and reﬂexivity that provide the conceptual scaﬀolding for my articulation of a global feminist positionality. I then explore selectively some of the speciﬁc temporal and spatial conjectures that molded my research agenda and outline a few of the limitations that arose due to personal, professional, and disciplinary contingencies and pressures. Finally, my conclusion dwells on the productive possibilities of feminist accountability for pushing back against growing neoliberal strains in the academy, nurturing new intellectual community formations and inculcating humility.
Reﬂexivity, Partial Perspective, and Global Feminist Positionality Reﬂexivity, for this chapter’s goals, is most useful when it is tied to the concepts of positionality and partial perspectives. Positionality, as Myrna Garcia (2014) deﬁnes it, calls for an examination of how scholars’ biographies and their locations in time and space aﬀect knowledge production: Positionality is a critical understanding of the role a scholar’s background and current (socially constructed and perceived) position in the world plays in the production of academic knowledge, particularly in qualitative research in the social sciences. Multiple epistemologies—ways of knowing or understanding the world—exist as researchers come from varied vantage points. Undermining positivist constructions of knowledge, the theoretical construct of positionality refutes dominant notions of objectivity in the academy. Instead, it highlights that the way an academician is situated in space and time fosters a speciﬁc understanding of social reality. (p. 568) Echoing Garcia’s deﬁnition, Luis Sánchez (2010) writes that positionality is the “notion that personal values, views, and location in time and space inﬂuence how one understands the world” and he also notes that “knowledge is the product of a speciﬁc position that reﬂects particular places and spaces” (p. 2258). Although Garcia and Sánchez anchor positionality to qualitative research methods, the inward interrogation of researchers’ motivations and subject positions can be powerful diagnostic tools to improve and even transform all research regardless of the methods employed. Engaging critically with the itineraries that have shaped our arrival at speciﬁc research destinations can help us all examine the inclusions and exclusions of gender, race, class, and sexuality in all research designs, sampling procedures, data-gathering
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instruments, citational practices, analytical lenses, and more. When combined with intersectionality, feminist research reﬂexivity—the weighing and sorting out of research agendas and trajectories in my case—can be deployed to probe and delineate the braided strands of identity, history, geopolitics, and social structures that come together to produce a scholar’s positionality. For feminist critics interested in dismantling patriarchal ways of conceptualizing and implementing research, positionality can be a productive tool to unravel the god-trick of disguising the intellectual project as a disembodied mystifying view from nowhere, when in fact such work oﬀers a located partial view generated by an embodied agent operating within a matrix of power relations. The god-trick’s seemingly divine and unquestioned rhetoric is aligned with a “Star Wars paradigm of rational knowledge” legitimated in turn by a “doctrine of objectivity that promises transcendence, a story that loses tracks of its mediations just where someone might be held responsible for something, and unlimited instrumental power” (Donna Haraway, 1988, p. 579). Donna Haraway’s brilliant analysis of the merits of a partial perspective turns the god-trick of transcendence on its head with the ﬁrm insistence that “partiality and not universality is the condition of being heard to make knowledge claims” (p. 589). She argues that the partial view of situated knowledge is always anchored to a “complex, contradictory, structured and structuring body” (p. 589) and that embodied feminist science embraces the “epistemology and politics of engaged, accountable positioning” (p. 590). By suturing positionality to Haraway’s conception of partial perspective, we arrive at selfaware introspection as a means to seek ethical knowledges that are “ruled by partial sight and limited voice” and are open to rebuttal, compromise, and change (p. 590). Feminist sociologist Floya Anthias (2008) pushes positionality into the interdisciplinary ﬁeld of critical globalization studies with a pointed rebuttal of “methodological nationalism,” which privileges the nation-state as the spoken-for and takenfor-granted paradigm for understanding a “range of inter-related issues in modern society around boundaries and hierarchies of belonging” (p. 6). Considering the ways in which migration and other economic, cultural and political ﬂows erode national boundaries, Anthias (2008) points to “social processes broadly identiﬁed as translocational” that have an impact not only on the actors who move across borders for different reasons but also the “locales in which they settle, converting them to translocational spaces, thereby aﬀecting in diﬀerent ways all who live within these spaces” (p. 6). An updated notion of positionality retooled for the conditions of globalization, as she writes, has to also navigate the murky terrain between essentialized formulations of identity and the radical or “rabid deconstructionism” of postmodern critiques that seek to dissolve stable subject positions. She carefully reviews the possibilities and limits of hybridity, cosmopolitanism, diaspora, and intersectionality to ultimately arrive at what she calls a “translocational” approach, a heuristic device that separates migration from the long-held idea of dislocation from a single or ﬁxed place and emphasizes lived experiences as relational, situational, and temporal. Her extended deﬁnition of translocational positionality is worth reproducing here:
A translocational positionality is one structured by the interplay of diﬀerent locations relating to gender, ethnicity, race and class (amongst others), and their at times contradictory eﬀects. Positionality combines a reference to social position (as a set of eﬀectivities: as outcome) and social positioning (as a set of practices, actions and meanings: as process). That is, positionality is the space at the intersection of structure (social position/social eﬀects) and agency (social positioning/meaning and practice). The notion of “location” recognises the importance of context, the situated nature of claims and attributions and their production in complex and shifting locales. It also recognizes variability with some processes leading to more complex, contradictory and at times dialogical positionalities than others. The term “translocational” references the complex nature of positionality faced by those who are at the interplay of a range of locations and dislocations in relation to gender, ethnicity, national belonging, class and racialisation. Positionality takes place in the context of the lived practices in which identiﬁcation is practised/performed as well as the intersubjective, organisational and representational conditions for their existence. (pp. 15–16) This detailed exposition of translocational positionality, which pays attention to different vectors of identity, structure and agency, changing contexts, and contradictions and tensions, oﬀers productive directions to weave together the political and ethical scaﬀolding for a global feminist positionality. How does migration aﬀect the research agendas of global feminist media scholars who live and occupy diﬀerent worlds, particularly if they have migrated from the global south to the global north? How do research agendas that build bridges between old and new homelands emerge from the interstices of new gendering and racialization processes? Anthias (2008) explains that the concept of “belonging” includes formal and informal feelings and experiences of inclusion and exclusion. In what ways does “belonging” inﬂuence the choices scholars make with regard to their objects of study? On a cautionary note, the scaﬀolding for such a global feminist positionality has to incorporate an acute awareness of the constraints on our practices of reﬂexivity. As anthropologist Jennifer Robertson (2002) observes, the very naming of a scholar’s categories of identity in the context of their research—race, age, gender, class, ethnicity, nation, sexuality, and so on—can close oﬀ the range of meanings we assign to these categories, invoke the superﬁcial ready-to-wear labels of market-driven ethnoracial discourses, and convey the idea that scholars always occupy privileged positions in relation to their objects and subjects of study. Due to such perils of “naming” scholarly positions, feminists have to be wary of over-estimating any assessment of the role identities play in inﬂuencing research agendas. However, marshalling the insights of feminist, critical race and globalization studies on institutional mobilizations of identity (for example, see Sara McKinnon, 2016; Craig Robertson, 2009), we also have to be cognizant that powerful state- and corporate-sponsored
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instruments and technologies—passports, visas, employer ID cards, law enforcement proﬁling systems, eligibility requirements for refugee status, etc.—that routinely invoke seemingly stable, polarized, and even stereotyped identities continue to shape the lives of citizens across the globe. Feminist geographer Gillian Rose (1997) points to yet another important hurdle that scholars who pursue reﬂexivity as a “means of avoiding the false neutrality and universality of so much academic knowledge” will have to be mindful about as they plot their positionalities (p. 306). She enumerates the pitfalls of “transparent reﬂexivity,” which produces a particular mode of positionality that constructs scholars as all-knowing and omniscient individuals who have full access to their own consciousness: This visible landscape of power, external to the researcher, transparently visible and spatially organized through scale and distribution, is a product of a particular kind of reﬂexivity, what I will call transparent reﬂexivity. It depends on certain notions of agency (as conscious) and power (as context), and assumes that both are knowable. As a discourse, it produces feminist geographers who claim to know how power works, but who are also themselves powerful, able to see and know both themselves and the world in which they work. (p. 311) Striving to attain positionality via the trap of transparent reﬂexivity implies that the feminist researcher can perhaps perform the “goddess trick” by anchoring herself to a surveying gaze that can bring resolution to questions and problems that are often messy and intangible (p. 311). Rose (1997) suggests an alternative way to imagine the task of rendering positionality, one that views knowledge production as a “process of constitutive negotiation” based in the understanding that “we are made through our research as much as we make our own knowledge, and that this process is complex, uncertain and incomplete” (p. 316). A global feminist positionality has to therefore try to capture the embodied and located material conditions of academic labor while also acknowledging the “fogginess” of introspective thinking and writing.
Temporal and Spatial Trajectories of Research: Locating and Claiming Lost Baggage A well-meaning family friend (not an academic) living in California asks, “Why have you come all the way to the United States to study India? I cannot understand this strange choice.” And in all fairness to him and to the impossibility of transparent reﬂexivity, even I cannot fully fathom my decision way back in graduate school at the University of Iowa, almost three decades ago, to embark on a voyage called “feminist cultural studies.” My ethnographic dissertation project on romance reading in India marked my ﬁrst major port of entry into this interdisciplinary ﬁeld, which has nourished my brain and heart through the vicissitudes of tenure and promotion. It
would be tempting to say that my choice came to me in the bathtub, but in fact my topic slowly crystallized in the midst of multiple intellectual currents. Foregrounding the temporal aspect of academic positionality, this was the early to mid-1990s, a period when Janice Radway’s well-known book Reading the Romance (1984) had gained considerable traction in feminist media studies, alongside the writings of South Asian postcolonial feminists living in the USA (for example, see Nita Kumar, 1994; Chandra Mohanty, 1984; Uma Narayan, 1995; Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, 1988, and Sara Suleri, 1992), a collective anti-imperialist project that sought to disrupt the provincial whiteness of women’s studies curricula. Building solidarities with Black, Latino, Asian, and Native American feminisms and other social justice movements, postcolonial feminism challenged Euro-American imperialism on multiple fronts and at the same also critiqued patriarchal hierarchies and nationalisms in the global south and amid the diaspora. My feminist consciousness had been shaped well before my arrival to the USA in the crucible of a personal family crisis that had left me facing gendered stigma and shame from a very young age, but this chapter is not the place to dwell on those circumstances. As many of the writers in the edited book Family Trouble (Joy Castro, 2013) note, memoir-style biographical revelations cannot be undertaken lightly because they require us to be sensitive to the consequences of our actions on an extended web of family members, who may feel betrayed when we exhume deeply buried secrets. And I am not convinced yet that reﬂexivity carries with it the imperative of sharing everything. I had also worked brieﬂy in various professional ﬁelds in India, including journalism—at a time when very few Indian women worked in the news industry—and had encountered blatant sexism in workplaces and as I carried out the labor of news gathering in various locations in and around the city where I grew up. My passion for writing as a young journalist—my early professional positionality—fed my excitement when I joined graduate school and encountered cultural studies and all its possibilities for engaging in scholarship that marries humanities and social science research with narrative forms, varied genres of storytelling, creative analysis, and critiques of ideology. Exercising some agency, I took graduate-level feminist studies courses in media and communication, anthropology, and sociology. I soon learned that these courses that sharpened my feminist, ethnic and racial consciousness were a strong testimony to the impact of various social movements on the academy. My immersion in feminist knowledge eased the suﬀocating personal pain I had carried over many years and the writings of feminist scholars electriﬁed my imagination. They pushed the patriarchal pillow of Hindu upper-caste respectability smothering my face to a distance, and they exposed me to the powerful energizing and ethical force of feminist theory and research, which compels us to examine both our marginalities and our privileges. While my parents had raised us to never take our caste/class privileges for granted, my immersion in feminist writings ampliﬁed my awareness of how I had been able to leverage my cultural capital as an English-speaking, middle-class woman from the global south to meet the teaching and writing expectations of the US academy.
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Referring back to Anthias (2008), I had discovered my ﬁlial community of belonging—and my academic identity as a feminist researcher—although I never felt compelled to explore my personal life, instead, my feminist interlocutors, including mentors I met at conferences, guided me to explore the larger canvas of public life with the veins of my personal experiences in India woven into this canvas in often imperceptible and unspoken ways. Yet, pointing to the contradictory spaces we inhabit, when I returned from such invigorating feminist communities to my own ﬁeld of communication, media and cultural studies, I (along with other global feminist peers) felt quite alienated by the peripheral positionality imposed on me. Despite the ﬁeld’s stated commitments to engaging with the world, those scholars whose research did not focus on the USA were cordoned oﬀ into the subﬁeld of “international communication” with very few key issues and ideas about global capitalism, race, patriarchy, colonial history, media imperialism, center–periphery, or, the colonial savior complex incorporated into the mainstream curriculum, and there was also little consciousness that the USA, as a settler and plantation colony, was deeply implicated in colonial forms of oppression. International communication was also a space dominated by social science and development communication research. Consigned to the bin of international communication, cultural studies scholars invested in a critical humanities vocabulary of global feminism and postcolonial theory or political economy struggled to gain legitimacy. Illustrating translocational positionality’s emphasis on a range of locations and dislocations, many of us worked within gaps and shuttled among various intellectual communities, attending conferences in area studies, race and ethnic studies, women’s studies, and communication and forging alliances in other disciplines to string together a web of sustenance while also pushing against academic hegemonies in our ﬁelds and sub-ﬁelds. My interest in India was prompted certainly to some extent by the immigrant desire to connect with, explore, and deconstruct the familiar, but also because the country I had left in 1990 as a young woman was rapidly changing and moving in new directions. Categorized in the era after the Second World War as a non-aligned third world country and closed economy with a socialist political ethos, the old India of my youth had now embraced capitalist globalization, forged intimate economic ties with the USA, and witnessed the rise of majoritarian right-wing Hindu politics. Increasingly, colleagues and students also began reaching out to me to inquire about various aspects of India’s evolving nomination as an “emerging market” and “rising power.” Exemplifying Rose’s (1997) notion of the “co-constitutive process of knowledge production,” the shifting global geopolitical space around me had altered my positionality in relation to my objects of study. Both drawn by and propelled towards engaging with an India that I could barely recognize in some ways, much of the literature I had read in critical globalization studies came alive for me through my feminist research on neoliberal global beauty contests, beauty queens, and consumer culture. But, my push-pull decision to probe the gendered cultural contours of this New India—almost thrust upon me—also meant that my other interests fell by the
wayside; for example, my fascination with the early histories of Indian news magazines, photojournalism, and pioneering women journalists. Such a juggling of research priorities, however, is not a unique experience, and many other academics can also no doubt recount similar stories of projects pushed to the back burner due to various circumstances. Like many ﬁrst-generation Indian immigrants in the USA, I experienced a dialogic racialization process, one that was shaped partly by global historical structures of colonialism (settler, mercantile, and plantation) and partly by my own active volition as I sought out solidarity and coalitions with other feminists and communities of color. As Anthias (2008) notes, identities precipitated by migration are not always sharp or dramatic “dislocations,” tempting though it may be to view it in this way— the allure of narrativizing oneself as moving from adversity in one’s native land to success in America is hard to resist. The global diﬀusion and domination of American media culture ensures that immigrants arrive on the shores of America with ideas of race and ethnicity, racial belonging or racial exclusion, and intra-racial relations. Discovering my racial identity as a South Asian American involved experiential, empirical, and theoretical learning and un-learning about global social formations of race, gender, class, sexuality, and intersectionality. My understanding of the power of whiteness/lightness and its impact on both domestic US populations and communities of color in Asia and Africa converged in my next major and still ongoing project of examining skin-lightening practices, cosmetics, and advertising discourses emerging from India. A rich and expansive literature on colorism (skin color discrimination) in African-American and Latino/a-American communities provided a gateway into the yet uncharted territory of colorism in India, and it enabled me to address anti-blackness in Asian and Asian-American communities. In the end, my research on colorism, which unfolded at the temporal juncture of my own emerging immigrant racial consciousness, stitched together the following: my bicultural lives and intellectual interests; past (India) and present (USA); ethnicity and race; colonialism and slavery; area studies and critical race studies; patriarchy and capitalism; and white supremacy and internalized racism. Highlighting the ways in which immigrant feminist scholars can contribute to scholarship through their translocational positionality, my multi-sited work on beauty and representational politics referencing India made an eﬀort to disentangle discussions of skin color and race from the “boundedness of the nation state,” and more speciﬁcally to challenge the dominant paradigm of scholarship that often ends up shoring and maintaining a US-centered ethos in our understanding of race (Raka Shome, 2010, p. 149). Shaking race free of its provincial mooring to the USA is not an easy task, but continuing to do so is essential if we want our scholarship to match the pace of the bodies, commodities, images, and technologies that are circulating within the arteries of the global racio-scape.
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Limitations of Positionality: Shortcomings, Omissions, and Gaps If our evolving and mutating positionalities can serve as resources to expand the global canvas of feminist media scholarship, the very same positionalities can also lead to oversights, omissions, and limitations. Do these deﬁciencies emerge from our willful and myopic disavowals of identity categories that elude us due to our own privileges? Perhaps. When we engage in reﬂexivity to outline our own embeddedness in knowledge production that does not fully account for intersectionality, are we conjuring self-serving, confessional modes of discourse to alleviate guilt? Perhaps. Reverting to Rose (1997), I cannot claim that I can harness transparent reﬂexivity, the ability to marshal a piercing gaze that in hindsight lays bare the absolute “truth” of how and why my scholarship attended to particular concerns while neglecting and sidestepping others. Hence I oﬀer my thoughts here as tentative and speculative and in the spirit of educated guesses and exploration rather than deﬁnitive disclosures of guilt or failure. What are some of the still yawning gaps in feminist cultural and media studies scholarship centered on India? I will name three here: the vast expanse of rural India, vernacular media and communication, and caste exclusion and oppression. These are all glaring areas of neglect in my own work as well and more generally in the knowledge produced on South Asia in the US communication and media studies academy. To a large degree, feminist media and communication research focused on gender and media in the context of India zooms its critical lenses on to metropolitan, English-speaking, middle- and upper-class and upper-caste social formations. Similarly, cultural and media studies work on the Indian diaspora also neglects caste, language, and ethnic diﬀerences while generally foregrounding questions that address a pan-Indian immigrant community. My discussion of these shortcoming and gaps illuminates the germination of feminist positionality and its inﬂuences on intellectual trajectories as complex phenomena that are caught within the matrices of biography, historical and collective social formations, and the temporal priorities and professional pressures of subﬁelds and disciplines. Echoing Anthias (2008), these are the complicated “intersubjective, organisational and representational conditions” that give rise to global feminist positionalities and the paths they may make possible, impossible or less trodden. A majority of ﬁrst-generation scholars from India in the US academy, including myself, belong to middle-class English-educated urban upper-caste families, who are beneﬁciaries of the British colonial administration’s instrumental decision to introduce the English language to a strata of Indian elites, who could then assist the colonial apparatus to govern what they viewed as a large and unruly colony. In that sense, the elite upper-caste domination of immigrant Indians in the larger US academy across disciplines (STEM, humanities, and social sciences) is not that diﬀerent from corporate America and Silicon Valley. As a third-generation urban Indian English-educated woman, my knowledge of and familiarity with small town and rural India is quite limited and, undoubtedly, this profound ignorance and chasm
between urban and rural India shaped my safe choices to study metropolitan Englishlanguage media culture. Moreover, by the time I encountered international communication via my preferred lenses of postcolonial feminist theory, the “village” of the global south had morphed into the almost exclusive object of study for development communication. The neocolonial version of this paradigm, which did not appeal to me, produced the third world village as an inferior and abject space that had to be rehabilitated by western technologies and instrumental modalities. Furthermore, development discourses that relied on the arrogant logic of western modernity “saving” the global south often disregarded the values and priorities of local communities. Steeped in English-language education and culture, a generation of Indian scholars born in the 1960s and onwards—not all of us certainly but many—have also lost high-level reading and writing ﬂuency in vernacular Indian languages, rendering us closer to non-native anthropologists, who have to acquire language skills to study in foreign countries and regions. What about caste, the occupational and cultural structure of hierarchy that governs much of life in South Asia? The silence surrounding the role of caste patriarchy in the ascent of Indian American immigrants in the USA has recently been broken by the voices of Indian Americans from Dalit backgrounds (Yashica Dutt, 2020; Thenmozhi Soundararajan, 2012, 2017, 2020), who have made a valiant eﬀort over the past decade to educate Americans about the resilient networked caste privilege that follows Indian migrants to their new homelands in the west. Although not an outpouring, a steady stream of news media in India (Chandrima Banerjee, 2020; Mridula Chari, 2016; Amrita Dutta, 2020; Sonia Paul, 2018) and in the USA (Hari Bapuji & Snehanjanli Chrispal, 2018; Kenneth Cooper, 2018) have produced stories and opinion articles that expose the almost seamless links among the US nationstate’s immigration policies oriented to skilled labor, white capitalist and upper-caste Indian ideologies of meritocracy, and a hegemonic Hindu pan-Indian diaspora culture. Coincidentally, Black journalist Isabel Wilkerson (2020) argues in her recently released book Caste: The origins of our discontents that American racial hierarchy is better understood when we apply the template of caste, which is much more eﬀective in explaining the enduring persistence of economic and social inequality. While Wilkerson’s deployment of caste inequality to explain and elevate the endurance of race inequality is a contentious point of debate, caste is in the air. It has entered the US public sphere. Certainly, my own cloak of class and caste privilege—the sense of belonging to the dominant managerial-professional migrant Indian community—may have played a signiﬁcant role in the rather passing attention I have paid to this crucial category of identity in my research. What might have been other factors related to the academic habitus of South Asian academics in the US at a particular spatio-temporal juncture? I am reminded of Robertson’s (2002) caveat that identity categories are not the only or ultimate molders of the contours of global feminist knowledge production. Cultural anthropologist Arjun Appadurai’s (1986) well-known essay, “Is homo hierarchicus?,” published in the mid-1980s—just prior to my entry into graduate
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school—critiques the problematic characterization of caste hierarchy as a “deeply western trope for a whole way of thinking about India, in which it represents the extremes of the human capability to fetishize inequality” (p. 745). This essay made an indelible impression on me and perhaps on a generation of Indian scholars in media and cultural studies, who might have been responding as I did to Appadurai’s call to produce scholarship in which “caste plays an appropriately restricted role” and on “culture-making in India without capitulating to the hegemony of hierarchy as the dominant image” (p. 745). And then there was the disciplinary pressure to position ourselves as scholars who mainly worked at the level of “nation” as the preferred location/site of analysis. Nation was the most intelligible category for the provincial ﬁelds of American communication and media studies, which could barely register diﬀerence beyond this level, and rigorous analyses of caste in South Asia would have demanded close attention to much more local questions of region, community, language, and history. India is a dizzyingly pluralistic and multicultural nation, and as economist Joan Robin is reported to have said to Amartya Sen, whatever you can rightly say about India, the opposite may also be true. Attention to more micro-level regional phenomena on the subcontinent and to diﬀerentiated Indian identities was, as some of us came to accept, the terrain of such older disciplines as anthropology, history, and folklore, not the newly spawned ﬁelds of communication and media studies, which projected the media as mascots of modernity, possessing the power to erase primordial divisions of caste, tribe, and religion (Daniel Lerner, 1958). Fortunately, a new generation of media scholars located in the US academy have identiﬁed these gaps and bent the collective arc of cultural and media studies work on South Asia towards the much needed directions of (1) foregrounding vernacular media culture and diverse regions and minority communities on the subcontinent (Padma Chirumamilla, 2017, 2019; Marissa Doshi, 2018; Anup Kumar, 2011; Sriram Mohan & Aswin Punathambekar, 2018) and (2) probing the complex operations of caste without essentializing it and while also paying due respect to the agency of Dalit activists, writers, producers, and journalists (for example, Purba Das, 2013; Subin Paul & David Dowling, 2018; Pallavi Rao, 2020). Readily embracing my positionality as a lifelong student of the staggeringly complex region of South Asia, I look forward to learning lessons from this inspiring body of work that extends previous research in necessary and refreshing ways.
Conclusion: Toward a Productive Global Feminist Positionality My primary goals in looking back, sideways, and ahead in this chapter are prompted by a feminist politics of ethical accountability that contests neoliberal models of academic upward mobility and exposes the messy conditions of privilege and marginality amid which we formulate ideas, methods and research agendas. These conditions of research labor often emerge from the very structures of the private and public spheres that we try to investigate and dismantle—heterosexist patriarchy, global capitalism, neocolonialism, and white supremacy. Furthermore, the circumscribed gaze I have deployed does not
claim to be either transparent or all-encompassing of the multiple forces that shape how and what we choose to study. Hence, my brief and modest reﬂections here have tried to paint in broad brushstrokes the complex dynamics of global feminist positionality—the transnational spatio-temporal imperatives, biographical and historical identity markers as well as structural forces—that inﬂuenced my research labor as a South Asian academic living and working in the USA. Exemplifying a partial and situated view, some of my observations could apply to a generational cohort of South Asian feminist media scholars and others will not. I believe that engaging in exercises of global feminist positionality can help to lift the shroud of mystery (which is how power operates) that often surrounds academic writing and publishing and it can aid in the diagnosis of the cracks and ﬁssures in our research. In this way and alongside other mentoring models and practices, senior scholars can contribute towards nurturing emerging communities of feminist media researchers. Newer generations of feminist media scholars could beneﬁt from our reﬂexive practices that grapple with positionality; on the one hand, they could gain some insight into the inspirations and longitudinal trajectories of research programs and, on the other hand, they could also get glimpses into questions and problems that get elided due to the constraints of our positionalities. Ultimately, heeding Haraway’s (1988) call for humility, this chapter’s engagement with global feminist positionality is not aimed at pulling oﬀ any goddess tricks despite my intimate cultural familiarity with a few ﬁerce goddesses in Hindu mythology! I oﬀer my thoughts here in the spirit of fostering provocation and continued conversation.
References Anthias, Floyas (2008). Thinking through the lens of translocational positionality: An intersectionality frame for understanding identity and belonging. Translocations: Migration and Social Change, 4(1), 5–20. Appadurai, Arjun (1986). Review: Is homo hierarchicus? American Ethnologist 13(4), 745–761. Banerjee, Chandrima (2020, July 22). After Cisco case, Dalit rights group collects testimonies on caste privilege in the US. Times of India. https://timesoﬁndia.indiatimes.com/ india/after-cisco-case-dalit-rights-group-collects-testimonies-on-caste-privile ge-in-the-us/articleshow/77111506.cms. Bapuji, Hari, & Chrispal, Snehanjanli (2018, December 4). How Twitter got blindsided by India’s still-toxic caste system. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/how-twit ter-got-blindsided-by-indias-still-toxic-caste-system-107792. Castro, Joy (2013). Family trouble. University of Nebraska Press. Chari, Mridula (2016, May 19). Last hearing today: Should the word “Dalit” be used in California textbooks? Scroll.in. https://scroll.in/article/808394/california-to-decide-toda y-whether-hindu-groups-can-dictate-what-dalits-call-themselves-in-textbooks. Chirumamilla, Padma (2017). Looking back at the land: Discourses of agrarian morality in Telugu popular cinema and information technology labor. Communication, Culture & Critique, 10(1), 148–165. https://doi.org/10.1111/cccr.12144. Chirumamilla, Padma (2019). Producing TV(s): The multitudinous life of television in south India. [Doctoral dissertation, University of Michigan]. Deep Blue.
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Cooper, Kenneth J. (2018, March 27). Indians have imported casteism to the US & a black journalist writes on the need to ban it. The Print. https://theprint.in/opinion/a-bla ck-journo-on-why-us-civil-rights-laws-must-ban-casteism-against-dalits/45011/. D’Arcangelis, Carol Lynne (2018). Revelations of a white settler woman scholar-activist: The fraught promise of self-reﬂexivity. Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies, 18(5), 339– 353. https://doi.org/10.1177/1532708617750675. Das, Purba (2013). Casteless, raceless India: Constitutive discourses of national integration. Journal of International and Intercultural Communication, 6(3), 221–240. https://doi.org/10. 1080/17513057.2013.799711. Doshi, Marissa (2018). Hybridizing national identity: Reﬂections on the media consumption of middle-class Catholic women in urban India. In Apryl Williams, Ruth Tsuria, & Laura Robinson (Eds.), Media and power in international contexts: Perspectives on agency and identity (pp.101–132). Emerald Publishing Limited. Dutt, Yashica (2020, August 1). Indian matchmaking exposes the easy acceptance of caste. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2020/08/netﬂixindian-matchmaking-and-the-shadow-of-caste/614863/. Dutta, Amrita (2020, July 12). Explained: Getting America to recognise caste: Previous eﬀorts, renewed push. Indian Express. https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/get ting-america-to-recognise-caste-previous-eﬀorts-renewed-push-6495101/. Finlay, Linda (2002). Negotiating the swamp: The opportunity and challenge of reﬂexivity in research practice. Qualitative research, 2(2), 209–230. https://doi.org/10.1177/ 146879410200200205. Garcia, Myrna (2014). Positionality. In Sherwood Thompson (Ed.), Encyclopedia of diversity and social justice (pp. 568–569). Rowman & Littleﬁeld. Haggerty, Kevin D. (2003). Review essay: Ruminations on reﬂexivity. Current Sociology, 51(2), 153–162. Haraway, Donna (1988). Situated knowledges: The science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective. Feminist Studies, 14(3), 575–599. https://doi.org/10.2307/3178066. Kobayashi, Audrey (2003). GPC ten years on: Is self-reﬂexivity enough? Gender, Place and Culture 10(4), 345–349. https://doi.org/10.1080/0966369032000153313. Kumar, Anup (2011). The making of a small state: Populist social mobilisation and the Hindi press in the Uttarakhand movement. Orient Black Swan. Kumar, Nita (1994). Women as subjects: South Asian histories. University of Virginia Press. Lerner, Daniel (1958). The passing of traditional society. Free Press. McKinnon, Sara (2016). Gendered Asylum: Race and Violence in U.S. Law and Politics. University of Illinois Press. Mohan, Sriram, & Punathambekar, Aswin (2018). Localizing YouTube: Language, cultural regions, and digital platforms. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 22(3), 317–333. https:// doi.org/10.1177/1367877918794681. Mohanty, Chandra Talpade (1984). Under western eyes: Feminist scholarship and colonial discourses. Boundary 2, 333–358. https://doi.org/10.2307/302821. Narayan, Uma (1995). Colonialism and its others: Considerations on rights and care discourses. Hypatia, 10(2), 133–140. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1527-2001.1995.tb01375.x. Paul, Sonia (2018, April 25). When caste discrimination comes to the United States. National Public Radio. https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2018/04/25/605030018/whencaste-discrimination-comes-to-the-united-states. Paul, Subin, & Dowling, David O. (2018). Digital archiving as social protest: Dalit Camera and the mobilization of India’s “Untouchables.” Digital Journalism, 6(9), 1239–1254. https://doi.
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11 WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE? REIMAGINING FEMINIST COMMUNICATION AND MEDIA WORK AMID A GLOBAL PANDEMIC Ingrid Bachmann, Patrice M. Buzzanell, Carolyn M. Byerly, Meenakshi Gigi Durham, Stine Eckert, Radha Sarma Hegde, Dafna Lemish, Lana F. Rakow, Karen Ross, Radhika Parameswaran, H. Leslie Steeves, Linda Steiner, and Angharad N. Valdivia1
This special chapter oﬀers a conversation between the ﬁrst ten Teresa Award Scholars of the Feminist Scholarship Division (FSD) of the International Communication Association (ICA). It evolved out of a panel discussion during the annual conference of the International Communication Association in May 2020, which was held virtually due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Almost all Teresa Award Winners were able to attend this unique virtual video conference panel across several time zones. The conversation also included panel co-hosts Carolyn Byerly, Teresa Award Trustee; Ingrid Bachmann, Chair of the Feminist Scholarship Division (2019–2021); and Stine Eckert, former Chair of the Feminist Scholarship Division (2017–2019). At the time of the panel, the coronavirus pandemic had been aﬀecting countries in Asia for about six months, and in Europe, Africa, and the Americas for about two months, and our panel participants started discussing what the unfolding pandemic means for feminist communication and media scholarship. In January 2021, all contributors revisited the question, adding further thoughts from the vantage point of having experienced and observed the pandemic ebbing and ﬂowing across the globe, with vaccines having started to roll out by the end of 2020, albeit slowly and unequally. This chapter brings together the chapter authors’ ideas on the meaning of these extraordinary pandemic times on media and communication processes from a feminist scholarship perspective. QUESTION: We all recognize that these are unusual times and that we cannot set them aside when we’re discussing feminist research and its values, its relevance, and its power. Going back to the feminist principle DOI: 10.4324/9781003102786-15
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of using situations at hand, and an urgent one like the COVID-19 pandemic crisis right now, how do we re-imagine our work as feminist communication and media scholars going forward? Karen Ross: I’d like to make two points about how a crisis can both reinforce but also disrupt traditional themes in gendered media discourse. Early on in the pandemic, a story broke in the UK media which was headlined along the lines of “Coronavirus makes man kill his family,” in which the story was of a selfemployed man who had told his neighbor that he was worried about his business going broke and this was then provided as the “explanation” for why he subsequently killed his wife and children and then himself. There was an almost instantaneous push-back on Twitter with numerous tweets, nearly all from women, saying no, the virus wasn’t responsible for the killings, the man was. This pushback was in response to mainstream media’s routine strategy of turning an act of deliberate violence by a (usually man) perpetrator, into one which frames the action as the result of some third-party agent, often inanimate, as here, which appears to absolve the perpetrator of both agency and intent. At a global level, a slew of news stories has been published in numerous countries, which mention the dramatic increase in calls to domestic violence helplines where the discourse is again framed in terms of “blaming” the virus rather than the perpetrators. What these examples demonstrate is the need to be vigilant in ensuring that global crises, such as the one we are experiencing right now, are not used to excuse gender-based violent behavior by suggesting that some external force is to blame instead of placing responsibility for actions on those taking them. The speed with which citizens as well as feminist media scholars can react to challenge the orientation of such stories is made possible by the ubiquity of social media in our lives and importantly, the retweeting and sharing (and thus the ampliﬁcation) of these pushback tweets and posts by some journalists. Fortunately, we have allies among both the usual suspects but also, sometimes, in more unlikely places. H. Leslie Steeves: Not only has gender violence in general escalated during the pandemic, but violence against women journalists too. Late last fall two global studies came out. A survey by UNESCO showed that nearly three fourths of the women journalists surveyed had experienced online violence and 20 percent additionally said they’d been victimized by oﬄine physical violence that they believed was connected to the online attacks. Also a Journalism and the Pandemic study by UNESCO and the International Center for Journalists found that many women journalists reported that online violence directed at them has intensiﬁed since the pandemic. These ﬁndings obviously intersect with increased hostility toward journalists under populist regimes, but women are aﬀected more, and the pandemic has made the situation much worse. Radha Sarma Hegde: Being isolated in a state of lockdown does indeed force us to engage in some retrospection about the ferocity of this virus and the challenges ahead. As feminist scholars in this radically altered global context and transformed academic environments, we can no longer proceed in the style of business as usual.
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First, the ﬂight of this microbe and its ability to jump species and cross borders has brought the world to a grinding halt. At the same time, it has predictably ravaged the lives of marginalized and vulnerable populations around the world. Second, while the virus has been described widely as new, novel, and unprecedented—terms that we as media scholars are accustomed to using—the virus clings predictably on to pre-existing structures of inequality, exposing the limits of our social and technological infrastructures. The protocols of sheltering in place, working from home, and social distancing are simply not feasible to all. By default, it is the poor and the marginalized who are exposed and vulnerable. Crisis narratives constructed around the origin of the virus have also unleashed a militant nationalism, xenophobia, and racism. Next, the new modes of working remotely have not only transformed the space of the home but have rippling gendered consequences. There are predictions that the pandemic will have a regressive eﬀect on women’s equality in the workplace. By all accounts, there has been a spike in domestic violence across the world and the home is certainly not a safe place, especially when one is quarantined with an abuser. The virus has ampliﬁed these states of precarity and created complex situations that feminists need to address in our scholarship. The pandemic is a strong and loud reminder to recharge our feminist politics and produce theoretically robust and ongoing critiques of exclusionary regimes of power. We need more globally responsive, collaborative, and interdisciplinary work to address the exigencies of the moment. Dafna Lemish: Since we have Naomi Klein as the inaugural Gloria Steinem Chair in Media, Culture and Feminist Studies in our school at Rutgers right now, I’m using her book The shock doctrine: The rise of disaster capitalism as a framework to think about many of the issues addressed here. The argument being that a crisis situation can become an opportunity for exploitation by authoritarian and/or capitalist forces to ramp up policies that negatively impact social justice, but it can also present an opportunity for us to resist eﬀectively and make deep changes. One of the things that struck me the most this time in the media coverage of the pandemic and the public discourse around it is the highlighting of women as essential workers. There is all this celebration of the nurses and teachers, cashiers and caretakers. In the United States, 75 percent of health workers and caregivers are women. There are celebrations and clapping hands from balconies and grateful signs and banners. And I wonder whether this will last. What will happen when this crisis is over, or at least wanes? Is this celebration going to stay with us and impact change in policies or wages? Because the thing that we’re now celebrating is what has been essentially perceived as women qualities that have been degraded and devalued and unpaid for throughout history—care, caregiving, mothering, nurturing, emotional work … All the labor that is not considered “work” and is thus undervalued and underpaid. To me, it’s extremely interesting. And of course, the other side of this essential women’s work is their vulnerability. When you think of women becoming more vulnerable, for instance, to domestic
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violence, which is so typical of crisis situations. You have men who feel demasculinized because they cannot go outside and be active; they cannot win against this virus enemy, they cannot be powerful and in control, they are told to stay in their homes with their wives and their children, and women and children ﬁnd themselves ”sheltering” with their potential abusers. Also, women have been disproportionately at a disadvantage by unemployment, as they often are at a time of crisis, and retreat to their homes and traditional gender roles of managing the domestic sphere including children’s remote schooling. And mothers are internalizing a sense of failure—as home-teachers, as handling the household—all this without allowing themselves to complain or to resist. So this pandemic exposes so many facets of our gendered lives and intersectional identities, and how inequalities are being played out. It is clear to me that the feminist worldview is as relevant today as ever before. There are so many wonderful feminist scholars and wonderful activists who could take this moment to move us forward. There is so much yet to do. We in academia as scholars and educators have this responsibility as well. Patrice M. Buzzanell: I greatly appreciate all that my colleagues on this panel have said about blame, contradictions, and vulnerabilities at this time. Karen, Radha, and Dafna have summarized so much so concisely and eloquently. I would like to talk about opportunities. I was on two ICA panels yesterday (May 2020) that came from diﬀerent perspectives. One was about understanding history and media representations of pandemics and other disasters. The panelists had such diversity in backgrounds and approaches— media literacy scholars, journalists, communication historians, and social scientists specializing in institutional transformation and wellbeing, and so on. They discussed the needs to sort through seemingly obvious patterns about pandemic behaviors, fears, and deep understandings of historical and current events to determine what is analogous to the past that might inform our present circumstances. At present, comparisons to the 1918 pandemic and other pandemics are being made without a full appreciation of what is similar and diﬀerent. The panelists described the ways in which these patterns and understandings can reveal micro-macro vulnerabilities and some of the communication and interdisciplinary scholarship that needs to be done from an intersectional perspective, and certainly for vulnerable populations. Media presentations and social media reports about the COVID-19 pandemic are making all kinds of societal disparities evident to people who otherwise would not have been aware of them. Media are also providing historical context and discussions of continuities over decades and centuries so that consumers can see disparities as long-term and global rather than simply singular manifestations of injustice. The question is what we as feminist media and communication scholars do to sustain attention on issues of concern for equity, social justice, and accountability during the pandemic and beyond. In the second panel, discussants and audience members were questioning whether the changes in interactions and valuations based on the move to telework, to greater work-life integration and frustrations, and to remote education because of COVID19 lockdowns and distancing measures would enable more feminized workplaces.
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The panelists commented on the routinization of check-ins (“How are you?”) before every meeting. They described ongoing discussions about the need to engage in and enactments of self- and other-care and to attend to workplace, familial, and community relationships as being a silver lining in remote pandemic work. They expressed their hope that such considerations of the social and personal would persist long after the pandemic and would expand beyond the privileged who are able to do telework. They also discussed the nature and conduct of care work, including how to engage in celebrations virtually, as well as how to remain mindful of the intense and often underappreciated labor that essential workers, primarily women and minoritized peoples, are doing. I thought to myself that these ideas probably won’t continue as panelists hope, but perhaps some of the aﬃrmations of care and of undervalued labor might remain post-pandemic. It’ll take a concerted eﬀort to build upon our pandemic experiences productively. To pursue these directions, we would need to remain vigilant about how we can use our disciplinary expertise, our feminist expertise, and our personal expertise to direct scholarship and practice. In doing so, we might select one or more of these changes or deviations from the norms and structures for further examination and analysis to ﬁgure out how and why these changes are beneﬁcial in particular contexts. We then can amplify our ﬁndings—with modiﬁcations, of course, depending on the context and interactants—into larger systems. As we note where and how change is taking place, we can institutionalize that which works best throughout our systems in sustainable ways. Perhaps we can actually have true celebrations, feminist celebrations, of the attention to relationships, to care work, and to the extraordinary labor in which women (and men) engage in homes as well as in their employment every day. But this won’t happen unless we remain vigilant and incorporate what we are learning into our future. Lana F. Rakow: To me, the pandemic has produced an all-hands-on-deck moment for feminist and other communication scholars. We should, at least in the United States, focus our attention and think radically about what means of communication are needed if we are ever going to have a just and safe and inclusive society. Instead we have media systems being used to spread lies and chaos, leading to an incredible public health crisis. I don’t mean only the physical and economic and psychological health of people, but the public’s political health. Denying the seriousness of the virus has shown us how much what we thought we knew about truth is a ﬁction. We have for a very long time relied on legacy news media, ﬂawed as they are, to provide a shared belief in the existence of certain facts. With a wide swath of society rejecting them and turning to alternatives, especially social media, many of us ﬁnd ourselves arguing that we all need to believe science. Ironically, I have been a critic of science for as long as I have been a feminist, precisely because it purports to have the truth. In fact it has always been a reﬂection of its historical and cultural milieu. Science in many ways has not been our friend, but it is now being fetishized even more. Let’s see science for what it is. It’s a way of seeing the world that can be put to very good use, but it isn’t the truth and it can’t be the solution to our problems.
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It is a method for agreement by a privileged epistemic community, fallible and contingent. It can’t tell us how to live our lives, or whose lives are valuable, or who to believe, or how societies should function. This is where we need to come in. What are the ways to think about truth and its sources; how can it be made and evaluated? We need communication systems that foster its creation and distribution, or we are never going to overcome propaganda, misinformation, threats, harassment, violence, all of which are so obvious during this pandemic and which have led to needless deaths and suﬀering. We’ve got to ﬁgure this out. I think we can take a page from the playbook of scientists and doctors and focus our attention collectively on how communication needs to be diﬀerent. The concerted eﬀort by scientists and medical professionals on one problem has produced knowledge about the COVID-19 virus at an amazing rate. They have been able to identify potential treatments and produce vaccines at break-neck speed. In a remarkable deviation from normal science, they have had to listen to people experiencing the virus because there were few prior assumptions to guide medical decision-making. What can we learn from this great collaborative eﬀort? I don’t mean it isn’t important to document and analyze the impact of the pandemic on women’s health, their ﬁnancial situations, and their burdens of work and family. Gendered meanings have pervaded discussions about it. There is another level, though, which we as feminist communication scholars are uniquely positioned to tackle. I hope we will focus on imagining and creating communication systems that support a diﬀerent kind of society. The challenge is huge. H. Leslie Steeves: Regarding Dafna’s point that women’s caregiving is now being celebrated and Patrice’s hope that media representations of the pandemic may make enduring disparities more evident, I would like to see studies of the pandemic in the news, perhaps comparing medical news over time. STEM ﬁelds have long been dominated by white and Asian men, and this seems evident in the COVID experts in the news, though there are exceptions. Women appear more often as victims, and even when women health workers speak, it seems more frequently as vulnerable caregivers than authoritative sources. As Lana suggests, it’s important to ask not just who is speaking, but also what are they saying and how are they saying it. Are medical experts speaking diﬀerently than before as an outcome of necessary listening? Linda Steiner: The feminization that Patrice and Lana suggested is happening. All of a sudden people are saying, “Let’s consider emotion in the classroom,” “Let’s be nice and consider the particular tragedies and traumas that students are facing,” “Let’s be considerate of others and not be total sticklers about rules and grades.” These kinds of feminist messages are actually being widely emphasized with respect to treatment of students. That said, universities are still struggling to ﬁgure out how to adjust, still trying to ﬁgure out how, on the one hand, to negotiate the line between being ﬂexible and accommodating, and, on the other hand, how to maintain that they consider
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rigor and high quality in research. And, it seems that at least research-focused universities are still erring on behalf of rigor, status, prestige, still applying the usual standards for tenure and promotion, and still “counting.” Within a couple of months, we came to realize that not only outside the university, but also inside the university, people of color and women were being disproportionately disadvantaged in the COVID era. In particular, we quickly saw evidence that women had more household and child-rearing duties so were unable to do research and were submitting fewer manuscripts while men had more time for research and were submitting more papers. Feminist theorizing suggests that universities should oﬀer tenure delays (and on an opt-out basis, not opt-in) and should ask internal and external evaluators of candidates to consider quality over quantity but also to ensure that, in assessing people’s family circumstances, they do their best to avoid evaluation bias (i.e., do not undermine women who needed to prioritize family responsibilities for a time). And that old notion of “the personal is political” is as relevant as ever! In my (brand new) job as director of the University of Maryland’s ADVANCE program, I’ve been arguing that the university should allow people to provide (strategically) context for their work and accomplishments in their annual reviews, especially in ways that enable them to highlight otherwise invisible labor, and to acknowledge the impacts of COVID on teaching evaluations, workload, and research productivity. And I hope that this understanding of context, the interconnection of the personal and professional, and empathy for people who are suﬀering will last far beyond the contemporary moment. This should be built into university processes, baked into structures. I’m not saying that academic women have suﬀered the most from COVID. I regard myself as privileged and suspect that those on this panel are relatively privileged. Perhaps the same can be said, more or less, of the people reading this. But we can use our privilege to help others, and to transform those processes and structures. Dafna Lemish: I agree with you. We see now a kind of a celebration of those qualities. The question is whether those qualities will be celebrated when this minute moves on. This is such a typical state of aﬀairs during a crisis that women are recruited to do the hard work—but are left behind once the crisis seems to have been resolved. Related to that point is of course the recognition of digital inequalities: Universities and schools as well are now all forced to recognize that digital inequalities are deep and broad, that not everybody has the same accessibility, whether to the equipment or to the bandwidth, or to the skills required for eﬀective digital literacy. It requires us in our institutions of higher education to approach our students with compassion, care, and consideration as we recognize those digital inequalities. We will need lasting policies to close these disparities, not only to recognize them. But I am wondering: How are we going to make this time last? How are we going to translate those concerns into actual social change, into actual activism? Stine Eckert: I was also wondering if the requirement and prompts to now be extra considerate, patient, and kind toward students and colleagues, or the
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concept of radical empathy, which I’ve picked up in meetings with feminist scholars at the International Communication Association and other conferences, if that is applied again diﬀerently for diﬀerent people during this time. There is again a double standard applied to how much less valued care work is expected of women versus men versus nonbinary identifying people, also in the (virtual) classroom, as the pandemic impacts teaching, advising, and our work in general, because it’s not being equitably measured. Radha Sarma Hegde: That’s the point. It is not just about essentializing or attributing qualities such as empathy to certain bodies. We need to address the deeper structural and transnational reasons behind the large numbers of women and minorities we are seeing today engaged in essential care work. The crisis will have serious long-term social and economic impact and it will not be genderneutral. This is a space where our activism, politics, and intellectual work have to align in order to make an intervention. Radhika Parameswaran: At this moment, we are deﬁnitely witnessing an insertion of discourse on how crucial previously denigrated “feminine” qualities such as empathy, patience, and hands-on nurturing are in order to help various institutions manage and cope with the pandemic’s impact on children, students, workers, etc. Let’s hope this is not a temporary and strategic discourse of convenience and pragmatism, as in how to keep the status quo going and marching along instead of challenging it. I would also like to make another point. The pandemic has reinforced the intensely global connections we share and the extent to which events far away can have a profound impact on our everyday lives here in the United States. This can be a moment for us to ask, “How is the pandemic aﬀecting the lives of poor women from the Global South? How is it exacerbating the suﬀering and trials and tribulations of those citizens who labor in sectors of the global economy that are far removed from laptops, Wi-Fi, cloud servers, Zoom, and so on?” In the immediate aftermath of the shutdown in the US in March 2020, we heard President Trump resuscitate anti-Chinese racism, reducing the havoc of the virus to negligence and apathy on the part of the Chinese government while failing to acknowledge his own administration’s faulty and misguided steps in controlling the pandemic’s impact. He generated a type of hyper-masculine white racist discourse that served to bolster his own image as a proud nationalist and a man of action. In the meantime, he also refused to participate in any global forum focused on how to get the vaccine and other treatments to citizens in the Global South, once again failing to seize an opportunity for the US to both position itself as a humane leader on the global stage and also to educate Americans on how global eradication is the only and best way to manage viruses that defy territorial borders. To what extent have the media made us aware of the importance of grasping the pandemic’s global dimensions? How have the media tried to cover the pandemic as a seismic moment in the world’s scientiﬁc, cultural, and economic arenas, one that invites us to inhabit and practice responsible and ethical global citizenship? A powerful story in the Wall Street Journal in November 2020 documented the hardships of
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three young girls—sisters in one poor family—in an Indian village trying to keep up with classes using one cheap cell phone with a 2G connection. The girls could not stream video, so they only listened sporadically to audio and the oldest girl had to become the teacher for her two younger sisters. The pandemic threatened to reverse hard-won gains made in advancing girls’ education in India, but it aﬀected young boys too. I used this story in my undergraduate class on media in a global context and was moved to hear my students’ responses to it. Without any prompting from me, several students argued that their country should be helping with the global dissemination of the vaccine and that “vaccine nationalism” was a form of bigotry. This made me hopeful even though it is a tiny moment! As feminist media scholars, we can encourage research and teaching on the pandemic’s borderless travels across the globe, particularly asking how the media have assisted or hindered us from forging global solidarities. H. Leslie Steeves: Radhika and others highlighted the global divides exposed and magniﬁed by COVID-19. Decades of data and studies show that women and girls at the margins have less access than men and boys to all media technologies, from radio to phones to computers, and I’m sure this is so much worse in the pandemic, with schools closed, jobs lost, and much less household revenue to access media. A few years ago my colleague Janet Kwami and I studied a failed laptop project for schools in Ghana. We found many problems beginning with the basic premise of the project— that a successful technology in the United States can transfer to a very diﬀerent context. We also found a striking disparity between girls and boys in their conversancy with technologies, and the extent of the gender divide varied by ethnicity, religion, and rural versus urban location. In the urban and largely Muslim project site, for instance, most boys had considerable prior expertise with technologies because they had the leisure time and money to use them. Girls, however, had much less time and opportunity due to family obligations, less money for phones, phone data and cyber cafés, and they also faced severe social stigma around entering cafés. As COVID-19 has increased everyone’s reliance on digital services, we need more political, economic, and intersectional approaches to understand which groups are left behind and in what ways. We know that students everywhere are losing ground in the pandemic, as in Radhika’s example, and teachers are struggling too. But in poor communities in much of the developing world, plus some communities in the Global North, there simply is no school. Many teachers have been furloughed and are resorting to income generating work in the crowded markets, thereby increasing their health risks for COVID. Children and teachers with more resources for technology and data will not only have an advantage once schools reopen, but in the meantime have access to lifesaving information. Class, gender, and other intersections need to be at the forefront of communication research on rebuilding and supporting communities and essential structures like schools as the pandemic lifts. I also want to reinforce Radhika’s point about media covering the pandemic as a global “seismic moment,” and the dire implications of the unequal distribution of vaccines, treatments, and information. Lack of access for Global South
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countries isn’t just a massive moral failure, but could easily result in another global public health crisis. It’s crucial that media more eﬀectively cover the many nuances and implications of our global interrelations, and it’s heartening to see this reporting beginning to happen, along with conversations in our classrooms. Meenakshi Gigi Durham: I don’t think the diﬀerentials in terms of the burdens of care are going to change with the virus. In fact, they’re probably going to be exacerbated. I also wanted to make a point that takes us in a slightly diﬀerent direction. As I was thinking about the notion of radical empathy, I’m seeing it a little bit more in the mainstream media as well. More attention is being paid to, for example, prison populations; more attention is being paid to the escalation of domestic violence as a result of the circumstances created by the virus and people’s—mostly women and children’s—inability to seek help because of it. Yesterday I heard a story on NPR about the Navajo Nation: Thirty percent of them do not have running water and so they’re not able to wash their hands and practice the sort of hygienic regulations or guidelines that those of us who are more privileged can easily do. And I’m actually really interested in how these issues are surfacing more and more in the media. I feel like this is a moment of consciousness-raising, and the next step would be really to follow through with more activism in these areas. I’m curious to see how that’s going to play out. While in one sense there are highly gendered aspects of who is expected to step up and engage in such activism, with the expectations of service falling on women, I’m also seeing something more progressive: an awareness in media coverage of existing structural and systemic vulnerabilities that have been exacerbated and exposed by the virus. I’ve been reﬂecting lately on vulnerability and the way it can be a signal of historical, cultural, political, and systemic oppressions and injustices, rather than being framed as an individual failing or weakness. If vulnerability is reconceptualized in the former way, it has the potential to be a catalyst for social justice. Whether the media coverage of vulnerabilities in certain communities will result in redress or social change is an open question, of course, especially given the sharp political divisions arising in many countries and contexts around these issues. Linda Steiner: Yes, I saw that story about Navajos living on tribal lands and it was shocking. But I also must add that we are now living at a really bad moment. I would love to think we are coming to appreciate radical empathy and a feminist ethics—i.e., one that is political and tackles institutional and societal and global problems, not a neoliberal obsession with personal ethics simply expressed as maternal caring. But we are seeing so many conservatives—reactionary women and men—willfully only looking out for themselves, turning a blind eye to suffering, even mocking people for caring about others. I am having trouble ﬁguring out how to be optimistic in the face of the civil war going on in this country that the pandemic only exacerbates. Angharad N. Valdivia: I’m ﬁnding myself in a very internally contradictory moment because I feel like the subjectivity being oﬀered to us as feminists, as women,
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is a postfeminist subjectivity where we’re just supposed to kind of swallow it all and go out there and take care of everybody and make masks. We are supposed to step into the good-/can-do-girl subjectivity who takes individual initiative, mostly through the marketplace, to try to assuage major structural and systemic failures. We are supposed to be thankful that empathy is being incorporated into corporate and institutional discourse as well as into some news stories, but we are not allowed to articulate the visibility of empathy to uneven distributions of power at a global level. As Radha reminded us, this pandemic, as all crises do, aﬀect the most vulnerable disproportionately. The vulnerable have been suﬀering all along. Scholars of Native Americans and settler colonialism have repeatedly documented the inhumane conditions of the US native populations. Did news organizations need to wait for a global pandemic to listen and acknowledge this truth? Most of the radical empathy that I see is purely performative. I am not sure its performance will last even the duration of the pandemic. We are already seeing the cracks of this empathy in the mad dash to get the vaccine. For instance, a billionaire couple chartered a plane to blend in with a native community to get theirs. Decades of de-funding the US public health system and of attacking other governments who dared to fund theirs as well as willful ignorance of a global pandemic that has hit the world like a tsunami cannot be ﬁxed by women taking to their sewing machines making masks and engaging in emotional empathy. Why are women being exhorted to make masks? Why aren’t other industries being harnessed to this project? Why aren’t we focusing on the racialized and gendered eﬀects of ignoring issues of public health and education? It is very late to do so, but we must begin this social, structural eﬀort now. Again, taking us to the notion of aﬀective dissonance. We’re supposed to be resilient, can-do girls. Yet we do not have the social or structural backing to allow us to do that. And we are the people of privilege! I do feel like this is still being carried out within that subjectivity of postfeminism, which I resist. It’s not that I have no empathy, and it’s not that I don’t want to care for my fellow human beings and our students, but this is a very gendered labor—emotional and material. The mainstream media’s coverage of some of the disparities is also a reiteration of the myth of discovery—as in, we just discovered people are suﬀering. Seeing my remarks in January 2021, we are living through the horror of ignoring the threat of twin global pandemics: COVID and racism. Of course they converge—of course people of color, especially women and children, have borne the bulk of the pandemic’s savage eﬀects. An intersectional transnational feminist media project foregrounds issues of structure, race, settler colonialism, and class. I refuse the can-do-girl subjectivity—I urge us to work toward a long-lasting, structural, non-racist future.
Note 1 The contributors to this special chapter are listed in alphabetical order by last name.
CONCLUSION: COMMUNITY, DEEP ANALYSIS, AND SELF-REFLEXIVITY Feminist Media and Communication Scholars Urge that Our Work Must Be Intersectional Stine Eckert and Ingrid Bachmann
Working with the ﬁrst ten Teresa Award recipients of the Feminist Scholarship Division (FSD) of the International Communication Association (ICA) and the Teresa Award Fund trustees has not only been an honor, but also highly rewarding, inspiring, and fun. This joint labor beneﬁted from working with scholars who embody tenets of feminist scholarship, such as collaboration, mentorship, and self-reﬂexivity. These also tie to the accomplishments that the Teresa Award emphasizes in its selection of awardees, in addition to opening up new theoretical and/or methodological territories in feminist research—namely, feminist activism that advances feminist scholarship through mentoring, initiatives, and research that works with and gives back to communities. Our team of 15 provided a supportive community and much-needed comradery during pandemic times to make sense of the rocky road we are still travelling, with its expected and unexpected diﬃculties and uncertainties. More so, and, perhaps, more rarely, this labor and (virtual) time spent together allowed us to witness upfront feminist communication and media scholarship in the making across countries, universities, and subﬁelds. This feminist scholarship in action came through particularly in our Chapter 11 titled “What Is Happening Here? Re-imagining Feminist Communication and Media Work Amid a Global Pandemic.” This brought all ten award winners together to provide a ﬁrst cut of analyzing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly on women, underrepresented minorities, and vulnerable populations through an intersectional lens of concerns from two points in time, earlier in the pandemic in May 2020 and in January 2021 when vaccines started to roll out—slowly and unequally—around the globe. As Radha Sarma Hegde put it: “As feminist scholars in this radically altered global context and transformed academic environments, we can no longer proceed in the style of business as usual” (p. 164, this volume). DOI: 10.4324/9781003102786-16
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Chapter 11: “What Is Happening Here?” includes the urgent concerns that feminist communication and media scholars have raised time and again, and which the pandemic has brought into glaring view, such as an increase in domestic violence during policies of sheltering in place that do not consider women and children who live with abusers. For example, Karen Ross points to the problematic portrayal in news media of violence by intimate partners as being caused by the pandemic, rather than the perpetrators, who are rhetorically absolved of agency and intent. She rightly cautions to be vigilant in ensuring that global crises, such as the one we are experiencing right now, are not used to excuse gender-based violent behavior by suggesting that some external force is to blame instead of placing responsibility for actions on those taking them. (p. 164, this volume) Similarly, Radha Sarma Hegde points out: “Crisis narratives constructed around the origin of the virus have also unleashed a militant nationalism, xenophobia, and racism” (p. 165, this volume). And Patrice M. Buzzanell shares insights from an ICA panel that observed that media used comparisons to the 1918 inﬂuenza pandemic for historical context and for discussing continuities over centuries so that audiences can understand that disparities have been in place for long times across the globe, rather than being “simply singular manifestations of injustice” (p. 166, this volume). Despite important inroads, many challenges remain. More broadly, Radha Sarma Hegde sums up a dynamic everyone agreed on in Chapter 11: “What Is Happening Here?”, that “the virus clings predictably on to preexisting structures of inequality, exposing the limits of our social and technological infrastructures” (p. 165, this volume). Interestingly so, this realization made it into mainstream news reporting, as Meenakshi Gigi Durham observed: More attention is being paid to, for example, prison populations; more attention is being paid to the escalation of domestic violence as a result of the circumstances created by the virus and people’s—mostly women and children’s—inability to seek help because of it. (p. 172, this volume) As the killing on May 25, 2020 of George Floyd, who suﬀocated under the knee of a white police oﬃcer in Minneapolis, brought structural racism yet again sharply to the fore in discourse in the USA, but also in many other countries, so has COVID-19 rapidly painted long-existing inequalities across the globe as if ﬂashing in neon color for all to see and diﬃcult to ignore, like a body’s sick organs highlighted by contrast liquid. But, how long will this “moment of consciousness-raising… an awareness in media coverage of existing structural and systemic vulnerabilities” (p. 172, this volume) last, and which activism will follow, asks Meenakshi Gigi Durham.
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The conversation in Chapter 11: “What Is Happening Here?” also notes the sudden surge of news media coverage that celebrated women as essential workers and highlighted their paid and unpaid care work in domestic spheres. But Dafna Lemish raises the important question of how long this moment will last that lifted up “what has been essentially perceived as women qualities that have been degraded and devalued and unpaid for throughout history—care, caregiving, mothering, nurturing, emotional work” (p. 165, this volume). When considering that women have endured the lioness’s share of the pandemic’s economic toll, one can only wonder if things would improve. Patrice M. Buzzanell follows up with a call to action for feminist media and communication scholars to work on strategies to “sustain attention on issues of concern for equity, social justice, and accountability during the pandemic and beyond” (p. 166, this volume). Radhika Parameswaran adds the important point that the pandemic has intensiﬁed our global connections, at least for those with internet access who have been able to join events in far ﬂung places, which have become a norm to “meet” and to share conversations much more widely, with perhaps also more mindfulness toward scheduling across time zones. Radha Sarma Hegde, and others urge us to “recharge our feminist politics,” to work interdisciplinarily, and collaboratively, to meet what Lana F. Rakow recognizes as an “all-hands-on-deck moment” for feminist scholars. This includes resisting the exploitation of the crisis by authoritarian and capitalist forces, as Dafna Lemish reminds us. This must include critical examination of the epistemic systems of legacy news media and science which oﬀer pathways to truth claims with their own ﬂaws and fallibilities, as Lana F. Rakow passionately argues. Only with these insights can we, as Lana F. Rakow writes, create “communication systems that support a diﬀerent kind of society” (p. 168, this volume). This can only be achieved, Linda Steiner adds, when we recognize and use our privileges to help others and to transform structures toward including empathy and context on all levels for a lasting impact. The longterm goal of structural transformation needs to foreground a recognition of global citizenship, like Radhika Parameswaran and H. Leslie Steeves envision, an understanding of vulnerability as a signal of injustice rather than personal weakness, like Meenakshi Gigi Durham writes, and to work, in Angharad N. Valdivia’s words, toward a non-racist future. Last, Chapter 11: “What Is Happening Here?” exempliﬁes one of the three strands that ran through the essays in this volume: the impact of community; the other two threads being the importance of longitudinal deep analysis to generate and advance theory, and the willingness to take stock of own shortcomings in method and theory.
An Evolving Community: Diversity Is Never Done Virtually all scholars in this edited book pointed to the impact on them of the community that they became part of as they embarked on their professional and personal journeys to become and to grow as scholars that research diﬀerent aspects of
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media and communication, using feminist principles of inquiry and feminist theories and methods. Dafna Lemish oﬀered deep insights into the founding of The Journal of Children and Media (JOCAM) which highlights an understudied area and the nittygritty of editorial decisions. For instance, she oﬀered nuanced advice and mentorship, based on the availability of scholarly and feminist community, or lack thereof, that emerging scholars have had access to in their institutions or in their countries. She demonstrates the importance of folding new scholars into the community of feminist scholars actively in an equitable way to smooth individual paths. “Creating a community of children and media scholars as well as a collaborative space of solidarity and shared purpose, were clearly central goals imported from my feminist worldview” (p. 17, this volume). This is diﬃcult and hard work that needs to be intensiﬁed. Angharad N. Valdivia lays out the weaknesses of the wider community of the International Communication Association (ICA) and of communication and media studies that needs to continue to strongly push to be inclusive of scholars of color and from the Global South, to take them seriously, and double-down on eﬀorts toward enacting diversity beyond task forces and redundant rhetoric. This translates also into softening hard disciplinary boundaries that prevent innovative interdisciplinary work of scholars such as Radha Sarma Hegde, Radhika Parameswaran, H. Leslie Steeves, and Angharad N. Valdivia, who work to decolonize media and communication studies toward a global, transnational, and context-situated scholarship. As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, many of the issues that concern feminist theorizations—questioning arrangements of privilege and power—are only local in nature or scope, but an examination of these problems requires also the integration of diﬀerent perspectives and approaches, as well as collaboration in ﬁnding answers. Another important function of community is the need to pass on informal knowledge in collegial exchanges to organize and lead divisions within the International Communication Association. Despite all technology, which often pretends to oﬀer easy, convenient solutions, as Radha Sarma Hegde writes, these exchanges are often oral, in passing, in hallway conversations, and in between conference presentations—a form of communication currently not available the same way during pandemic times, rendering visible to everyone how crucial these oral conversations are to glue divisions together, to form a community, and to spark new ideas and initiatives, to pass on the motivation, inspiration, and energy needed to get studies and initiatives oﬀ the ground. As we know from counterpublics theories (Nancy Fraser, 1990; Catherine Squires, 2002), marginalized and vulnerable groups need spaces to retreat, to recharge, and to be able to use short-hand language or codes to understand each other without having to explain. The energy saved can then be used to continue the labor of processing existing and newly arising problems and questions. For instance, the work that needs to be done to address “the suﬀocating whiteness of communication studies” (Lisa B.Y. Calvente et al., 2020, p. 202), but also within Latinidad, as Angharad N. Validia writes, and in research within diﬀerent contexts
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of India, as Radhika Parameswaran points out. This is currently overshadowed and interfused with an unfolding catastrophe of a proportion which few of us have experienced in our lifetime. This means the task remains to understand and reveal new constructions of gender, race, class, caste, sexual orientation, citizenship, and other identity markers, and to do so applying an intersectional lens and challenge what seems to present itself as “common sense” in dominant mainstream discourses, but in fact centers only certain people, certain narratives of suﬀering, and certain problems. And of course, certain solutions. More to the point, in her essay Karen Ross shares her journey as a scholar researching race and representation in the 1990s frequently leading to awkward moments and questions among colleagues: No one has ever asked why I research sex and gender whereas I have been asked many, many times why I was interested in race because I looked like a white person, as if only Black people could or should be interested in exploring race-related issues. (p. 120, this volume) It is a reminder that intersectional approaches, while still not often enough and thoroughly enough applied in scholarship as well as in scholarly organizations as Angharad N. Valdivia details, have come some way over the past two decades. Intersectional thinking and approaches are strengthened by the personal connections we form and the willingness to listen to our colleagues and students to intake new ways to reﬂect on our own work, as Linda Steiner and Radhika Parameswaran share in their chapters. This crucial aspect of give and take in a community of scholars shines through in every essay in this volume; for instance Karen Ross, in her series of biographical sketches, speaks of the power of supportive mutuality and the value of sharing viewpoints in shaping our own intellectual development, honing our own arguments and perspectives and forging collaborative and productive long-term professional relationships. I have co-authored and co-edited several books and numerous papers with women whom I have now known for more than 20 years, women who are both colleagues but have also become friends. This is certainly not a unique experience and many scholars enjoy fruitful collaborative relationships over many years, but the regular assaults and pushbacks against feminist research and indeed feminist more generally, binds us ever closer. (p. 123, this volume) Allies for collaboration are not only sorely needed for academic endeavors to push our theorizing forward, in feminist scholarship and beyond, but also to guard achievements that we often believe have been ﬁrmly enough established in a given society or community. Yet, the past years especially have taught us that achievements
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are seldom ever completely stable and may be attacked or temporarily dismantled, as for instance the Trump administration’s ban on diversity trainings in the USA, the attack on gender studies by the Orbán administration in Hungary, the openly misogynistic rhetoric and attacks toward women journalists by the Bolsonaro administration and his supporters in Brazil, or the police brutality and human rights violations against women protesting social inequalities in the 2019 nationwide uprising in Chile, to name just a few of many examples. Appropriately, Radha Sarma Hegde reminds us: “Feminist work, in my opinion, requires grit and stamina to navigate, among other things, institutional support, ﬁnd intellectual spaces and overcome the analytical obstacles imposed by disciplines and their canons” (p. 105, this volume). Drawing on Sara Ahmed (2017), she writes that feminist scholars continue to have to work with institutions or others that may be hostile to feminist endeavors in the academy. Her essay highlights how institutions rooted in national contexts may not provide suﬃcient spaces for global, decolonizing work, and how disciplines which deﬁne their boundaries narrowly, yet, at same time use notions of universality, fall short in providing adequate frameworks for accounting for transnational phenomena, the pandemic being one more case in point. When individual institutions do not embrace or support interdisciplinary, feminist work, a community of feminist scholars across institutions becomes even more important. Lana F. Rakow reminds us of the “‘femships’ that developed in those early days when we found each other through associations like the new Feminist Scholarship Interest Group (FSIG) of the International Communication Association (ICA) (see Lana Rakow, 1992a [sic])—now the Feminist Scholarship Division” (p. 66, this volume). That the Feminist Scholarship Division celebrates its 35th anniversary in 2021 tells us how robust and rich this community has become. To “femships” past, present, and future!
Following Up: Revisiting Data and Theory-Building Several chapters demonstrate the importance to revisit data or theory-building from research in the past to advance concepts in the context of current developments, such as the pandemic, as Patrice M. Buzzanell and Meenakshi Gigi Durham do, or follow up on a concrete situation from previous ﬁeld work, as H. Leslie Steeves shows. In conserving and revisiting “old” data, and taking time to understand its meaning, lays a value that the new paradigm of big data frames as outmoded, as Radha Sarma Hegde cautions us. She warns against misuses of data for surveillance purposes and against the hectic of solutionism that at ﬁrst glance appears to solve issues, but in fact does not change complex problematic and diﬃcult situations for the better in a sustainable way. Such revisiting also aids in showcasing how theory can be built and further developed through new insights, literature, or contexts. This aids in tracking progress or regress to contribute to or boost forces that work toward transformation and accountability. It also can provide longitudinal data for further and deeper analysis by other scholars to impact scholarship in new ways.
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Patrice M. Buzzanell reminds us that the concept of resilience, which has been coopted by neoliberal eﬀorts to cut back on structural support meant to alleviate the harmful built-in side eﬀects of capitalism, is in fact rooted in feminist praxis. She warns: “Women who cannot deploy discursive and material resources to frame resilient or successful neoliberal selves are stigmatized in ways that incur further disadvantage when others do not recognize communal responsibilities for accomplishing resilience” (p. 38, this volume). Her Feminist Communication Theory of Resilience takes resilience back to re-frame it as not meant to be an individual burden, but to be understood as a human-centered and community-driven process: Resilience explains how people communicate to reintegrate from and engage in meaning-making about disruptive events to construct new normals. Resilience is cultivated over the course of individuals’, families’, communities’, and nations’ lives in particular socio-historical-economic and political conditions. (p. 46, this volume) She provides an example for how feminist advances of communication theories can make an impact toward understanding unfolding problems. Her feminist approach ﬁts particularly well to theorize the repeatedly disruptive ebbs and ﬂows of the COVID-19 pandemic for parents, and especially for mothers, who struggle with a lack of recognition of care work as a structural, communal problem. The work of caring for and educating children during the pandemic has mainly been left to parents and people with care responsibilities in a family, demanding them to ﬁnd private solutions. It reveals that true resilience is not a personally trait or task to solve, as Patrice M. Buzzanell delineates, but a communal process that emphasizes context, creativity, and empathy. H. Leslie Steeves revisits her study that analyzed the local and international news media coverage of the attack on a dormitory housing 271 girls as part of the St. Kizito Mixed Secondary School in Tigania, Kenya in July 1991, in which 19 girls died, 71 were raped, and 80 were injured. She writes that while St. Kizito led to extraordinary coverage allowing for some feminist viewpoints, most of the reporting was “abysmal, revealing erasure of gender violence or rape myths, and exposing victims while protecting assailants and oﬃcials who failed to adequately respond” (p. 88, this volume). In her essay she writes that despite the immense harm at St. Kizito and continued gender-based violence in schools since then “little has been done to memorialize and use St. Kizito for activism” (p. 93, this volume). She concludes that memorializing gender-based violence and its victims remains a diﬃcult task as memory work needs to be culturally situated and applied with a decolonial lens. Her focused looking and re-looking at St. Kizito is a study that demonstrates the importance of deep, longitudinal analysis that can become a starting point for a conversation when simple solutions are not available and marginalized bodies are at risk to be forgotten when they in fact “deserve to be remembered and heard in ways that provide support services, preserve their voices, and lead to enduring social change” (p. 99, this volume).
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Meenakshi Gigi Durham similarly revisits the site of her ﬁrst ﬁeldwork, a middle school in a large city in the Southwestern United States, to re-construct vulnerability away from negative connotations of weakness and softness to be understood as an “undeniable fact of human existence that demands recognition, respect, and redress” (p. 32, this volume). She positions vulnerability as a key element of enacting resistance and as a condition that is continuously, and in various forms, produced and reproduced by capitalist and neoliberal structures and mediated through erasure of representation. She encourages media scholars to use vulnerability as a valid epistemological position to re-imagine methodological perspectives and processes and “craft research questions that examine the role of vulnerability as it relates to media culture and associated practices and processes. Do some of these practices and processes—of reception, of reading, of ‘prosumer’ activity—exacerbate vulnerability?” (p. 39, this volume). The signiﬁcance of her ﬁrst ﬁeld work site and the value of revisiting it stands out as she closes with crediting the students with whom she talked at the middle school with inspiring the thoughts she shared in her essay in this volume. Her chapter exempliﬁes how some encounters long ago linger and can spark insights for future feminist theorizing. Similar to Dafna Lemish, Meenakshi Gigi Durham highlights the knowledge that children bring to understanding our shared world, if we recognize their epistemological work. Eﬀorts to undermine such deep, qualitative, and critical work are a concern that Radha Sarma Hegde brings up in her chapter as she sounds the alarm against the hype around and misuse of big data: “Minoritized experiences serve as an important reminder to rethink how bodies as data are transformed, registered, circulated and surveilled” (p. 111, this volume). The pervasive culture of big data, she warns, has also prompted a rising trend of solutionism that promises quick ways to deal with problems, underscores entrepreneurial activities, and propagates that technology is the ﬁrst line of defense against all problems that arise. As all scholars in this volume demonstrate, long-term in-depth analysis and re-analysis of an issue is an important layer of feminist epistemologies. Its value lays in providing guard rails for staying on track for pursuing the type of changes that are required to achieve systematic transformation of societies.
Learning Lessons Doesn’t Stop: Using Shortcomings for Growth Lana F. Rakow, Linda Steiner, and Radhika Parameswaran take us on journeys in which they oﬀer, among other insights, lessons that they learned from shortcomings that they later recognized in their own work. They are brave in openly and honestly sharing how they enact deep self-reﬂexivity that is often hailed as a tenet of feminist scholarship, but harder to maintain when it cuts into the core of who we are in ways that also repositions our own earlier works as incomplete or limited. They take us on rarely published journeys of examining their own privileges and acknowledging that, as Lana F. Rakow writes,
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The paths I traveled were often more obscured than clear … We can begin with our own experiences while recognizing that the personal has its limitations unless it is connected to an understanding of the life worlds of others, to privilege and its discontents, and to the professional worlds of academic disciplines and institutions who carry forth ideological commitments. (p. 72, this volume) Lana F. Rakow shares that in her journey she began to be able to make sense of the privileges that she holds as a white woman, and how to account for this in her work, when she found and applied transnational feminist theory. Her references to Angharad N. Valdivia’s and Radha Sarma Hegde’s work show the importance of listening to colleagues and forging connections between feminist scholars from diﬀerent subdiscipline and walks of life. Her insight of the personal as privilege for white women scholars continues to hold true: The voices of so many warned white women that we are duped by our white privilege into thinking that the consequences of the social and political creation of diﬀerences between women and men provided a common ground with women of color, ignoring the matrix of domination among women, in Kaya Ganguly’s (1992) important phrase. Sadly, assumptions about the solidarity and stability of the category “woman” had to be resisted from within and from without feminist scholarship. (p. 66, this volume) From another angle, Linda Steiner contemplates the construction of white women as the norm that is not explicitly mentioned when she writes that in her early analysis of suﬀrage publications she missed Black women’s speeches and journalistic publications that did not directly address women’s suﬀrage as well as the implicit racism that white suﬀrage editors spread in their publications: “I missed, however, how the ‘women’ were White middle-class women.” She concludes that: “The racial blinders of 19th-century white women suﬀragists largely continued into the 20th century. Indeed, for all our sincerely professed commitment to intersectionality, I must concede, that same legacy marks 21st-century feminism and feminist activism” (p. 84, this volume). In her closing words, she oﬀers great advice to (emerging) scholars on how to foster greater selfreﬂexivity. She draws on Elsa Barkley Brown (1992) to remind us how important it is to learn from one another, to practice to hold space for hearing all voices talking at once. She oﬀers a second piece of advice inspired by Zillah Eisenstein (2020), to listen to Black women and “act against all forms of white privilege” (p. 84, this volume). Radhika Parameswaran theorizes further how we can do this self-reﬂexivity which often means walking the thin line of drawing attention to ourselves without using self-confessional narratives to soften feelings of guilt. Detailed questions from a well-prepared student who asked her why she never addressed caste in her work guided her thoughts to examine her own positionality:
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While my parents had raised us to never take our caste/class privileges for granted, my immersion in feminist writings ampliﬁed my awareness of how I had been able to leverage my cultural capital as an English-speaking, middleclass woman from the Global South to meet the teaching and writing expectations of the US academy. (p. 154, this volume) In her theoretical framework of Global Feminist Positionality, she oﬀers a way to account for the messy intersections of privilege and marginality and to also contest the unit of nation and nationality as boundaries of identity and research, rather than recognizing deﬁning ﬂows within and across nations and nationalities. “A global feminist positionality has to therefore try to capture the embodied and located material conditions of academic labor while also acknowledging the ‘fogginess’ of introspective thinking and writing” (p. 153, this volume). As Linda Steiner’s and Radhika Parameswaran’s essays show, the dynamics of why and how our own work ﬂows in certain directions may not be clear to us while we are in the moment of working, inspired by certain scholars and shaped by particular personal, geographic, and institutional surroundings. But we always have the opportunity to reﬂect and reposition, an exercise worth doing regularly to propel new thoughts and insights. Beyond individual research streams, Angharad N. Valdivia’s call to take intersectionality seriously urges feminist scholars to work to push the inclusion of a broader range of theories, voices, and populations and to diversify our professional associations and the conferences, spaces, and journals that they host. She asks: “How can we, Teresa Award winners of the Feminist Scholarship Division of the International Communication Association, speak to our complicity in processes that serve to valorize and visibilize normative feminist issues, and therefore to invisibilize or backburner intersectional issues?” (p. 135, this volume). Her call to action to reorganize feminist spaces reminds us of the burden of scholars of color who have heard it all before, but still are not being heard. She concludes that much work needs to be done within feminist scholarship and within media and communication studies to move beyond unrewarding crumbs of “ﬂashpoints of intersectional visibility” (p. 140, this volume), as she describes, for scholars of color. Theory is not static. On the contrary, it is constantly improved, always shifting and growing (see Pamela Shoemaker, James W. Tankard, Jr., and Dominick Lasorsa, 2004). Feminist theorizations on media and communication are not diﬀerent, and there still is much to understand about women’s deﬁnitions in our society, and the intersecting identities that allow individuals to be discriminated against in several ways simultaneously. Despite this never-ending work, this edited volume is a victory and a milestone for feminist media and communication scholarship, as the foreword authors note. It documents the collective and individual accomplishments of ten scholars whose work has been awarded for its excellence and its pioneering labor to lay the foundation of feminist communication and media scholarship. The chapters
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in the volume also provide a rich repository for understanding how feminist scholars have created unique journeys into media and communication studies for themselves from sometimes unlikely and seemingly foggy starting points, but that these journeys were always helped by community which bring our partial truths together. These scholars let the value that lays in community, deep critical analysis, and honest selfreﬂexivity shine. Especially for emerging scholars, the insights here—personal, professional, theoretical, methodological—are meant to show that feminist work is doable, indeed, how it has become a pillar in media and communication ﬁelds—but one that needs constant tending and honing. The essays also lifts the “shroud of mystery,” (p. 160) as Radhika Parameswaran put it, of how one can become a scholar and how academic spaces tick—for better or for worse—and which openings exist to transform them into better, more inclusive spaces. Taking together, this book demystiﬁes and celebrates how feminist scholarly magic is done in many diﬀerent ways. We hope this inspires many more feminist scholars and works, and does so by taking intersectionality seriously.
References Ahmed, Sara (2017). Living a feminist life. Duke University Press. Brown, Elsa Barkley (1994). Negotiating and transforming the public sphere: African American political life in the transition from slavery to freedom. Public Culture, 7(1), 107–146. https://doi.org/10.1215/08992363-7-1-107. Calvente, Lisa B.Y., Calafell, Bernadette Marie, and Chávez, Karma R. (2020). Here is something you can’t understand: the suﬀocating whiteness of communication studies, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 17(2), 202–209. https://doi.org/10.1080/ 14791420.2020.1770823. Eisenstein, Zillah (2020). Abolitionist socialist feminism. Monthly Review Press. Fraser, Nancy (1990). Rethinking the public sphere: A contribution to the critique of actually existing democracy. Social Text 25/26, 56–80. Ganguly, Keya (1992). Accounting for others: Feminism and representation. In Lana F. Rakow (Ed.), Women making meaning: New feminist directions in communication (pp. 60–79). Routledge. Rakow, Lana F. (1992). The ﬁeld reconsidered. In Lana F. Rakow (Ed.), Women making meaning: New feminist directions in communication (pp. 3–17). Routledge. Shoemaker, Pamela, Tankard Jr, James William, and Lasorsa, Dominick (2004). How to build social science theory. Sage. Squires, Catherine R. (2002). Rethinking the black public sphere: An alternative vocabulary for multiple public spheres. Communication Theory, 12(4), 446–468.
#CommunicationSoWhite 19, 47, 136, 138 accountability 43, 44, 159, 166, 179 activism 32, 65, 90, 91–93, 97, 98–99, 126, 169; see feminist activism; social movements Africa 91, 156, 163 agency 4, 8, 25–27, 36–38, 51–52, 68–69, 75, 140–144, 152–154, 159, 164 Ardern, Jacinda 127–128 Asia 154, 156–160, 163 binary (constructions) 5, 16, 64, 113; culture/nature divide 16; emotion/ reason divide 16; male/female divide 5; mind/body 16; public/private divide 4, 6, 16, 77, 90, 112–113, 158; urban/rural divide 78, 158, 171; see nonbinary Black Lives Matter 43, 61, 134, 139–141, 143 blackness 140, 142–144, 156 body; body image 22, 34, 36, 67; body politics, 2, 35, 52, 69; gendered body 69, 111, 105–106 care 15, 39; care work, 26, 43, 165, 167–170, 172–173, 176, 180 caste 84, 148–149, 154, 157–162, 182–183 colonialism 23, 67, 91, 137, 149, 156, 159, 173
colorism 120, 140, 146, 153, 156; see discrimination; racism coronavirus, see COVID-19 pandemic COVID-19 pandemic 19, 25, 33, 43, 122, 129, 134, 141, 163–168 critical race theory 24, 62, 105, 135, 152, 156 cultural studies 17, 75, 144, 153–155, 159 discrimination 4, 33, 111; see racism; sexism diversity 9, 21, 48, 62, 65–66, 120, 136–138, 144, 176–179 Dolezal, Rachel 134, 142–143, 145 domestic violence 51, 113, 164–166, 168, 172, 175; see violence against women domination 7, 23, 66, 70, 105, 157, 182 fake news; see misinformation feminist activism 4, 5, 20, 31, 84, 88, 138–139, 172, 174; see activism feminist scholarship; and critique 6, 9, 37, 78, 104–107, 111, 114, 154, 165; and epistemology 7–8, 31, 38, 67, 124, 150–151, 176, 181; and ethics, 22, 39–42, 48, 152, 154, 159, 172; and methods 8–9, 17, 20–22, 69–70, 113, 124, 149–150, 177; and positionality 9, 136, 150–156, 160, 182–183; and pragmatism 64, 70–71; and resilience, 37–38, 44–49, 54, 180; and standpoint theory 23, 39, 53, 64, 70, 123
Feminist Scholarship Division of the International Communication Association 1, 15, 65, 122, 135, 163, 174, 179, 183 feminist transformations 5–8, 39–40, 44, 46–51, 54, 105, 150, 164–166, 169, 179, 184 Floyd, George 43, 119, 134, 139, 175 gender: conceptualizations 4–7, 64, 112; gender inequality 44, 48, 50, 113, 122; see LGBTQ; nonbinary; sexuality; transgender gender-based violence, see violence against women gender bias, see sexism gender discrimination, see sexism gender justice 2, 16, 105; see social justice Global North 8, 18, 24, 40, 66–67, 88, 91, 106–110, 133, 152, 171 Global South 2, 18, 21, 24, 91, 107–108, 133, 152, 170–171, 177 globalization 3, 105, 109, 112, 149, 151–152, 155 harassment 19, 52, 62, 93, 168; see violence against women identity 4–5, 35, 50–52, 76, 112, 124, 137–143, 151–152, 155–160 ideology 6–7, 34–36, 61, 68, 80, 154 imperialism 67, 84, 154–155 India 84, 108–109, 112, 114, 134, 148–149, 153–159, 178 indigenous people 40, 44, 66–67, 139, 154, 172, 173 inequalities 4–8, 16–19, 23–27, 48–51, 104, 113, 122, 145, 158–159, 165–169 International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) 121, 122 International Communication Association 15, 65, 122, 133, 135, 170, 177, 183 intersectionality 2, 25, 32, 44–47, 84, 120–124, 133–137, 141–142, 151–156, 178–183 journalism 65, 74, 79–82, 84, 88–89, 97–99, 123–126, 129, 154–156, 164–166 Kenya 9, 88–89, 96–99, 180 Krug, Jessica A. 134–135, 142–145
language 20, 23–25, 66, 75, 77, 84, 121, 125, 157–158, 177; see sense making Latinidad, 143–145 LGBTQ 24–25, 44, 90; see nonbinary; sexuality; transgender marginalization 31, 63–64, 138; marginalized groups 15, 18, 23, 34, 46, 52, 75, 104, 137, 165, 177 materiality 51, 53, 56, 90 media: audiences 120–121, 126, 140, 175; coverage 9, 34, 74, 81, 88–89, 109, 123, 128–131, 138–143, 172–172, 175–176; culture 24, 30, 37–39, 156, 158, 181; messages 9, 34, 36; platforms 34, 62, 89, 99, 120, 126 media industries: internet and digital technologies 19, 12, 34, 62, 99, 112–113, 171, 176; magazines 34, 68, 75, 81; newspapers and periodicals 70, 74–75, 77–81, 82–83, 141; social media 9, 22, 24, 34 43–45, 50, 62–63, 89, 114, 126–128, 136, 164–167; television 16, 37, 120 media representation, see representation memory 9, 49, 89–91, 96–99, 180 methods, see feminist scholarship: and methods migration 7, 76, 105, 110, 142, 151–152, 156–158 minorities 33, 43–44, 53, 119, 170, 174; see people of color misinformation 113, 126, 168 misogyny 44, 61, 63, 114, 120, 126 nationalism 20, 105, 110, 113, 151, 154, 165, 170–171 Native people; see indigenous people neoliberalism 27, 38, 45–46, 48, 111–112, 143, 145, 150, 155, 172 news 16, 34, 79, 88, 93, 99, 108, 120–123, 125–128, 134, 137, 143–144, 163–168; see media: coverage nonbinary 25, 44, 69, 170; see gender: conceptualizations; transgender oppression 4–8, 32, 36, 46–47, 67, 108–111, 136, 155–157, 172 patriarchy 4–7, 19, 68–69, 84, 112–113, 120, 124, 151, 154–159 people of color 24, 32–35, 43–44, 52, 67, 78, 81, 110, 134–138, 143, 149, 169; see minorities
positionality, see feminist scholarship: and positionality postcolonialism 62, 99, 105, 107, 137, 155, 158 power 5–8, 23–25, 32, 61, 63–65, 69, 81, 90–92, 105–110, 124, 135–137, 149–154, 159–160, 177–178; patriarchal power, see patriarchy; oppression; subordination prejudice, see privilege private/public divide, see binary (constructions) privilege 9, 37–39, 44–46, 53, 63–69, 77–84, 90, 120, 134–136, 149–152, 154, 157–160, 167–173, 176–177 race 10, 24–25, 35, 45, 50, 61–62, 66–69, 79–80, 83–85, 90–91, 120–122; 139–142; 150–152; see blackness; Latinidad; people of color; whiteness racism 9, 23, 32–34, 40, 62–63, 68–69, 81–84, 107, 114, 119–120, 133–135, 140, 156, 165–170; see colorism; discrimination rape, see sexual violence reﬂexivity 8, 36, 38–39, 99, 139, 149–154, 157, 174, 182–184 religion 66, 68, 84, 99, 111, 137, 159, 171 representation 2–8, 16–20, 34–37, 52–53, 63–68, 107–108, 120–128, 141–146, 166–168, 181 resilience, see feminist scholarship: and resilience sense-making 2, 8, 36, 45–46, 64–65, 75, 90, 142, 152, 163, 174, 178, 182; see language sexism 2–7, 23 47, 92, 98, 104, 106, 120–125, 139, 154, 171
sexual violence 33, 68, 88, 92–99, 108–109, 112, 138; see violence against women sexuality 32, 64, 68–69, 104, 108, 135, 139, 152, 156; see gender: conceptualizations; LGBTQ; transgender social change 17, 44, 46–50, 63, 76–78, 89, 99, 111–113, 120, 144, 149, 167–169 social justice 17, 32, 38, 40, 44, 47–49, 79, 92–93, 104–105, 145, 154, 165–166, 176 social movements 4, 16, 44, 76–78, 136, 140–141, 154; see activism status 1–7, 18–19, 25, 33, 74–78, 84, 143–144, 169 stereotypes 34, 98, 99, 106–110, 121–122, 129, 140, 143, 153 subordination, see oppression Taylor, Breonna 43, 134, 139 Teresa Award for the Advancement of Feminist Scholarship 1–3, 10, 20, 135, 163, 174, 183 transgender 33–34, 50, 64; see LGBTQ transformative action, see feminist transformation violence against women 3, 7, 19, 88–93, 95–98, 99, 105, 110, 112, 114, 168, 180; see domestic violence; harassment; sexual violence voice 15, 17, 27, 39, 43, 46, 63–67, 80, 98, 107, 114, 120, 123, 149–151 Western hemisphere, see Global North white supremacy 61, 68–69, 84, 134, 136–137, 156, 159 whiteness 44, 48, 53, 67–68, 75, 78, 133, 135–136, 143–145, 154, 156 women’s status, see status women’s voice, see voice