This is our final, final session, with the link to our final quiz as well as, again to the research reflection.
The course has perhaps addressed more tensions than agreements, more conflicting ideas and interests than grand theories and solutions.
We have talked about gender disparities (hence, inherently agreeing on the idea of socially constructed gender), less about sexism (discrimination based on biological sex). But, honestly, even these categories are blurry at times, aren’t they? Even if we don’t analyze the way in which the media create gender stereotypes, discrimination based on sex still happens in a society; is arbitrary and hence constructed in a society, in a culture.
And, we have not discussed the advantages of different sexes, different genders. The main narrative of feminism is that of social justice for the disadvantaged, in this case women. But is that the only narrative to have?
Perhaps the most relevant concept, if we wish to address global feminism and development, is the idea of gender mainstreaming. The term is now a few decades old:
Gender mainstreaming was adopted as a major strategy for promoting gender equality at the [United Nations] Fourth World Conference of Women in 1995. It called for mainstreaming in all Critical Areas of Concern at the conference which included poverty, human rights, economy, violence against women and armed conflict.
…Mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programs in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality.
The concept has also received plenty criticism. One of the main worries is that mainstreaming is overshadowing the special vitality of feminism; the ability of feminist movement to truly intervene and suggest alternatives.
Feminism has hit the big time. It drives advertising and marketing campaigns for everything from wireless plans to underwear to perfume, presenting what’s long been a movement for social justice as just another consumer choice in a vast market. Individual self-actualization is the goal, shopping more often than not the means, and celebrities the mouthpieces.
But what does it mean when social change becomes a brand identity? Feminism’s splashy arrival at the center of today’s media and pop-culture marketplace, after all, hasn’t offered solutions to the movement’s unfinished business. Planned Parenthood is under sustained attack, women are still paid 77 percent—or less—of the man’s dollar, and vicious attacks on women, both on- and offline, are utterly routine.
We are living in the most pluralistic societies ever in the history of humanity. Each of us has a racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, geographic and gender identity and so forth.
At its best this pluralism is beautiful, like a Persian carpet, with colourful threads woven together to make a coherent whole. But we are at risk of losing the best and getting the worst when each of our identities is being pulled in different directions. Here’s an example: When someone insults Iran, I have a visceral reaction to defend my Persian heritage, even though I’m also British, de facto Italian, and deeply rooted in Americana since I went to the American Community School as a child in Iran. Similarly I uphold my Muslim identity in the face of Islamophobia, but I would much prefer to recognise what unites us, not what divides so. It isn’t difficult. Talk to a Taliban leader about what he wants for his children, and immediately the human connection is made. I’ve no doubt we could find the common ground with the ardent Brexit voters, if only there was an opportunity and a platform for us to listen and talk.
We need to work on social cohesion – not just tolerance or parallel coexistence – but on bringing us together, to acknowledge the good and bad in each of our cultures and traditions. Otherwise our pluralism is going to be fodder for forces that seek to polarize us which includes our increasingly insidious media. No society on earth today can withstand that sort of divisiveness. Yet little is being done to proactively and creatively resist these divisions.
Let’s move to the most global of contexts. Sustainable Development Goals, or, in other words, Agenda 2030, are the new goals of the United Nations, accepted by the member states in September 2015. The idea is that these 17 goals are not specific to “less developed countries” but equally applicable to the Global North and Global South. While the media are not really discussed in these goals (basically apart from access to the internet) Gender Equality has been in the UN agenda for decades. Here are the specific targets of the current Goal number 5:
5.1End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere
5.2Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation
5.3Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation
5.4Recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate
5.5Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life
5.6Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences
5.aUndertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws
5.bEnhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women
5.cAdopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels
Sounds good, doesn’t it? But a feminist reading of the Agenda 2030 points out many failures: Power and the Sustainable Development Goals a feminist analysis (download for your final quiz). As you will see, this feminist analysis is not only about women, it is about who has the power (be it economic, political, cultural, social). This is what the author notes, for instance, about the above Target 5.5:
Political participation is notorious for the obstacles presented to women from non-elite groups; and class inequality forms a very significant barrier for women in poverty and favours women politicians rather than women’s movements.
In contrast, women’s participation in the economic and public realms does provide a broader focus on the participation of women from ‘civil society’. Though the reasons for Target 5.5’s wording might well be understood as deriving from the difficulties of measuring women’s mobilisation, there is a clear problem with this target which may mean it will prove to be empty rhetoric.
Women’s full and effective participation and leadership is not only dependent on women’s own effort and interest in coming to the national and international negotiating tables and having equal opportunities to men to participate … but also on access to the resources that act as preconditions for participation (money, time, confidence, and education among them), and on the existence of concrete mechanisms for promoting women’s participation…
Global Scholarly Agenda for Gender and the Media
So, what can Feminist Media Studies do for Global Feminism, and global development? The media do have a key role in many issues, as a reinforcer of values, or as a change agent.
That is why UNESCO, together with the International Association of Mass Communication Research, got together a group of some of the most prominent scholars in the field to produce this report: GLOBAL media_and_gender_UNESCO (download for your final quiz).
The report highlights four areas in need to research and discovery:
I. Violence of gender, media and information
II. Women’s access to media and information
III. Gender media policy and strategies
IV. Gender, education and media and information literacy
The introduction, by one of the powerhouses in gender and global development, Margaret Gallagher, states the issues we have grappled with throughout the course:
The push and pull between theorising, research and activism has always been a feature of feminist approaches to the media.
Since its beginnings, a good deal of feminist scholarship has been motivated two questions: ‘How can the media be changed? How can we free women from the tyranny of media mes-sages limiting their lives to hearth and home?’ If today these questions seem naïve, they are an embryonic formulation of the concerns that drive much feminist media analysis almost four decades later.
But the work of global feminist media studies, in all of its strands is just expanding:
Certainly, the advent of new media – blogs, videoblogs, podcasting, social media applications – has begun to change feminist activism in ways that are neither better nor worse than in the past, but activism as we struggle to analyse and change media structures, institutions and practices.
I hope you have gotten some ideas and perspectives for the past, present, and the future of Global Feminism and the Media.
Remains to be done:
Half the Sky Case Study (due 7/1, on your own blog)
Final research assignment on product innovators (due 7/5, on your own blog)
Final Review Quiz, link here (due 7/7)
Research Reflection, link to instructions here (due 7/11, email link/document + references: firstname.lastname@example.org)