Feminist Media Studies – Antenna http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 Feminist. Media. Criticism. Is. (Part 2) http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2012/12/11/feminist-media-criticism-is-part-2/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2012/12/11/feminist-media-criticism-is-part-2/#comments Tue, 11 Dec 2012 15:11:48 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=16973 A manifesta for feminist media criticismA manifesta for feminist media criticism. Click here for part 1.

Because we are committed to critically analyzing systems of power in all their forms—but especially with regard to gender and media culture—and we want others to be as well.

Because we believe our culture and society can be better, and we can play an active role in transforming them.

Because we share in the fight to end oppression so all individuals everywhere can be who they want to be and reach their potential happily and without suffering.

Because we believe that biology is not destiny, that gender and other identity norms are socially constructed, and that they can and should be deconstructed.

Because we are angry at a society that continues to tell us that a woman’s first priority is to be sexy, that to be smart is to be unattractive, and that feminism is no longer necessary and/or that feminist = anti-male, feminist = humorless, and feminist = nazi.

Because too many of our female students, colleagues, and friends say, “I’m not a feminist,” despite acknowledging they want equality with men and don’t experience it in many aspects of their lives.

Because there are not more men who are willing to join our fight.

Because we refuse to assimilate to someone else’s standards of what makes a good scholar, teacher, artist, writer, activist, citizen, consumer, or person.

Because we understand the media industries as comprising the most powerful and influential social institution today, and they traffic in normative values harmful to many.

Because we want to destroy the domination of global media culture by those who want us to keep consuming whatever they churn out, buying whatever their sponsors are shilling, ignoring politics, hating ourselves, and competing with each other rather than producing our own media, working to end oppression, fighting for social justice, loving ourselves, and supporting each other.

Because we want more movies, TV shows, songs, games, websites, comics, radio programs, and news stories that don’t infantilize, hypersexualize, demonize, exoticize, marginalize, exclude, or demean us—or anyone else.

Because we value our media tastes and pleasures and want them affirmed rather than ignored for those of a more lucrative market.

Because we are troubled that popular culture has become more focused on sex and violence than when feminist media criticism emerged four decades ago.

Because women in the news are consistently discussed in relation to their appearance, and men hardly ever are.

Because we are frustrated that women are always seen as women first, and whatever other role we have is secondary.

Because Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman to have earned the Academy Award for Best Director, and because most people don’t even know who Kathryn Bigelow is.

Because so many female characters on television are victims of assault and murder, and because so many girl characters are motherless and sisterless.

Because women-made and women-themed movies are considered “niche.”

Because the privileged role for girl musicians is still the sexy vocalist, and playing instruments continues to be seen as a “guy thing.”

Because many journalists see “women’s issues” as not serious and apolitical and thus ghettoize them in the Life and Style section of newspapers.

Because we know reading/watching/hearing/writing/doing things that validate and challenge us can help us to build the knowledge, strength, and community we need to overcome the sexism, racism, classism, ageism, heterocentrism, able-bodieism, thinism, and xenophobia writ large, which structure our lives, our communities, and our culture.

Because we understand the power of media as tools for documenting lives, expressing creativity, exploring identity, and building community, and we want all people to have equal access to those tools and those powers.

Because we are committed to supporting feminist, queer, and anti-racist media producers and know that doing so is integral to changing our society for the better.

Because many media studies programs do not have classes specifically devoted to exploring gender in media culture.

Because so many media history and production classes continue to focus on the Great White Men of Celluloid, of Video, of the Air, of the Tubes, of the Internet, of Gaming, and of Comics . . . and privilege the work of only the male scholars who write about them.

Because so many girls, parents, and teachers the world over don’t see media production as a worthwhile profession for women, and males continue to dominate both production programs and the media industries at all levels.

Because female media critics and producers tend to earn less and are promoted less than their male peers, and women are more affected by contingent labor practices than are men.

Because we know being multiply oppressed as a result of sexuality, race, or ability makes all this much, much, much more difficult.

Because we are encouraged to remain quiet or tone down our activist rhetoric and activities to get better teaching evaluations, promotion reviews, and salary increases.

Because we know the heart of academic life is about participating in critical debates started many years before us, about having our beliefs and expectations challenged, about facilitating learning in community with others, and about mentoring others so they can develop as participatory citizens, discerning consumers, and genuinely nice people.

Because we are interested in creating ways of learning, teaching, mentoring, administrating, and sharing research that privilege collaboration and communication over competition and celebrity.

Because we want to make it easier for feminist media scholars to read and hear each other’s work so we can share strategies and resources, critique each other, and support one another.

Because we honor, draw strength from, and want to continue the work of older feminist media critics, and because we desire to teach, mentor, and collaborate with younger scholars who will do the same, until such a time when that work is no longer necessary.

And, last but not least:

Because we believe, with all our hearts/minds/bodies, that progressive change is necessary, that progressive change is possible, and that feminist media critics constitute a revolutionary force that transforms academia and popular culture—for real.

(Photo by Michael Kackman – phobject.com.)


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Feminist. Media. Criticism. Is. (Part 1) http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2012/12/10/feminist-media-criticism-is-part-1/ Mon, 10 Dec 2012 14:30:59 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=16967 Feminist Media CriticismEarlier this year I was invited to participate in the opening plenary session for the twentieth-anniversary Console-ing Passions conference.  In the weeks leading up to the conference, I struggled to write up some thoughts about the past, present, and future of feminist media criticism, the plenary topic.  I was at a loss on how to comment efficiently and eloquently on this long and productive history in the few minutes allotted me, not to mention how to inspire and energize the conference attendees so that we might carry this work forward in productive new ways.

But eventually I reconnected with my muse, and the words flowed. I hope what follows below and in tomorrow’s post helps readers to understand better why folks like me do what we do.  If you’re a student working on research papers right now, I hope this inspires you to foreground the larger political stakes of your scholarship and thereby to connect your projects to the longer history of critical media studies.  Thanks to the Antenna staff for their enthusiasm and for providing another opportunity to share the spirit.


For Console-ing Passions, on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary.

I’ve changed the direction of my plenary talk a bit from when I first started writing it, but I think you’ll like this version better.

I was going to talk about some of the major transformations in feminist media criticism over the past two decades that Console-ing Passions has been in existence, including:

1) changes in feminist politics, especially the rise of third wave and third world feminisms; 2) transformations in feminist epistemology as a result of the development and diffusion of poststructuralist theory, postcolonialist theory, critical race theory, queer theory, and theories of postfeminism; 3) the emergence and growth of new areas of feminist media research, including fan studies, Internet studies, industry studies, game studies, and girls’ studies; 4) the expansion of publishing venues for our scholarship, not only via the Feminist Media Studies journal, but also various online ventures, like Antenna; and 5) the broad growth of feminist media criticism outside the academy, especially as a result of the zine revolution in the 1990s and the blogging revolution of the past decade.

I was also going to talk about three of the challenges facing our field that I think deserve much more attention, particularly: 1) the privileging of a presentist perspective and myopic focus on contemporary media, combined with the devaluation of historical research; 2) the decreased attention to independent media, despite the so-called rise of participatory culture and an increase in production studies; and 3) (which is related to the other two) the de-radicalization of media studies with the rise of various subfields seemingly resistant to analyses of power.

And I was going to wrap up all that with a plea to all of you to pay more attention to the totally out of whack gender imbalance in college training programs for film and TV production, which I see as one of the highest priorities for feminist media scholars and activists today.

But, I changed my mind.  As I was writing all that, I thought: “Wow, this seems pretty boring to me, and most of this is already probably evident to the folks participating in a Console-ing Passions conference.”  So, I asked myself: “What do I really want people at this conference to take away from my talk?  What would I like to hear?  How might I be more inspiring?  After all, when the hell will I be asked to do this again?  Shouldn’t I seize this as an opportunity to be provocative?”

And the bad-ass, scabby-kneed, chukka-boot-wearing, kick-ball-loving little Mary Celeste deep inside me—the one that is about 7 and fearless, because she doesn’t give a shit what people say about her—that little girl-me raised her fist and shouted loudly, “YES! YES! YES!”

So, shortly after this, I got a migraine (probably from working on this plenary talk and my panel paper at the same time – not advised).  But in the midst of skull-crushing pain, I still heard the younger me.  I heard her loud and clear.  She wouldn’t shut up.

Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  I want to be inspirational.  I want to put my money where my mouth is.  I want to present myself as an activist and not just an academic.  I want to channel all the fierce and fiery women who have motivated me to be a feminist and a feminist media scholar.  I want to pay homage to all their blood, sweat, and tears.  I want to acknowledge them and their work, and I want to pay it forward.  I want you to feel energized.  I want to do what I can in the few minutes I have up here to help keep this thing—feminist media studies—going for as long as it’s needed.  I want to be the feminist media scholar I want to see in the world.

So, I turned up the volume on my headphones (after the migraine had passed, of course), and I let the percussive beats, driving rhythms, and fist-thrusting lyrics of Wild Flag, Bikini Kill, L7, the Gossip, and Patti Smith wash over me.  In other words, I tapped into the vein of feminist media production that most inspires me—women’s punk—and, on fire and dancing in my seat, I came up with this: A manifesta for feminist media scholars.  Props to Kathleen Hanna and riot grrrls everywhere.

Click here for part 2: my manifesta for feminist media criticism.

(Image credit: Kara Passey, 2012)


Magic Vaginas, The End of Men, and Working Like a Dog http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2012/11/19/magic-vaginas-the-end-of-men-and-working-like-a-dog/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2012/11/19/magic-vaginas-the-end-of-men-and-working-like-a-dog/#comments Mon, 19 Nov 2012 14:00:10 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=16483 The campaign season in the US brought a depressing parade of prognostications: about the magical power of vaginas (thank you also, Naomi Wolf), how easy it is to rape sluts, and how we shouldn’t be mean to Mrs. Romney by implying that she doesn’t work.

Alongside this Victorian discourse, the media was full of reports about some mythical majority of female breadwinners who were emerging victorious from the post-recessionary economic slugfest.

This was a curious juxtaposition: women were at once reducible to their reproductive parts and at the same time, as The Atlantic put it, on the verge of global economic dominance. This latter line of reasoning merits more than passing attention.

I confess. I’ve contributed to the productivist mentality in my profession. I say this with more sorrow than pride. As a first generation college student, I thought that I’d always have to work twice as hard to prove myself. When I was coming up the ranks, in a department that had not yet tenured its first woman, I believed that I had to be twice as productive as the men in my department in order to get promoted. This belief was confirmed when the second woman to go up for tenure was denied it (she didn’t have a book) and a man — who never did any administrative work, didn’t supervise graduate students, and was difficult to work with – got tenure (he didn’t have a book, but his supporters argued that his manuscript hinted at a kind of philosophical gravitas that the woman ostensibly lacked). I still feel badly about that situation, in which male faculty members used my productivity to deny tenure to another woman.

I’ve been thinking about why women are being asked to do more administrative work — to take on “leadership” roles – at a point in time when the ranks of tenured faculty are dwindling and there’s more and more work for fewer people. What is it about how women work (or how men think women work) that’s behind this?

Marx said that there are two ways to create surplus-value. Increasing productivity is one way to create surplus-value. But the second way involves extending the working day. Marx argued that there were concrete limits on the latter:

It cannot be prolonged beyond a certain point. This maximum limit is conditioned by two things. First, by the physical bounds of labour-power. Within the 24 hours of the natural day a man can expend only a definite quantity of his vital force. A horse, in like manner, can only work from day to day, 8 hours. During part of the day this force must rest, sleep; during another part the man has to satisfy other physical needs, to feed, wash, and clothe himself.

Ah, the natural day of a man! A man for whom the public and private spheres are imagined as distinct spheres of human activity. Men ate, drank, slept, fought, had sex, and engaged in leisure time activities during the hours they did not work. But the nature of women’s labor within capitalist economies has been quite different, except for the upper class. Whether they worked in the waged economy or not, women labored in the home, attending to many tasks at once – washing clothes, cooking, farming, caring for the sick and the elderly, minding children, mending clothes. For these laborers, even necessary tasks can be deferred because of something else that demands immediate attention: someone interrupts, a toddler moves too closely toward danger, animals and children need to be fed, a pot is on the verge of boiling over – the list goes on. Women’s work outside the waged economy, that is, never conformed to a discrete work “day” or night in which the needs of an isolated laborer (much less a middle class worker with a door he could close) were paramount. Women’s working days were elastic: children and the elderly get sick; you sleep when and where you can. And when women didn’t have enough daylight hours to tend to this expansive and physically and emotionally expensive caring labor, they labored well into the night.

So, for generations at least, most women have been socialized to multitask, to prioritize, to take into account the needs of others through forced collaborations. It isn’t as though our magic vaginas make us “natural collaborators.” Rather, we’ve collaborated to survive, developing skill sets that enable the many activities that go into effective collaborations, resting when and if there’s time.

As a professional woman in the first half of the twentieth century, a woman who understood the nature of women’s work better than many, writer, producer, director, and actor Gertrude Berg remembered her grandmother’s work in the similar terms:

 When I learned in school that Gaul was divided into three parts I remember thinking of my mother. My mother was divided into three parts. Or, even worse, she was three people – a wife, a worker, and a mother. I’m a wife, I’m a mother, and I’m also a worker but at least I have washing machines – one for the dishes and one for the clothes. To be a wife and a mother is a pleasure – to be a worker around the house I can do without. You want to know why? Because it never stops! If it’s not the dishes, it’s the beds, after the beds it’s the floors, and then the windows, then the furniture, then the clothes. And when you stop it’s only to rest up so you can start all over again in the morning. If that sounds like complaining, it is. (1961, 47-8)

Susan Faludi made a similar point in Stiffed, that women becoming the favored labor force of global capitalism isn’t cause for celebration. Maybe a feminized adaptability to shifts in work schedules and increased hours is generating more labor for corporations and institutions hungry to do more – and make more – with less and less? To paraphrase Pierre Bourdieu, perhaps the End of Men discourse is nothing more than making a virtue of a necessity?


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Secretarial Work and Women’s Clubs: Finding Women in the Archive http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2012/11/12/secretarial-work-and-womens-clubs-finding-women-in-the-archive/ Mon, 12 Nov 2012 14:00:30 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=16203 Before Console-ing Passions Boston 2012, I had not considered the necessary connection between the archive, archival research, and feminism. I admit this hesitantly because now it seems like the most obvious connection in the world. I was eager for this enlightenment as I am now deeply entangled (in a good way!) in government and corporate documents from the late 1940s to the early 1950s. Now that I have begun to think through the perils of studying these documents without a feminist perspective, I have a couple of observations and insights I would like to share.

Loyal Secretaries

Anyone who has ever surveyed the papers of the “great men” who populate the archives of NBC, the NAB, and the FCC have surely read countless letters to and from executives, lobbyists, and civil servants. That is admittedly one of the dazzling aspects of doing this work. What can beat finding redacted letters from J. Edgar Hoover to the chairman of the FCC? (Well, finding uncensored letters, but that’s another matter.) What I came to realize, after searching through both mundane and thrilling letters and memos, was that I was reading documents thanks to the labor of female secretaries. I want to know more about these women, but I worry that their usefulness to history is tied solely to the men who employed them.

We have seen this troublesome situation throughout pop culture. I didn’t love the recent film J. Edgar, but I was fascinated by the role of Hoover’s secretary, Helen Gandy. This was the person who most likely typed some of the letters I had come across in my research.

When I watch the film Quiz Show, and I do watch it often, the brief scene in which Robert Kintner’s secretary is rude to Richard Goodwin is a great moment because it reveals her protectiveness of Kintner—over his position and his time. She is listed only as “Kintner’s Secretary” on imdb.com, and I wonder if she was named in the book that the film is based on. Or was she just a convenient tool for Paul Attanasio, the film’s screenwriter? An overweight bitch to throw in as symbol of network haughtiness?

The fraction of letters I have been able to index thus far have been typed up by Helen A. Fruth, secretary to Justin Miller, who steered the NAB through the transition to television. While Fruth is the anonymous typist in many cases, in others she is the author who corresponds with domestic and international figures to coordinate Miller’s schedule and alert them as to his whereabouts. She managed Miller’s professional life and is an agent in the story of the NAB, but she is most certainly sidelined. Her labor and her words imbue every document, but her name isn’t on the archival box. What stories could she tell if her correspondence were housed somewhere?

Women who Watch

Some of the most entertaining documents I have encountered are letters of complaint written by highly motivated viewers. When I was photographing these letters I was fixated on the content—the righteous indignation, the archaic standards, the vitriol—and not the authors. After the post-Console-ing Passions light bulb turned on, I went back through some of the letters that my invaluable research assistant, Catherine Martin, had indexed and transcribed. Once I was able to divvy up the authors according to their sex (many of the women identify themselves as Mrs. Husband’s Full Name), I was able to detect an intriguing pattern: the frequency with which women authored letters in groups.

Formal and informal women’s clubs protested TV content, expressed concerns, or relayed news of their passage of resolutions about TV content. These women enacted their citizenship not only by notifying the FCC of their thoughts on TV but by mobilizing around the issue in the first place. So far I have not encountered this same collective behavior coming from the men. Was it necessary for women to show strength by expressing their opinions in groups? Does the lone female writer (the mother, the housewife) concerned about her children lack the status of a group of women devoting its time to the medium supposedly threatening the moral health of the country? The way in which women confronted the threat is infinitely more interesting to me than how they believed that threat manifested.

As I shape this research project into something whole and coherent, I’m optimistic about the ways in which I can merge the concerns of feminism with the more obscure archival documents that seem to want to exist as neutral and objective artifacts. Where are the women in the industrial and regulatory history of television? They’re there, and now—educated by some of the great presenters at Console-ing Passions 2012—I can see them.


Report From Console-ing Passions 2012 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2012/07/23/report-from-console-ing-passions-2012/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2012/07/23/report-from-console-ing-passions-2012/#comments Mon, 23 Jul 2012 13:14:51 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=14339 The Console-ing Passions conference turned twenty this year. First held in 1992 at the University of Iowa, this year’s host city was Boston. Organized by female professors at four Boston universities (Nina Huntemann at Suffolk University, Suzanne Leonard at Simmons College, Miranda Banks at Emerson College, and Deborah Jaramillo at Boston University), this year’s conference featured a wide mix of topics, including panels about gaming, technology, race, queer theory and pedagogy, celebrity, fandom, media history, television, and many others (see the conference program here). As this select list demonstrates, feminist media studies strives for diversity, inclusion, and rigor.

The opening night plenary demonstrated this diversity in action.[1] The first speaker was Marsha Kinder from the University of Southern California, who presented personal reflections on the development of media scholarship over the past fifty years, tracing her own intellectual journey. María Elena Cepeda of Williams College spoke as an academic activist, calling on attendees to read and more fully acknowledge the innovative work coming out of feminist Latina studies. Bambi Haggins reflected on the work that “exploded her mind,” delivering a loving tribute to the feminist scholars, particularly those of color, who have most inspired her work. Mary Celeste Kearney concluded the plenary presentations with a rousing feminist manifesta, passionately declaring that the stakes for feminist media studies have never been higher and the work has never been more necessary.[2]

Among the values of CP is the way conference presenters engage with difficult questions. During a workshop about teaching race in media classes not dedicated to race and representation, presenters Racquel Gates and Kristen Warner provided practical suggestions for how to incorporate discussions and representations of race more frequently throughout media history and analysis courses. They also admitted to ongoing challenges, like how to account for D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation or how to teach whiteness to an all-white class. These challenges are difficult to solve, but the conversation in that panel was inspiring, making the possibilities for genuine change seem achievable. This conversation was also a stark reminder why academics continue to travel to attend conferences in person, despite the many technological means for virtual participation. While the sharing of research remains valuable, it is the sharing of ideas in dialogue that sustains the conference model in the digital age.

CP is a particularly friendly conference for graduate students. For example, attendees were offered the opportunity to reserve a room in a Suffolk University dorm. Sure, the dorm provoked a series of funny stories of thirty-something women awkwardly climbing into lofted beds, reminding us all that we are no longer 18. For those students or non-tenured faculty without financial support for academic travel, a dorm room at one-third the price of a hotel can be the means through which conference travel becomes economically feasible. The dorm option also conveyed the tone of the conference: friendly, humble, and accessible.

Panels also featured a range of experience levels, with graduate students sitting alongside more established academics. This multi-generational arrangement not only facilitated dialogue between emerging and experienced scholars, but it also assured graduate students that their panels would be well attended. Console-ing Passions also carries a spirit of genuine curiosity and respect, which allows graduate students to present their research in a safe and encouraging setting. There is tremendous value in a conference that allows scholars to experiment, even to fail, and this can only happen in a room in which everyone wants to see you succeed.

As a first-time presenter at CP, I was validated by the questions posed by panel attendees, eager to help me find what should be the next steps of my project. A more senior scholar also helped me work through some questions about how to incorporate interview material, and her gentle guidance was not only apt but also something I really needed to hear at this stage of my research.

If I have one critique, it was that there was not a more pronounced engagement with the past of CP. I would have loved to attend a “20 Years of Console-ing Passions” panel featuring founding board members of CP reflecting on the organization’s original goals and to what extent this conference has helped them achieve those goals. The desire for some sort of comprehensive “state of the industry” discussion was apparent in a panel organized by Northwestern students Leigh Goldstein and Meenasarani Linde Murugan featuring a discussion of Jane Feuer’s Seeing Through the Eighties. At this panel, the attendees and panelists discussed fundamental challenges to our work—from the struggle to account for television history in our research and classrooms, to the ways scholars approach television as an aesthetic and industrial medium. As the panel ended, it was clear that attendees would have sat for an hour more, just to listen to Feuer’s stories and observations about our place within media studies.

As a first-time Console-ing Passions Conference attendee, I learned that CP is more than a conference—it is a revival. Console-ing Passions has found in feminism the ideal way to draw connections across methodological differences and disciplinary distinctions. The mediating power of a dedication to the examination of race, class, and gender unified the efforts of every conference attendee, reminding us that these are conversations we can and must continue outside the walls of Suffolk University.

[1] I was unable to attend the closing night plenary, which boasted an impressive lineup of speakers including feminist author Jessica Valenti; senior writer for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, Michelle Goldberg; social media activist and technology consultant, Deanna Zandt; founder of New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice, La’Tasha Mayes; media historian Allison Perlman; and Boston-based activist Jean Kilbourne as moderator.

[2] Per Alyx Vesey, Mary Kearney’s model for the feminist manifesta was Bikini Kill front woman Kathleen Hanna’s “Riot Grrrl Manifesto,” which was part of that musical movement and has since made its way into women’s studies curriculum.


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Feminist Media Studies: Previewing Console-ing Passions 2012 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2012/07/11/previewing-console-ing-passions-2012/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2012/07/11/previewing-console-ing-passions-2012/#comments Wed, 11 Jul 2012 13:00:28 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=14039

Logo by Hyun-Yeul Lee.

Some years ago when we were both graduate students, we, like many other junior scholars, discovered Console-ing Passions, an encounter that felt a bit like finding an oasis. Here was an organization with a history of supporting feminist media research, founded by a number of feminist scholars we studied and admired, which convened small conferences every other year. The chance some years later to continue this legacy by hosting Console-ing Passions in Boston with our local colleagues Miranda Banks and Deborah Jaramillo is a responsibility we were honored to accept.

The Boston conference, which will take place next week at Suffolk University, holds additional promise and potential: the first ever Console-ing Passions conference occurred at the University of Iowa in 1992, meaning that twenty years had passed since this watershed event. This milestone had the effect of putting our local host group in a mood of reflection. We wondered, what would be the most appropriate way to celebrate CP’s legacy of feminist media research, and to acknowledge how new technologies, delivery systems, and consumption practices have altered what it means to work in this discipline? How to best honor an organization that began focused mainly on television studies, but has expanded to include digital and new media, aural media, and gaming? Finally, we asked, what sort of events would allow us to reflect on where CP has been, and where it is going?

Our opening plenary, “Feminist Media Studies: Pasts, Presents, and Futures” is meant to kickstart such conversations, and features scholars at various points in their careers who will share their impressions of the field’s transformative moments. This group, moderated by two-time CP conference host and Fembot editor Carol Stabile, brings to the conversation expertise in the fields of Latino/Latina media studies, industry studies, feminist theory, digital and children’s media, ethnicity and cultural studies, girl culture, and postfeminism. A glance at the conference program likewise reveals that conversations about media histories are imbued throughout; participants will speak on panels titled “The Future of Feminist Historiography,” “Nostalgia TV,” “Toward a Historical Poetics of TV: Revisiting Seeing Through the Eighties” and “Neoliberalism, Difference and the Posthuman.”

Many of the longstanding interests of CP, known for its focus on gender, sexuality, and identity, feature in the 2012 line up. Speakers will present on online and televisual sexualities, soap operas, lifestyle media, female media makers, fandom, branding, gaming, and stardom. Take a look at the conference in total, however, and it becomes clear that the field of feminist media studies grows increasingly capacious. This year’s CP’s participants, and their proposed presentations, illustrate how feminism lives and thrives in myriad media forms—they are writers, watchers, and listeners, as well as players, designers, bloggers, fans, remixers, and modders.

This belief in media as a vehicle for feminist praxis—and our recognition that such actions are as vital now as ever—also provided the impetus for a keynote plenary, “Female Sexuality, Media Politics, and the War on Women”, a public conversation that will serve as the conference’s culminating event. In response to recent media controversies over women’s health care, and amidst reminders of how troubling conceptualizations of female sexuality and body politics continue to shape national discourse, feminist blogger Jessica Valenti will screen her film The Purity Myth, and well-known feminist media advocate Jean Kilbourne will moderate a panel discussion on social media activism, reproductive justice, and global health politics. They are joined by Daily Beast journalist Michelle Goldberg; technology consultant Deanna Zandt; reproductive justice activist La’Tasha Mayes; and broadcasting and social movement historian Allison Perlman.

As befits this twentieth anniversary year, we are looking forward to using next week’s gathering to take a pulse on the field of feminist studies. Antenna’s new series on Feminist Media Studies is surely an apt locale for such reflections; we look forward to reading your posts, tweets, and updates!


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Feminist Media Studies: (In)visible Labor http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2012/07/01/invisible-labor/ Sun, 01 Jul 2012 15:00:02 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=13592 Over winter break I made fast work of The Larry Sanders Show, which seemed like the kind of program a media studies graduate student should familiarize herself with between semesters. It was an influential program with deep roots in American television history. It shaped the tone and content of HBO’s subsequent original programming, as shows like The Comeback and Curb Your Enthusiasm would later use the single-camera sitcom to mock the social foibles of narcissistic entertainers. It also bears its mark on other comedic properties. Much of the talent that appeared on the show were also involved with Saturday Night Live, Mr. Show, The Daily Show, Arrested Development, and The Sarah Silverman Program. There’s a throughline between Rip Torn’s cantankerous performance as Larry Sanders‘ producer Artie and 30 Rock‘s GE CEO Don Geiss. One could also make connections between Jeffrey Tambor’s sidekick Hank Kingsley and Ricky Gervais’ performance in The Office as vain, needy middle-manager David Brent. And it’s no stretch to read both of Bill Carter’s books on the war for late-night supremacy and make connections between Sanders, David Letterman, Jay Leno, and Conan O’Brien–the show is in on the conversation.

Larry Sanders is also a workplace sitcom, which has its own trajectory that coincides with the development of television as a medium as well as society’s shifting identity politics. Thus what resonated with me more was the show’s attention toward Beverly Barnes (Penny Johnson), Sanders’ efficient, long-suffering personal assistant. Unlike Sanders, who hosts his own show, Barnes’ work–which consists of but is not limited to scheduling meetings, booking reservations, intuiting psychological quirks, and mastering interpersonal relations–is invisible. Her success at work is reflected in Sanders’ performance, not on its own substantial merits. We can only see how integral she is to the process in her absence or in the instances when the show fixes its attention on her own subjectivity. She’s so good at her job that she is often unappreciated by Sanders, who is usually caught up in a personal drama over an ex-wife or social rival to thank her on- or off-screen. The political implications of Barnes’ professional invisibility are further exacerbated by being the only black woman in the office, which she occasionally calls out to her employers’ (white, male) discomfort. She is also associated with the telephone, technology that often symbolizes women’s denigrated labor at home or in the office.

Mad Men–primarily a workplace melodrama that uses advertising as a metaphor for creating television–concluded its fifth season a few weeks ago. SCDP hired its first black administrative assistant after a racist prank backfired and forced the agency to show its hand. Dawn Chambers (Teyonah Parris) may be good at running Don Draper’s desk but, in contrast to Barnes and Larry Sanders, even the show (purposely?) has little interest in exploring her acumen or the pride she takes in her work, much less her social life. However, exploring the invisible labor of its white female principals is something the show was interested in from the beginning. In a previous season, copy writer Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) reminds a free-lancer that office manager Joan Harris Holloway (Christina Hendricks) runs the place, which (once again) gets eclipsed by her figure and presumed status as “just” a secretary. Olson fires him for sketching a cartoon of Holloway performing a sex act on someone who essentially shares her job but is assumed to be her boss. Holloway reminds Olson that they can always make another drawing. They can also turn you out if it’s decided to be in the company’s best interest.

As a feminist media scholar, I am interested in mapping out the professional identities of women who bring music to other mediums as supervisors, licensors, booking agents, and composers. Music became a research interest as it developed out of my own experiences as a fan, musician, deejay, blogger, and Girls Rock Camp volunteer. Though my efforts have been recognized, they have also received a fair amount of derision or condescension (i.e., Rock Camp is “cute”)–if they were noticed at all. So I am invigorated by production scholars’ tactical explorations of below-the-line labor and production identities that blur the line in an effort to offer up such work for critical inquiry. I am excited to be in a field that takes gender and labor seriously, as evident by Cinema Journal devoting a section of short essays on the subject in a forthcoming issue.

Yet in approaching this work, I am also reminded of a colleague who invoked Foucault in seminar last semester. Borrowing from his musings on the pantopticon, she posited that visibility is a trap. Thus when we go about the work of making production environments, reception practices, texts, and contexts visible and audible, we should be mindful of how we are framing the work behind sight and sound, the political implications behind this work, and the responsibility placed on us to challenge that work rather than essentialize or distort it through our own (mis)perceptions.

I realize the potential clumsiness of using two fictional characters as illustrative examples of invisible media labor. Johnson and Hendricks are actresses and therefore firmly above the line. Studying representation was my way into media studies and watching these characters confront and negotiate racist, sexist, and misogynist workplace behavior while conducting personal lives influenced my research. But the laborers we interview aren’t always working from a script. So in designing research projects, conducting interviews, sketching thick descriptions, and preparing manuscripts, we must always remember that in our quest for visibility we must think beyond the page and screen.


Feminist Game Studies http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2012/03/20/feminist-game-studies/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2012/03/20/feminist-game-studies/#comments Tue, 20 Mar 2012 15:00:34 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=12504 It isn’t difficult to find feminist game studies, or feminist gamers. The reputation of misogyny in video game culture, lack of women and racial minorities in the industry, the perpetuation of player stereotypes in games marketing and the popular press, and the dearth of non-white, female, or queer characters in games has provided plenty of fodder for feminist analysis and criticism. But over the past five years or so, we have seen significant changes in video games, and many of the “truths” I just listed are no longer so. In light of this and prompted by Elana Levine’s inaugural post for Antenna’s feminist media studies series, I offer a few thoughts on what is feminist game studies.

Feminist game studies examines how gender, and its intersections with race, class, sexuality, etc., is produced, represented, consumed and practiced in and through digital games. Analyses of the representation of gender in games constitutes a significant portion of feminist work, a sub-field of which could be called Croft-studies. Like critical analysis surrounding Madonna in the 90s, Lara Croft from the hit series Tomb Raider attracted much popular and scholarly press when introduced in 1996. At the time, Tomb Raider was one among a few games featuring a lead female character. Like Madonna, Lara’s 34D-cup breasts and double-fisted guns sparked a similar debate about female sexual empowerment, the male gaze and objectification.

While still under-represented in the game world, leading female characters are far more prevalent today, and offer gamers a wider variety of play experiences. Male characters are (relatively) more complex, and offer more diverse depictions of masculinity. These contemporary representations require as much feminist analysis as Croft, if not more so, because so many more people engage with and create systems of meaning for negotiating this symbolic material. Furthermore, feminist game studies can offer a corrective to the seductive discourse of postfeminism, which has often dominated critiques of gender in the post-Croft era.

The popularity of gaming on mobile and other portable devices has broadened where and when people game. It is no longer accurate (if it ever was) or useful to think of games and game spaces as primarily male domains. Those spaces are far more fluid, literally traveling between devices and between home, public, work and back again. How are gamers navigating leisure and work time when they play Words with Friends at the office on their iPhone or Uncharted 3 on their PS Vita in between child care and household chores?

Related to the above, the rise of so-called “casual” gaming has significantly expanded both the market for games and the industrial practices of game production. During the casual games revolution, the traits associated with casual games – who played them, what constituted casual, and how the games were made – were defined against the masculine “hardcore” world of games, and thus became (like soap operas for television) the feminized version of video games. Nintendo’s Wii, also a technology feminized through popular and industrial discourse, contributed to this bifurcation between hardcore and casual.

One area of feminist research I think is particularly interesting focuses on how gamer behavior online performs homophobic, sexist and racist hate speech. The virtual spaces where this behavior thrives exists on privately owned servers that operate as quasi-public social gathering spaces and are occupied by hundreds of thousands of players. How is behavior regulated (or not), what are the ethics of online spaces, and who is defining the rules of behavior in these public/private domains? How can online spaces be created that are safe and inviting for racial minorities, women, and GLBTQ gamers?

Feminist perspectives on video game production are a small, but growing area of research; most of it is focused on the lack of women in the industry. Mia Consalvo has written about the industry phenomenon “crunch time” – mandated extended workday hours for weeks or months on end. Through interviews with women game designers, Consalvo provides a rare look at quality of life issues that deter many women from staying in or even entering the industry. Crunch time controversies like the Rockstar and EA Spouse incidents, expose the quality of life issues vexing the industry and how these industrial practices affect the familial sphere. Feminist production and organizational ethnographies can shed light on these internal dynamics, providing strategies and policies for creating family-friendly workplaces and healthy work-life balance.

Thus far the small amount of production studies has focused on North American, white-collar creative labor, and further investigation is needed there in order to deepen our understanding of how gender, race and sexuality, etc. are produced, marketed and distributed via games. But other, less glamorous areas of labor should not be ignored, such as the hardware manufacturing and assembly of the platforms and peripherals upon which games are played. Feminist game studies scholars can build upon existing feminist perspectives about ICTs, particularly in the global South, where the majority of video game hardware is manufactured, in order to understand the role of globalization in production.

These musings are far from a comprehensive collection of all the past and current work in feminist game studies. There is much happening and much to be done, some of which you can hear at the various games studies panels on the program at SCMS this week. I hope that the feminist media studies series at Antenna is a place where we can continue to find and encourage feminist game studies as well.


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Compulsory Ultrasound Audiences and Feminism http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2012/02/27/compulsory-ultrasound-audiences-and-feminism/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2012/02/27/compulsory-ultrasound-audiences-and-feminism/#comments Mon, 27 Feb 2012 13:30:29 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=12294 Earlier this week, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell withdrew support for a bill that would require women seeking abortions to undergo transvaginal ultrasounds. McDonnell backed down due to public outrage over the idea that the GOP (you know, the party who don’t like government intervention in people’s lives … only their vaginas) felt it had the right to enforce a medically unnecessary, highly invasive procedure that is somewhat akin to state-sanctioned rape, and that – hypocritically for a proposal from the party opposed to state healthcare – turns doctors into servants of the state before they are servants of their patients. McDonnell stepping away from the bill might sound like a victory for rationality, but it’s hardly a resounding one, as the bill seems fated to end up looking like several other ultrasound laws, “only” requiring an external, abdominal ultrasound.

Given the disgusting and very literal invasion of women’s bodies that this bill represents, it may seem somewhat crass and/or beside the point to use the ultrasound bill to discuss audience theory, but as I’ll argue, what this bill and its abdominal-only brethren say about women as audiences and as citizens is every bit as disturbing as the acts of physical invasion that have justifiably come under fire. Virginia’s Republican Party didn’t seem to care about the means (the ultrasound), only the ends (women as audiences of ultrasound pics), but those ends require as much criticism as the repulsive means.

Advocates of such bills argue that the ultrasound will offer a woman “more information” so that she can make “a reasoned choice,” but what they’re clearly relying on is the idea that when a woman sees a picture of the fetus, she will fall in love with it, maternal instincts will magically kick in, and she’ll now see it as a human being that needs her protection and a “Mommy’s Sweetie” layette from Babies ‘R’ Us. This is a remarkably naïve notion of how audiences work. Or, rather, it’s third person effects in operation, wherein one’s own reaction to an item of media is trusted to be sophisticated, whereas a worried-about other’s is not. Here, women are imagined to be that third person (itself posting the normative “us” as men), and to be a simpler audience, one whose hormones and feminine frailty lead to having more reliably passive, simplistic, and easily-engineered responses to media.

Let’s get something straight, though: ultrasounds don’t necessarily make a fetus look all that human-like. Here’s an example (published with approval of the mother):

Now, maybe your Rorschach-reading skills are better than mine, or maybe you’re more adoring of all things baby, and you therefore look at the above picture and see a cute little baby. Personally, it looks like an alien to me. Republican ultrasound bills believe, though, that women will all be overcome by the babyness of such images, and they don’t consider that maybe a woman will look at such a picture and think of her fetus as even less of a human being, as intruding and unwanted.

The bill therefore seems as well-considered as might one that requires women seeking abortions to read a poem from a Hallmark New Baby card (“Babies are a blessing …”). Or perhaps anyone seeking a divorce will soon need first to attend statewide viewing sessions of When Harry Met Sally? Or maybe Gitmo will soon start a program of showing photos of happy picnicking families with Labrador puppies to suspected terrorists as a way to “turn” them.

But the bills don’t just betray a belief in women as simple audiences; they go a step further in encouraging the state to take advantage of the supposedly doltish female audience and engineer their responses. The Virginia bill came under heavy fire (as it should have) because of how physically invasive it was. But behind all the ultrasound bills is the idea that the government could or should determine and design women’s media exposure, not simply in the tried-and-true fashion of censoring this or that, but by dictating that they must look at certain images. Welcome to Clockwork Orange. Programs for drunk drivers and others found guilty of certain crimes have long paved a path of requiring audiencehood, but we’re seeing an expansion of said path to allow for forced media consumption by those whose life choices worry the state. The notion behind such bills is that the state will determine what media women need to watch, listen to, or look at (once again, by the party that says it doesn’t like government involvement in people’s lives).

In doing so, the bills attempt to stigmatize behavior that isn’t illegal, but that the GOP would like to see as illegal, thereby creating a second tier of citizens who haven’t actually violated any standing law but whose current actions supposedly require monitoring and then disciplining through media exposure. They tell us that one group of citizens needs extra surveillance and attention. No surprise, given the misogyny of many other bills and statements of late, that this group is women (as rendered clear by bills designed satirically to instead put men in the cross-hairs, such as a Georgian proposal to criminalize vasectomies, for instance, or another that would require that men seeking Viagra be subjected to prostate exams). And thus while the conception of how state, media, female audience member, and citizen are related that undergirds this bill may seem of less immediate importance to us as feminists than the invasive nature of the procedure, I’d pose that this conception needs as much resistance and criticism inasmuch as it opens up yet more ways to legalize women’s inferior status. The belief in the passive audience isn’t “just” a theory – here it’s become the precept to repressive policy.


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When Finding Feminism Means Creating Your Own Space http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2012/02/25/when-finding-feminism-means-creating-your-own-space/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2012/02/25/when-finding-feminism-means-creating-your-own-space/#comments Sat, 25 Feb 2012 22:28:29 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=12291 Last week, Elana Levine kicked off a new feminist media studies column here at Antenna with poignant thoughts about re-centering the focus on social struggle in our investigation of media and culture. Pointing to the development of postfeminist perspectives and masculinist discourses of legitimization, Levine raised apt questions about the potential displacement of feminist concerns in media studies. As a graduate student and young scholar in the midst of developing my own research agenda and learning to navigate the intersectional nature of my identity, my research interests, and this lifestyle we call the academic profession, Levine’s introduction to Antenna’s feminist media studies column resonated strongly with me, particularly the notion that “feminism is not just an approach one might take. It’s kind of the point.”

I was asked to contribute to this new column a piece about co-founding the Feminist Media Studies Collective here at UW-Madison, a reading/writing group that Mary Beltran and I started last spring.  Like every department experiences at one point or another, the Media & Cultural Studies program here at UW was in a stage of extended transition; just as we were hiring new faculty, others were announcing their departure – including Mary, my advisor. Amid this transition, the need for a consistent space to sustain scholarly attention to identity, gender, and media in our department became apparent. Mary and I decided to do more than just discuss the need for such a space – we created one.

We envisioned the UW Feminist Media Studies Collective as a reading group that could foster discussions about studying the intersectional nature of social power and negotiating such struggles in our own daily lives, including conversations about scholarship, teaching, and pedagogy. In addition, we wanted a place where members could share and receive feedback on each other’s work in a way that encouraged questions and new perspectives. With monthly meetings, the Feminist Media Studies Collective would provide an important supplementary space that could maintain the visibility of feminism in media studies. Our mission in starting such a group was more than just recognizing the place of feminism in media studies – our mission was also to enact the feminist practice of community building, consciousness raising, and claiming one’s space from which to speak.  In other words, starting a UW Feminist Media Studies Collective was not just about feminism “as an approach one might take,” as Levine said, but feminism “was kind of the point” all together.

Now in its first full year, the Collective is starting to get off the ground. We’ve met and discussed topics ranging from postfeminism to gendered labor practices in academia. Open to everyone in the department, our meetings have brought together a range of graduate students and department faculty. As well as valuable dialogue, the Collective has also enabled many beneficial moments of mentorship among peers. Although sometimes I admittedly worry that the Collective might unintentionally isolate feminist media studies as an approach, it’s certainly meeting Mary’s and my goals to ensure a space where it can continue to inform media studies as a whole.  So far, the Collective is functioning as an important space that reinvigorates a focus on identity and social power that we then take back to broader conversations, whether they are in coursework or at conferences.

In sharing my experience with the UW Feminist Media Studies Collective, I hope to share ideas and sentiment about the importance of feminism in media studies. I also share this experience to remind us that no matter who we are or where we are in our careers, we can each make a difference. In no way do I discount the existence of larger, structural inequalities and the need for wide-ranging change, but sometimes we forget that our immediate surroundings are important places where we can actually bring change to life.  Perhaps I am just a young idealist stubbornly maintaining hope in our ability to make a better world, but to me, there is just too much at stake for us to forget that even at some small level, each of us can do something.

I share this experience, too, to say that our field remains a powerful political site, even for those of us who maybe didn’t identify as a feminist first and a media scholar later, as Levine & Nina Huntemann put it. I was raised by a single, working mother who – as one of the few successful women able to carve out a career in the male-dominated field of hotel construction – served as a powerful role model for achievement and equality. But I didn’t identify as a feminist until my undergraduate years as a Radio-TV-Film major at UT-Austin, when I took my first feminist media studies class: the Senior Fellows honors course, “Women, Feminism, and Media,” taught by Sharon Marie Ross. It’s no exaggeration to say that Ross’s class changed my life; reading Angela McRobbie, Julie D’Acci, Patricia Hill Collins, and Judith Butler for the first time put so many familiar media experiences (watching Cagney & Lacey, Murphy Brown, & Designing Women with my mother, always imagining my future as woman who wore a suit, feeling totally inadequate reading Seventeen magazine) into a completely new perspective that made so much sense. It was like going to the optometrist when you thought your vision was fine, but putting your face on that machine and discovering there was a lens that made everything so much clearer. I had taken other media studies classes in the RTF major, but Ross’s class offered a crucial space for me to understand and develop my feminist sensibility, to take that lens and see the rest of my world through it.

Though I spent five years working in the advertising and communications industry after college, that feminist lens is what brought me back to graduate school.  This lens isn’t something I can take on or off – it informs my entire worldview. It’s a worldview that values social, political, and economic equality for all people; a worldview that believes in consciousness-raising and community building, that believes in the power of everyday life as an activist space and the need to enact agency and take up spaces from which marginalized voices can be heard. I wholeheartedly agree with Levine that choosing a career focused on the study of media as a site of cultural struggle is itself a feminist act. I often look to my research and teaching as the ways I put my politics into practice, but “practicing feminist politics” can be more than just research and writing. Finding the feminism in media studies can sometimes also mean finding feminism in ourselves and enacting our own agency to make change, no matter how small it may seem.


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