Feminist Media: Because “Gratitude Never Radicalized Anybody”

When I think about how feminist media plays a role in my understanding of feminism today, I am immediately reminded of something Susan B. Anthony once said of her work in the suffrage movement: “Our job is not to make young women grateful.  It is to make them ungrateful so they keep going. Gratitude never radicalized anybody.”

Current feminist media, among many other things, demonstrates the “ungratefulness” of feminists today, in that it sends a message that says: “These are the things that have been accomplished, now what’s the next step?”

The media plays such a dynamic role in our current society and is, as writer and director of the documentary Miss Representation, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, puts it, “this huge pedagogical force of communication” that is “dictating our cultural values and our gender norms.”

"Look good in all you do."
This advertisement sends a message that says: “Even if you’re being beaten by your male partner, at least your hair looks good.”
Image credit: gender-focus.com

In an article by L.S. Kim in the Fall 2007 issue of Ms. Magazine titled “Do We Still Need Feminist Media?” the words of Carole Simpson, an African-American woman and former weekend anchor for ABC’s World News Tonight, describe a time when the news was entirely decided upon and controlled by men who were usually “white, middle-aged and upper-middle-class” and how “the news they presented was not in the public interest, but in white men’s interest.”

Feminist media pushes against these predetermined positions of power and challenges the messages that are relayed in the media by, as Kim so eloquently puts it, “providing a gender lens through which to view the news.”

In my high school feminism course, we’ve taken a look at several pieces of feminist media, including the Spring/Summer 2012 and Fall 2012 issues of Ms. Magazine, the documentary Gloria:  In Her Own Words by Peter Kunhardt, and the film Miss Representation by Newsom.

This was my first time encountering feminist media, and although I’ve only brushed the tip of the iceberg, these magazines and films have had a profound impact on my understanding of today’s feminism.

The cover of Ms. Magazine Spring/Summer 2012.
Image credit: Ms. Magazine

In the Spring/Summer 2012 Ms. Magazine, there is an article titled “Game Changer by Erin Buzuvis that celebrates the 40th anniversary of Title IX, which states that “boys and girls should have equal opportunity in every aspect of their public-school education”; the article also looks at the challenges that the law still faces.

The article calls for a moment to “cheer how far we’ve come” and discusses some of the achievements of women advocates, such as the passage of the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988.  However, it does not leave the matter at that, and demonstrates the refusal to relent that is so important in today’s feminism.  It calls women to action, and asserts that “Title IX’s success is due to the external vigilance of the law’s supporters” and reminds us that “this vigilance must continue in order for the law to address persistent sex discrimination, and to guard against unwarranted sex segregation.”

It is clear that although progress has been made, this is no time for our strength and persistence to waver.

Meanwhile, Kunhardt’s documentary Gloria: In Her Own Words, gave me the opportunity to become acquainted with the lifelong work of activist Gloria Steinem, whose contributions to the feminist movement I was completely unfamiliar with prior to taking this feminism course my senior year in high school.

The movie poster for Gloria: In her Own Words
Image credit: HBO

Although its main focus is on exploring Steinem’s life, the documentary also serves as an introduction to feminism, as Shelby Knox writes in her article, 

“the film is a good introduction to, or reminder of, the entrenched sexism our foresisters had to battle to make sure we’re pretty much unaware that other injustices—like men-only bars and segregated job listings—ever even existed.”

The film works to both inform and inspire, and left me with a feeling of empowerment that tugged at my heart.  It not only looks to the past to examine how far Steinem and all feminists have come, but it also serves as a motivational piece, and reminds us of the journey that lies ahead.

Newsom’s Miss Representation is an engaging and accurate documentary through which we can examine the ways that mass media sexually objectifies and leads to the cultural trivialization of women.  In it, well-known media personalities such as Katie Couric discuss how “the media can be an instrument of change.  It can maintain the status quo and reflect the views of the society, or it can awaken people and change minds.”

The poster for Miss Representation.
Image credit: Miss Representation

Through the use of statistics and feminist analysis, this film acknowledges that the media is an increasingly powerful means of relaying messages to the masses.  From it, I’ve learned that as a society, we will not make any progress if , as Jane Fonda said, “what gets put out there that creates our consciousness is determined by men” alone.

Instead, feminist media is, in the words of Rosario Dawson, “creating new leaders” that are “going to not look like how they always did; an older, white male” but that instead they are “going to look like a woman, and they’re going to look like people of color.”

Rather than lingering on the fact that women have begun to have a much more prominent presence in the media, Miss Representation asks the “what’s next?” question I posed earlier.  Today’s feminism refuses to settle.  Although women have made huge gains since the women’s suffrage movement, feminist media such as Miss Representation reminds us that although we have won a few battles, the war is far from over.

13 thoughts on “Feminist Media: Because “Gratitude Never Radicalized Anybody”

  1. This blog was incredibly powerful and informative. I too, had not heard of Gloria Steinem until this class nor had I ever seen a feminist magazine, let alone knew one existed. It’s a shame we’ve only become aware of it relatively later on, after we have gone through most of adolescence, however I can only hope Ms. Magazine can reach the younger generation earlier – so then they can view things in a positive and critical manner.

    The advertisement you posted of the women who had been beaten, but still had “good looking hair” was disgustingly disturbing. It doesn’t only pose the message that being abused is fine, but also poses the message that the abusive man is successful (in his clean, crisp suit) and that the women is hopeless and “lesser” than the man.

    The effect Miss Representation and Ms. Magazine had on you in inspiring, and also informing. The fact that feminist movements have come a long way and accomplished some amazing thing is fantastic, however, it’s still important that we remember that we have a very long way to go. As you wrote: “Although women have made huge gains since the women’s suffrage movement, feminist media such as Miss Representation reminds us that although we have won a few battles, the war is far from over.”

    I could not agree more.

    Great post!

  2. You did a fantastic job recapping the material we were given in class. It was nice to here you quote so many fabulous people but then expand upon it in such a powerful way as well.

    “It is clear that although progress has been made, this is no time for our strength and persistence to waver.” I thought this was one of the most powerful lines of your blog. You encompassed the idea that we are not done and not even close. This is the time for us to fight back, acknowledging the problem is the first step.

    It was also great hear that now you have been exposed to Ms. Magazine and Gloria Steinem, both being quite amazing and inspiring things.

    Keep up the good work!

  3. I agree with Eliza, as this post was indeed informative. It provided me with a enough knowledge for me to read the post, and not be lost. I really appreciated the spotlight that you put on feminist media, past and present.

    The last sentence of the post really struck me, as it is something that I have also believed for quite some time. When you wrote:

    “Today’s feminism refuses to settle. Although women have made huge gains since the women’s suffrage movement, feminist media such as Miss Representation reminds us that although we have won a few battles, the war is far from over.” It further sunk in the fact that certain battles have been won, but the war is far from over.

    I saw a photo on Tumblr in which many advances were shown in different fields between 1912 and 2012. Every photo was different, except the one for women’s rights. Both the photos for 1912 and 2012 showed women holding signs protesting for their rights. That is where we step in. We are the new leaders in feminist media that need to make sure that more advances in this field are made.

  4. This is a fantastic piece. I really enjoyed your reflection on feminism and, as a professor and feminist, I’m so pleased that you took the time to share your experience of being introduced to the subject via these wonderful documentaries. Bravo!

  5. It is just wonderful that you’ve shared your experience being introduced to feminism via these fantastic documentaries. As a professor and feminist, I’m quite pleased to read this reflection of yours. Bravo!

  6. This blog post is incredible. Not only is your language clear and to the point but you successfully manages to use great historic events, you successfully bended them with your own ideas and backed those ideas up with proof from the articles. A great example of this was when you mentioned the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988 and commented that “although progress has been made, this is no time for our strength and persistence to waver.”

    I also really liked the format of your article it was not too long and it kept me engaged. And that you not only mentioned different feminist media as Miss Representation but you also talked about why, to you and to our society its important that this feminist media is out there speaking for itself and opening the eyes of so many people you said it yourself, “Feminist media pushes against these predetermined positions of power and challenges the messages that are relayed in the media by, as Kim so eloquently puts it, ”providing a gender lens through which to view the news.”” overall I was very inspired by your blog post Great job!

  7. I like how you ended the post by saying “Rather than lingering on the fact that women have begun to have a much more prominent presence in the media, Miss Representation asks the ‘what’s next?'” I feel like this is an appropriate way to end because we can spend all our time analyzing the situation but only till we tackle the problem then it will just continue. The solution is the next step I wouldn’t want people to walk away feeling like it was the end, and there was just nothing we could do about it.

  8. I agree with Eliza that the advertisement is really disturbing. I really don’t understand why people think this would even help sell a product, let alone why people would think that this is acceptable. The man has an aggressive look on his face and is holding what looks to me like her necklace in his hands while she sits helplessly on the couch but, at least her hair looks good? At the top of the advertisement, it says, “look good in all you do”. So even if you are beaten, if I go to this salon “it will all be okay”. It seems like they are completely downplaying the truths about domestic abuse.

  9. You found a great way to start out your excellent blog with Susan B. Anthony’s quote! And as others have said, it is very informative too. I also like the line “From it, I’ve learned that as a society, we will not make any progress if , as Jane Fonda said, ‘what gets put out there that creates our consciousness is determined by men’ alone.” Today, most of the media is created and put to the public due to what the men want while completely ignoring what women want. It was to the “white men’s interest” that created the media that Carole Simpson described. Women should have the right to be in charge of the media just as men do. The media should have no dominant owner because media is about us all.

  10. Firstly, i just want to say that I was so enthralled by your title! I agree that “Feminist media pushes against these predetermined positions of power and challenges the messages that are relayed in the media by, as Kim so eloquently puts it, ”providing a gender lens through which to view the news.”” I think that feminist media is so important because it only makes up the smallest fraction of circulating media. Otherwise, people will never be aware of what mainstream media is doing to them.

  11. Amyrah, your blog post was very well-written and pretty informative, slightly beyond what we have already done in the feminism class. You included quite a lot of history, which many of the other blog posts did not even attempt to include. I like that you also made clear that we actually have come far as a society from the way women were treated in the past, but we still aren’t quite equal. Your blog post was not incredibly long, it was to the point, and I felt myself pretty engaged throughout the whole piece. Great job! Keep up the the good work!

  12. Fantastic post! I love how you pointed out the “ungratefulness” of feminism, that as far as we have come, we should always keep looking forward to see how we can do better. I think living where we do (In America, in New York) gives us a different view of the world, and as a result people are often dismissive when I bring up feminism, as though it is something that is either unimportant or unnecessary to talk about. But as you showed in your piece, we still have so far to go. There are still ads like the one you posted of an abused woman, and the many others on this blog, from violence towards women, to slut-shaming, to advancements of stereotypes and prejudices. We should always be grateful, but we should never stop trying to create awareness and change. Great job!

  13. I always have a blast reading your blog posts. Even though the feminist movement has made a ton of progress, the big overarching question that has to be asked is “what’s the next step?” I can honestly say that while I was growing, and I bet this is true for a lot of people, I always saw “white, middle-aged and upper-middle-class” men with the suits and the power in their hands. I never questioned it because I did not think it mattered. When you go and talk about the multiple pieces of media that made this truth a reality, I can really relate. Even when I was beginning to have a much stronger interest in the political system, I thought feminists were crazy because there were more women in politics than there were 20 years ago so why were women till complaining? Thanks to this class, and all of the links you have up I am now aware of the true problem. Unfortunately, I am only 1 guy out of 49% of the world’s male population, which is a problem. You raise the great question of what’s the next step in the movement and it really fills me with hope that we can work our way towards a brighter future in which girls and boys have equal opportunity and equal representation.

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