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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.