All The World’s a Stage: Politics in Mass Media

political media tvAlthough many mass media texts and channels are more overtly political than others, it can be argued that all media is intrinsically political. Each media creator, text and channel chooses a form and method for the tone and representation of its content, and thus defines its political significance; even a renouncing of political position makes clear the creator’s political stance: that they deem politics irrelevant or inappropriate in the given context. With this in mind, the increase of mass media’s reach around the globe has profound implications for the influence of ideas and ideologies that affect our global governance in real terms. It is unsurprising, then, that the debate over whether we shape the media, or whether the media shapes us, rages on – and it is interesting in this context to note the dynamics between media that concerns politics as its primary topic, and media that contains implicit political ideas.

 

Alongside the developments in technology that have allowed mass media to be almost instantly and globally accessible, has been a commoditisation of the vast majority of mass media (i.e. media outlets are run as a business; texts and channels are bought by an owner and sold to a consumer), the implications of which on the political economy of the media are many and significant with regards to the dissemination of political ideas, and the integrity of mass media to function as a tool in favour of the majority. News’ valued objectivity is compromised and a lack of accountability arises when an individual (or small groups of individuals) hold so much power over the communication of ideas throughout the global village. Certain political ideas are favoured, and some are suppressed, depending on the political ideologies of the owners of mass media outlets – not only in news, but in entertainment.

 

Interestingly, as the global reach of mass media has increased, political engagement and awareness has not necessarily been impacted positively. Of late, there have been record lows of voter turnout, a general distrust of the integrity of politicians and the democratic process, and a cynicism around the integrity of political media reporting itself. This has gone hand in hand with huge cuts to the journalism industry and public arts funding bodies that have rendered investigative journalism and media almost non-existent in the mass market, and an increase in 24 hour news media and information on demand that has left fewer workers with far more work than previously.

 

News

Arguably the most significant debates around political news media of late have been the ethical implications of ownership of vast numbers of news outlets by media conglomerates, and the challenge to them by grassroots organizations and social media. On one hand, the news landscape is dominated by corporate news organizations, and on the other many believe sites such as Twitter propose a significant challenge via alternative means (for many, Twitter’s user-generated front end obscures its corporate status.) With the introduction of 24-hour news channels that bring a constant stream of global political news to television and computer screens, and the rise in popularity of the Internet as a news aggregation tool, there is also a dominance of competing information and competition to be the first to break political stories. There is a contradiction in the depth and intensity of these non-stop media feeds, in that while the speed and coverage with which citizens are introduced to political information technically increases, an intensity of competition and insecurity is created that prevents lucidity of information, and attention to a full spectrum of occurrences. Alistair Campbell argued that during his tenure in Blair’s cabinet, this directly increased the perceived need for political spin within the government, for which he was responsible, since the demand for political information from journalists became incessant. As a result of the new political news climate, Campbell and his team would have to go into overdrive, further obscuring any organic insight into Britain’s political workings.

 

The ethical arguments concern the relationships between politicians and media barons, the financial framework of news corporations, and the culture of journalistic methods. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation owns hundreds of news outlets on all continents, ranging from television news channels to magazines to newspapers. The global political influence of what is communicated by his outlets, then, is huge. Murdoch publicly maintains that he dictates no editorial line in his papers, yet he is long reported to have had private business meetings with numerous political leaders, and all but one of his newspapers maintained a pro-war line before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Murdoch is the most well known example of this media monopolisation, but he is simply one example of the people who have created these ethical issues in the contemporary landscape of media ownership.

 

Entertainment

Long commoditised, entertainment media has always had a myopic but inextricable relationship with political content. Mass entertainment media could be said to exist on a spectrum of political engagement, ranging from biting satire at one end to fantastical escapism at the other. Again, it must be noted that all stories, representations, and methods of creation contain political values even, and especially when, they efface overt political discussion or engagement.

 

Mass entertainment media on television, in film, in print and now online most traditionally concerns the individual narrative at its core, with a backdrop of spectacle, comedy, romance, violence, or all of the above, to increase its impact. It has also traditionally been, and continues to be, seen as an escape from ‘reality’ and thus a rejection of engagement in favour of respite, though the moralistic values of self-governance and choice ethics of many individual narratives in fact impart some powerful political messages on unsuspecting audiences. (Indeed, were mass entertainment media not so instructive and meaningful, there may be less mass consumption of it.)

 

Campaigning media

Documentaries are perhaps the most overt, and recently massively popular, form of politically engaged and campaigning media. Since Michael Moore’s overtly political Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) became the highest-grossing documentary of all time, and his previous film Bowling for Columbine (2002) won critical acclaim and wide distribution, political documentaries have been climbing for the same heights of box office success as features. Bowling for Columbine and Alex Gibney’s Inside Job (2010), concerning America’s fatal relationship to gun ownership and the individual perpetrators of the economic crisis of 2008 respectively, were both awarded the Best Documentary Oscar, and grossed millions of dollars. Neither shyed away from confrontation, and while lacking an explicit call to arms for specific political action, they certainly made their values towards these political disasters clear. Backed by large companies in the mainstream film industry, both received global distribution and engaged audiences en masse.

 

Some of these films have affected real political change – since the exhibition of Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish (2013), a feature documentary about the violent behaviour of captured orcas at theme parks such as SeaWorld, stocks in SeaWorld have dropped dramatically and animal-rights campaigners have heavily promoted and employed the film as a tool in their fight for change in the industry. This has been dubbed ‘the Blackfish effect.’

 

That said, many of these documentaries specifically refrain from laying down an explicit political objective or trajectory that they would like to see post-theatre (in fact, Blackfish did not call explicitly, only implicitly, for the closure of or withdrawal of funds from SeaWorld by investors.) Many campaigning films that do designate explicit political objectives highlight the individual choices of the consumer as a way to affect change (see The End of the Line (2009). In this way, many documentaries can be seen as manifestations of the liberal political contexts from which they come, commoditizing their political messages in the same way that they themselves are bought and sold to survive in the industry, rather than arguing for fundamental or radical political change to the crises or abuses with which they are concerned.

 

However, due to the rise of the internet, standardised and portable media equipment, and advanced user-centred technology, many grassroots media organizations have thrived in the climate of peer-to-peer connection that have been afforded them. In particular, film collectives and co-ops can organize to produce various screen media, then distribute and exhibit them through sites such as YouTube and Vimeo at little to no cost. The labour issues involved are still difficult to navigate since film production is highly time-intensive and funding is sparse, so many radical filmmakers who cannot find a voice or recognition within the industry have pursued creative ventures outside of regular paid work (as has been the artists’ tradition).

 

Similarly, the rise of blogging platforms and self-publishing networks, not to mention social media, has allowed for independent journalism by all, and thus mass media can be brought to the masses by the masses. The drawback of this, of course, is that the tools and means of media creation are now so accessible that the volume of mass media content that is available is dense, nebulous and unregulated; being heard amongst the cacophony is increasingly difficult. The surfacing of quality journalism and filmmaking is in constant rotation and whether it will ever become financially sustainable for individual creators is yet to be seen. However, the aesthetic of online media has changed alongside developments, so that a rougher aesthetic will be accepted where it wouldn’t in mainstream mass media industries, if its content touches on a popular or relavant topic, or has a particularly appealing style.

 

New media

Currently, the Internet and the new media associated with it (such as social media networks, user-generated media, creative development tools, online software subscription, media on demand, etc.) is changing at such a rapid rate, it defies definition. What is true at the time of writing is unlikely to remain timely. What is certain is that the future of media, political mass media, and the politics of, and within, the mass media is potentially radically transformative for society. There is vast opportunity in this new technology and culture of media for increased transparency of information, political behaviour, and political organisation, especially in the context of investigative political journalism around the world. Corporations who currently own and control the mass media, who have an interest in disallowing political upheaval and social change, however, also have an opportunity to colonise cyberspace in the same way they have done the traditional mass media industries.

 

The vastness of the current sphere of both traditional vertically-integrated and burgeoning horizontally-integrated mass media perhaps dilutes its political implications. The nebulous nature of human societies across the global village prevents one accessible and agreeable message from touching everyone, even before it is impacted by the dominance of huge media corporations and their relationships to political and financial elites. If we can engage with new media aggressively and purposefully, rather than passively, we might well see a new politics emerge, and soon.

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Does social media really encourage political action for Gaza?

social-media-and-politics

Carl Miller of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media asserts that “para-political activity is a potent and growing phenomenon”, and if you’ve ever even glanced at social media, you’ll agree. But, note the use of the prefix para-, and his following assertion: “as politics in front of our eyes seems to be business as usual, an earthquake is rumbling under Westminster.” Is it really the case that the likes of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are galvanising and facilitating a post-postmodern world of political organisation? Will it, or has it already, changed the lives of those who use it to the extent that our future leaders might come to organize and communicate in ways that can’t be racketeered? And in a week in which reports of the Gaza conflict saturate the online mediascape, can it be the case that social media is important and effective enough to in fact make an impact on conflicts like these?

 

The term ‘social media’ (SM) is often a truncation to describe the now omni-accompanying digital platforms via which we chat blithely to tenuous contacts and acquaintances. The phrase is synonymous specifically with Facebook and Twitter, the profile-based platforms from which the majority of SM users broadcast and receive information, and are largely a deluge of faces, frivolity and thrillingly small animals. SM’s much broader network of tools can be underestimated; the term encompasses a vast amount of ‘Web 2.0’, the modern internet in which user-generated content dominates the landscape and the culture of cyberspace’s constant conveyor belt. YouTube, Instagram and Flickr are all social media tools too, as is Wikipedia, and all online blogs. The collective, collaborative potential of this revolution in communications is well utilized in certain arenas, and taken for granted in others, and the focus on SM as simply an individual’s digital ego-hub is often the source of its dismissal. But there are huge implications in its wider applications of creating, obtaining and transmitting events, visual media and discrete information freely and instantaneously. History need not be entirely written by the winners if the underdogs know their tech.

 

With all this potential, is there concrete value in social media as transformative platforms? Is it easy, or even helpful, to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ uses of it (or, in terms of political engagement and activism, ‘effective’ and ‘ineffective’)? Can uploading a photo of your dinner for the umpteenth time ever affect change? What if it’s another inadequate meal supplied by food banks because your parents are out of work, below a link to an article about the rise of the UK’s reliance on them? There are different ways to use SM valuably and effectively, to distribute information, to influence, to make visible, to facilitate understanding. And it seems that social media has the potential to do for awareness of current political crises what television reportage did for awareness of the Vietnam war; then again, the US waged destruction for years in spite of widespread dissent.

 

 

Jane Gaines debated a similar question with regard to documentary film in her essay ‘Political mimesis’ – what is it about political and social documentary film that moves people, and when it does, does it actually galvanise them into action? Does exposure to political argument via visual media encourage praxis? Gaines argues that alongside an emotional reaction, the visual representation of violence, struggle and conflict instigates (as all cinema does) a physical, visceral reaction similar to that of pornography; but to arouse the mind, arms, spirit, rather than genitalia. This stimulation can be felt even in the most terrible Hollywood war epics, but when the emphasis is on ‘real’ events, and ones that are occurring now, this bodily response might incite us to act upon what we now ‘know’ as a result of documentary ‘evidence’. This week, videos from Gaza, news reports and opinion pieces have gone viral across SM – not only do they move us emotionally, but hopefully, then, to act.

 

However, in his column for the New Yorker Malcolm Gladwell famously trashed SM ‘activism’, explaining that the ‘act’ largely ends at the click of a button: “the platforms of social media are built around weak ties. […] There is strength in weak ties, as the sociologist Mark Granovetter has observed. Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information. […] But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.” Gladwell points out that SM is a participatory, not motivational, tool that lessens the level of motivation that participation requires – by sharing that video of the boy with his face blown off, you’ve done what you can. You’ve distributed the information, perhaps contributed to others’ awareness; what else can you do?

 

How can we determine the value of this kind of activity? On one hand, how exactly can you help victims of atrocity other than by making people aware of their fate? Perhaps you share a few more videos, a few more articles. On the other, it’s clear that the definition of ‘help’ here is barely workable; what the children of Gaza needed was real political change years ago. How cynical can we be about our ability to affect the world? Does anyone know which acts will actually change a situation? Clicking the ‘Like’ button? Retweeting? What is it good for – absolutely nothing?

The Old Carriageworks, Stokes Croft, Bristol, UK - 1st August 2014
The Old Carriageworks, Stokes Croft, Bristol, UK – 1st August 2014

On the other side of the fence is Clay Shirky, who believes that “the fact that barely committed actors cannot click their way to a better world does not mean that committed actors cannot use social media effectively.” While it is true that masses of apathetic, alienated, square-eyed youth in the UK spend vast amounts of time interacting predominantly digitally, their interaction with internet culture and SM can be optimal for an introduction to political awareness, even if not political action, if used with intent. Internet culture, especially ‘geek’ or ‘nerd’ culture, has a strong interest in social justice, and this interest is reflected in SM content and even popular internet culture far more than it is in mainstream popular media. Internet culture is certainly influenced by mainstream culture, but can also act in opposition to it; in order to gain the most out of the power of the horizontally-organised counter cultural cyberspace, you have to want to immerse yourself in learning and acting on your knowledge. The crux of the problem being, therefore, that the majority of our culture and national curriculum distinctly lacks political analysis or awareness in the first place. And it’s not only young people who lack the drive.

 

It’s an ongoing struggle to encourage people to engage, but more and more communities exist online that encourage us to learn, and act. John and Hank Green, using their hit YouTube channel Vlogbrothers and numerous other SM, have created an online culture with a network of users and fans named ‘nerdfighteria’. [Said fans and users (‘nerdfighters’) are self-proclaimed nerds who fight the perennial scourge of worldsuck to increase awesome.] The Project for Awesome (P4A) is a yearly fundraising drive that the Vlogbrothers run via YouTube, encouraging users to upload videos in support of charities, thereby increasing awareness and encouraging their audiences to donate. For 2013’s P4A they also utilised crowdfunding site Indiegogo, raising $721,696, breaking Indiegogo’s record for the most money raised by a campaign. Together with the YouTube efforts the total raised in 2013 was $869,591.

 

Popular comic creators who make the most of their hits through social media such as Cracked and CollegeHumor have also used their presence to bring political issues to their audiences. Increasingly, these mainstream humour sites are distributing videos via SM that discuss issues such as gay rights, women’s rights, and net neutrality, for example. While this makes political tension accessible to people who might otherwise choose not to engage, what comes of the access to these videos? Could we justify creating content about the situation in Gaza for a mainstream comedy audience? CollegeHumor’s YouTube channel has 7.5 million subscribers; Reuters, BBC News and Associated Press have less than 1 million combined, reflecting both a creator and audience focus on lighter topics that can be made funny rather than the most urgent of political crises. This disparity here between passively encountering politics in one’s entertainment media, and engaging with active political organizations who are acting IRL illustrates Gladwell’s point nicely.

 

As far as the dynamic between SM and the mainstream media (MSM) goes, many have hastily hailed SM’s horizontal power structure as a cure-all alternative, while ignoring the complexities of the ever-intensifying relationship between them. Rather than expressing any distaste or worry about SM as a defiance, Martin Niesenholtz of The New York Times notes that SM is “highly complementary to what [they] do”. While SM has the ability to inform where the MSM won’t (rather than can’t), the MSM is also absorbing and incorporating it, and fast. Corporate news isn’t going anywhere quite yet, and until SM provides a direct challenge to it by making itself better organised, it will remain complementary. For example, both CNN and Al Jazeera have established networks of volunteers on the ground in crisis situations to provide news content to them via SM, which is then verified by journalists back at HQ; indeed, Al Jazeera’s network was set up as a direct response to the 08-09 conflict in Gaza. While SM can provide a fighting alternative to the blackouts and corruption we see too frequently from MSM houses, its loose networks suffer from a lack of direction, organisation and verification that provide their own problems. The MSM is quickly learning to pick up that slack while reaping the benefits of horizontally organised groundwork.

 

Former BBC ‘future media’ executive Nic Newman posited that while Twitter has a significantly smaller audience than Facebook, its users are the real “influencers. […] The audience isn’t on Twitter, but the news is on Twitter.” Jeff Jarvis of the City University of New York noted that political conversations and debates are going on already, and journalists need to realize they are simply a part of this wider discourse, and should focus largely on providing context, debunking, and analysis. Channel 4 News seems to have cottoned on to this with regard to Gaza, creating a web video of significant critique from head reporter Jon Snow. In only a week the video has received around 900,000 views, several times that of any other of Channel 4’s videos that have been live far longer. In 5 minutes, Snow details his direct experience, providing visual evidence, critical context and concise analysis of the situation in Gaza, with a focus on the issue of most urgency: the fatal damage to its children. The length, content and style of the video makes it optimal for informing SM grazers about the situation, and is of course shareable across all SM platforms from YouTube. This is a particularly effective and efficient example of the way this collaboration can be used to influence people, engage them with politics, and pass that influence and engagement on. People want to engage, and when the opportunity appears amongst our shiny distractions, most will take that first step.

 

Two other videos concerning Gaza that have stood out for me this week are user-generated, and quite different. One, so vile, spurred me to act. I did not watch it, I saw only the thumbnail image. It shows a boy whose entire jaw is missing, ripped away by a bomb, and entering a hospital – to have what done to repair him, I can’t imagine. Stunned, I could not look away. I dipped my eyes to the comments below. The first one simply read

“guy comes in with no bottom jaw. Doctor spends 40 seconds making sure that he films him.. Riiiiiiiight.”

 

Disturbed by both the image and the blasé, cynical response, I felt sick, powerless; but determined to respond. The following comments were all of shock and disgust, and one admonished the sharer for posting it in the first place. Some questioned its authenticity; all legitimate concerns. How many other people were moved to act, share, write, boycott Israeli goods, pen a letter to the government…I do not know, and I suspect very few. I wish it had never happened; in lieu of that, I will engage with it.

 

The other video was of the previous day’s protests in Brighton and made by a filmmaking colleague, Lee Salter; a short observational reportage-style video in which members of the march were interviewed and the subject analysed. They spoke of boycotting Israel-trading outlets, of why they choose to march, of their frustration at the snails pace of change. The video is titled ‘Gaza to Brighton – things that we can do for Gaza’; one that encourages engagement and sharing, to consider actions such as marching and boycotting, to make noise and demand change, and make visible the people who are enacting this resistance already and how we might join them. It might not feel like much, but it’s often all people feel they can do, disenfranchised and confused as they are.

The Old Carriageworks, Stokes Croft, Bristol, UK - 1st August 2014
The Old Carriageworks, Stokes Croft, Bristol, UK – 1st August 2014

Gladwell makes a damning but noteworthy assertion about the power structures of internet networks, social and political. “Unlike hierarchies, with their rules and procedures, networks aren’t controlled by a single central authority. Decisions are made through consensus, and the ties that bind people to the group are loose. How do you make difficult choices about tactics or strategy or philosophical direction when everyone has an equal say?” Collective organizations can be successful when they have solid aims. If unions got distracted by putting cats in mugs and making gifs of them, would we be surprised when the strikes never happened? The Internet does not have solid aims, because it represents a vast number of people on the globe, a huge number of the whom are are ill-informed, unhappy, bored and understandably disillusioned. To ensure the productive and effective use of SM by the user, the audience, the masses, we need to understand what it is good for, and what it’s limitations are. Clay Shirky, in part, finds agreement with Gladwell here: “social media tools are not a replacement for real-world action but a way to coordinate it.”

 

The dissemination of information and ideas is only the first step for political engagement. For the majority of SM users, especially the slacktivists who think they’re affecting change by clicking a button, it’s the last. Direct activism and action can be suggested, encouraged and introduced by SM, but nothing will replace work done and demands made on the ground. Unfortunately, radical action (and even democratic action) are silently discouraged by the structure of our lifestyles, our 9 to 5 hours that could be better distributed, our entertainment-saturated landscape, our addictions encouraged by advertising, and illiteracy concerning power. Again, Gladwell denounces SM for making “it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact. The instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient.”

 

It is easier than ever to type in a keyword about human trafficking, Gaza, environmental degradation and corporate corruption and instantly find reams of articles, twitter accounts and discussion boards providing the networks, connections and information to get started, but the audience needs to be searching in the first place. Education reform, parental guidance, and commitment to engagement in conversation are absolutely essential. Shirky’s assertion that “access to information is far less important, politically, than access to conversation” is astute; we must maintain the conversations and encouragement with each other (IRL) that may make or break our futures.

Feminism: Connection & Progression (aka What’s Next?)

the-futureIn the twenty first century, what, and where, is Feminism? There are close to 4 billion women in the world now, and the personal is ever political; that’s a buttload of politics. Are we still solid, guys? Would addressing you as ‘girls’ instead be patronizing, or more feminist? (I have many more questions, the masses. Please do not flame me yet. [P.S. How many readers constitute a ‘mass’?])

Aren’t we due another wave? There’s only been a few, and feminism’s totally internet-famous now. Today, internet culture has revolutionized life for everyone, not least those engaged in the gender equality movement which is at once exciting, thriving, and relentlessly, miserably co-opted. Just this week, the #nomakeupselfie campaign, for example, while raising money for a good cause, has simultaneously unleashed the ‘bravery’ of women who briefly don’t wear make-up as a defiant act in the name of freedom and peace and charity or something.* (The date is 21st March 2014. #Progress! [Have you looked at any rape statistics recently? Maybe 2014 could be the year we engage with that via hashtag!] )

Where can we possibly go from here? Is the concept of ‘post-feminism’ still a joke? Do I ignore or denounce Bill Maher’s pseudo-liberal sexism? How feminist is spending all day on social media sharing videos about advancing equality, of which none encourage spending vast chunks of my short life on the internet sharing videos?

As a distraction from the nervous determination for answers and clarity, and the accompanied sweating, I shall conduct some research. This shall be a defiant, strident act in the name of my own autonomy, and of using the internet productively. And of imaginary feminine freshness.**

The To-Do List (?)

In The Factuary’s “What Do Feminists Have Left?”, comedian Guy Braunum concurs that women of America (and of the rest of the world, FYI) have come a long way, baby. This video has a lot to tell us about the mainstream approach to feminism. Not only because of the US-centric, humour-imbued, internet-hosted habitus of contemporary feminism, but also because of its specification, categorization, and foregrounding of particular issues over others. And of white media personalities dropping sardonic lines.

(Typed to the accusatory reflection in my computer screen…)

[‘Media Personality’? Please. – Ed.]

Acknowledgment of equal pay, rape culture, reproductive health, micro-aggressions and media representation is right on. It’s good to have a challenge or five, but really? Five fronts on which ‘feminism’ has to continue to fight? Were we to eliminate these struggles tomorrow, would that be gender inequality checked off the list of Worldsuck? Can any one entity express a finite list or end point for feminism? How many more questions do I need to ask before I get to the point?

To boil it down to one question (oppressive kitchen-centric terminology – Ed.): with ‘internet feminism’ clearly alive and kicking, which ‘wave’ are we in now, and is there an end goal (or five) to that wave – how and who is feminism, what or where should it be, and be doing? *Sweats*

PSYCH! I hid, like, 3 whole questions in there! (So… so many…)

Waves (aka The Officially Recognised Stages of Western Feminism)

First-wave feminism tackled (certain) inequalities in law: we know these baby – wave-makers, broadly speaking, as the suffragettes. They achieved representation, statues outside Parliament, and songs in Mary Poppins; all of which they bloody deserved. They were willing to trade eating, breathing and not being trampled to death for the sake of being recognised as actual human beings with totally normal brains, capable of putting a cross in a box because of some reasons. It was easy to define an end point at which they’d succeed, because what they wanted to change was already written down, listed and numbered: the First-wave feminism to-do list already existed in the laws of Parliament; Pankhurst, Davidson et al would just put their thing down, flip it and reverse it. But this extended, at first at least, only to women over thirty and of a certain economic status. #successfail

Second-wave feminism, in which women rejected de facto inequalities that remained, spanned the 60s and 70s. Between first- and second-wave, everyone was too distracted by some pretty serious international breakdowns in relations to pay attention to the intra-relations of the nation (save for Vera Lynn, who released her much-ignored feminist reggae album Intra-Relations of the Nation in 1943.) The grudge held after women got some legally-mandated equality lasted ages, until… like, right now. Simone de Beauvoir, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan & later bell hooks, amongst others, were the anti-Smurfette Principled Justice League of battling non-legal structural issues, such as unequal family and workplace frameworks, designated and prescribed sexual behaviours, and ensuring women’s reproductive freedom. All they wanted was a holistic recognition of woman’s human being-ness in attitude and belief rather than just mandated lip-service. But society (some ladies included) was all like “…Ew.” #onelovefail

Third-wave feminism (c.1992-?)… is harder to define. One, because it’s not necessarily ‘over’, and therefore lacks a hermetic historiographical place from which to examine it; and two, because its basis is in opening the understanding of feminism to its own far-more-diverse-than-allowed-to-be-acknowledged history and culture, and the nature of gender itself. But is this broadening of discourse and increasing intersectionality succeeding on the ground? And what constitutes success?

The myriad voices and definitions that have created, and continue to form, third-wave, are a testament to its recognition that previously the experience of women of relatively affluent white culture was made paramount, and the infrastructure of binary gender identity had been taken as-seen, ignoring and excluding the continuing struggles of women of colour, transgendered people and those of the working- and under-classes. #seeingpastowneyelidsfail

 Fighting and factioning

Prejudice from within and without feminism persists (often irretrievably embedded in the unconscious); the disparity between those foregrounded and those marginalized rages on in feminism as it does in society. ‘Feminism’ is not necessarily a monolith of progressive energy that women are either in or out of, for or against (and depending on your utopia, if you have one, may or may not need to be); feminism is its own Venn diagram within society’s. We disagree on as much as we agree on – our definition of what makes women’s lives better will never be able to be singular once we specify outside of simply: ‘respect’.

The womanist movement, beginning in the 1960s, throws into relief the long-standing failures of mainstream feminism to fully represent the needs and rights of all women, in a context not simply of gender but of class- and race-based oppression. Womanism is an umbrella under which ‘feminism’ is simply one element, alongside spirituality, and restructuring all relationship dynamics; a clear demonstration of intersectionality and social activism. Womanists delineated this expansion of understanding decades before any activists or bloggers would band together in its name under the label of feminism.

While social movements such as these can be understood as linear processes, insomuch as they exist within linear experience of time, ‘feminism’ is not necessarily a series of ever-successful stages with beginnings and ends. There have been recognized waves of activity, but these constructions aren’t exhaustive and completely omit particular people, struggles and groups. To this day, we still fight for what the suffragettes originally fought for: a recognition of all people as intrinsically equal beings, rejection of oppressive hierarchy and confines, and ensuring our ability to collectively remove the godawful from power. And at no point did those fighting for gender equality stop for decades at a time for rest, or victory laps around Donald Trump and all his acquisitions.

Cyberspace

Are we succeeding at our new, supposedly diverse and inclusive feminisms en masse? Generally, female-centered culture is still viciously twisted and shoved through the funnel of mainstream culture, which has willfully ignored undercurrents of progression in favour of trivializing debate and flogging globally-waning self-worth.

But, the internet! YES! And, unfortunately, sometimes, still no.

The internet is a two-sided, defaced coin in feminism’s utility belt. It’s afforded women huge gains in their ability to communicate, connect and organize. It has provided everyone with self-publishing and distribution platforms, broadcasting previously ignored and suppressed voices and experiences. It is the Room of Everyone’s Own. And thus, the room is also used by the defensive, the ignorant and the sexist; the asshats of the world still have dented egos when logged on and they’re looking to use them. They are packing Angry. It’s the same perilous tundra as the real world, with equally ambiguous intimacy.

ORGANISE

Feminism, womanism, gender equality et al cannot but be foregrounded in, and driven by, intersectionality. It won’t work unless it acknowledges and understands the personal, political and partitioned world that we inherit, and undermines the oppressive structures of individualism, economics and education (cultural as well as academic). Otherwise, we’re gonna have to Van Gogh it. Once dissected and posthumously appreciated, we can move on with the best bits. All collective, anti-oppressive movements by definition need to transcend ego, and require hard graft, structurally and personally. And pithy names, like Intersectionalists Against Kyriarchy or All of Us Hating Ignorance & Violence Together Forever. (HighFiveFreezeFrame!)

Having the cyber-tools to share and debate productively at the touch of a button relies on us actively and consciously doing so. Mainstream culture funnels us to certain places; it operates smoothly on decades of carefully formatted infrastructure and the (morally bankrupt) economic freedom to do so. Solidarity is paramount. Anti-feminist haters, while painful, can be easily debunked, but feminists fighting over feminism is some shit, and particularly tiresome shit to wade through. Fair in-criticism must be embraced and accepted, however difficult; and there’s a fine line between criticism and fighting. I don’t remember the last time someone was called out (calmly) and they just acknowledged it and apologized. Heaven forbid we might learn something from one another.

Can we balance consumption with production? Slacktivism with activism? Challenging with acceptance? All extended hands and discussion, incorporating each others’ needs. (Extend a hand to an MRA sometime, you might surprise him.)

This is how we avoid being defeated by violence, and having to resort to violence ourselves.

* I have no beef with anyone who participated in the #nomakeupselfie campaign. Some of my best friends are people who participated in the #nomakeupselfie campaign. I jest to make a point about perspectives and trends in mainstream culture.

**(On your behalf, Dove approves this message, the whole article, and all of Feminism.)

Connect with:

Feministing – a feminist blog with a diverse staff who write on intersectional feminism, and provide us with the busy-life-friendly Daily Feminist Cheat Sheet.

@feministing/feministing.com

 

KrissyChula – the funniest woman on YouTube.

@krissychula/www.youtube.com/user/krissychula

 

Hartbeat – the other funniest woman on YouTube.

@HARTgotBEATs/www.youtube.com/user/hartbeat

 

LaciGreen – the sexiest and most positive sex-positive person I’ve ever had the pleasure of sensing.

@gogreen18/www.youtube.com/user/lacigreen

 

Paris Lees – journalist, presenter & trans activist and all round sweet and considerate person (it seems like.)

@ParisLees/lastofthecleanbohemians.wordpress.com

 

Writers of Colour – tireless online organisation promoting work by people of colour; very active on Twitter.

@WritersofColour/mediadiversified.org

 

Jay Smooth – video blogger & Hip-Hop radio guru who vlogs on politics, race & culture.

@illdoc/illdoctrine.com

 

New Statesman – British mainstream leftist magazine. Politics, pop culture & several feminist columnists & editors.

@NewStatesman/newstatesman.com

 

Jackson Katz – educator in gender, specifically the construction of masculinity. The first man in the US to have taken Women’s Studies. Check out his amazing TED talk.

@jacksontkatz/jacksonkatz.com

 

ADDENDUM: On posting this article online, one reader pointed out that while she agreed with a lot of the points, the article still read as ‘white-washed’, containing little alternative history to that which I was critiquing. She suggested this reading; ‘Whose Feminism, Whose History?’ by Sherna Berger Gluck, Maylei Blackwell, Sharon Cotrel & Karen S. Harper (which you can read here: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B_HfOnXTgYJoWENoTnpITlM1Ymc/edit?pli=1)

It provides an engaging, complex and well-woven history of some of the womens movements in LA over a number of decades. My article scratches the surface of the problem of mainstream history, whereas this provides a deeper account of many women’s marginalised, intersectional struggles.

We need masculism, because…

pin up boysAbout a week before I became aware of the failed intentions of Twitter hashtag #INeedMasculismBecause I posted this for the consideration of my facebook friends:

 

Anyone ever come across a name for someone who opposes masculine normativity? For example, Jackson Katz: while he’s certainly a feminist, his ‘bag’ is writing about the construction of masculinity. He is brilliant. But what is he? A Man-in-ist? An Andronist? I feel this agenda should warrant a name other than ‘Gender Equality’ (since feminism has a specific name…even though we’re all really after the same outcome.)

 

While feminists, womanists and other marginalised activist groups have long been looking at the tangible ideological impact of under- or false-representation and the pervasive persistence of prejudice against societies ‘underdogs’, have we neglected the plight of the overdogs? Does the straight white male of Western society have a leg to stand on in discourses of oppression?

 

The first, simplest answer is: no, not in the way that you probably think I mean.

 

The Men’s Rights Activists, and other petty-minded people of the twittersphere (and, unfortunately, of the real world) poured out their shallow misunderstandings and perverse frustrations about life in the most predictably (and sometimes bewilderingly) sexist ways, for everyone else’s mocking pleasure. They formed a mighty and fascinating display of reasons why we need masculism, ranging from #INMB without us, where’s the workforce? to #INMB Feminists and Arts students are intellectually challenged. I am a mathematician. Said nutters’ defensive responses to people expressing palpable systemic inequalities in society reminds me of the complaint that it’s unfair to whites that black people have their own, special history month. Those entitled, privileged black bastards.

 

However, we need masculism. And it is important to distinguish the very specific reasons why. Before knowing the extent of ridiculous by which this ‘trend’ had been born, I had a Eureka moment: Masculism! That’s its name! I’d always considered ‘Maninism’ to be Feminism’s equivalent, but this failed my terminological standards due to sounding like an art movement that no one had ever needed because of anything. I’d almost settled on Andronism, though I didn’t feel it would ever catch on in the public consciousness due to a general unfamiliarity amongst my peers with the combining form andro- to mean male. (My lexical snobbery slaps me in the face as I realize that Masculism was the feminism-equivalent label in the first place. Even the MRAs worked that out.)

 

It should be fairly obvious that gender equality means gender equality. With that aim in mind, it would be counter productive to examine the minutiae of how the female and the feminine is problematically defined, and ignore the definitions of masculinity. (Personally I believe that) gender is a construct. We learn our traits, our neuro-automatic behaviours, and some of us are lucky enough to successfully un-learn the ones we don’t want during our lifetimes. Thus, at its most simplified, I believe males and females ‘exist’ in reality, whereas masculinity and femininity do not. So masculism, as I would (humbly) define it is about examining sexist assumptions about men, traits that have been defined as the ‘pillars’ of masculinity, and the representation of manly men men men in the media. (If you don’t get that last reference, you’re life is infinitely better than someone who does.)

 

We cannot equate masculine stereotyping to the oppression of and continuing sexual dehumanization of women. Even if we could, we do not need to play off against one another as though only the ‘worse off’ gender is allowed to campaign for fair representation and treatment. And I’m not even defining masculism as it is apparently usually defined (as in, “Who’s defending the fragility of MY rights, bro?!”) so I can only say how relevant I consider it to be in the context that I have assigned it. But if we are to progress towards a truly gender-equal society, we must examine what has been defined as ‘masculine’ as well as ‘feminine’. All inequalities within, and stereotypes of, gender normativity are a result of the patriarchal system by which ‘things’ have been, and to a huge extent, still are run; by examining all these restrictions and expectations, that normativity breaks down for everyone’s benefit. I can’t say it any better than Jackson Katz, who inspired me to ask the initial question with regard to male representation; he highlights the ways in which respectable masculinity is equated with violence and intimidation, and a disregard for compassion, sexual intimacy and respect for ‘others’. His work focuses on the perpetuation of these trends in contemporary media representation, though these stereotypes are reinforced in wider society, and have been throughout history.

 

The Media Education Foundation, with whom Katz works, are an organisation who distribute videos and educational resources highlighting the ideological impacts of trends in media representation. As a good example of the most base sexual power relations that our culture continues to reproduce, (if you can stomach it; I only got half way through and never finished it) watch Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex & Power in Music Video; a disturbing and thorough (a worthwhile but depressing combination) look at the gender power dynamics of the American music video. Many young adults will recognize these explicit videos (and idents, and backstage documentaries etc.) as staples of their childhood viewing; at 24, watching a woman’s bare buttock being branded with the MTV 2 logo is disturbing not only because of its sexualizing and dehumanizing nature but also because looking back, my friends and I grew up surrounded by these images, and since they were being broadcast by adults who ‘knew better’, assumed the were nothing worse than ‘edgy’. And edgy is exactly what most teenagers are told they should want to be. Within the music video universe, the smug, bragging, belligerent, fully-clothed face of masculinity can be seen amongst the female body parts, lauding it over everyone with their miming skills, unrestricted. But this is a restricted and shallow brand of masculinity. This sells a powerful idea of what men can do, should do, can have and should want, and the vulnerable young male is also given his acceptable gender position. Fortunately for him, he has a plethora of other male characters and masculine traits in his cultural sphere; but a frightening number of them blend respectability and likeable comedic frivolity with violence, indifference, domination, ignorance, hypocrisy, infallibility, and a distinct lack of compassion, intimacy and vulnerability. Much more research and education needs to be provided on our beliefs in gender roles as a whole, taking into account our belief in fixed gender itself.

 

So in the context of the construction and representation of gender and the power dynamics between us all, this idea of masculism could become radically transformative. If it catches on.

 

(Finally: there were a few tweets in the INMB feed that really broke my heart, and were obviously a cry for help. Jackson Kent tweeted #INMB it’s my fault that I get an uncontrollable boner at a woman’s overexposed cleavage; then, lashing out in pain, wrote #INMB women are fucking stupid. If you’d like to send Jackson a message of support, you can tweet @analwipe1.)

Moore, Burchill and Those Opposed (aka Taking Offense)

Offended1For anyone not yet acquainted with MooreBurchillTransGate (it’s catchy!), a summary of the offense taken so far reads as follows:

Throughout life, culminating in Nov 2012: Susanne Moore takes offense at the fact that women continue to be patronized, under-represented, reproductively-controlled, hyper-sexualized, sexually assaulted, and are then criticized for being angry about it.

Jan 8th 2013: Moore tweets that the article about the offense she’s taken has been republished in the New Statesman. @Jonanamary tweets in reply that she “was loving” the article until she took offense to it.

Later on Jan 8th 2013: @Jonanamary and Moore tweet increasingly fiercely about the specificities of the offense taken, whilst continuing to offend each other.

Jan 13th 2013: Julie Burchill (friend of Susanne Moore and “Bernard Manning of feminism” – Dr Tim Stanley) takes offense at the offense taken by @Jonanamary and others, and also takes offense to “trannies” (“who are lucky [she’s] not calling them shemales”) offending her friend in response to offense that was taken.

Later on Jan 13th 2013: Everyone takes offense from Burchill.

Jan 14th 2013: I take offense from everyone.

Lordy. Throughout the collision of wills, egos and hurt feelings, relevant and fascinating concerns around free speech; the volatility of politically correct semantics; intersectional feminism; and the apparent futility of trying to conduct and sustain reasonable debate around important issues of equality were served up and backhanded away into obscurity. Livid and appalled as I naturally was at this prejudiced attack on my species’ collective progression, I loaded a random working-class militant journalist’s Twitter feed and filled dialog box upon dialog box with hundreds of characters of blindly reactive hatred, before sheepishly taking a breath, having a sit down and reordering the characters in a word document. I was writing all the right characters, just not necessarily in the right order.

The particular offense I took from the ‘Twitter Storm’ concerned Everybody Involved’s failure to capitalize on the opportunity to attempt to understand their opponents, to ask any pressing questions, to actually discuss anything. Nobody typed more than 280 characters without giving up on what could have been an enlightening, worthy debate. The result was a Pong match of snide implications/explicit statements that the offense-causer could fuck right off, convinced that each instance of talk-to-the-hand one-upmanship had won them the moral high ground.

Unfortunately, at no point did Moore think it appropriate to apologise for making the original un-PC gaffe. Moore’s comment about the “transsexual” body referred (I assume) to the expectation on ‘cis’-women to attain, and retain, standards of surgically enhanced bodily ‘perfection’; a standard reflected, incidentally, by some trans women’s bodies in their oft-surgically-altered appearance. Explicitly transphobic, no (although her latter comments were hugely questionable). Misjudged and semantically incorrect, yes sir (or lady….or….*sweats*).

For the offended, a recognition of this was necessary, and, I reckon, an apology was warranted. No need to lose face, or to lose the intended meaning of the comment, or indeed the article as a whole (a hugely worthwhile read). Just a simple apology to some hurt people, for dropping the semantic ball. After publishing, this is all she could have done to amend, and it’s not asking much. Unfortunately, once Moore had taken counter-offense to @Jonanamary, her ‘give a fuck’ attitude (a la Caitlin Moran’s knee-jerk reaction to questions of racial representation in programming) shut down any potentially rewarding discourse on the complex politics of gender normativity, inclusion/exclusion, solidarity re: equality, etc etc….

Whether or not an apology would have been accepted, we’ll never know. But it likely wouldn’t have mattered anyway: Burchill marched in with an unnecessary input, titled ‘Transsexuals should cut it out’ (as though each and every “trannie” had chosen to be involved in the sulkfest). What followed was the opposite of Moore’s article; perhaps one good point hidden within several yawningly provocative paragraphs of name-calling. I’m not sure it’s worth going into the minutiae of Burchill’s tirade, and subsequent free-for-all; there may yet be more to follow.

Lynne Featherstone MP made the offense taken a government issue, and John Mulholland, editor of the Observer, withdrew Burchill’s article the following day. That was yesterday. And still, no one had said anything remotely intellectually stimulating, except Moore in the first instance. Since yesterday, however, I have found a few considered responses, such as Paris Lees’ open letter to Moore, which developed the discussion with the vigour and candour originally displayed in Moore’s piece. Lees writes a kind, enlightening and exemplary plea to Moore to simply understand the frustration she and others have felt in the face of chronic discrimination…. sound familiar, Suze?

Of course, Twitter’s very public and very limited format led to the unraveling of what should have been quickly amended. Moore was understandably defensive about an emotionally charged, hugely personal piece of work, and people were understandably hurt by her ignorance to pain and anger they know far too well (like yours, Suzanne! See? Let’s all be friends and live in uninterrupted harmony! We’re all the saaaaaaaaame. Kinda.)

I fear that too much has been lost in the unnecessary negativity, but again I hope that considerate responses will be formed…read Moore’s article (I wouldn’t bother with Burchill’s, even if it was still freely available), Lees’ response, and any other articles written in between that focus on the complexity of the issues at hand. In future takings of offense, take a breath, and seek to understand exactly what’s going on. Why wouldn’t you want to form a dignified, genuine response?

To paraphrase* Jay Smooth of the each-and-every-time-worthwhile Ill Doctrine, the fact that we have made such progress towards equality is not a reason to care less about what we say to each other, and how that makes them feel. It’s the reason we should care more.

(*I’m paraphrasing because I can’t find the video in which he says this. A great excuse to go watch some Ill Doctrine right now; let me know if you find it?)