Theoretical Perspectives -Feminism Why have theories? Theories look at something which is complex and difficult to understand and try to make it more comprehensible.• Theory for its own sake, however, is of dubious value. You need to be able to demonstrate that you have understood the theory and are able to apply it appropriately to the issues at hand.• If you try to use terminology and ideas that you do not fully understand, your work will look at best contrived and at worst it will sound just silly!
Theoretical Perspectives -Feminism All media theories are bound up with culture. Culture has something to do with the way in which society decides what its values and beliefs are, and the way in which these values and beliefs are transmitted. The media, in particular, but also popular culture in general, are central to this process of transmission. Much of the way in which we see the world is determined by our consumption of media texts. One of the key functions of media theory is to explore the relationship between the individual, the text and the transmission of culture and values within a society.
Theoretical Perspectives -Feminism About Feminism Feminism is a vast movement which is not specifically centred on studying the media. It is concerned with challenging the unfair and unequal distribution of power and wealth in a patriarchal society. Through the years Feminism has been firstly a political project which has sought to challenge power structures and change the roles and perceptions of women. In common with other perspectives (such as Marxism), a part of this is to understand how power works because without this understanding it is almost impossible to get things changed. This is why feminists have made such an important contribution to Media Studies. If the Mass Media play such an important part in the reinforcement of patriarchal ideology, then it is essential to see: • how this process works, • to criticise it • and to find ways of using the media to propose alternatives to patriarchy.
Theoretical Perspectives -FeminismFirst Wave Feminism This term refers to the first concerted movement working for the reform of womens social and legal inequalities in the nineteenth century. Although individual feminists such as Mary Wollstonecraft had already argued against the injustices suffered by women, it was not until the 1850s that something like an organized feminist movement evolved in Britain. Its headquarters was at Langham Place in London, where a group of middle-class women, led by Barbara Bodichon (1827-91) and Bessie Rayner Parkes (1829-1925), met to discuss topical issues and publish the English Womans Journal (1858-64).
Theoretical Perspectives -Feminism The key concerns of First Wave Feminists were education, employment, the marriage laws, and the plight of intelligent middle-class single women. They were not primarily concerned with the problems of working-class women, nor did they necessarily see themselves as feminists in the modern sense (the term was not coined until 1895). First Wave Feminists largely responded to specific injustices they had themselves experienced. Their major achievements were the opening of higher education for women; reform of the girls secondary-school system, including participation in formal national examinations: the widening of access to the professions, especially medicine; married womens property rights, recognized in the Married Womens Property Act of 1870; and some improvement in divorced and separated womens child custody rights. Active until the First World War, First Wave Feminists failed, however, to secure the womens vote. – This fell to the work of the Suffragettes ...
Theoretical Perspectives -Feminism Votes for Women The Suffragette Movement Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) was a British political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement which helped women win the right to vote. In 1999 Time named Pankhurst as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century, stating: "she shaped an idea of women for our time; she shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back." She was widely criticized for her militant tactics, and historians disagree about their effectiveness, but her work is recognized as a crucial element in achieving womens suffrage in Britain culminating in the Representation of the People Act of 1928 where women were granted the right to vote on the same terms as men.
Theoretical Perspectives -Feminism Second Wave Feminism The term Second Wave was coined by Marsha Lear, and refers to the increase in feminist activity which occurred in America, Britain, and Europe from the late sixties onwards. In America, second wave feminism rose out of the Civil Rights and anti-war movements in which women, disillusioned with their second-class status even in the activist environment of student politics, began to band together to contend against discrimination. The tactics employed by Second Wave Feminists varied from well publicised activities, such as the protest against the Miss America beauty contest in 1968, to the establishment of small consciousness- raising groups. However, it was obvious early on that the movement was not a unified one, with differences emerging between black feminism, liberal feminism, social feminism, etc.
Theoretical Perspectives -Feminism Second Wave Feminism in Britain was also multiple in focus, although it was based more strongly in working-class socialism, as demonstrated by the strike of women workers at the Ford car plant for equal pay in 1968. (see Made in Dagenham, 2010) The slogan the personal is political sums up the way in which Second Wave Feminism did not just strive to extend the range of social opportunities open to women, but also, through intervention within the spheres of reproduction, sexuality and cultural representation, to change their domestic and private lives. Second Wave Feminism did not just make an impact upon western societies, but has also continued to inspire the struggle for womens rights across the world.
Theoretical Perspectives -FeminismThird Wave feminism When Rebecca Walker (daughter of author Alice Walker and godchild of activist Gloria Steinem,) published an article in Ms. Magazine entitled "I Am The Third Wave," it drew a surprising response. Young women from all over wrote letters informing the magazine of the activist work they were quietly engaged in and encouraging older feminists and leaders of the womens movement not to write them off. The front page of the Third Wave Foundation web site explains that the organization strives to combat inequalities that [women] face as a result of [their] age, gender, race, sexual orientation, economic status or level of education. By empowering young women, Third Wave feminists would argue they were building a lasting foundation for social activism.
Theoretical Perspectives -Feminism Feminism and the Mass Media• Feminists are particularly interested in the contribution made by the media to society’s dominant ideas about gender roles.• And in this the mass media play a crucial role in socialisation in teaching us how to behave and think in ways that our culture finds acceptable.• A significant part of this socialisation process is to provide answers to questions like: What does it mean to be a woman? and What does it mean to be a man?• Of course these questions are not always exactly the same but we are all familiar with the kind of gender stereotypes so often reinforced by media representations.
Theoretical Perspectives -FeminismActivity 1 1. Try completing this chart of binary oppositions which gives some of the main gender stereotypes. Can you extend the list? Femininity Masculinity Caring ? Nurturing ? ? Rational ? Public, work-orientated Sensitive ? ? Active ? Rough Soft ? 2. What can you conclude about status and power from these lists?
Theoretical Perspectives -Feminism The gender roles and representations have changed rapidly in recent years, largely because feminists have made a good deal of progress in eroding stereotypes but some would argue they have been replaced by different but equally disempowering stereotypes. In the view of some feminists, the key site of struggle has moved away from the attribution of low-value qualities towards the visual presentation of the body. In an influential book The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf (1991) argued that images of ultra thin supermodels and the perfect bodies glamorised by advertising, fashion and the media in general are indications of a patriarchal attack on women’s bodies. Women’s bodies and sexuality have become commodities and the consequences of this are mental and physical illness, starvation diets and eating disorders...
Theoretical Perspectives -FeminismNaomi Wolf says ..."The more legal and material hindrances women have broken through, the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us ... During the past decade (1980s), women breached the power structure; meanwhile, eating disorders rose exponentially and cosmetic surgery became the fastest-growing specialty ... pornography became the main media category, ahead of legitimate films and records combined, and thirty-three thousand American women told researchers that they would rather lose ten to fifteen pounds than achieve any other goal...More women have more money and power and scope and legal recognition than we have ever had before; but in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our unliberated grandmothers."
Theoretical Perspectives -Feminism Wolfs research suggests that there is a cultural backlash against feminism that uses images of female beauty to keep women in their place. How many folks have succumbed to the idea of the ugly feminist activist who is only a feminist because shes too undesirable to get a man? That popular concept first showed up on the scene to describe suffragettes lobbying for the vote. Wolf suggests that, throughout the years, there have been forces in culture that attempt to punish women who seek more control over their lives and their environment.
Theoretical Perspectives -Feminism Laura Mulvey conceived the term ‘male gaze’ to emphasise the extent to which so much of our media output assumes that the spectator is male or constructs reality from a male point of view, from a set of largely masculine assumptions. Mulvey’s interest was particularly the cinema which offered the perfect opportunity for the male viewer to drool over the erotic exhibition of women’s bodies on screen. Because female characters have been invariably insignificant to the plot, female viewers have also identified with the male character, enjoying the spectacle of women through his eyes. This idea, that the media encourage women to see themselves through the eyes of men, was also developed by Angela McRobbie (1991) in relation to girls’ magazines where ‘to achieve self respect, the girl has to escape the bitchy, catty atmosphere of female company and find a boyfriend as quickly as possible …’
Theoretical Perspectives -Feminism However the landscape of gender representation in the media has changed enormously over the last thirty years. Today men and women are portrayed as working side by side in such settings as hospitals, schools and police stations. In the cinema, roles for women have developed away from the victim roles of the past and producers have realised that ‘kick-ass heroines do better business‘ (Gauntlett, 2002)Uma Thurmanin the Kill Bill franchise Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft
Theoretical Perspectives -Feminism Second Wave v. Post feminism To acknowledge that recent changes have taken place is not necessarily to say that the battle is over. Recent debates between second-wave feminists and postfeminists have focused on the amount of progress that has been made. Some second-wave feminists have viewed the developments described above with a certain amount of cynicism and suspicion. They argue that many battles for economic and workplace equality have still to be fought and won and that strong representations of strong assertive women may be little more than marketing ploys. Postfeminists, on the other hand, may well take a very different position. They might argue that if women know that femininity is a construct, then they can play with its signs, symbols and identities from a position of power.
Theoretical Perspectives -Feminism Issues in Feminism by Sheila Ruth (2001) ‘Feminists value women, not in the hypocritical fashion of centuries of male-dominated cultures in which women were valued for the work they could produce, the price they could bring, or the services they could render; nor do feminists value women provided they behave according to some externally imposed set of requirements. Rather we value women in and of themselves, as ends in themselves, and for themselves...
Theoretical Perspectives -Feminism ... As feminists we understand that the majority of beliefs and attitudes regarding women both in our own culture and in most other cultures are false or wrongheaded, based on myth, ignorance, hate, and fear. It is necessary to replace myth with reality and ignorance with knowledge about women created by women, first for women and finally for all people. As feminists we point out that for centuries we have been denied our rights as citizens and as human beings. The right to vote, the right to earn a substantive living commensurate with effort, the freedom to determine whether to bear children- the denial of these and other freedoms constitutes concrete instances of oppression...
Theoretical Perspectives -Feminism...We recognize that women possess persistent strength and spirit in the face of such oppression and are optimistic about the possibilities of change. Many of the qualities developed by women in the face of denial are precious and unique.’
Theoretical Perspectives -FeminismActivity 2 1. Using your knowledge of the media, draw down examples of women characters and personalities who illustrate the traditional ‘male gaze’ representations discussed above. 2. Now consider some examples of how modern representations in the media have run counter to these and ‘changed the landscape’.
Theoretical Perspectives -Feminism Provide a Feminist reading of this text which is the cover of The Observer Music Monthly magazine from February 1994