1. Media as advocacy tools
Articles,  Blog

1. Media as advocacy tools


So let’s begin by looking
at the first role that media plays when it comes to initiatives
advocating for gender equality. As we have seen before, media can
be tools in the hands of advocates. You might be tempted to think
that it’s with the Internet that media have become
such a fundamental tool for women activists. In fact, the relationship
between women’s activism and media goes way back in time. Already at the beginning
of the 20th century, the suffragette movement
did organise many events and staged many protests
with the precise aim of capturing the attention
of the mass media, which back then
it’s worth to remember, it was essentially the press. But how did the suffragettes
actually manage to capture the attention
of the media? For example,
they organised two big funerals to celebrate their companion
suffragette Emily Davison who died while staging
a one-woman protest during the Derby horse race of 1913. These two very big funerals
attracted the media attention and managed to convey
upon the suffragette movement an unprecedented public attention. Together
with their fine use of leaflets, the self-realisation
of their pamphlets, the showcase
of the suffragette protest by the mass media
conveyed upon the movement an unprecedented visibility and helped spreading
their call for women’s vote. However, the press not always engage in positive terms
with the suffragette. Quite the opposite, big newspapers such as The Times
used to describe these women as dysfunctional, hysterical,
deviant, and even dangerous for society. And even when there was
a more positive engagement with the suffragettes, this happened more in order
to criticise the existing government rather than to support their cause. At the crossroad between
a negative portrayal of those women and a biased account
of the claim that they raised, the press actually constrained
these women in their activism more than empowering them. Something similar happened
more recently in relation to the First
World Conference on Women, which was held in 1975 in Mexico City and which gave a start
to the International Year of Women. In reconstructing the event and the political discussion
that took place within it, Margaret Gallagher notes that the press tend to cover the event
itself in a negative, sensationalist, and sexist way. Important political discussions that
took place over paramount cleavages such as the North-South divide were
portrayed by the press as a catfight between women incapable
of any solidarity. But how can we actually understand
this contradictory, ambivalent, and yet very relevant role that media play with regard to
advocacy efforts for gender equality? Social Movement Studies provide us with the concept of Discursive
Opportunity Structure. The Discursive Opportunity Structure is the overall
set of norms and values through which we read, interpret,
and live reality around us. Mass media have been put at the very core of the Discursive
Opportunity Structure insofar as,
with their public discourse, they contribute to shape
those interpretative packages through which
we read the reality around us and that we often call
“the public opinion”. By engaging in different ways
with activists, whether these are the suffragettes or the international delegates
in a conference and by reproducing the messages that these activists push forward
in more or less biased ways, the media affect the extent to
which alternative voices and messages circulate in the public discourse
are heard by citizens and, therefore,
are able to challenge the existent and predominant system
of norms and values around us. The more the media
give visibility to women activists, the more they make their voices heard amongst those
of other political actors, the more those voices and the message that they carry are perceived
by citizens as legitimate and, therefore, have a greater chance to stick in the public opinion
and change it. Conversely, the more women
are relegating into invisibility, the less their voices are heard among
those of other political actors, the lower the chances for the women’s
movement to affect the status quo and actually achieve
a greater gender equality. But women have not limited themselves to reflect upon media
as bases of gender discrimination or to react to stereotyped
and unbalanced contents purported by the mainstream media. They also developed their own media in order to convey
to the public more gender-balanced and more gender-sensitive
perspective and narration. In this sense, the creation
of feminist alternative media has been a great resource
in the hand of the feminist and the women’s movement in order to struggle
for greater gender equality. Generally speaking, alternative media are all those contents
and infrastructures that are produced and circulated outside of the circuit
of the mainstream media, and they can be based
on many different platforms, the television, the radio,
the printed press, increasingly, in these days,
upon digital media platforms but also in other cultural spaces, music, theatre, movies, and so on. Chris Atton, in 2002, has defined
the set of alternative media as an area of cultural production, an area of cultural production
where the production and the circulation of these
alternative messages, voices, and contents tend to converge. A recent study
that has been conducted at the University of Salzburg has surveyed and thoroughly
analysed 425 women-led or feminist grassroots media projects based on a multiplicity of platforms
from the television, to radio, to magazines, to blogs,
to digital archives. Through the systematic analysis
of all these different experiences, researchers have managed to highlight
four main characteristics that are typically associated
to feminist alternative media. The first one is that these experiences
tend to be small in scale, low-cost, and ruled by a do-it-yourself logic, a logic that allows
to valorise and exploit the different skills and capacities that every activist puts in
the creation of alternative contents. In the second place, these experiences
are also very often collaborative and voluntary in nature in so far as the production
of alternative contents does not respond to
a precise mission of the organisation but it’s rather an engagement that comes from the voluntary
engagement of the activists. Because they are voluntary and linked to the struggle
for greater gender equality, these alternative media experiences are also countersites
to mainstream media. The production of alternative
content is pushed forward in order to contrast biased portrayal
of women in the mainstream media or also to give more visibility
to these female voices that are often left outside from
the Discursive Opportunity Structure. And because they are countersite
to mainstream media, these alternative feminist media are also part of courses of action oriented towards
generating social change. For how extemporary, how ephemeral these efforts might be, for how quick the circulation
of the content might be, this is always part of a strategy to underline gender imbalances
within society and to counteract upon them. Here we are with your final task
for this session. Are you aware of any women’s led or alternative
feminist media experience in your country or region? You can also look up
for interesting initiatives online. Just search
with the following key terms. Feminist media, magazine,
blog, archive, women’s media, LGBTQI media, feminist, queer media practice. Share your findings
with the AGEMI project. Write a short description
commenting on the size, the working logic, and the content
promoted through these initiatives.

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