This week in the live-blog of Feminism For Real economic justice activist Lisa Mantia discusses the uphill battle of feminist emissaries to get their message across in a mass media environment. “Some issues are simply too complex to understand after one line about it on TV,” she observes. And most issues involving systemic social injustice are such issues.
FINDING OUR VOICE IN THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA MADNESS by Lisa Mantia (pp. 165-169).
p. 165 – “The relationship between media literacy in education and feminism doesn’t get the attention it deserves.” Mantia’s emphasis on media literacy as an essential building-block of feminist action reminds me of Jennifer Pozner’s Reality Bites Back which focuses on reality television shows but can be used as a tool for deconstructing mass media messages more generally. Also the blog Sociological Images, curated by Lisa Wade, which I frankly can’t get enough of. I highly recommend both!
p. 165 – “There’s a different feminism for every person that identifies as a feminist, right?” Gosh, I go back and forth on this assertion constantly. On the one hand, I absolutely agree with Mantia that feminist politics and philosophy is going to look different for every self-identified feminist. And I abhor the sort of bullying behavior that comes with gate-keeping movements or schools of thought in order to keep them “pure” (even if the word “purity” isn’t used as such). On the other hand, the idea of ending sexism isn’t exactly endlessly malleable — so you can’t act like a sexist ass and then claim that action is “feminist.” But how do you give identities concrete meaning without being exclusionary in a way that defeats the very purpose of social justice activism?
Sometimes I think I think too much.
p. 166 – “There are many great alternative information sources in zines, blogs, and web-sites, etc. But are these outlets truly accessible? … Many media outlets require money to purchase newspapers, television sets … investment in computers and internet service.” May I pause for a moment here to put in a shameless plug for libraries? Obviously libraries are far from perfect community resource centers — you need to be able to access them during normal business hours, be able to travel to a location not your home, have an address to register for a library card, and to some extent you are bound by both the library (or library network’s) holdings and by any internet use policies they may have in place. I have the economic and social privilege of being able to surf the ‘net in the privacy of my own home reading erotica, accessing sexuality information, networking with other queer and feminist activists, without worrying that my activity is being monitored in the same way it would be if I were on a public terminal. Still, libraries can be great sites for leveling the playing field of accessibility.
p. 168 – “Although independent media is vital, change within the mainstream is imperative, but will not change overnight.” I like how this sentence gets at two important realities of social justice activism and social change. 1) The need for parallel action on “outside” and “inside” tracks, people making change at both margin and center. Too often, I feel, people working outside the pre-existing systems accuse those working for change inside of collaborating with “the enemy” while people working on the inside see the outsiders as hopelessly ineffectual dreamers. I’d argue that both visionaries and pragmatists are necessary to build a more feminist-friendly world. And I also think it’s really important to remember that feminist activism is about what we in the history business call the long duree or the grand sweep of history. Social justice activism (in my opinion) often suffers from collective memory loss, a condition which leads to impatience and frustration and disillusion with activism when the results aren’t immediate. Figuring out how to survive in an imperfect world while still “being the change” is the project of a lifetime — and likely beyond.
p. 168 – “There are never only two solutions for an issue.” In a culture addicted to binary thinking, I like to keep in mind a concept I term the “secret third option.” The Secret Third Option (STO) is the work-around, the game-changing, frame-altering way of coming at any seemingly-intractable issue that will give you fresh alternatives. That will break open the either/or dynamic and suggest both/and solutions (if the either/or options had merit) or just side-step the problems of both and introduce a new paradigm.
In short, if your options all seem bleak, it’s time to take a step back and ask what the Secret Third Option (however improbable) might look like — and what it would take to get there.
Join me next week for the twenty-second and final installment of our live-blog series: thoughts on Kate Klein’s essay “On Learning How Not to be An Asshole Academic Feminist” (pp. 171-176)