Wednesday, February 14, 2007

NCMR :: There is No Media Justice Without Women: Models for Feminist Media Action

by Sarah Kuck

A National Conference for Media Reform panel on Saturday, January 3rd.

Women, women, women; we were chatting, laughing, and exchanging stories and business cards in a conference room at the 2007 National Conference for Media Reform. We all gathered to listen to the panel titled “There Is No Media Justice Without Women: Models for Feminist Action.” I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I should have known that a panel run by and about women would turn into an inclusionary discussion on how we are all making change in our communities to increase women’s voices in the media.

Almost every seat in the room was taken, as the panel’s organizer and moderator, Jen Pozner, said she wanted to focus on what women are doing to reform the media and how they are doing it, rather than why. She said that by attending this conference it shows that we already understand how important media are to pertinent justice issues.

The panel members included:

Jessica Clark is the editor in chief of In These Times. Traditionally a male dominated publication. In the past few years, In These Times has seen a major switch in leadership. The publication now has an equal number of male and female contributors on the masthead. Women are now in positions of power and for the first time in years the magazine is winning acclaim, most notably and recently the 2006 award for Best Political Coverage from UTNE magazine.

I was inspired as Jessica talked about what an amazing time it is for women to enter and make change in the media because of the new technology available for networking and social change. Historically, she said, the editorial pages have been male dominated, and women were segregated to fashion and beauty magazines. She talked about her efforts to change that. Her model was to bring women to the fold by covering feminist movements, encouraging more feminist articles and covering women and politics.

Karen Toering is a co-director for Reclaim the Media, a Seattle based nonprofit organization dear to my heart. I am a Seattleite and a proud RTM volunteer. RTM advocates for a free diverse press, community access to communication tools and technology, and media policy that serves the public. Their offices coffee shops, their hallways the streets, and their members the people.

Karen said that RTM supports community media because we cannot entrust our history or history, our cultures and our democracy to the consolidated media empires alone. This point hit home for many of the audience members and panelists, as some championed it later during the panel.

Karen said she doesn’t think of the organization as a feminist organization. “It’s not about how we empower women to take leadership with in the organization because women are the leaders of the organization,” she said. “We deeply believe in these values and it just comes out. We are the organization we wish to see, so we don’t have to question it.”

Reclaim the Media’s example for something to do to get the word out about women in the media was to give out Mother’s Day cards with a message to your mother about media justice. The cards were a success; people gave them to their mothers, mothers chatted and brought up questions.

Jennifer Pozner carried an excited energy with her. She was organizer and panelist. WIMN works with mainstream and corporate media to get women’s voices in to the news. WIMN makes it easier for publications to find women experts and sources. The site also creates space for social and political debate, media analysis and blogging.

Theba was sitting in for Thenmozhi Soundararajan from Third World Majority, a media training and production resource center run by a collective of young women of color and their allies. The group works to promote the leadership of young women. One way they do this is by give women the ability to tell their story through film. Theba showed us a video featuring the stories of some high school age women. To a toe-tapping rhythm the young women talked about their school, art, truth, sex, lies, each telling their story about race and discrimination. It was heartbreaking, real and beautiful

DeAnna is a Chicana woman from the Texas Media Empowerment Project. First she said she wanted to honor the women who have passed down their stories to her because they allowed her to be there and for helping her become who she is. She urged the audience to stop and listen to the women who hold knowledge and history.

The TMEP model is a work in progress, led by women. She looked to the future, in which we are already being objectified. “It’s already being male dominated and we haven’t even gotten there yet.” She urged the crowed room to let women tell the truth in your community, share that space with them.

All the panelists insisted on not taking up too much time so as to allow audience members to share what they were doing in their own communities. We got to hear from a variety of women from leaders connecting with their Native American roots to lesbians petitioning for more homosexual views at the next conference. Professor Caroline Byerly, from Howard University, has been teaching activism and feminism. Rosa Clemente of WBI Radio in New York City, hiphopliveshere.com, spoke about how young women of color are marginalized in the media and in the media reform movement. One surprise for me was a guest appearance by Sarah Olson, a reporter for Truthout who received a subpoena in December to testify in the court-material of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq. Olson is planning not to testify against Lt. Watada. This her statement explaining why she will not testify:

“It seems clear that the U.S. Army is attempting to redefine the parameters of acceptable speech and to classify dissent as a punishable offense. Subpoenaing journalists in this case unequivocally sends the message that dissent is neither tolerated nor permitted. Utilize your constitutionally guaranteed speech rights and go to prison. What rational soldier would agree to speak with me or any other member of the media if jail was a likely result?

When the press cannot or does not reflect the vibrant and varied perspectives within our society, it is reduced to a simple transcriber of government press releases. The record of existing dissent is erased, and a dumbed-down, homogenized version of “The American Experience” is all that’s left in its place.”

The women at the panel all agreed to bring up women’s issues at panel where they felt it was missing. Most women sounded like they were going to request more female plenary speakers, more women panelist, and more panels about women’s issues.

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