Friday, March 23, 2012

How Feminism Is Covered in The Media. Echidne Thoughts.

Brought to me courtesy of this article last weekend about why there is no new Gloria Steinem in the movement.

Try to get past the fact that the article appeared in a section called "Fashion and Style." Feminism is about fashion and style, you see.

I've written about that placement many times before. Today's topic is slightly different: Feminism is almost always covered by focusing on the people in the movement, their personalities, their names, what they said or say. Who leads the movement? Who should lead the movement? What about those fights between older feminists and younger feminists? What about racism inside the movement, from the first wave to the last?

Then there's the attribution of something a famous feminist has said to the whole movement of feminism. A synecdoche, if you like. Those who hate feminism dig up extreme comments for that purpose, of course. But even more generally the movement is condensed to a few sentences by one woman, picked somewhat arbitrarily.

And essentially all of it, in the United States, is strictly about the domestic feminist movement.

These kinds of stories are also written about other civil rights movements, sure. But I don't think they are equally common. The overall flavor is different. Feminism is covered the way celebrity magazines would cover it or the People magazine, with much stronger focus on personalities and on the problems inside the movement.

There's nothing wrong with discussing the problems inside the movement. That is all good and necessary. Even talking about the individual leaders or followers inside the various waves is good. What I find weird, however, is the relative division between stories which discuss what the movement aims for, what it achieves or does not, and then the insider stories.

What if the labor movement was only discussed in the latter terms? Articles would be about the internal power struggles within the movement, the prejudices (sexism, racism etc.) of its leaders, their personal charisma, the factions inside the movement and so on. Or apply similar thought experiments to anti-racism movements or immigrants rights movements.

These are my thoughts on this topic so far. The term "feminism" gets confused with the term "feminists" and that confusion influences the relative number of stories written on the former and the latter. We get more stories about real and imaginary "feminists" than about "feminism or feminisms," and we get many more stories about the American feminist movement in recent history than about feminist movements in other countries or feminist ideals and goals.