Recalling the Past, Looking to the Future
Karl, Marilee, Women in Action
What were some of the analyses, positions and strategies of feminists in the early years of the women's movement as we faced the challenges of transnational media and emerging information and communication technologies (ICTs)? Are these of any relevance to feminists today, given that 1) the world of corporatised media and ICTs has developed so rapidly and is much more sophisticated and complex than it was just a few years ago; and 2) the feminist movement has grown rapidly as well, especially in the Global South, and has developed a more far-reaching and profound analysis of these phenomena? Is there anything to be learned from the strategies and struggles of the feminist movement around media and technology in the early years of the international women's movement?
This article attempts to answer this question by taking a quick look at some of the early publications of Isis. At the very least, this can help us recall some of the foundations of today's feminist movement, and give us a glimpse of how far we have moved forward in our analyses and strategies around the media and ICTs. Possibly, it might remind us of questions still to be delved into, of strategies that remain useful; or even perhaps, of issues needing further analysis and even issues we left behind and ought to take up again.
Underlying early feminist strategies vis-a-vis the media was the view that "the mass media has become one of the most powerful instruments for the transmission of culture. Its role is crucial in the development of attitudes and values, and in the perpetuation of social aspirations.... It is not an exaggeration to say that there is no neutral media. Most of the news and information in the world is owned and controlled by the western transnational news agencies." Isis Bulletin (the precursor to Women in Action) no. 18, on Women and the Media, 1981.
A major impetus for the foundation of Isis--and of many other feminist and alternative women's media, resource centres and groups--was our need to create our own channels of communication, our own media.
This major strategy in the women's movement in the 1970s and the 1980s was articulated eloquently by Kamla Bhasin in the Isis International publication Women and Media: Analysis, Alternatives and Action, which focused on Asia and was published in 1984 with the Pacific and Asian Women's Forum and Kali for Women (India):
"It is important that we recognise the manipulative role and the class and gender bias of media and that we challenge it. Instead of remaining a tool in the hands of men and the elite, media should be increasingly controlled by those who challenge and change the present system. We women must create alternatives in different media and use them to inform and empower women, to get women out of their isolation. We must make ourselves more visible and audible so that our concerns do not remain unarticulated and unattended. Not only must we create alternative messages but also evolve alternative methods of working together; methods which are more democratic and participatory and which break the divide between 'media makers' and 'media takers'. It is heartening to see many women making feminist films, publishing magazines, writing plays, songs, children's poems, to express themselves and to initiate a dialogue with other women, to challenge stereotypes and myths."
Other early strategies to challenge corporatised media included: Monitoring the portrayal of women and the antiwomen bias in the media, and taking actions to change these; protesting stereotypes, and the commodification and exploitation of women in the media, particularly in advertising;, organising, lobbying, and mobilising to increase the numbers of women working and the positive coverage of women in the mainstream media; research and monitoring of transnational media corporations and their impact on national and local media; and building awareness of all of the above. …