The Regional Roots of Transnational Digital Activism

This guest post is published in conjunction with the meeting of the Latin American Studies Association taking place April 29-May 1 in Lima, Peru. #LASA17

by Elisabeth Jay Friedman, author of Interpreting the Internet: Feminist and Queer Counterpublics in Latin America

Latin American digital border crossers have much to teach us about “the way transnational flows of people and ideas have shaped Latin America,” a theme of this year’s Latin American Studies Association conference. Such transnational flows have gone in both directions on the internet, as I have learned from the Argentine, Brazilian, and Mexican feminist and queer activists whom I interviewed for my book, Interpreting the Internet: Feminist and Queer Counterpublics in Latin America.

The conversion of a technology supposedly invented by the US military into a strategic tool for activists around the world is often taken for granted. But how did it happen? A closer look reveals that progressive computer engineers, programmers, and administrators, all dedicated to expanding digital resources beyond the politically powerful, economically fortunate, and socially advantaged, ensured that social change organizations and movements would be some of the earliest adopters. In Latin America, communities emerging out of the fiercely repressive regimes of the 1970s and 1980s embraced and expanded new communications technologies. For example, Brazil’s AlterNex became the first non-academic internet provider in all of Latin America, even before the military left power. Housed at IBASE, one of Brazil’s most important and durable civic organizations, it was connected to the public data network – run through the state telephone company. The company knew enough to be suspicious of IBASE’s oppositional efforts, and periodically would cut off their telephone service. But IBASE had enough clout to insist that it be restored.

In the 1990s, many feminists also seized on the still-evolving internet. They had been creating alternative media for well over a century, using it to connect transnationally: activists eagerly engaged extra-regional ideas while they contemplated their own pathways towards improving women’s status and rights. As in later periods, editors and writers often literally carried these ideas across borders in their suitcases. Take for example the 19th century Argentine writer Juana Manuela Gorriti, whose travels and passions led her to found both an Argentine and a Peruvian newspaper. In the late 20th century, contextually rooted border crossing continued. Projects such as Modemmujer in Mexico connected national audiences to each other and fostered transnational discussions through an early listserv, initially founded to monitor developments at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

Throughout the decades since then, Latin American feminist and queer communities have interpreted the internet into their own vernacular. They have built chains of access across seemingly unbridgeable chasms of inequality, such as race, geography, and class. And they have hacked the intentions of popular applications, making distribution lists into interactive spaces and blogs into historical archives. Latin American activists have long taken part in transnational flows of ideas, and have appropriated global technology to serve their own ends.


Elisabeth Jay Friedman is Chair and Professor of Politics and Professor of Latin American Studies at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of Unfinished Transitions: Women and the Gendered Development of Democracy in Venezuela, 1936–1996 and the coauthor of Sovereignty, Democracy, and Global Civil Society: State-Society Relations at UN World Conferences.


Celebrating Women’s History with Grace Lee Boggs: “These Are the Times to Grow Our Souls”

Grace Lee Boggs was a tireless activist for feminism, Black Power, civil rights, environmental justice, and workers’ rights. A recipient of many human rights and lifetime achievement awards, including a place in the National Women’s Hall of Fame, Boggs remained a crusader for social justice right up to her 100th year.

In her 2012 book The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century, written with Scott Kurashige, Boggs drew from seven decades of activist experience to redefine “revolution” for our times. During the presidential election, co-author Kurashige edited together the following excerpts from the chapter “These Are the Times to Grow Our Souls” to share how Boggs continues to motivate us. This post originally appeared on the Grace Lee Boggs Facebook page, and we turn to this excerpt during Women’s National History Month as a reminder of the life and work of an extraordinary activist whose revolutionary legacy continues to inspire fundamental change today.


These are the times that try our souls. Each of us needs to undergo a tremendous philosophical and spiritual transformation. Despite the powers and principals that are bent on objectifying and commodifying us and all our human relationships, the interlocking crises of our time require that we exercise the power within us to make principled choices in our ongoing daily and political lives—choices that will eventually although not inevitably (since there are no guarantees) make a difference.

How are we going to bring about these transformations? Politics as usual—debate and argument, even voting—are no longer sufficient. Our system of representative democracy, created by a great revolution, must now itself become the target of revolutionary change. For too many years counting, vast numbers of people stopped going to the polls, either because they did not care what happened to the country or the world or because they did not believe that voting would make a difference on the profound and interconnected issues that really matter. Now, with a surge of new political interest having give rise to the Obama presidency, we need to inject new meaning into the concept of the “will of the people.”

The will of too many Americans has been to pursue private happiness and take as little responsibility as possible for governing our country. As a result, we have left the job of governing to our elected representatives, even though we know that they serve corporate interests and therefore make decisions that threaten our biosphere and widen the gulf between the rich and poor both in our country and throughout the world. In other words, even though it is readily apparent that our lifestyle choices and the decisions of our representatives are increasing social injustice and endangering our planet, too many of us have wanted to continue going our merry and not-so-merry ways, periodically voting politicians in and out of office but leaving the responsibility for policy decisions to them. Our will has been to act like consumers, not like responsible citizens.

Continue reading “Celebrating Women’s History with Grace Lee Boggs: “These Are the Times to Grow Our Souls””


Finding Women in the State

by Wang Zheng, author of Finding Women in the State: A Socialist Feminist Revolution in the People’s Republic of China, 1949-1964

This is our final guest post published in conjunction with the Association for Asian Studies conference in Toronto. Thank you for reading!

Hundreds and thousands of Chinese women from diverse backgrounds had joined the Communist Revolution between the early 1920s and late 1940s. Like many of their male comrades, many Communist women had died in battlefields or on execution grounds in their fight against the warlords, Japanese fascists, and Nationalist government. When the Chinese Communist Party won the civil war in 1949, there were five hundred and thirty thousands women members in the CCP who now became the state power holder. Except for a few books in English presenting portraits of Chinese Communist women who endured tremendous hardship in the vicissitudes of the revolutionary journey, these women who had been an important part of the epic of the Communist Revolution curiously vanished in scholarship examining the CCP’s leadership in building a socialist country.

Parallel to the absence of Communist women in scholarship in and outside China have been the dominant narratives of how the party-state did or did not liberate Chinese women. Accomplishments or failures in advancing women’s equal rights and social economic progress have been unfailingly attributed to a monolithic abstract entity – the party-state, a patriarch paradoxically adopting many pro-women policies in the socialist period. If feminist scholars in the English speaking world since the 1980s have shown logical coherence in criticizing the Chinese patriarchal state’s failure to fulfill its revolutionary promise of women’s liberation, scholars in post-socialist China have articulated many contradictory statements without historical research, from “Chinese women have been the most liberated in the world,” to “a crime of Maoist women’s liberation was to have masculinized Chinese women.”

Based on archival research and interviews of Communist women who were officials of the socialist state at various administrative levels, my book reveals the concealed and erased history of socialist state feminists’ endeavors to materialize their visions of socialist revolution. Continuing an anti-feudalist New Culture agenda, state feminists operated in diverse fields including the film industry to transform patriarchal cultural norms and promote gender equality laws, discourse, and practices. Their conscious combat against sexism in and outside the CCP constituted a contentious “gender line” of struggle within the power structure of the Party. Excavating a hidden feminist history in the Chinese socialist revolution, my book presents the first scholarly effort to investigate the high politics of the CCP and examines the demise of a socialist revolution from a gender perspective. I also raise critical questions of methodology in scholarship dealing with specific historical moments but without a historical approach.


Wang Zheng is Professor of Women’s Studies and History and Research Scientist at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Women in the Chinese Enlightenment: Oral and Textual Histories and the coeditor of From the Soil: The Foundations of Chinese Society, Translating Feminisms in China,  and Some of Us: Chinese Women Growing Up in the Mao Era.


Feminist Media Histories Celebrates Women’s History Month

To celebrate Women’s History Month Feminist Media Histories will be highlighting articles from past issues. Each Tuesday and Thursday throughout the month of March one FMH article will be free to download for 48 hours. We begin with Chika Kinoshita’s article, “Something More Than A Seduction Story: Shiga Akiko’s Abortion Scandal and Late 1930s Japanese Film Culture,” published in the inaugural issue two years ago and available now. A stunning example of how feminist media history can illuminate histories of stardom and moviegoing, while demonstrating the centrality of movie culture to larger discussions of gender and politics in many global contexts. Other articles featured this month will highlight writing on the cinema by filmmaker Esfir Shub and Ms. Magazine critics, the unsung work of female costume designers and radio pioneers, the challenge of digital preservation, lesbian film distribution in the 1970s, contemporary cyberfeminism in Iran and much more.

Featured articles will also showcase the range of special issues published by FMH, including Women and Soundwork, Histories of Celebrity, Materialisms, Found Footage, and Archives and Archivists.

Follow Feminist Media Histories on Facebook and Twitter to catch every free download this month. And watch for future issues on Gender + Comedy, Data, and Comics.

— Shelley Stamp
Editor, Feminist Media Histories


Must-read articles for LGBTQ History Month

In celebration of LGBTQ History Month this October, enjoy free access to articles from Feminist Media Histories, a journal that examines the role gender has played in media technologies across a range of historical periods and global contexts. These must-read articles will be freely available throughout the month of October.


"Poster for Club de femmes (1936)." (From article)
Poster for Club de femmes (1936). (From article)

Proto-Queer Media Criticism: “Cinema Ramblings” from an RKO Secretary
Candace Moore
(Vol. 1, No. 1, Winter 2014)

Lisa Ben’s “Cinema Ramblings” in the 1940s underground publication Vice Versa mark some of the first media reviews to focus on homosexual themes, representations, and subtexts from a self-proclaimed lesbian perspective. While still largely unknown, the critical lenses and stylistic methods she employed set a precedent for the kind of radical queer media criticism that reviewers engage in today.

Mod Pop Methods: This Year’s Girl
Quinlan Miller
(Vol. 1, No. 1, Winter 2014)

This article reconstructs queer popular culture as a way of exploring media production studies as a trans history project. Miller argues that queer and trans insights into gender are indispensable to feminist media studies. The article looks at The Ugliest Girl in Town series (ABC, 1968–69), a satire amplifying a purported real-life fad in flat chests, short haircuts, and mod wigs, to restore texture to the everyday landscape of popular entertainment.

"Figure 5. FIGURE 5 11, 3, 5, 9, Lesbians are mighty fine' in Home Movie." (From article)
“11, 3, 5, 9, Lesbians are mighty fine” in Home Movie (1972). (From article)

Lesbian Feminist Cinema’s Archive and Moonforce Media’s National Women’s Film Circuit
Roxanne Samer
(Vol. 1, No. 2, Spring 2015)

This essay offers a microhistory of the feminist film distributor Moonforce Media. Between 1975 and 1980, Moonforce Media built the National Women’s Film Circuit, a lesbian feminist distribution system that circulated preconstituted packages of multigeneric feminist films through as wide a nontheatrical feminist U.S. market as possible.

“Feeling-Images”: Montage, Body, and Historical Memory in Barbara Hammer’s Nitrate Kisses
Alessandra Chiarini
(Vol. 2, No. 3, Summer 2016)

This essay investigates the ways in which Barbara Hammer’s film Nitrate Kisses (1992) traces stories about homosexuality throughout the twentieth century. Inspired both by the concept of “vertical cinema,” as theorized by Maya Deren, and by the historical-philosophical reflections of Michel Foucault and Walter Benjamin, Hammer realizes a montage process in Nitrate Kisses that resurrects a forgotten historical memory through the juxtaposition of archival materials and original images. It is a memory that is reappropriated through the film as an experiential, tactile, and emotional moment.


1.cover-source-1Want more free articles from Feminist Media Histories? Follow FMH on Facebook and Twitter for free weekly downloads from the latest issue.


Srimati Basu at the United Nations International Day of Families 2015

Every year, the United Nations dedicates May 15th, the International Day of Families, to bringing attention to the rights of families across the world and society as a whole, with a particular focus on women and children. This year’s commemoration of the day centered upon “the role of men, gender equality and children’s rights in contemporary families”–  a theme discussed in depth during a panel held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.

The Trouble with Marriage: Feminists Confront Law and Violence in India
The Trouble with Marriage: Feminists Confront Law and Violence in India

Among the many insightful panelists and speakers present that day was our own Srimati Basu, Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and Anthropology at the University of Kentucky and author of The Trouble with Marriage: Feminists Confront Law and Violence in India.

BasuIn line with her new book, she spoke of the inequality still present in South Asian family law, especially pertaining to those surrounding family violence:

“I wanted to make a push for us to talk more about ideas of gender-based violence in terms of notions of affirmative consent of the people concerned and in terms of notions of violence as violations of bodily integrity, for example,” says Basu in a post-panel interview, “instead of violations of honor and violations of kinship.” Basu also touches upon the conflicting role of families as sources of both care and economic sustenance, as well as how to address these differences while guarding against family violence.

Read more about the Day of Families panel session at the UNDESA Division for Social Policy and Development’s website, which also features a link to the full webcast of the event.

 


Let’s Get Serious: An Interview with Cynthia Enloe

To accompany Davita Silfen Glasberg’s review of Seriously!: Investigating Crashes and Crises as If Women Mattered in last month’s Gender & Society, author Cynthia Enloe sat down with SAGE’s Sarah Shinkle to speak about the makings of her book. While not herself an economist, Cynthia Enloe’s book applies feminist theories and concepts to crises such as the banking crash of 2008– how were the ideas of women taken (or not taken) seriously, and what effect does this have on contemorary dynamics of gender?

Read the full review and access the podcast on SAGE’s book reviews page, or listen to the podcast here.

Cynthia Enloe
Cynthia Enloe

“I think like so many of us, we’ve sat in meetings and we’ve watched some woman — if she’s lucky enough to get at the table — say something really smart or useful or thoughtful, and the guys around the table just move right along and never respond. And I think that’s about the politics of who’s taken seriously. So I got thinking about that— I thought, well, feminists can investigate everything… we should all investigate who’s taken seriously, and that means who gets to bestow the idea of seriousness on other people.

I really began thinking about that as a political dynamic that happens in all kinds of settings, and wanted to really pursue under what conditions are women’s analyses, particularly feminist analyses, of all kinds of events and trends and conditions . . . when are they treated by the listeners as if they mattered?”

Seriously!: Investigating Crashes and Crises as If Women Mattered (2013)
Seriously!: Investigating Crashes and Crises as If Women Mattered
(2013)

“There is something peculiar or at least distinctive going on within the culture of contemporary banking. Because one of the things that so many observers were saying — and these were non-feminist observers — was that the crash was brought on by irresponsible risk-taking. And feminists know that risk-taking is something that is very gendered. . . the celebration of the risk-taker tends to be the celebration of a certain kind of masculinity.”

“It was very interesting to realize that you could ask feminist questions about masculinities in order to reveal how a financial crisis had been created, and it also helped to do it cross-nationally.”


Happy 42nd Anniversary!

As pointed out by W. Joseph Campbell, author of Getting it Wrong, today is the 42nd Anniversary of the women’s liberation protest September 7, 1968, on the Atlantic City boardwalk where the myth of bra-burning was born.

He writes in his own blog, Media Myth Alert, that “…bra-burning” is a media myth that has morphed and taken on fresh significance in the years since 1968. “Bra-burning” the epithet has lost some of its sting.

The legend of bra-burning began to take hold in the days and weeks following the women’s liberation protest September 7, 1968, on the Atlantic City boardwalk.

Some 100 demonstrators gathered there, as one participant put it, “to protest the degrading image of women perpetuated by the Miss America pageant,” which took place that night inside the city’s Convention Center.

A centerpiece of the protest was the so-called “Freedom Trash Can” into which demonstrators placed such “instruments of torture” as brassieres, girdles, and high-heeled shoes.

Organizers of the protest have long insisted that nothing was burned during the demonstration.”

But, as he points out in his post, the truth is a bit more complicated than that. It’s a really great read, do check it out.