Thanks, We'll Make Our Own Media
At a time when women of substance can seem barely present in mainstream media, there's a movement of women who have defined this as the feminist media opportunity: the moment when women can change the shape of public discourse by making their own media. At last weekend's Women, Action & Media conference (WAM!) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the creative urge was spread with evangelistic fervor.
"I think that there is an increasing impatience with allowing the corporate media to set the agenda even on what the topics of importance are," said conference director Jaclyn Friedman. While the WAM! agenda featured plenty of big-think, content-analysis topics, a nearly equal number of sessions featured how-to sessions for independent authors, bloggers, internet-television producers, and audio podcast-makers. Indeed, a growing number of women seem to be saying, if you can't get the media you want, then make it yourself, dammit!
Media technologist Deanna Zandt, who provides the tech magic for such sites as Feministing, AlterNet and Hightower Lowdown, is unshakable in her conviction that a singular moment for feminist media has arrived. "I think women tend to look at things, or have looked at things in the past, like, oh, well, 'that's tech,' or 'that's nerdy and I don't get that.' You know, the 'I'm not good at math' problem," Zandt explained. "And that's just not true anymore. You just can't say that it's too hard to do."
Indeed, with new tools -- many available for free -- like YouTube for the presentation of Web-based video, and older, but equally user-friendly tools for creating blogs and Web-based audio, a whole new media world is available to anyone who has something to say.
At the WAM! conference, whatever your favored form of media, you could find a workshop to help you learn how to make it on your own. Call it DIY media. Christine Cupaiuolo, former blogger for Ms. magazine and founder of PopPolitics.com, presented a soup-to-nuts introduction to not only making your blog, but promoting it as well. Zandt gave a presentation on using the latest Web tools to enhance feminist blogs. Margaret Pickering of the Participatory Culture Foundation, together with foundation colleague Dean Jansen, conducted a hands-on workshop on how to produce and upload videos to the internet. (Sound like fun? Here's their step-by-step guide: MakeInternetTV.org.)
Lisa Jervis, who co-founded the magazine Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture in 1996, was gratified to see at WAM! the feminist "indie" media in new iterations promulgated by a new generation. Feminist blogs, gaming and videos are being produced by women with little more than ideas and a computer. "It's incredibly exciting and inspiring to see all the young women flooding into feminist media work in all genres," Jervis said. Bitch began as an earlier form of DIY media: a print magazine made on a copy machine. Today, make/shift magazine, named by magazine editor Jen Angel (founder of much-missed Clamor mag) as one of her all-time favorite DIY media projects, is the new kid in town. It's totally homemade, explains Jessica Hoffman, one of the editorial forces in the collective that publishes make/shift, except for the use of an outside printer.
For her part, Hoffman names the internet video series, "FemWatch" as one of her favorite DIY media projects. Hosted by the blogger known as Sudy, FemWatch's first episode is devoted to the topic of "Say It Ain't So Feminism" -- writings on feminist blogs where scribes have revealed unbecoming traits, like classism, racism or shallowness. Hardly without humor, Sudy acts out the words of the offending bloggers.
Homemade videos like this one, where anti-abortion protesters are asked how they would penalize a woman who had an illegal abortion, can make a point rarely addressed in mainstream media political talk shows. And as CNN's nod to the power of YouTube showed during the heat of presidential primary season, homemade media will continue to have an impact on elections. Kay Steiger, associate editor of Campus Progress, was among the attendees at WAM!, having just launched the Web site's election-focused "I'm Voting For," which features homemade videos on a range of issues up for discussion in the presidential contest, including these on reproductive rights. (You're invited to submit your own.)
Independent radio, too, has found a home on the Web, and offers great DIY possibilities in its digital form. The National Radio Project, a non-profit producer of audio content and led by WAM!-goer Lisa Rudman, recently produced this series by Tena Rubio on the neglect of the health care needs of women prisoners incarcerated in California. (The National Radio Project offers instructions on how to freelance for their site.)
Other favorite DIY media named by attendees at WAM! included La Chola, by the blogger who calls herself brownfemipower, and the Feminist Peace Network blog by Lucinda Marshall.
During her workshops, one of the things Deanna Zandt has participants do is shout out major moments or breakthroughs in communications history. People will call out everything from drumming to the invention of the printing press and television, said Zandt. "And I ask people what happened to all of those tools over time; in whose control did they end up? Whose domain did they end up in? Certainly not ours.
"[That's why] I require women in my workshops to participate in this particular moment," Zandt explained. We can't have that again. We can't lose our access to these tools. We can't lose what we can do with these tools. I mean, it's so democratized now."