A View Of Feminism In Light Of Pop Culture

By Jennifer Gish
Times Union, Albany, N.Y.

Andi Zeisler’s look at feminism is more about what Miley Cyrus is up to than 19th-century suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s work.

Zeisler, the co-founder of Bitch magazine, will speak Monday at Russell Sage College in Troy to open Women’s History Month, but her focus is on the here and now.

Zeisler, who serves as editorial/creative director of the magazine, will bring depictions of women and discussions of feminism in popular culture to the forefront.

“We started Bitch back in 1996 to sort of look at popular culture as a place where feminist activism could really be, as a site of feminist activism, because it seems to us that what a lot of people thought of as a mainstream feminist magazine, which at that time was Ms. magazine, wasn’t really looking at (that),” Zeisler said.

“People still say it’s ‘just a TV show, just a movie.’ Our point is it’s really not because pop culture is the way that most people, particularly young people, get their sense of who they are, who they want to be in the world. It’s where they get their views of politics. … There’s a lot of messages in there.”

And the advent of social media has shaped our ability to talk about those things, opening the door for feminism to take a new shape.

While young people once said they consider themselves feminists, but would never attend a march or rally, now they will share views in a tweet or viral YouTube video.

At times this digital interaction leads to change, such as when social media campaigns have resulted in a sexist advertisement being pulled, or when online activism contributed to the Susan G. Komen Foundation reversing its decision about defunding Planned Parenthood.

“One of the really big things that social media has done is it’s really redefined what activism is and it’s really lowered the bar for entry,” Zeisler said.

Although feminism was once seen as a movement involving primarily college-educated white women, social media has allowed more voices to join the discussion.

As far as pop culture, there’s no net loss or gain when it comes to the portrayal of women, Zeisler said. There have been setbacks with shows such as “The Bachelor,” which she said are “putting forth a retro notion of what it is to be valued as a woman.”

Yet the rise of female comics Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who have points of view that “have feminism baked into them,” is an advance, she said. And more TV shows, particularly those on HBO and Showtime, are featuring different types of women, including older women, complex women and women who “don’t really have it together.” In other words, real women.

“One thing that’s really crucial is that there are so many more women involved in the production of the things that we see,”

Zeisler said. “There are so many more women involved in writing and advertising and shows running on TV, but there still aren’t enough of them.”

The intensity of media — from social media to countless cable channels — means more material for the public to wade through, she said.

“That’s why it’s really important for parents to take this stuff seriously and parents to be media literate,” Zeisler said.

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