“Don’t Blame the Media, Become the Media”: Feminist Remix as Utopian Practice

For those of us who identify as feminists, being a consumer of mass media – whether willingly or not – is an often painful, infuriating, and downright exhausting experience. The limited and limiting images of women can make a trip to the movies or a simple ride on the subway into a cause for distress. Through our studies, work, and activism, many of us have learned to be critical of these images, to deconstruct them in order to understand the assumptions and messages behind them. While this critical process can be empowering, it can also feel inadequate. A necessary step, but one that does not stem the continuous onslaught of negative images. A deconstruction without constructing something new in its place.

So how can we as feminists move beyond criticism and actively talk back to mass media and culture? How can we negotiate between being critics of pop culture and fans of it? And how, ultimately, do we transform critical consciousness into creative practice?

This is where feminist remix comes in. Feminist remix is the art and practice of taking what already exists in mass culture and reworking it into something new, something that better reflects feminist values. Media is the material; editing techniques, creativity, and a critical eye are the tools.

Think, for example, of seeing Mad Men focus exclusively on its female characters. Or of watching a queer Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City.

That is the work of Elisa Kreisinger, feminist video remix artist, self-proclaimed pop culture pirate, and workshop leader at this year’s Utopia conference. Kreisinger and her co-facilitator, Francesca Coppa, spoke of the power of feminist remix to redefine dominant narratives of women in our own terms. Their workshop, Talking Back to Culture through Feminist Remix, encouraged feminists to appropriate and remake the very media that makes it difficult to fully enjoy a television show or take that subway ride.

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Another World is Possible: Building the Ideal Community

The workshop “Another World is Possible: Creating Communities that Reinvent Ourselves as we Reinvent the World,” at The Scholar & Feminist 2013: Utopia, offered incredible insight into the process of creating a community based on ideas of equality and respect for diversity. Building utopia requires a complete transformation of the existing notions in society. The ultimate utopia for feminists is based on complete and irrevocable equality between the genders, races, classes, abilities and more. Already, several small communities all across the world are experimenting with creating a new kind of world. The Common Fire Foundation is one of the pioneers in intentional cooperative housing that attempts to provide a safe space for people where their multiple identities can fully engage with each other in the community environment. Common Fire aims to “support cultural transformation by helping create intentional communities where people are committed to leading lives that are joyful, just, and sustainable, from the ground up and the inside out, and to their communities being catalysts for change in the broader society.” The organization is founded on “The Four Essential Characteristics” which focus on: personal growth, engaging diversity, believing the mission statement, and connecting the community to the world.

Facilitator Kavitha Rao gestures while speaking, several workshop attendees sit next to her, listening

Common Fire Co-founder Kavitha Rao talks at the “Another World is Possible” workshop

The workshop not only informed the participants about how communities such as those supported by Common Fire are built, but also engaged the audience around the conflicts that arise from building a community that in essence opposes the status quo. Co-founder Kavitha Rao extensively spoke about the process of setting up the community in New York. The founding members of the Common Fire community started off as strangers who decided to live together, sharing both resources and beliefs. It took almost two years just to negotiate the mission of the organization and its function. Even though Common Fire works against classism, negotiating finances proved to be one of the toughest challenges of setting up the community. The Mission Statement, too, had to be reiterated regularly to ensure all members had a common goal. Despite these hurdles Common Fire expanded its communities across the Unites States and is paving the way for many more cooperative living structures like itself.

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Transformational Learning at The Scholar and Feminist 2013

Everyone has had both challenging and positive experiences in the realm of education, from experiencing racism in the classroom to supportive professors. What allows for these positive experiences to take place? Dean Spade of Seattle University School of Law and activist Rickke Mananzala sought to answer this question during the Open Education workshop at The Scholar & Feminist 2013: Utopia conference.

Dean Spade and Rikke Mananzala talk in the background, a small group of participants discuss in the foreground

Participants break into groups during the Transformational Learning workshop

Dean and Rickke explained their view of educational spaces: there are 3 main points to keep in mind when learning: approach, content, and purpose. These aspects add a reflective layer to the educational process. Teaching is more than a dictation of information. Learning calls for an exchange between teacher and student that creates an open space for true expansion of ideas and perspectives. There is a need for an environment that supports open and honest dialogue rather than a place of senseless note taking.

But should this environment be seen as a “safe space?” The “safe space” is far from a new idea, but it has yet to be given a definition. So what is a “safe space” exactly? Is it a place to feel at ease and open?  Or is it a space where you feel uneasy because your ideas are challenged and you are forced to look at things in a new light? The latter seemed to win as the definition supported by the snaps and resounding “woots.”

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Engaging the Production of Violence

This post is part of a series of reflections on the interdisciplinary winter seminar, “Mumbai At Home and in the World: Gender, Sexuality and the Postcolonial City.” BCRW Associate Director Catherine Sameh introduced the seminar in part 1, BCRW Research Assistant Nicci Yin reflected on occupying space in an urban environment in part 2, and Liz Gipson discussed understandings of queer space in part 3.

students and faculty gather around plastic tables set up on a lawn, eating and talking

Students and faculty eat lunch and discuss the themes of the seminar at Sophia College in Mumbai

I spent two fleeting days at the Mumbai Winter Seminar. And yet, it served as a crucial conduit between my Barnard experiences (notably the Global Symposium in Mumbai) and my new position at the Asian University for Women in Bangladesh. Connecting three women’s colleges across the globe; transporting and translating ideas, philosophies, literatures, values.

In preparation for teaching a student body that represents the entirety of continental Asia, I was particularly keen on finding comparative elements in each session. Collectively, the few segments I attended offered some really interesting comparative insights into patterns of physical, sexual, and structural violence.

The session that best exemplified these themes was conducted by BCRW Associate Director Catherine Sameh. She applied a transnational feminist framework to recent incidents of severe violence, such as the December 2012 rape in Delhi and the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, which allowed us to locate similar (if not the same) theoretical principles in an analysis of extremely different cases (that one might otherwise deem entirely unrelated). Often, ‘western’ discourses shame non-western cultures for breeding violent mentalities. In reality, we are guilty of the same, and it is imperative to also turn the critiques westward if we wish to really understand violence as a global cultural phenomenon. Perhaps Indian culture has cultivated an environment in which men feel overly entitled, women are overly objectified, and the sociopolitical, legal structures in place rarely serve the needs of victims. If so, then American culture has created a space for gun possession to become normalized, gun violence to take place all too frequently, and victims of any act of violence unfairly undervalued (if not entirely blamed).

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