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Women Action and the Media (WAM!)

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, there’s a difference between listening to and acknowledging the collective power of your audience and catering to them as advertisers’ target market. I’ve gone to far too many conferences, meet-ups and online discussions that play the former off as the later.

If you can no longer stand the miles of pasty young men dressed in black baking in the hot Austin sun or if you’re sick of the venture capital validation of the white-boy punk genius, I’m suggesting two upcoming events that will cleanse and renew your spirits. Both events, the National Conference on Media Reform (NCMR) and WAM It Yourself are opportunities to get off the internet and build community, share strategies and hear some amazing people talk in person. Also the live tweeting/networking possibilities are endless. Today I’ll be profiling WAM! It Yourself and Monday’s post will be dedicated to NCMR. If you’re going to go to two events this year, I honestly have to say you’d cover your ground (not to mention save time and money) by attending just these two events.

The first is Women Action and the Media’s WAM! It Yourself. You’re guaranteed to find your local forth-estate feminists here from media producers, PR strategists, journalists, activists, academics, community organizers, feminists, funders and philanthropists, “citizen” media watchdogs, media policy advocates, alternative-network-builders, bloggers, writers, teachers, artists, technology trainers, cartoonists, deejays… we’re all there.

 

I spoke with WAM NYC organizers Emily Douglas and Jean Stevens about solidarity in the feminist blogosphere, tackling the media from the inside and out and what to expect for WAM! It Yourself 2011.

Let’s start off with the generic: Do you think it’s a pivotal time now in media for women or more like a passing nod to cherry-picked bloggers by certain near-death mediums (magazines, TV, etc).

It is a pivotal time in media for any group that has been traditionally marginalized—for two reasons.  First, the production of media has changed profoundly.  As media is becoming participatory, many more of us get to have a voice and an opinion in public.  But that means the onus is on us to equip ourselves with the skills needed to be equal players in this new landscape.  We’re in a moment when we can shape the way stories about women’s lives are told, publicly, and we can tell our stories on our own terms.  We need the tools to do that–and empowering women with those tools is a central component of WAM’s work.  In fact, the democratization of media has been incredibly fruitful for feminist writing and thought–as the thriving feminist blogosphere attests.  We’re living in a great moment for feminist dialogue and online community-building, and we largely have new media to thank for that.

But politically, too, we are at a crossroads.  As women speak louder and become ever more articulate about their aims, the pushback against reproductive justice, women’s rights in the workplace, women’s existence in the public sphere just worsens.  We have to make sure that our media are reaching beyond our own communities and to those who aren’t yet fighting every day for women’s rights.
True, as media becomes more democratized women must start learning those tools in order to participate, despite juggling like 500 other things they have to do. There are hundreds of media festivals in New York. How is WAM different?

WAM is, at root, a support network of feminists who all share the same goal–gender justice in media–and realize that all we need to achieve that is to form a network and to share our skills.  Our programming is driven by members who come forward wanting to organize events and activities.  There’s a real commitment to inclusivity and bringing in new people, including people who aren’t very experienced.  At the same time, we’re not just a networking group–WAM is also trying to reach owners and decision-makers in media who enable sexist stereotyping or unfair hiring practices–not to mention working to get women into more positions of power within media.  We’re unique in that we tackle power structures in media from the “outside” but we also act as a resource and refuge for women on the “inside.”
Wow, I actually didn’t know that. I think that tandem approach, fighting on the inside and on the outside, is so important to the supply chain of information as analyzed by women and also points to the sustainability of the movement. Now, what’s the deal with WAM It Yourself? Why Myself?

Technically, we’re WAMming it ourselves this year, and did so last year, because the national WAM conference is on hiatus and will reconvene in 2012.  But WAM also fosters an ethic of participation, wants to grow local chapters, and involves members in taking leadership roles in programming.  In New York City, we’re particularly lucky to have a high concentration of amazing feminist media makers–bloggers, writers, reporters, editors.  It’s very rewarding to organize WAM It Yourself here in NYC, because we draw such incredible people. And we learn as much from “audience” members for any event as we do from presenters.

Many of the women speaking are active on twitter and you can obviously find them online but for me, WAM was always about an opportunity to get off the internet and meet other feminists in a physical room. Once we’re there next Saturday, what can women expect?

Women can expect to be in a room with several dozen feminist media makers who are equally motivated, professional, passionate, committed and open as they are in the fight for gender justice in media–and to each other.  On Saturday, you can expect to feel like you have the ability and the tools to take your work, your career, to the next step. You might meet editors to pitch to, you might form a new writing group, you might learn some new tools for promoting your work, you might make new friends.  In between sessions you have opportunities to share your projects and ideas, and lay the foundation for future collaborations.  Last year’s conference had a really special energy–inspirational might be the only word for it.  And it’s comfortable!  You don’t need to wear a suit.

I actually don’t even own a suit so this is good news. Although I do have one of those ‘boyfriend jackets’ which is essentially a suit jacket they sell at a mark up. (I got mine on sale). One thing I always wonder about at these events is if we’re preaching to the choir.

Most people who come to WAM already identify as feminists–but we’re not preaching to them, we facilitate them empowering themselves and each other! WAM is finding community where it already exists, growing it, bringing new people to it.  WAM helps people who are doing feminist work alone realize that they can seek support from a host of other women who are fighting for the same things.  Through WAM, women develop confidence to bring a stronger feminist voice to the work they do–and that, in turn, reaches those who are not yet integrating feminism into their work. Helping women understand how many resources they have for telling their own stories is an important part of WAM, but so is broadening the scope of what is considered a “woman’s” story or a “woman’s” place.  WAM exists for women who want to work for the New York Times, or CNN, or Random House and want to write about non-traditionally female issues–the economy, politics, law, science, the environment.  And WAM exists working for women who are creating their own spaces to tell their stories, including traditionally female stories.

Emily your day-to-day work is in the belly of the progressive beast as the Editor of TheNation.com. I’ve found that many progressive audiences aren’t all that feminist, especially when it comes to negotiating power and acknowledging privildge. What’s been your experience?

The Nation has an impressive commitment to and record of covering women’s and feminist issues, and is fortunate to employ a host of brilliant women editors, columnists and contributors, not least our editor and publisher, Katrina vanden Heuvel.  What makes The Nation a particularly great environment for a feminist is that ideas for articles on women’s issues don’t solely originate from the women on staff! There is a real sense that women’s stories are human stories. However, I have had plenty of encounters with ostensibly progressive institutions that just aren’t that feminist. I think this goes back to the fact that feminism is a theory that challenges basic assumptions about how power and accountability, and to really have a feminist practice, as an institution, means grappling very deeply with difficult questions that make your day-to-day operation much more difficult.  Feminism means you can’t take shortcuts, intellectually or practically.

Jean, you’re a law student. You too are negotiating power and privilege on an institutional level and you have to wear a suit.

l’m extremely lucky to attend the City University of New York School of Law, a school committed to public interest law — most students work as public defenders, in unions, in advocating for housing reform, environmental justice, for reproductive justice. Most of us analyze and discuss the intersections of race, class and gender in some way every day, within the context of law. We feel incredibly angry or frustrated by its limitations, but also feel empowered to use law in our fight for social justice. Many of my fellow students consider themselves feminist, so l’ve often felt in good company. l’m struck by the overlap of my more radical legal community and my activist, feminist media community. Both fight for social change through overwhelmingly powerful, albeit hierarchical and flawed, institutions. l’ve learned feminist work has had such a place in the law, as it does in media. So many feminists have found their way to the law; they’re responsible for so many progressive policies we have today, and for performing the sort of legal work that is often overlooked. l’ve also realized just how much more feminist legal work must must be done.

WAM! It Yourself NYC starts Friday, March 25th with a Happy Hour and launches into full force Saturday at 8:30 AM. It’s $15 to attend. If you can’t join us locally, sign up for the newsletter, become a member or start a chapter. Also of note, WAM actually responds to emails so the encouragement to contact them is legit. I tried it.
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