“Even before I knew I was a feminist, I knew I loved TV,” Jennifer Baumgardner, a panelist at Wednesday’s “I Want my FemTV: Third Wave Feminism and the Media” discussion, said.
The event, held in the New Library Auditorium, kicked off the College’s celebration of Women’s History Month.
The panel also included Amy Richards, who co-authored “Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future” with Baumgardner; Sarah Rasmusson, former women’s and gender studies professor at the College and current Ph.D. candidate at the University of Illinois; and Jennifer Pozner, executive director of Women in Media News, a media analysis, training and advocacy organization.
Discussions ranged from the intergenerational discourse between Lindsay Lohan and Tina Fey in the movie “Mean Girls” to the lack of politically active women portrayed in the U.S. news media. They touched on both the positive and negative media portrayals of women.
“I absorbed bad information and good information from watching TV,” Baumgardner said.
She then gave the example of Charlie’s Angels as “hot chicks who were really confident and could defend themselves.” Baumgardner explained that although Charlie’s Angels wore bikinis, they were great private eyes.
However, Pozner let the audience dole out a much harsher criticism of the media. She asked how many audience members felt like they’d seen the media portray political or feminist activism on television and, surprisingly, only a few people in the completely packed room raised their hands.
“We have to look so hard to find images that we can turn into positive forces,” Pozner said, elaborating on the fact that the mainstream news media sees feminism as a pass? issue. She brought up a requiem to the women’s movement published in a 1976 issue of Esquire.
Pozner explained that the mainstream news media is under the impression that all feminist battles were already fought and won and therefore are not worth covering.
Despite this, she urged the audience to “get involved in the larger burgeoning movement to bring media control back to the public.”
Earlier in the program, however, the other women discussed some more positive portrayals of women in pop culture.
“Most pop culture wouldn’t ever be intelligible without our feminist background,” Rasmusson said.
She then showed a clip from “Mean Girls” and explained its accuracy in depicting the conversation between different generations of women, even if this conversation is a commodity under the humor of the film.
She elaborated by saying that while we, as college students, laugh with Lohan’s character, older generations laugh with Fey’s character.
“Relations between young and older women is important to third wave feminism,” Rasmusson said.
Richards followed Rasmusson, saying that there is a definite problem with the fact that this intergenerational discourse has to be portrayed in a comedic light.
She then explained that the problems women have to deal with are hard to digest, which is why humor is needed for people to pay attention.
“The media is the most attacked and critiqued entity out there,” she said. “We should look at our own lives and see what we get out of the media.”
“I was amazed to learn about all the work they’ve done – from the prostests to their books, their appearances on different TV/radio programs – and impressed with how dedicated they are to the feminist movement,” Maggie Murphy, senior English and women’s and gender studies major, said.
The audience packed the New Library Auditorium, leaving only standing room to those who came late.
The room remained full for the activism workshop Pozner led afterward.
“I saw a lot of people I kind of expected to be there from the women’s and gender studies department and specific campus organizations, but there were also so many people I didn’t recognize,” Christi Downey, president of the Women’s Center and junior women’s and gender studies major, said.
“I feel that we were able to reach some people that may not know much about feminism or how feminists deal with the contradictory messages of the media,” Downey said.