Post 7 – (Re)Injecting Polemics and Opinions in the Feminism Debate

(Re)Assembling*

Reflecting upon the mapping task from week 3 with the mapping undertaken just two weeks later, it is amazing how much more informed and inspired I was on the topic of gender equality through the variety of research tasks undertaken between the two. In this first mapping exercise in week 5, my group and I elaborated upon the maps that we developed back in week 3. Although the week 3 map was relatively thorough, there were still a lot of areas that we had wanted to investigate further, and so we chose to elaborate on the media as this is a prominent and highly influential actor in the gender equality discussion.

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Source 1: First Mapping task focusing the media as an actor/stakeholder in the gender equality discussion (2016).

In this elaborated map, shown in source 1, we drew out some key areas that were hot spots for contemporary feminist communication channels. These were:

  1. Social Media: specifically focusing on online campaigns and projects such as #HeForShe, This is What a Feminist Looks Like, and the Lonely Label that designs lingerie to empower and celebrate women’s bodies combined with the Lonely Girls Project.
  2. Television: expanding upon the roles that women undertake in dramas and action series’ as well as journalism and news. The ABC was a big topic of conversation, specifically for their interest in gender politics and well informed social commentaries.
  3. Podcasts and Blogs: a key communication channel that is utilised by a lot of prominent feminists to share their opinions. Personally I didn’t have a strong insight into feminist podcasts and blogs, however working with other classmates that subscribed and followed avidly helped me to fill the gaps in my knowledge here.
  4. Books and Publications: considering the published works of well informed stakeholders and key individuals to support or contradict the somewhat more subjective stances of individuals on other platforms.
  5. The Role of Individuals: in any discussion, prominent human stakeholders or icons are key in shaping the opinions of the general public through their publicised opinions and actions. The main Feminists that we identified as active in the media sphere included Lena Dunham, Leigh Sales, Prince Harry and Justin Trudeau. These individuals represent the feminist discourse across different areas, widening the impact and relevance of the issue and helping to provide role models for the public to follow.

(Dis)Agreeing

Following this initial map we developed a list of more specific areas from feminist polemics, shown below in source 2. Whilst most of these were not unfamiliar to me due to my exposure to the controversies through both research and personal experience, this was a good opportunity to revisit some topics that I hadn’t been investigating much over the last couple of weeks. Men identifying as feminists has been the main focus of my recent research in this social issue, however connected with this was the general tension around labelling oneself and/or others as feminists. This particular polemic was the most interesting in our group so we chose to develop it further in another mapping exercise. 

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Source 2: Polemics List identifying controversial topics around and within Feminism (2016).

(Re)Associating

Elaborating on the topic of “Reluctance to Identify with the term ‘Feminist’”, we drew out a range of different mitigating factors and emotions that drove people to respond to this debate in various ways as a map shown in source 3. After identifying these different elements, including the use of Feminist identification as a political strategy to the cynical connotations associated with iconic feminists, we realised that there were two main sides to this polemic issue: “empowerment” or “ignorance”. Grouping our findings, the “empowerment” factors highlighted that people openly identifying with feminism were doing so out of passion, courage, following key popular culture icons such as Emma Watson and Beyonce, or out of a desire to identify with the feminist community. Comparatively, the “ignorance” and reluctance to identify with feminism included issues of discomfort, misunderstanding, fears of being perceived as radical, man-hating or masculine, negativity towards second wave feminists, or a sense of disconnection as a male. It was really interesting delving into this controversial topic as it is a very subjective and divisive dichotomy within Feminism and Gender Equality discussions. Undertaking this mapping task as a group of like-minded women with similar stances on Feminism, this was always going to be a somewhat biased map with estimations of the emotional stances in the “ignorance” category, however it was a good opportunity to reflect on the wider perceptions of the issue and empathise with how other actors are influenced by the ongoing discussion.

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Source 3: Elaborating on the polemic of reluctance to identify with the term ‘Feminists’ from the polemics list (2016).

Reflecting

With a topic as broad and ever-changing as Feminism, it is nearly impossible to empathise with every perspective on the spectrum of engagement, from ignorance to empowerment. Further, reaching informed outcomes and delving deeper into the issue is always subjective as one person can only contribute data and opinions drawn from their personal interaction with the subject. Having the opportunity to co-create maps increases the credibility, authenticity and objectivity of the findings as the pool of personal experience and public knowledge increases exponentially with each additional contributor. Working within my group, my peers had been investigating different avenues within Gender Equality and their knowledge has introduced new avenues of data to navigate.

Considering Bruno Latour’s redefinition of the process of issue mapping in his book: Reassembling the Social (2005), I can easily draw the link between his redefinition of the researcher as a “tracer of associations” to the outcomes of this process. Of investigating polemic issues as an analyst, Latour states: “the best solution is to trace connections between the controversies themselves rather than try to decide how to settle any controversy“ (2005, p.23). This is particularly relevant to our third map, as by ensuring an open and objective mind we were able to gain a deeper understanding of the issue without projecting assumptions that would prevent meaningful insights to be achieved. Mapping the actors/agents within the complex system of gender equality meant taking a step backwards from the single angles through which I had been approaching this issue. As with any analysis of a complex issue, identifying the key stakeholders that are the most influential and create systemic impact results in a much more informed research method. As I identified in my fifth blog post, I always have more to learn, and even the most informed still have a lot to learn. As such, any opportunity to co-create and share ideas on a topic fosters a wider, more educated public discussions, which is significantly more likely to yield respectful and empathetic discussions and positive outcomes and solutions.

by Lily Partridge

*Subheadings reflect the labelling of the movement of stakeholders/actors within the social context, as identified by Latour (2005, pp.4-5) described by Rogers, Sánchez-Querubín and Kil (2015).

Sources:

Latour, B., 2005, ‘Reassembling the social: an introduction to actor-network-theory’, Oxford University Press, pp. 4-5, 23, viewed 5 September 2016, accessed at: <http://www.dss-edit.com/plu/Latour_Reassembling.pdf&gt;.

Rogers, R., Sánchez-Querubín, N., and Kil, A., 2015, ‘Mapping Theory: Social cartography, risk cartography and critical neo-cartography’, Issue Mapping for an Ageing Europe, OAPEN, p.16 .

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