Media Sexism and Action

Young Aucklanders speak back

How is it possible to effectively speak back to the enduring (or even increased) sexist imagery in popular media and women’s on-going experiences of everyday sexism? What can be done to acknowledge, name and resist the mundane but persistent sexism in everyday life?

‘Media, Sexism, Action’ is the basis of Octavia Calder-Dawe’s doctoral research. Using a form of action research, Octavia is investigating the interplay between contemporary media messages about gender, sexuality and bodies, and young people’s experiences. She intends to explore how collective reflection and action can support critical thinking about elements of popular culture.

The research centres on a series of workshops with Auckland secondary school students held in July 2013 and running again in September / October. Across three days of discussion, theory, reflection and group work, participants critically discuss the gendered power dynamics running through the media and everyday life, and are given time, space and resources to craft a response to them: to speak back.

To support participants in this element of the workshop, sessions about the practicalities of creative activism, are delCreating spacesivered by activists themselves. The workshops offer participants a facilitating space in which they could explore connections between individual choices and behaviours and gendered sexual norms and identities and, in doing so, nourish critical reflection and action. As well as thoroughly documenting the workshop process, participants will be interviewed about their experience of the workshops and any impacts.

A full Workshop Resource manual is now available.

At its heart, this project – and the wider research agenda in which it takes root – is about creating spaces which resist an easy monologue: spaces which nurture critical dialogue and social action. In a 2010 study by members of the project team, we found that the young women participants lacked critical tools for making sense of pornographied conditions that left some of them both feeling uneasy and unable to speak back.  Yet equally notable and promising was their critical engagement once prompted to think differently about the ‘subjectification’ of women towards sexualized and increasingly pornographied norms. Media, Sexism and Action fits within the ‘Pornography and the Public Eye’ project because it explores opportunities for responding to and changing the impacts of the sexism, racism and misogyny perpetuated by pornographic conventions in popular media. We are encouraging participants to take these conversations onwards and outwards, engaging with peers and family, and also through posting on the project’s Media, Sexism and Social Action blog.