White feminist stories in The Guardian

Last week, my first journal article was published, titled “White feminist stories: Locating race in representations of feminism in The Guardian” (Feminist Media Studies 2014).

One chapter of my PhD analyses several dozen Guardian and Observer articles about feminism over a number of years, paying close attention to how these articles construct stories of British feminism past and present. Who – in terms of ethnicity and race – is constructed as central or significant within these stories and who is marginal or erased? Where is race and racism located within these narratives?

In this article, I present a close reading of three such Guardian articles about feminist activism from recent years, unpicking the underlying assumptions about British feminism which they rest upon. I focus in particular on three narrative logics which are dominant within this discourse, which present contemporary feminist activism as: 1) a continuation of a white feminist legacy, 2) a unified movement of “like-minded” individuals, and 3) as “diverse” and “happy”.

These narratives erase power differences between women, as well as a multitude of feminist organising in Britain, including Black British feminism. Although the Guardian (as a result of persistent challenge by black and anti-racist feminists) is increasingly representing contemporary feminist activism as diverse and intersectional, the dominant story that it constructs of British feminist history is an overwhelmingly white one, as if feminists of colour have only recently started to exist and organise. The insistence on presenting feminism as an “innocent” movement also leads to a lack of acknowledgement of white feminist racism within British feminist movements.

Although, as I write in the article, challenges to the whiteness of Guardian feminism are continuously made, the resistance to change highlights the continued unequal power relations between white feminists and feminists of colour, and the persistence of whiteness in defining feminism within mainstream liberal media.

You can read the accepted version of the paper here. This is the final version submitted to the publisher, so is more or less the same as the published version, minus copyediting changes and typesetting. The published version of the article is available – behind a paywall – on the Feminist Media Studies website.

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Playing with Pinterest

Pinterest makes me feel like a kid again, back when I was always cutting pictures out of magazines and assembling them for various purposes. When I heard about it, I set up an account and started playing around with random pretty pictures (another great procrastination tool!).

But coming across the LSE Review of Books Pinterest account – with pinboards on subjects like ‘Gender Studies’ and ‘Politics: Protests and Revolutions’ – started me on a new train of thought in terms of potential uses of Pinterest. As Deborah Lupton wrote on the Impact of Social Sciences blog in June, Pinterest as a visual curation platform has “the potential to be a very useful tool for sociological research and teaching (as well as for other academics in the humanities and social sciences)“.

So I started thinking about possible ways in which I could use visual curation in my research. Today, working on pulling together a thesis chapter on representations of feminism within popular media discourse, I was going back to look at lots of online articles which I have analysed from The Guardian and The Observer. And the thought occurred to me that here was something that Pinterest could potentially come in useful for. While my focus is on analysing the text of these articles (I’m looking specifically at how they represent British feminism in relation to issues of race), the images are also interesting. So I decided to create a Pinterest pinboard, more as an experiment than anything else.

So here it is. I won’t go into any analysis of the images – but would be interested to hear any thoughts on this collection, in relation to the themes of British feminism and ‘race’. Some related words in my analysis: diversity, inclusive/exclusive, multiculturalism, whiteness… Seeing all these images together for the first time certainly makes me realise there’s a lot more to say!

White feminism and predictable journalism

Feminism is not All White

I wanted to highlight this post on the Black Feminist blog, written in response to a recent Guardian article about feminist activists in Britain (‘Feminists hail explosion in new grassroots groups’).

As Adunni Adams points out, the Guardian article in question completely fails to highlight any activism by anyone else than young white and privileged women and men:

I assumed the inclusion of the phrase ‘feminists who do not fit easily into stereotypical moulds’ would lead to some mention of those organisations which do not fit into the white, middle-class heterosexual stronghold which has come to typify the feminist movement. As I continued reading, I assumed the scope of the article would include the Black, Working-Class, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender feminist organisations, most of which are not new, and most of which have so far managed to escape the attention of commentators on feminism.

The announcement that something (or anything) is happening at the grassroots level of the feminist movement – not to mention the fact that the movement has caught the attention of the mainstream media – could, and should, have reflected the true strength of the movement in its depth, dynamism and diversity at all levels.

The author of the original Guardian article, has responded in the comments section, saying she didn’t have enough time to find people, nobody put themselves forward to be interviewed, and that she didn’t have enough space to cover everything – including as part of her defense links to articles she has written about ‘BME’ women’s issues. Anyone familiar with histories of racism and anti-racist challenges within white-dominated feminist movements will know such arguments form a familiar refrain which evades accountability.

Part of my research has included looking at 50+ articles in The Guardian (and its Sunday version The Observer) on the topic of feminism, looking specifically for race. From this I can say, without doubt, that this article is not an unfortunate anomaly. White, privileged feminism is the norm within the Guardian’s coverage of feminism. Although occasional feminists of colour are included, the representation of British feminist activism past and present is overwhelmingly white.

Here’s some examples from over the years (and I could have added more) – notice the patterns?

Feminism today: While we were shopping… (2002)

University challenge (2007)

How far have we come in 80 years? (2008)

Time for a good scrap about what our feminism really is (2009)

Forty years of women’s liberation (2010)

Feminism is back and we want to finish the revolution, say activists (2011)