the J Spot1 at the 54th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 54)
seems to prove almost as elusive as locating its embodied cousin has
turned out to be. First of all, you will not find the J Spot in this
year's intergovernmental and other official debates or proposed
resolutions. You will have to seek it out in the vast parallel
programme mounted by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in
conjunction with this year's meeting, and this is where the
difficulties really begin in earnest.
J at the margins
J was not part of the biggest and most visible NGO event, the two-day
NGO Forum for Women” that
preceded the opening of this year's CSW session. Neither could it be
detected in the conference programme drawn up by the Center
for Women's Global Leadership
for their day-long “20th
Anniversary Symposium” held
in conjunction with CSW 54.
will thus have to look out for the J Spot among the vast number of
single panels offered by civil society organisations, UN
organisations and others. Now why would that be difficult?
out about events
begin with, the most comprehensive listing of NGO events,
consolidated into a handbook produced by the NGO Committee on the
Status of Women and distributed at the NGO Forum, does indeed contain
a vast amount of entries, yet these mainly reflect the sessions held
at the Church Center and at the Salvation Army, the two main event
locations that are a 10-minute walk away from each other.
daily update on additional open events is available at the
information desk of the Division for the Advancement of Women in the
UN lobby behind the airport-like UN security, but it also only
reflects a fraction of all the events that are actually going on. In
addition, a huge number of organisations promote a multitude of
events with their own flyers, with both the flyers and the events
being scattered in many different locations.
to the sessions
the face of these difficulties in information packaging and flow
(itself an interesting J issue), if you successfully and patiently
collected such J Spot pointers at the 54th CSW, you will
have learned about approximately 10 panels centrally pursuing
questions related to media and information and communication
technologies. Whether you will be able to attend them is another
of all, you need to physically cover the distances between the
venues, scattered around Upper and Lower Midtown Manhattan, and
involving security checks as far as UN buildings are concerned.
also need to make sure that you arrive early enough to be admitted to
the conference rooms once you reach them, particularly as far as the
notoriously overflowing Church Center rooms are concerned.
even being in time does not help you when the session turns out to be
canceled after all or possibly moved to another location without a
trace left at the scheduled venue. For events held in another UN
building, you even need to obtain additional entry tickets, which
many of us have not yet been able to lay our eyes on, let alone our
these problems associated with on-site information flow and physical
attendance, a tongue-in-cheek remark could point to the comparative
ease with which media and ICT coverage of the CSW 54 can be obtained,
be it in the form of the “DailyLinks@CSW"
produced by Genderlinks or through all the podcasts, tweets,
interview snippets, press releases and think pieces available over
the net. And this is not to mention the “CyberDialogues” held
in conjunction with CSW 54.
we all know that there is something to personal human interaction
that cannot be mass-mediated, and it is these transfers of feminist
enthusiasm, energy, trust and solidarity that make it worthwhile to
of the sessions
these conditions, and with the CSW meeting still in full swing, it is
only possible to give a tentative assessment of the thematics of the
J Spot at this gathering. My impression is that two themes - with
opposing emotional investments - predominate:
One is the largely
negatively assessed portrayal of women in mainstream print and
broadcast media and their news, the other is the largely positively
assessed involvement of girls and women in ICTs, particularly social
respect to portrayals, the Global
Media Monitoring Project
(GMMP) has just released the preliminary findings of its 2010 global
study on who makes the news, and additional panels focus on specific
issues concerning women's portrayal, reflected in session titles such
or Betrayal: Women and the Media: How the Media Commodifies Women and
by the Bahá'í
UK Women’s National Commission
(WNC), and The Media's Portrayal of
offered by the Maryknoll
for ICTs and social media, the focus seems to be on concrete web
initiatives and their possibilities for mobilising audiences. Here,
we have sessions such as Promoting the Health Rights of Women
through New Media offered by Americans
for UNFPA, Shaping an Online Forum for Women in Peacekeeping'
by the Institute
for Inclusive Security (a session that I was unable to locate),
and From Social Media to Social Action convened by Women's
these panels and their organisers suggest is that at this year's CSW,
media and ICT issues seem to be predominantly put on the agenda by
organisations focusing on a broad range of issues beyond media and
ICTs and looking at how information flows can help or hinder them in
their pursuits of these issues.
contrast, feminist organisations focusing squarely on media and ICTs
are largely absent as organisers of panels, with exceptions such as
Association of Women in Radio & Television, which offered the
panel Mapping Women's Empowerment through Targeted Media:
Revisiting Section J and Re-evaluating the Role of Media in
Empowering Women of the World.
what gaps does this leave in this year's J Spot?
the point of view of those of us involved in contexts such as the
Governance Forum and the Internet
Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers
there is a marked gap regarding central areas of concern to us: the
ICT governance structures and web revenue mechanisms and their
possible implications with regard to gender, be they economic,
political or sociocultural. This gap is noteworthy for a number of
begin with, it could be argued (and needs to be) that it is precisely
on account of their governance structures and revenue mechanisms that
mass media such as mainstream print and broadcasting are not in the
business of satisfactorily answering girls' and women's strategic
gender interests. The GMMP has since 1995 illustrated how immune
these mainstream media and their news routines have been to feminist
concerns, the many dedicated professional media women trying to
improve gender-sensitive coverage notwithstanding.
theorists have since the 1970's explained the “male definition of
news value” and the patriarchal structures within mainstream media
organisations. But what needs to be analysed now is how the evolving
global business structures, shaped by transnational conglomerates and
business mergers, as well as economic pressures from online
environments on older print and broadcast structures, relate to these
earlier baseline findings.
blind spot in this context is the inattention paid to “bad”
women`s media such as magazines concentrating on fashion, homemaking,
stars and royalty. These “bad” media used to form a huge focus of
feminist media studies in the 1970s and beyond, and my hunch is that
it would be quite instructive to relate their fare to a lot of the
content produced by girls and women in social media.
would not be surprised if there are striking similarities regarding
the themes addressed. I would also not be surprised to find similar
sources of revenue at work underneath both traditional women's media
and social networking sites, operating and doing extremely well
because they put girls and women in the role of consumers of dream
worlds and create community and a sense of belonging around
consumption-based exchanges. Many interesting gender research
questions, also looking at men in these scenarios, are here awaiting
governance structures and revenue mechanisms
overall inability of feminists to significantly influence mainstream
media content over the last decade could be interpreted to drive home
the point that it is very hard to generate a feminist political
impact in this sphere once its governance structures and revenue
mechanisms have already been established.
however, would be all the more reason to engage with newly evolving
governance structures and revenue mechanisms, such as those
associated with the Internet and social media, as early as possible,
before they are effectively determined by other, non-feminist forces.
is why a mere celebration of women's social networking and
participation in the internet is not enough and in fact even
dangerous. Of course, it is important to encourage girls and women,
feminist and gender-sensitive organizations to claim these new
digital spaces in their daily lives and work. But it is similarly
important to intervene in the development of these spaces' governance
structures and revenue mechanisms.
goal here is to safeguard the ongoing utility of the internet and
its spaces for women and all people concerned with social justice.
After all, the internet is a fastly evolving entity, and spaces for
social networking and free expression that are here now may soon be
gone or changed into something that is experienced as something less
second goal is to make sure that the substantial kinds of financial
revenue that the internet and its social networking sites help
generate do not exacerbate the growing divide between the few that
get richer and richer and the many that get poorer and poorer.
issue also brings to mind the problem of different kinds of digital
divide, which has not been mentioned here a lot, either. The growing
social and economic inequalities, tied in with the growing power of a
few industry giants, is a scary one to overlook in a pure celebration
of social media, because these platforms may be used for “free”
but still do not exist for altruistic motives at all.
an analysis of how transnational male business and political elites
consolidate new forms of hegemonic masculinity is urgently needed
(the word “patriarchy” seems to be currently out of fashion ;-)).
to do about the J Spot?
is with respect to the gaps that I have tried to outline above that
media and ICT-focused organisations and scholars can make a big
contribution in ongoing debates.
feeling is that given the complexity of global media and ICT policy
and economy, and their absence from the discussion here, it would be
important to mount a fact-finding and education campaign way in
advance of the next big feminist gathering, because just offering a
panel, however valuable that would be, would probably not be
would therefore advocate for developing a J Spot campaign. The next
major events at which to aim could be the MDG meeting this summer and
next year's CSW meeting, which is rumored to include a science and
it for now, I am off to search for the next media or ICT panel:-)
Heike Jensen is a postdoctoral researcher in Gender Studies affiliated with Humboldt University Berlin. For the past eight years, she has focused on global information and communication technology politics, most notably the UN World Summit on the Information Society, the Internet Governance Forum, ICANN, and questions of digital censorship and surveillance. She is a member of APC WNSP network.
termed by Maria Suarez to refer to Section J in the Beijing Platform