Q&A with Feminist Media Studies series editor Carol Stabile

UPW-Logo-2015University Press Week gives us an opportunity to introduce readers to some of the most interesting scholarship happening not only at the Illinois Press but also the work being published by our colleagues.

Today on the AAUP Press Week blog tour select presses are posting conversations with authors and editors which highlight one aspect of this compelling work.

Feminist Media Studies series editor Carol Stabile is a professor in the School of Journalism and Communication, department of Women’s and Gender Studies, at the University of Oregon.

Series Acquiring Editor Dawn Durante asked Stabile some questions about the current state of Feminist Media Studies.

Q: How would you characterize the evolution of feminist media studies over the last decade?

Carol Stabile: Feminist media studies has grown in leaps and bounds over the past decade, fueled by the work of a new generation of scholars doing research on gender that is far more attentive to the ways in which gender combines with race, ethnicity, sexuality, class, ability, religion, and other elements of identity than ever before.

I think it has helped that traditional media—pushed by the increasingly centrality of the internet—have begun to realize that women and people of color are significant audiences and finally are attempting—albeit in uneven and sometimes minor ways—to think about how to address and capitalize on those audiences. The expansion of critical attention within feminist media studies in particular from a focus on representation to audiences and production has also been transforming how we think about media, both historically and in the contemporary moment.

Q: What is the value of studying popular cultural, sometimes seems ephemeral, within a feminist media studies framework?

Stabile: One of my archivist colleagues told me recently that they are in the business of trying to figure out what might be considered culturally important and worthy of preserving for future generations. As someone who has spent a lot of time in the archives, reading materials that were considered ephemeral by most people, I understand all the ways in which what author Elana Levine has described as “feminized popular culture” has been devalued and historically marginalized. I think that the importance of feminist media studies lies in its attention not to that which is considered culturally or aesthetically valuable in the contemporary moment (recognizing as we do that those are historically contingent categories), but to the everyday, to what moves people rather than what arbiters of cultural value deem relevant, and the deep understanding that popular culture provides the warp and the woof from which people create the stories that help them make sense of the world and their places in it.

Q: Given the upcoming election, what are some ways in which you foresee feminist media studies shaping scholarship and viewpoints in this political sphere?

Stabile: I was just watching a recent episode of Scandal. Feminist media studies scholars have criticized executive producer and showrunner Shonda Rimes (Kristen Warner has a great chapter in Cupcakes, Pinterest, and Ladyporn on Rimes and colorblind casting).

But a recent episode of Scandal really took on the issue of the reputational (and physical) harm women of color experience as public figures, something that feminists of color have been talking about on social media and in academic blogs and journals for quite some time. In this, you have a television program summarizing what feminist media studies scholars have been saying for quite some time. Not that Rimes didn’t come up with this criticism based on her experiences in media industries. Still,  I think that there’s an interesting, emerging traffic between media producers and feminist media studies criticism and theory that’s going to inform practices on both sides in the future, especially given the fact that issues of gender and race are going to be central to the coming election, whether those opposed to progress on these and related issues want them to be or not.

Q: What do you see as the trajectory of the Feminist Media Studies series over the coming years?

Stabile: There’s so much exciting new work being done in the field that moves us beyond feminist media studies’ historical focus on film, broadcasting, and television, as well as beyond a focus on media representations, or what I tend to think of as that bit of the production iceberg that the media industries choose to reveal.

In addition to seeing more work on digital cultures, I think we’re also going to see more historically-grounded research that helps us better understand the role that gender has played in the making of many media forms. Feminist media studies is going to continue to focus on gender not as an isolated category of analysis, but in its relationship to race, ethnicity, sexuality, ability, and – importantly – class and national identity.

As the media begins to “discover” audiences that exceed previously narrow definitions of mass audiences, addressing those audiences is going to mean continuing to turn critical eyes on media industries’ own production processes. Feminist media studies scholars have been vital in efforts to focus critical attention on how the absence of women and people of color from production impacts the content that gets produced, especially in new and emerging media.


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