How has feminist media shaped the future?


How has feminist media shaped the future?

A new book by a visual and performing arts professor, Rox Samer, questions conventional wisdom about changing gender standards during a crucial decade in American history's culture and politics and adds new perspectives to the debate.

The Duke University Press book "Lesbian Potentiality and Feminist Media in the 1970s" explores how feminist media and culture facilitated analysis of radical feminist futures. Samer, who employs they/them pronouns, claims that "lesbian potentiality" refers to the various ways that women in the 1970s were recreating society through their exploration of lesbian life in their personal and political lives, as well as in their art, media, and culture.

According to Patricia White, professor of film and media studies at Swarthmore College, "[the book] uses the concept of potentiality to analyse media practises, including film screenings, prison-based activist media, and science fiction, that opened up multiple futures at a time of exciting political change. This goes against conventional narratives that place 1970s lesbian feminist culture firmly in the past. It provides us with fresh accounts of transgender activism and cultural creation.

In contrast to the frameworks we're most accustomed to using to think about gay and lesbian issues, Rox SamerSamer, an expert in feminist, trans, and queer media studies, describes the 1970s as a time when "women and queer people were thinking a lot about the ways in which society and culture can be radically reorganised."

The book, which is the result of 10 years of research by Samer, describes how feminist audiences would congregate to watch and debate women's films.

Samer looks at movies and videos that were not commonly studied at the time, like feminist prison documentaries, which are "rare and barely archived video and film projects, made collectively by women in prison, in collaboration with women outside of prison... under the auspices of prison reform and educational programmes," according to the authors. Samer looks at how jailed women challenged societal norms of gender conformity through the very material they produced, as well as the strong bonds and allegiances they created in the process.

Samer points out that feminist science fiction, whose writers frequently depicted a future or alternate world in which conventional concepts of gender no longer applied, is another perhaps surprising source of lesbian potentiality in the 1970s.

Samer describes the various media cultures that were simultaneously forming: "The folks who were up for a night of feminist experimental and documentary cinema were often a distinct group from those who were reading science fiction literature at home."

Author James Tiptree Jr., a pen name for Alice B. Sheldon, writes a narrative that combines science fiction, feminism in the 1970s, and gender norms. Sheldon used "Tiptree" as a platform to break into the male-dominated field of publishing and to adopt a masculine demeanour when interacting with readers and the feminist science fiction scene. Samer, who is creating a documentary with the working title "Tip/Alli"—the way Sheldon signed letters after being outed—says that there are many issues surrounding gender and sexuality with this particular person. Samer cites the Tip/Alli incident as an effective illustration of how the terms "woman" and "lesbian" have come to mean similar things in modern parlance but may not have been as well-defined in the 1970s. They claim that "both trans women and trans males were at work in these places in plenty." "And folks who, now, we might be tempted to label as trans masculine or nonbinary didn't always identify that way or use those labels, but were living very ambiguously gendered lives," the author continued.

Samer wants readers to feel more knowledgeable about the history of lesbian feminism and the significant political and cultural work that was accomplished in the 1970s. The secret, according to them, is to think about the possibilities that sprang from that period and have assisted so many people in reimagining the future rather than dwelling on "what might have been."

Samer asserts that although the futures we can conceive today may be vastly different from those of the past, we nonetheless engage in comparable creative intellectual and political practices.

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