UCLA Professors Abigail C. Saguy and Juliet A. Williams from Sociology and Gender Studies, respectively, are co-authoring a book that focuses on the notion of gender neutrality specifically, its use in three areas: the law, news media, and political activism. They share some of their thoughts surrounding this topic for their book in an article they wrote for Scientific American. The article is titled, “Why We Should All Use They/Them Pronouns.” Drs. Saguy and Williams discuss the changes that are happening in degendering today. More and more individuals and companies are taking action to move away from binary gender categories. For example, United Airlines has made available the salutation Mx., an option on their drop-down menu for individuals who choose to be gender-neutral. In addition, it is more common to state one’s preferred pronouns in various public professional spaces as well as via email signature. Drs. Saguy and Williams further examine this current practice of announcing one’s preferred pronouns. Do gendered identifiers cause more bias and discrimination? Is it better for everyone to be gender neutral and use the pronouns they/them? To learn more about the conversation happening around these questions, check out the full article HERE.
By Rhonda Hammer, Lecturer, UCLA Department of Gender Studies
We are in the midst of a Digital Revolution that many scholars find comparable in scope to the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, which transformed the Western world.
Indeed, it was not so long ago that the Internet and social media were heralded as revolutionary social justice resources for new dimensions of participatory democracy, which allowed for marginalized and oft-suppressed voices to be heard in a public forum.
Yet, as revelations of large scale manipulation emerge post-2016 US presidential election including disinformation, surveillance, data collection and microtargeting by marketers, data resource corporations, political organizations and foreign governments, it becomes increasingly evident that there is an urgent need for courses which teach or incorporate critical media/digital studies.
Loosely defined, critical media literacy involves teaching students to think critically about “the ways media texts are produced, constructed and consumed” as well as to provide skills that help them recognize messages encoded in media/digital texts, many of which are not consciously perceived. (source).
For example: many scholars clearly demonstrate that certain media representations of different groups of people can reinforce negative stereotypical values. These images can be communicated or enhanced in film or television not only by the script and casting but also through production techniques such as lighting, shot framing, music and sound effects (to name a few).
With that in mind, it seems evident that critical media literacy should be essential to contemporary education, including K-12 college and university curricula. And it is this need which best describes the perspective of a newly-revised Gender Studies undergraduate course I teach on “Media: Gender, Race, Class & Sexuality.”
Although I have taught this course for many years, it was only last year that a media production component was implemented largely due to newly available resources through UCLA’s innovative College Library Instructional Computing Commons (CLICC). Not only were camcorder kits made available for check-out by the students, but they also now have access to the extraordinary services of Vince Mitchell, the primary producer and director of UCLA’s on-campus media production center, Studio 22.
During the 2018 winter quarter, Vince and members of his capable student staff conducted weekly workshops as part of the class, teaching the students basic production and post production skills to empower them to plan and construct their own short group media projects.
Given that most of the students had no previous production experience (save for some DIY or high school projects) the final short video programs – which were screened during exam week – were remarkable. Students were broken up into nine group based on their topic interests and asked to produce a 5-10 minute long documentary-style video, critically examining some dimension of media culture and the politics of representation (how marginalized and dominant groups of people are represented in media).
The documentary themes were topical, relevant and reflected student interests in a variety of topics including Representations of Black Masculinity in Hip Hop Music Videos and Social Media and Feminist Voices and Representations of Latina Women and Stereotypes of Asian Portrayals. Here is a link to the media projects produced in this class, which are described and can be publicly viewed online.*
The enthusiasm and pride the students take in these productions was evident during the final screening of their media projects at the end of the course and proved to be an empowering experience for all involved. I hope that other faculty will consider including critical media literacy and/or media/digital instruction and productions in their classes and take advantage of the resources and facilities of CLICC and Vince Mitchell of Studio 22, whose services can be scheduled through Jessica Mentesoglu, Head of Digital Initiatives & Information Technologies Operations Services at UCLA Library. They can both assist in designing highly relevant media-related resources or assignments for your courses.
*Caroline Kong, Instructional Technology Coordinator for Social Science Computing (SSC) set up and designed this accessible, user-friendly website as well as the course’s Moodle page. For assistance with Moodle pages you can contact her.
Dr. Rhonda Hammer is a Lecturer in Cinema & Media Studies; the Graduate School of Education, Social Science & Comparative Education; and Gender Studies at UCLA. Her research is in the areas of critical theory; media/cultural studies; critical media literacy; and the politics of representation in film, television, new media, feminisms and engaged pedagogy. She has published numerous articles, chapters and books on these subjects, including her co-edited 2009 anthology, Media/Cultural Studies: Critical Approaches, which describe and analyzes dimensions of contemporary media, consumer, and digital culture.
By Dr. Rachel Vaughn
Assistant Adjunct Professor in the UCLA Center for the Study of Women, Institute for Society & Genetics, and Gender Studies Department
In 2015, the mayor of Ventimiglia, Italy Enrico Ioculano signed l’ordinanza di divieto da dare da mangiare ai migranti— a municipal ban on serving food to refugees in the streets or those camped along the rocky beaches of the French-Italian seaside town. According to interviews and newspaper accounts, the mayor’s ban was a means of addressing food safety, waste and pest control concerns. Aid groups and activists, however, immediately resisted the ordinance, taking to the media, streets, kitchens and radio waves to protest what they see as the use of food as a weapon of exclusion.
In France two years later, border activists Cedric Herrou and Pierre-Alain Mannoni faced fines, trial and charges for offering solidarities of food, shelter and safe passage.
Legal scholar, human rights activist and director of l’Associazione Antigone Patrizio Gonnella spoke against the ordinance to Italian newspaper La Corriere della Sera, arguing that banning acts of human solidarity was inhumane. The ordinance certainly reflects concern over immigration and a perceived strain on municipal resources. However, since many contemporary asylum seekers to Italy come from African nations and the Middle East, some believe that the ordinance is a reflection of complex racialized and gendered tensions and stands in stark contrast to the humanism of other aid projects in the area.
Thanks to a generous faculty summer research grant through the UCLA Center for the Study of Women, a new oral history project examines various roles of food and water in processes of asylum in Italy. Though I have been researching complex transnational tensions surrounding this particular municipal ban (and its May 2017 revocation) since Spring 2015, this unique research project formally began Summer 2017, when I conducted the first interviews and site visits. The call for participants is open and continuous, regardless of political affiliations, humanitarian aid or citizenship status.
My broader interdisciplinary book project on the topic weaves together the interview data with legal, population, media and popular culture sources to analyze Italian asylum more extensively through the dual lens of the “edible” and the “necropolitical” —in other words, the politics of death, dying, the wasted or cast aside. I center my attention on the racialized and gendered political meaning-making happening through eating, by combining Kyla Wazana Tompkins’ conceptualization of “critical eating studies” with waste scholar Michelle Yates’ Marxist feminist Human-as-Waste and UCLA Gender Studies scholar Grace Hong’s work on necropolitics. By centering my research on edible tensions in Italy’s migration ‘crisis,’ I expand understanding of the raced, classed and gendered dynamics of border crossing within and beyond Italy, engaging the ways in which food and water serve as bio-political tools of inclusion and exclusion.
Dr. Rachel Vaughn is Assistant Adjunct Professor in the UCLA Center for the Study of Women, Institute for Society & Genetics, and Gender Studies Department. She holds a PhD in American Studies from the University of Kansas. Her research engages the intersections of Critical Food and Discard Studies, Feminist Science & Technology and Environmental Studies. She is the author of “‘Choosing Wisely’: Paralleling Food Sovereignty and Reproductive Justice” (Frontiers); co-editor and organizer of “Edible Feminisms: On Discard, Waste & Metabolism,” a UCLA Luskin Endowment grant-funded conference and special issue of Food, Culture & Society. Vaughn’s forthcoming book is Talking Food, Talking Trash: Oral Histories of Food Precarity from the Margins of a Dumpster (University of Nebraska Press). She is author of a second manuscript-in-progress, Queer Toxic Soy & Estrogen Panic: Gendered Food Fear Mongering. She teaches interdisciplinary courses such as: Biotechnology & Society; Race, Class & Gender in Globalized Foodways; Sanitation & The Body; and Feminist & Queer Ecologies.