Monday, March 31, 2008

WAM! Conference 2008

This weekend, I attended the 2008 Women, Action, & the Media (WAM!) Conference in Cambridge, MA. The 3 day event is a brainstorming, discussion-fueled, workshop loaded, highly empowering, networking opportunity sponsored by the Center for New Words, an organization whose mission is "to use the power and creativity of words to strengthen the voice of progressive women and women speaking from the margins of society." While there, I participated as an active listener and commenter in sessions on radical womYn of color bloggers, portrayals of sex workers in the media, and sexist media mechanisms in relation to portrayals of presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. I also spoke at a session entitled "Can Blogging End Racism?" with the rest of the Racialicious crew, the highly intelligent and hardworking Carmen Van Kerckhove and Latoya Peterson. Not to mention, I had the opportunity to meet several other writers including, but not limited to, some of the ladies from Feministing, Canada's Shameless Blog, several women of color-focused blogs (brownfemipower, Angry Black Bitch, and No Snow Here), AND the lovely and uber-talented Alexis Pauline Gumbs, one of our advisers here at The Coup Magazine and the writer behind Broken Beautiful Press!

If you'd like to meet her, check her out this Friday, April 4th, at the Theorizing Blackness Conference sponsored by the CUNY Africana Studies Graduate Program. More info can be found here. P.S. It's free to the public!

Long story, short, awesome time this weekend.

I must say, however, that the session that kept me thinking long after the conference was the session on media images of Hillary Clinton entitled "Cleavage, Cackles, and Cookies: Analyzing News Coverage of Hillary Clinton and the 2008 Presidential Election," which was led by moderator Allison Stevens and guest presenters Barbara Lee (Founder of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation), Betsy Reed (Executive Editor of The Nation) (, and Carol Hardy-Fanta (Director of the UMass Boston Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy). The bulk of the discussion was a focus on the sexist, ageist, and lookist criticism made of Senator Clinton during this campaign, causing the presenters to note that statistically speaking, despite positive performances on the campaign trail, Senator Clinton continued to receive negative press, the most negative, in fact, of any past presidential candidate. Through a display of video clips, article excerpts, and voter polls, the session presenters framed a compelling argument regarding the portrayal of female political candidates as a whole, of course, with a focus on Senator Clinton as her campaign faces the highest scrutiny to correlate with the magnitude of the position for which she is seeking voter support: the presidency.

During one portion of the presentation, Reed remarked that the "playbooks" employed by the media when launching racist or sexist attacks toward candidates differ. There is a separate set of rules and devices they used for either racism or sexism. The statement compelled me to ask what mechanisms she and the other panelists, particularly Fanta, who had researched the campaign of Carolyn Mosely Braun (who ran in 2004 for the spot as the Democratic Presidential Nominee) thought that the press would employee in the case of women of color candidates. I noted that as women of color are usually slighted in media coverage of the candidates by way of words alone (ever hear the phrase "women are voting for Clinton" and "blacks are voting for Barack"?), the press often rendering us either not women by way of being of color or not of color by way of being women, my curiosity had grown with regard to how the press could possibly handle two intersecting categories in their criticism. Even attacks launched against Michelle Obama are confusing at best, often leaving the audience to wonder whether or not the press is being sexist, or racist, or both when they criticize her.

While my question was only half-answered, it launched an interesting discussion as to the weight the demographic makeup of women voters had on this election--be they women of color, women of varying age groups, women of varying class and education levels, etc. I ended the session wondering myself how the future of this election would be shaped as a result of these characteristics. And as November draws closer and closer, I wonder if any of this will matter as the Democratic nominee faces Senator John McCain, a white male whose flaws (i.e. war mongering, increasingly heightened conservatism, alignment with radical religious conservatives) seem to have gone unnoticed by a magnanimous press. . .

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