Teaching/Learning about Media and Gender
This broad strand of research is a continuation of my dissertation project. Although many educators bring discussions about media and gender into their classrooms, such practices are still largely undocumented. In particular, there is a dearth of qualitative studies that would describe what exactly happens in media and gender classes on different levels of the educational system. What approaches do instructors use? What are their expectations and motivations, how do these translate into classroom practices? What are backgrounds of these educators, and how do their backgrounds place them on the protectionism-empowerment continuum? How can we create a unifying approach to teaching about media and gender that would draw on media studies, gender studies, anti-bias curriculum, and best practices of media literacy education? How do students react to media and gender classes? What do they learn there? How can we make these classes more effective?
Here are some of my findings:
- Because school teachers bring up the topic of media and gender on their own initiative, they are passionate about what they perceive as problematic media representations, which may lead to leaning towards protectionism
- Media and gender classes have an agenda-setting effect on students, prompting them to think and talk more about media representations of gender; this effect if potentially long-lasting
- Students embrace teachers' concerns about gender equality and diversity but still might stick to problematic assumptions about gender because of their implicit biases, their half-changed minds (term coined by Fine)
Developing this strand, I continue collecting qualitative data about media and gender classes in a variety of educational settings; talk to educators about their approaches to teaching about issues of media and gender; interview young people about their memories of media and gender classes, combined with their perceptions of issues of gender in the media; analyze educational materials that are used for teaching about media and gender (syllabi, lesson plans, etc).
Media Literacy Education and Sensitive Social Issues
It appears that media literacy practices, such as the inquiry-based approach and analyzing/creating media texts, can help students better understand sensitive social issues, for example issues connected with sexuality.
Sexual violence (rape, child sexual abuse, street harassment, etc.) remains a serious problem in society. Thanks to the media, people are more aware of these issues now than they were several decades ago. Unfortunately, existing media coverage has been characterized as incomplete and sometimes misleading. In the media, sexual violence is often sensationalized or joked about. Such media representations may lead to spectator mentality: viewers feel no need to take these messages seriously, or do not know how to use them. Some schools and universities offer educational programs that are supposed to raise awareness about sexual violence. However, it is not clear whether students are able to use what they learned to protect themselves and make their communities safer.
In order to make awareness efforts effective, it is necessary to make sure that the knowledge that students gain is used for reflection and action. As young people often learn about sexual violence from the media, I propose to help them make sense of obtained information through a discussion based on principles of media literacy education. Media literacy scholars and practitioners work on helping young people become critical and engaged media consumers; creating curricula and working with teachers, they put special emphasis on civic engagement. Through guided discussions students learn to voice their opinions about important issues and think of themselves as members of a democratic society capable of making a difference. Young people also learn how they can use digital and media tools to share what they have learned with their communities.
Media Literacy Education, Gender, Sexuality and Disability
Media literacy educators use their classrooms to spark important discussions about a variety of social issues. However, it appears that issues of physical ability seldom find their way into these conversations. Scholars who study how disability is represented in the media note that people with disabilities are often portrayed as asexual, and their gender becomes another vector of invisibility. Although plenty of educational materials exist to address issues of media and gender, and some also include race and sexuality as additional identity axes to be discussed, disability is seldom mentioned. If media literacy education is a great vehicle to raise people's awareness about misconceptions and inequalities, media literacy practices should also be used to start conversations about disability. It is especially important to help students understand how disability intersects with race, gender and sexuality, producing additional forms of invisibility and oppression.
"Don't Blame the Media"
In the modern Western society we talk about the media a lot. Some people see the media as a friend, entertaining them, helping them to connect, and informing them about what is going on in the world. Others (and many others at that) describe the media as an enemy, distracting us from personalized communication, corrupting our children and promoting dangerous values. But what if we change this perspective, and look at the media not as a “thing” or a force outside of us, but as an essential form of human communication, in which we all are involved? To make sense of the media we need to learn more about how people communicate. This inquiry can lead us to a fascinating journey of self-discovery that will help us better understand ourselves and the universe we live in. Offering examples from the world of the media in connection to a variety of hot topics (gender, sexuality and race being some of them), this book encourages the reader to see the media as us, people, sharing cultural meanings with each other through technology. If we accept that we are the media, there are no more excuses. We cannot blame something outside of us for reproducing society’s flaws, and keep describing ourselves as victims of circumstance. The book challenges the reader to think about common responsibility, and discusses how we can use the new perspective to start making the world a better place.