Some Notes On … is a section which features my autoethnographic fieldnotes as I document my thoughts throughout different parts of my PhD project. Here, I write about the text resources discussed in our podcast episode. 

For Episode 19, , we discussed the following texts:

1) Fan podcast – Witch, Please: The Goblet is Political (Listened from 51ish minutes to 62 minutes 30 seconds

Hermione at the Yule Ball uses performative femininity to her own benefit without getting caught up in its trappings. Traditionally feminine appearance makes it easier to navigate the world and she is able to control that without letting it control her. She is still able to retain her personality even after – her passion for knowledge, social justice, standing up for  what she believes is right remains untouched. 

Hermione and SPEW – white/brahmin women who don’t include other intersectional identities and appropriate the feminist movement without acknowledging their privileges 

J. K. Rowling thinks she’s most like Hermione – Hermione uses badges and signs and a manifesto, but it’s all created without the input of the oppressed group she is fighting for. She’s imposing her politics on them and not taking their perspectives into consideration at all. 

Hermione as first-wave British feminist (Emmeline Pankhurst) 

House elves telling her they don’t want emancipation versus all the older men telling Hermione she’s wrong – tensions between this – that everyone tells Hermione the elves like being slaves 

“False consciousness” – Hermione thinks her job is to liberate the house elves from their oppressed identities akin to a white saviour complex. She doesn’t seem to learn from the things she does wrong. 

At the same time, Hermione’s activism is presented quite dismissively – at least from all the other characters. 

They propose that in this book, Rita Skeeter is the secondary villain – her rumours and journalism do active harm in spreading misinformation about Harry which in turn leads to everybody including the government not believing Harry that Voldemort has returned allowing Voldemort and the Death Eaters time and opportunity to solidify their strength. Hermione is the one who catches Rita out and punishes her by trapping her in the jar until she promises not to publish more false information – but the damage has been done and in OoTP, the media takes over from Rita’s work.

Earlier in the episode, they talk about Mrs Weasley as a focal point of domestic labour (Hermione is outraged about house elves but doesn’t notice Molly Weasley’s work) – limited gender roles for women 

 

2) Fan podcast – Witch, Please: The Cleansing Fire (Listened from 66 minutes to 80 minutes)

“The gendered labour of the resistance” – Marcelle

The types of work that the women do – Mrs Weasley – cooking, feeding, emotional labour and caretaking 

Tonks is coded as masculine because she’s not good at domestic work and is thereby connected to the “real” work of the resistance. There seems to be only one way to fight in a way which is considered useful 

When Sirius does the same kind of work that Molly Weasley does, he resents it because he isn’t able to do the kind of work that “matters” for the Order 

Hermione is also largely tasked with managing the emotions of Harry and Ron – even though she is also capable and skilled at so many other things – has to anticipate their emotional needs and be aware of them

The way that women characters seem to distance themselves away from other women – the “I’m not like other girls” ness of it all – means that they’re totally cut off from their emotions and are like men rather than women – at least in the way that it is traditionally portrayed 

Emotional labour is relegated to women’s roles in media and in real life 

Molly seems to be the hysterical, emotional and irrational parent while Arthur is on the side of the children and seems to only be listening to Molly because he doesn’t want to upset her rather than because he’s on her team and they’re parents together. Fathers get to be the fun ones and wives are the boring ones trope 

Hermione isn’t a good ally – her politics emphasise liberation of an oppressed group i.e. house elves but her process is troubling – very imperialistic 

She doesn’t even learn from Dobby who – as a house-elf who is now free – would be her best ally in the cause but when he points out her problematic behaviour and the fact that it won’t work, she dismisses his opinion. She seems to want to save the house elves without allowing room for them to save themselves 

We expect more from Hermione because she’s awesome and should do better. 

 

3) Fan podcast – Witch, Please: The Full-Blood Patriarchy (Listened from 63 minutes to 76 minutes 35 seconds)

Gender and patriarchy in Half Blood Prince. 

There are lots of anti-Fleur attitudes which reminds me of the counternarrative I encountered during my master’s research:

The trope that the pretty girl doesn’t have any female friends because other women don’t like her because she’s a threat 

Femininity as performed traditionally and successfully is subjected to hatred by women who don’t choose to or can’t do the same kind of performance 

Fleur being excited about planning her wedding and bringing Ginny and Hermione and Molly into it is met with dismay because the other girls are supposed to be strong and active 

Pitting women against each other because there’s no room for different kinds of women to just be 

Fleur is complicit in the system in a way that Tonks isn’t. Tonks pushes against the system through her overall nonconformity and that has Ginny and Hermione picking her over Fleur. Ron supports Fleur because he finds her more attractive than Tonks  

Also what is it with all the people in these books marrying so young and all of them marrying full stop! 

Ron slutshames Ginny for having too many boyfriends and is upset that Hermione kissed Krum (though that might have been born out of jealousy) 

He uses Lavender to make up for his insecurity. Lavender is also presented as silly and someone not to be taken seriously – showcased in contrast to Hermione. Why can’t we have both? Clever women can’t be silly? In academia and other professional settings, so much more pressure on women to look and behave a certain way than men 

Increase in structural violence seems to impact women more (not always – as in the case of black men in the US and Dalit and Muslim men in India) but they are weaponised by being made victims – murder and sexual assault 

Just two female Death Eaters – Bellatrix – is Narcissa even a Death Eater? Fascism doesn’t have room for women at the top even when women are complicit in the oppression of other races/castes/religions. In the right-wing movement, women are throwing other women under the bus without realising that they will be next. Same with trans-exclusionary feminists who find right-wing men supporting them.  You can’t be interested in human rights without being concerned about the rights of ALL marginalised humans 

Violence against women being normalised. Hermione being assaulted by Cormac McLaggen is treated as funny; Umbridge and the centaurs at the end of OoTP; gender and violence in the case of Mrs Roberts in GoF

 

4) Fan podcast – Witch, Please: Hallows and Goodbyes (Listened from 85 minutes to 92 minutes 35 seconds)

Gendered labour of women in the resistance

Fleur is glamorous and powerful and strong and is reduced to living in the middle of nowhere making casseroles by herself for her husband and the others – filling Molly’s shoes. There is room for different kinds of resistance and the support and safe space she offers plays a very important role – but is this the only role wives are allowed? Why isn’t she out fighting in the Order? Why isn’t Bill helping with the food? Why doesn’t Arthur? They seem to fulfill very traditional roles

Violence against women in the magical world –  Fenrir Greyback and his creepy attention towards Hermione – rape culture, women as default victims

Arianna Dumbledore – book doesn’t explicitly say the Muggle boys assaulted her sexually but it is implied when they “got carried away” and the trauma leads to lifelong impact 

Helena Ravenclaw’s story – Bloody Baron murders her for refusing his advances. She becomes a ghost and is forced to haunt the castle with her murderer 

Relationship between Snape and Lily – where he treated her terribly out of jealousy and his messed up politics as a young man – and even later, taking it out on Harry – but he sees himself as the wronged one. Sense of entitlement and romanticising the tragic narrative in which Snape is quite terrible 

 

5) Fan podcast – Breaking The Glass Slipper: Where Are The Tampons With Tiffani Angus

The absence of women’s bodily functions and concerns in mainstream fiction. We see a little bit of it in The Handmaid’s Tale but not really in a way which provides the women with any sort of agency – menstruation, birth control, navigating the world as a woman is more difficult than going about as a man 

Station Eleven – post-apocalyptic – where are the tampons? Why are none of the women looking for pads or tampons and using it as currency? Even when it’s a woman writing these stories, it’s a default male-centric concern 

What are the things we would be concerned as women in some of our favourite SFF worlds? 

For many people in India and elsewhere, the events of the last few years might have seemed like several different kinds of apocalypses – what problem would the women have in these scenarios? Migrants, pandemic, protests? Compounded by when they’re mothers or carers or pregnant

The predominance of women in publishing too reflects the fact that children’s needs and concerns seem to be relegated to women 

Women’s biological functions are overlooked but women’s ability and need to give birth isn’t – especially in end-of-the-world scenarios 

Blue water used in pad advertisements because red water freaks people – mostly men – out 

The ignorance of men when it comes to women’s bodies and needs 

Very funny in Chalet School books where just barely a hint would be given that the women were tired or busy and suddenly at the end of the book – surprise! Baby! 

Is this considered as gross? How do you normalise it if nobody talks about it and it’s so invisible? 

Things like medication which impacts your life or the lack of medication which impacts your life 

This problem is even worse when you see trans women’s needs – who need hormones during their physical transitioning process – trans men can revert to menstruating 

Women and zombies and armpit hair – shaving hair – what is considered sanitary for which gender – zombies might be considered more unremarkable than women’s sanitary needs 

“Women have been socialised to think that what our bodies do is gross.” – Tiffani Angus

Menstruation – big representation of women’s bodies – armpit hair – small representation – where are women in peril’s armpit hair? 

“We don’t even get to have armpit hair. We’re never going to get to have periods if we can’t have armpit hair.”

Marvellous Mrs Maisel – performs being women – she goes to the bathroom and makes herself up before going to bed 

Female masturbation also seems to be taboo 

How even sex is portrayed – women seem to have orgasms instantly when women don’t really – our bodies don’t work that way – which can also impact women’s own ideas of themselves – women’s crotch hair is missing too

Lack of older women anyway – what about women going through menopause?

 

6) Fanzine – Tonk’s Tale

(I’ve already used this episode as a text for Episode 16. I haven’t made any additional notes for this episode so for the old notes, click here.)

 

7) Fan podcast – Fansplaining: Letting Harry Potter Go (Listen from 6 minutes 45ish seconds to 34ish minutes)

(There are a few different HP fan podcast episodes about JKR’s transphobia but this provides some background context in terms of what she said and transphobia’s place in UK feminism)

They discuss the context of Rowling’s transphobia in the context of British mainstream society and feminism – a long history of the feminist movement which excludes diverse gender identities and expressions 

Gender critical feminists who are transphobic – it’s mainstream, not a fringe group – in media, in society, in the queer movement – LGB without the T – not just straight women but largely led by straight white women – in the US, they tried to recently co-opt the Black Lives Matter movement as well 

They signposted this article in their episode

It’s not just women – but it does seem to be born of privilege – middle-class or wealthier 

As Flourish says, that JKR’s opinions have been perceived to be liberal so this can be surprising. Rowling may even consider herself as feminist and out to protect women’s rights and safety. But her idea of feminism and women seems to be very narrow – how far does her exclusionary policy extend – transness? Religion? Sexuality? Race? 

Taking advantage of the fact that women are a marginalised gender but that doesn’t mean you need to throw other marginalised groups under the bus. Where’s the solidarity among marginalised groups? We’re not going to progress unless we do it together 

While Rowling’s transphobia had been hinted at before December, it was her tweet in December #IStandWithMaya which made her views explicit 

As Elizabeth points out, lots of women don’t menstruate and not all those who menstruate are women 

This doesn’t seem to be a topic of mainstream discussion in India – at least from the limited network I have – but JKR seems to have made it to Indian discourse as well – authors who have posted on Facebook about it in quite exclusionary language 

I still haven’t read JKR’s defensive essay because I can’t bring myself to

A lot of trans and nonbinary fans identified with Tonks because they’re able to change her appearance at will. She seems to be non-conforming to ideas of gender (women) and is punk and seems cool and fun to the protagonists 

While Tonks does transform herself to change her hair and nose, there’s never anything about gender. Other transformations include Animagi who change into animals and the scene with the seven Potters where everyone changes into Harry or the Boggart turning into Snape in Neville’s grandmother’s clothes

Elizabeth talks about how she never connected Tonks to gender because there was nothing in the books or her character that made her open to that possibility. Flourish says that with future books to come out, at the time, people were excited about the possibilities – and both were disappointed by Tonk’s story arc where she becomes mousy and small in HBP because she’s in love with Remus who rejects her before getting together later. Failure of imagination in terms of both gender and queerness 

Flourish, a nonbinary fan, read their own interpretations into the books and was excited by the potential but ended up feeling betrayed – so much worse for fans who it directly impacts 

As E points out, JKR is good at showing the hypocrisy and smallness of middle class British people which people who aren’t familiar with that context may not be able to pick up on. Which is true, as in my case in India as in Flourish’s case in the US, but I think people can and do make connections with their own lives and contexts 

They also signpost this articleFrom the article: 

I vividly remember the visceral excitement I felt the first time I read the fifth Harry Potter book in 2003 and met Nymphadora Tonks, a shapeshifter with spiky pink hair, a punk-rock aesthetic, and an insistence on being called by her gender-neutral last name. I was certain that Rowling had written a canonically genderfluid character. Like millions of other Harry Potter fans who dared to project ourselves into the books, I was ultimately disappointed: By the end of the series, Tonks was a married, fully binary woman, softer and gentler, letting her husband feminize her as “Dora” — a name she’d previously hated.

I have always wondered if Rowling set up Tonks to somehow be “tamed” in the later books, from her earlier nonbinary presentation in Order of the Phoenix, and I’ve always written it off as surely not conscious. As a sickening byproduct of Rowling’s transphobic screed on Wednesday, I now realize I was right to have been wary all along. Rowling argues in the essay for the scientifically flawed and emotionally abusive narrative that “gender dysphoric teens will grow out of their dysphoria,” and uses herself as an example of a teen who felt “mentally sexless” before eventually — “fortunately” — growing out of feeling “confused, dark, both sexual and non-sexual.”

I read this passage as a chilling, heartbreaking confirmation that Rowling wrote Tonks not as an affirmation, even a subconscious one, of trans identity, but as a conscious repudiation of it: She deliberately created Tonks as a dysphoric individual so that the character could “grow out of” her dysphoria, subtly perpetuating the transphobic narrative that gender dysphoria is a choice. She consciously created the shapeshifting nonbinary character who helped me figure out (well into adulthood) that I was genderqueer, and then made her “grow” into being cisgender.

Says that this as well as JKR’s essay unlocked the idea that had been at the back of E’s mind about how regressive the books were in terms of gender. Which I kind of agree with but I think that there fans reading more progressive values into the books by exploring the gaps and filling in the missing pieces is also valid 

In her essay, Rowling talks about her own experiences of abuse and domestic violence. I think this is one of the reasons why I haven’t read the essay yet because I have close experience with this and I am appalled that this is being used against a marginalised group 

As Flourish and Elizabeth say, you can feel sorry for her because you don’t want anybody going through the darkness she seems to be inhabiting even now but simultaneously angry because she’s using her voice and power to put people in harm’s way 

Flourish was struggling with their gender identity when they first encountered Tonks. They became comfortable with acknowledging their gender in the course of the Fansplaining podcast. In that context, they saw the progressive potential of the character and drew connections between their own life and Tonks’s life 

Elizabeth – tomboyish characters who are feminised as they grow up because girls/women are not allowed to retain this gender nonconformity when they grow up – according to traditional media, at least 

Flourish talks about how it’s different reading Harry Potter or a book you’re so emotionally connected to and wanting to find your own identities and ideologies within its pages and reading a more progressive book like Orlando which tackles gender in more experimental ways but not feeling that sense of deep connection with it. I think that’s a really interesting point because that’s why these popular media texts are important – you feel so strongly about them as fans that you want them to be better 

Flourish wrote fanfic about Tonks because “she was not doing the things I wanted her to do” in terms of her gender noncomforming nature and taking the possibilities further. They felt a sense of utter betrayal with Rowling’s opinions now. And I completely sympathise and empathise with this pain even as I’m distanced from it since I’m a cis woman from a dominant culture; at the same time, in the country I’m from my gender marginalises me – nuance and complexity when it comes to being marginalised and dominant in different contexts 

The books reflect her worldview and experience – as do most people’s books – but perhaps the fans ended up being more progressive than the author. 

 

8) Fan podcast – Breaking The Glass Slipper: Transgender Representation in SFF 

Signposts book: Gender Identity and Sexuality in Fantasy and Science Fiction – an anthology by Luna Press, where Cheryl Morgan has an essay about trans rep 

Issues with trans representation in SFF – cis people write about trans people, partly due to the fact that trans people form such a small part of the population, and they don’t have a great idea about what being trans is about. Most of them don’t get sensitivity readers to go over their books to make sure they do represent it properly 

There also seems to be a focus on the transition process – which isn’t something most trans people are very interested in focusing on – for trans people, the transition is just them changing their outward appearance to match their inward sense of self – and they are interested in other aspects of their identity 

Trans writers writing books also includes in-jokes that only trans people would get – writing for the audience rather than for a cis audience

Cheryl would rather see no representation of trans people than terrible representation which spreads misinformation about the trans experience 

One of the hosts says that she only first heard the term cis when she was 26-27 – and it’s something I definitely empathise with. It’s something I’ve only come across more recently as well, thanks in large part to online conversations and podcast conversations 

You’re not taught about different gender identities and expressions in school/mainstream media so how would you learn without knowing a trans person or inhabiting spaces where these conversations are normalised? 

TERFs hate the term cis – think of it as a slur – because they want to perpetuate the idea that they are normal and everyone else – trans and nonbinary folks – aren’t normal

Cheryl mentions the term normalising is a bit problematic because it makes it sound like things are abnormal – suggests “usalising” instead which is clumsy but reflects it more accurately

Importance of stories which may mean much more to trans people than cis people – which might be a smaller audience, but it’s important nonetheless – just having trans people being a regular part of the science fiction or fantasy world you’re reading about – just mentioning the fact that they are trans but not making a huge issue about it. It’s like with all marginalised groups, I think. There’s room for issue-based books but those can’t be the only kind of representation there is. 

Being trans either in fiction or in real life, like anything else, becomes more difficult when you add other identities like nonbinary, race, class, religion, national or regional origin 

Cheryl talks about the cis gaze – the focus on transition is a form of objectifying trans people + what trans people are “really like” – where you’re “forcing people into stereotypical social roles” It’s a way to other, exoticise or demonise trans people 

A male cis gaze might look at trans women as sex workers while a cis female gaze might have different connotations – especially when it comes to TERFs 

A common trope with trans people rep which trans people are fed up with is the shock reveal where it’s suddenly revealed that the character you thought was cis was actually trans all along – these tropes and stereotypes are something I would never have thought of at all – my own privilege and blind-spots 

Cheryl also talks about trans people in history – focusing on how trans people have always been around the world – different cultural contexts as well where the Aboriginal people in Australia, hijra community in India, Romans, Incans, Native Americans – different ways in which people “incorporated transness in their culture” among other parts of the world – it’s grown in separate parts of the world which implies that it’s a part of the human experience and identity 

Deadnames – the names people are given at birth which is usually taboo – but Cheryl uses this while talking about historical figures because you don’t know what their preferred name was 

We don’t know about these historical figures unless you go looking for them in queer anthologies (which is where I’ve come across them in many cases) which separates them into specific categories rather than just having them as a part of history. We don’t study about them in school. Even the fact that one of the people who started Pride marches, something which is so mainstream now, was a black trans woman in the US – Marsha P. Johnson 

Cheryl says that trans people who don’t get to be famous – no kings or politicians or explorers so didn’t have statues erected 

Whitewashing – ciswashing? – of history where you don’t research into marginalised groups like trans people and present a trans-exclusive version of events. As Cheryl says, she didn’t realise trans people existed in history or in different parts of the world or even in her part of the world, because she had never come across them. This erasure is ever-present. 

If it’s not born out of ignorance, this erasure is due to people’s deliberate attempts to fit trans experiences into their own understanding and worldview – it’s just a man dressing up as a woman, for example 

You don’t know exactly how to present potentially trans people from history because you can’t discover how they felt about their own identities – especially since trans and intersex discussions weren’t commonplace – and some women genuinely used to dress as men for matters of convenience due to the limited gender roles then rather than being trans men 

Issue of trans women in the feminist movement 

Gender-critical movement within radical feminism in the US and the UK and Australia – part of this is religious beliefs (in the US) – in the UK, history of left-wing socialist feminism where the only struggle which is important is the class struggle – connection to political environment – not intersectional at all since all these struggles are inter-linked. Currently, the iteration is the only struggle which matters is sexism and once that’s fixed, all other struggles will be automatically fixed. Which is ridiculous! 

As Cheryl says, she doesn’t think these TERFs are either radical or feminist – if you go deep enough, they’ll be racist, Islamophobic, classist – you see this recently where the TERFs tried to co-opt Black Lives Matter protests in the US 

Intersectional feminism IS definitely my idea of feminism – that everyone and everyone’s struggles are equally important and need to be addressed and fixed together because one person’s experience isn’t universal 

Cheryl points out that mainstream media seems to be obsessed with the medical aspect of transition but this option isn’t available to most trans people all over the world due to regional, financial, cultural barriers – it’s expensive to access 

I don’t even know enough about the relationship between trans people and history and religion in India 

On the question of whether there’s an obligation for trans writers to write featuring trans people – for Cheryl, she’s been living as a woman for so many years that it’s not an issue which is at the forefront of her thinking on a day-to-day basis but she does acknowledge there needs to be more representation to make up for the underrepresentation and misrepresentation of trans characters in media 

Recommends supporting independent publishers who take more risks and offer more representation than mainstream publishers 

 

Context texts: (So I included these two essays here even though they don’t talk about fandom to maybe think/talk about feminism in a more intersectional manner. I thought drawing on parallels from the US and toxic white feminism/Hermione and house elves, we could talk about Dalit/Adivasi/rural women’s erasure in mainstream feminism in India – maybe even Muslim women? – and how some of them are using the internet to organise resistance. Again, from our position of privilege only because while being a woman in India is terrible, if you add other identities, it’s even worse.)

9)  Article – What Is Toxic White Feminism 

Chose this article to draw parallels between toxic white feminism and toxic savarna feminism – the Indian context with upper caste Hindu women 

Talks about how murder of black women usually goes unreported in mainstream media and the contradiction in terms of how black male suspects are treated versus white male suspects especially when the victim is a black woman

Also discusses the lack of outrage among white feminists – the silence which erases the issue from mainstream discourse. When asked to do so, some white women do use their social networks to spread the news. However, at the same time, there are many white women who become immediately defensive – Twitter exchange between Rukmini Pande, Samira Nadkarni and Anne Jamison where in the middle of a racist and misogynist controversy targeting the former two. Samira wrote long threads calling out the behaviour – and Anne signposted her book where both had an essay, something that Samira called out and something that Anne responded to defensively in the beginning 

Talks about the lack of solidarity among white women for their black counterparts and when asked to intervene, they become defensive and demand acknowledgement for previous actions instead of just doing what is necessary – mix of ego and sensitivity and hurt feelings – reminds me of Serena Joy in The Handmaid’s Tale though the race element there is removed in what seems to be a colourblind society 

Speaks about the history of feminism where black women were often sidelined though when black women were leaders, they fought for all rights 

Going up against liberal progressive white feminists who refuse to let down their guard of “ultimate liberation” to actually learn from women of color—who have been fighting this fight with grit and grace for generations—is the most straining part being a black feminist activist.

Toxic white feminism includes tone policing, demands of unity and peace over real justice, white saviour complex dependent on how well they claim to have treated black women and black men as proof of their solidarity, centering their experiences and comfort all the time 

As these things play out over and over again, it is made painfully obvious that many white women believe that the worst thing that can happen to them is to be called a racist. Let me be clear, it is not. Seeing your child gunned down in the street by the police unjustly is much worse, being turned away for medical care due to race and underlying biases by medical staff, resulting in death, is much worse, being harassed by authorities only to be charged yourself instead is much worse.

Colour-blindness as a way to show how liberal they are 

Points out that true allyship involves acknowledging your privilege and using the privilege to create a space for those with less privilege to fight with and for them and privileging their voices in addressing their needs 

What makes allyship so hard for most? Many liberal white woman have an immediate reaction of defense when someone challenges their intentions. And it is in that precise moment they need to stop and realize they are actually part of the problem. It is never the offender who gets to decide when they’ve offended someone. If you feel yourself dismissing the words or experiences of people of color—because you think they’re “overreacting” or because you “didn’t know” or because “it has nothing to do with race”—it’s often due to your ego, not rationale. Listen and learn, instead.

Dr. Robin DiAngelo, a white woman sociologist who studies critical discourse, reminds us in her new book White Fragility that “the key to moving forward is what we do with our discomfort. We can use it as a door out—blame the messenger and disregard the message. Or we can use it as a door in by asking, Why does this unsettle me? What would it mean for me if this were true?”

In order for feminism to be intersectional and progressive, you need to take different perspectives into view and not just those which are at the top of the marginalised hierarchy 

 

10) Article – Debrahmanising Online Spaces on Caste, Gender and Patriarchy 

Empowerment through/within digital spaces is also a privilege because it requires access to technology, uninterrupted internet connections, and the time and space to be able to navigate these spaces and develop digital literacies which also presumes basic literacy. This doesn’t mean that these spaces aren’t important; it’s just important to remember the limitations of these spaces as you celebrate the possibilities 

Cyber pundits and cyber libertarian social scientists celebrate the role of Information and Communication Technologies in the eradication of rural poverty. On the contrary, low education status, complex social structure and low accessibility to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have expanded the digital divide (DN, 2001)1. Those connected to the internet are 35% of the population – the social composition of those with access to ICTs is dominant Indian castes, and they stand disconnected from the reality for majority of the Indian society. Thus, it accelerates the gap related with access and social mobility2.

This article focuses on young Dalit people are using the internet to create a space of solidarity for other Dalit people and awareness among non-Dalit people – Twitter, Instagram, YouTube – particularly young Dalit women – artwhoring is the one I can think off of the top of my head and Divya Khanduri who I discovered through BuzzFeed India – talk about both the intersections of caste and gender when it comes to Dalit/Adivasi/Bahujan women 

Are there similar spaces for Muslim women since that’s a group being targeted and maligned in India and all over the world? 

Recent nonsense online with the NRI Indian Hindu woman crying about how she feels her religion is mocked and disrespected because she was challenged by a Dalit woman for her regressive views. Her fans then attacked artwhoring in disgusting ways – Priyanka Paul of artwhoring shared the abuse she received then and continues to receive daily but continues to create examples of Dalit joy in the middle of rage 

These social media posts and presence allow for a lived experience of their various intersectional identities rather than just academic, abstract theorising 

Usually feminism seems to be concerned with elitist concerns rather than ones which affect different women in different ways 

Issue of period leave recently at Zomato being announced and while that is great for the women it impacts, there are millions of other women in India without basic access to period products 

As with anything, while social media allows them to share their experiences and perspectives, also leaves them open to abuse and trolling 

Intellectual + pleasure activism on social media. I remember something Priyanka Paul said on her Instagram that she’s glad she doesn’t fit into the preconcevied notions of Dalit women and strives to keep challenging these assumptions 

A Dalit woman activist argued that “Mainstream media does not publish our ideas. Social media is a major help to us.”

An Adivasi girl student said “Our women are being stereotyped as weaker, but our generation is converting new media into a new form of resistance”.

One of the questions the article asks is whether it’s enough to provide access and raise awareness of their political, social and cultural perspectives online when the most marginalised Dalit/Adivasi/Bahujan women’s lives aren’t improved and structural change isn’t developed? 

An innovative approach can be tailored through channelising the creative energy of Adivasi-Dalit-Bahujan girls/women into that of new media design thinking/practice. Dalit-Adivasi-Bahujan social/political assertions attain new dimension through the creation of counter online sphere to the conservative-caste blind “isms” in India. Internationalisation of their claim to private/public sphere has renewed the question of modernity related to these girls/women of change.

Indian feminist-politics of citation has created certain centers and margins while engaging with Advasi-Dalit-Bahujan politics. In other words, it systematically appeases or ignores the epochal, Adivasi-Dalit-Bahujan feminist interventions. Online sphere of Adivasi-Dalit-Bahujan feminist politics thus have the unique and autonomous arena of political sensibility. One of the central facet of the aforementioned online forums represent renewed understanding on the roots and alternatives related with caste-gender-patriarchy-religion- linked forms of oppression and resistance.

 

11) YouTube video – The Matrix As A Trans Allegory 

More recently, right-wing conspiracy theorists in the West have been using the red pill/blue pill allegory to insinuate that they’ve taken the red pill and now know how the world truly works and who controls it and who their enemies are. So I especially love that the creators have come out to say that The Matrix is actually a trans allegory and thus validating its trans fans for whom the movie has been so important 

In a science fiction/fantasy world, surely the only limits are your imagination because the impossible is possible in so many different ways? So the idea of transformation – which is so limited in many series including the HP books – can be revolutionary – similarly in video games as well where you can choose different players that corresponds with your actual gender and not the gender you were assigned at birth 

Lilly Wachowski talks about how the trans allegory was the original intention, the mainstream mediaspace controlled by corporate interests wasn’t yet ready for what was then considered a taboo topic – and still is to a degree but there is more public discussion about this – not always positive, of course 

“The desire for transformation but it was all coming from a closeted point of view” – Switch was a man in the real world and a woman in the Matrix 

Lilly doesn’t know how much her own transness informed the writing of the Matrix but she does think her identity influenced it to a certain degree 

She talks about how she didn’t know the word for her identity at the time – something which is so much more a topic of discussion now which can help others figure out their own identities – and so always found solace in imaginary worlds – sci-fi and fantasy worlds – Dungeons and Dragons worlds.

I’ve read an article which focused on the transformative potential of D&D to be able to play with your gender identity as also exists in video games in a relatively safe space

She thinks that creating stories in SFF worlds can be liberating because you’re able to imagine possibilities which don’t exist in real life 

 

12) Tumblr post – Sameface Syndrome and Other Stories

Disney’s Sameface Syndrome – The evolution of Disney princesses and their effect on body image, gender roles, and the portrayal of love

Disney, a major animation studio, has the unfortunate habit of creating princesses with the same face – Elsa, Anna, Rapunzel – and this post points to a disturbing trend in their female characters where the bodies, faces, features all look similar 

Talks about how due to the design shapes and what they imply, character personalities tend to dictate their shapes which means that people who aren’t conventionally attractive either end up being background characters or villains 

they’re typically older, with more visible wrinkles in their faces, and either grotesquely thin or on the heavy side.

You get the idea: the “good” characters are basically always attractive, and the “bad” characters are basically always unattractive. You see a little more variance in movies from, say, DreamWorks (not so much Pixar) but this rule still holds true for Disney.

Points out that one of the critiques of Disney characters is that they have big heads and big eyes but this is usually to make them more expressive. However in its early days, Disney used to model its characters on real women so the proportions used to be more realistic

When The Little Mermaid was released, the now-familiar formula of “big head, big eyes, small nose and mouth, tiny waist” really started to take off… Which was applied in various ways to the rest of the Disney Princess line.

Anna and Elsa’s facial expressions, particularly Elsa’s, were significantly dialed back at the animation stage to prevent their faces from stretching out of shape and making them look “too ugly,” producing the side effect of making them look oddly stiff. Stretching and exaggerating faces to get good overall movement is one of the basic principles of animation, and I’m concerned that Disney decided to throw it out in favor of making their women look slightly more attractive, especially since I haven’t noticed this in any other Disney Princess films.

Ugh why is the way the women look the most important part of this or any movie – especially when this was pushed as the “feminist” Disney movie – even though there have been critiques of that especially in the second movie 

Arbitrary decision which does have a cultural impact that good characters are supposed to be beautiful and also beautiful in a certain kind of way – narrowing the definition of morality and beauty in one fell swoop – narrow waist, wide hips – there was such a huge outrage about Barbie with this – but haven’t really encountered Disney ones – especially given the fact that Disney is such a cultural juggernaut 

Disney is a big reflection of our societal norms, so it’s frankly disturbing that they’re saying that this is what beauty looks like — not because all these girls have an unrealistic body type, but because they all look the same. Because what they’re communicating, in a subtle and subconscious way, is that there’s only one way to look good, and that’s simply not true.

Disney may be in the business of stylizing reality, but that’s just it: they’re supposed to be using reality as a starting point. The world is an extremely varied place, and people come in all shapes and sizes. When you’re trying to improve your diversity, making your characters actually look different is a good place to start.

 

13) Article – When Will We See Dalit Women Journalists In India’s Mainstream Media?

Lack of Dalit/Adivasi journalists in Indian media

Talks about how the problem isn’t just entertainment media but also news media where the people in control usually tend to be privileged groups of men and if it’s women, it’s who belong to wealthy, upper caste Hindu backgrounds. This influences what kinds of stories are considered important and how they are told. The stories which are highlighted tend to reflect the concerns and perspectives of this privileged group whereas the marginalised group may have to turn to social media to make their voices heard 

A report published by Oxfam ‘Who Tells Our Stories Matters’ spanning TV news (Hindi and English), newspaper (Hindi and English), digital media and magazines brings forth startling data that demonstrates the severe under-representation of marginalized groups in the Indian Media. Reliable data is not available to establish the number of Dalit/Adivasi journalists in media; experts say, it is minuscule. Media critics say coverage on issues of caste, gender and class lacks sensitivity because of the absence of journalists from these sections. There is no data available specifically for the number of women in media from marginalized communities.

Lack of diversity among journalists also impacts attitudes – if marginalised journalists are only brought on to talk about issues which pertain to that aspect of their identity, people won’t take them seriously on other issues – similar to race in the UK

Post the Rohit Vemula episode, India has witnessed the Third Ambedkarite Wave, wherein there has been an increasing trend of discussion about discrimination faced by the marginalized community. Media houses started hiring or outsourcing Dalit women journalists to only talk about ‘Dalit and gender issues’, thereby reducing their identity to their caste by making them a ‘quota reporter’ and not a journalist who should be allowed to write about Politics, Culture, Art and Sports.

The Adivasi journalists are asked to cover issues regarding Naxalites, Forests and Left Wing extremism.

Even when women journalists and editors talk about issues like feminism or gender politics, it’s still a limited perspective because they aren’t taking into account the perspective of a majority of the Indian population who are impoverished 

This social and cultural capital is replicated because the networks are so limited that the opportunities are only offered to people from the same groups which means Dalit/Bahujan/Adivasi women don’t have access to these spaces and networks 

Journalists from marginalised backgrounds tend to remain on the margins and don’t get access to mainstream spaces and mainstream influence with their counter-narratives 

Dalit news stories are largely relegated to the violence committed against them – a very one-sided, single story view of their existence 

There are no narratives celebrating the intellectual discourses and movements to counter caste-based biases started by Dalit. The privileged gaze fails to see the resistance. No narratives celebrate their culture and identity. For example, Annual Tribal Festival and Dhamma Pravartan Divas, which are significant in Dalit culture, remain uncovered by the media.

Even in schools and colleges, there is no subject integrated in the curriculum that specifically talks about caste, class and gender to sensitize people regarding the inequality in the society. In such aspects, reservation in private media schools is a dire need to ensure participation of marginalized groups in mainstream media.

The politics of language where English is privileged in media rooms 

“Language was a means of power and control. For language is what reflects and embodies the culture and way of life of people, and to believe that one’s language is inferior, not good enough, not worthy of use is, in fact, to negate and make invisible one’s entire way of being and living. It is precisely through creating feelings of inferiority around local languages and dialects that the powerful maintained the marginalization of subaltern groups”, says a journalist from Khabar Lahriya, a path-breaking media channel comprising Dalit women journalists which primarily publishes local stories.

When I was in my early 20s, I was a freelance journalist and had written an article about Khabar Lahriya, a media enterprise I loved, but didn’t even think of touching on the caste aspect because thanks to my privilege, that wasn’t a topic I gave much thought to 

There’s also a lack of rural women’s stories – reading a book Everybody Loves A Good Drought and following The People’s Archive of Rural India – PARI – on Instagram for stories from rural India has helped expand my knowledge and imagination 

It is much more difficult for women from marginalized communities to enter into the field of media and journalism. Families do not have enough resources to educate them. They also do not consider this as a viable career option. This stream requires women to step out of the home at uneven times and work for long hours, which is usually not acceptable to parents. Women are expected to get married and engage in house work.

The systematic structure of patriarchy is so staunch that women do not even consider being a media person as something remotely plausible. According to a report by Media Rumble and UN women, office spaces are male-dominated and patriarchal in nature. The study also found that women continue to be given what are essentially “soft” beats like lifestyle and fashion, leaving the “hard” beats like politics, economy, and sports. “By thus marginalising women’s voices and perspectives, the Indian media essentially denies nearly a half of the population a chance to influence public opinion. This runs counter to the principles of fairness, equality, and democracy,” the report said.

 

14) Article – Building A Newsroom Dedicated To Diversity: An Indian Story

Features Khabar Lahariya which started off as a newspaper that trained women in rural areas to be journalists who printed local news in their local languages thereby diversifying not just who tells the stories but also what kind of stories are told and how they are told 

Now they share their news on distributes their content on Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok

Kavita Devi, the founder of Khabar Lahariya started the newspaper in response to the alienation she felt with mainstream media who did not represent her perspectives or experiences as a Dalit woman in a village 

From 2002 to 2015, KL ran an eight-page print in the Bundeli language covering local issues. They would distribute these prints by hand. Funding was difficult and no mainstream papers wanted to help distribute KL. In 2015, they taught their team how to use smartphones and moved their reporting digital, adding video coverage. Their number of readers have gone from 80,000 (while in print) to five million every month.

They’ve been more successful than a lot of big mainstream publications in the shift from print to digital! 

It features underrepresented populations and issues of people who live in rural communities which are difficult to access by mainstream publications 

While they distinguish journalism from activism, their stories do get local level changes done by highlighting issues until they’re fixed

Intersection of caste and gender: 

Safety is still an issue, particularly for Dalit and Adivasi women reporters. Recently, while reporting on a story on gaushalas where cows were being murdered, upper caste men followed KL’s reporters with guns. However, Devi says that they take care of their reporters and put stringent safety protocols into place. She emphasizes that danger shouldn’t stop them from reporting. Safety might not be an issue that is raised if the reporters were men

I love that they focus on issues other than what urban ideas of rural lives and issues are! 

Also runs a podcast called Love Guru covering stories on romance and sexuality that people might be too shy — or afraid of implications — to come on camera for

 

15) Article – What Steven Universe can Teach us about Queerness, Gender Identity, and Feminism

Positive representations in media: Steven Universe

Steven Universe, like She-Ra and other popular media created for children, has found huge resonance and popularity among adult audiences because it explores themes relevant to adult lives too 

The Crystal Gems are gender-nonconforming even though they go by she/her – expanding the concept of gender and the possibilities it holds – so important for a children’s show 

They also represent different body types – fat activism and fatphobia within the feminist umbrella is also a huge topic of discussion at least in the West 

Just like the different gender expressions seem to be a default in this world – not really worthy of comment, it’s the same in She-Ra – it’s not a big deal, it just is 

Fans reading Bow as trans, an interpretation which Noelle publicly supports but doesn’t say it’s canon because they didn’t hire a trans actor to voice him and Scorpia 

Nonbinary characters – Stevionne in Steven Universe, Double Trouble in She-Ra – Noelle said that she was learning through fan responses who said they wished the nonbinary character was human 

Gender is treated with respect and dignity in Steven Universe. The acknowledgment of gender is of particular importance because since the gems identify as female when they are in romantic relationships, queer relationships are illustrated.

Also example of found family and a queer feminist family – which goes against normative family structures 

Fusion as a way to represent queer relationships 

Not only are the characters in Steven Universe free to be who they are, but there are also no boundaries when it comes to what it means to be an individual, whether the boy, girl or gem. All the Crystal Gems, feminine or masculine presenting, fight and kick ass when they do. They take on the daunting task of protecting the earth from menaces that often come from their home planet and the universe using their various weapons and powers. At the same time, they love Steven and protect him with all of their beings as well as nurture him and teach him how to be the best Crystal Gem he can be. These are not traditional, one-dimensional female characters; they are relatable to the multilayered women who exist in real life.

Portrayal of male and female characters which don’t correspond to traditional gender roles – Steven compassionate and sensitive – Connie often rescues him – there’s room for different kinds of ways to be a boy or a girl and largely media has just pushed one narrative – now it’s making up for this by presenting more ways of existing in the world – also Steven’s dad is the one who shows his mother how to love rather than the other way around 

Normally, especially in children’s shows, it is the very feminine character who is always swooning and searching for love, and when she finds it she has to soften the heart of her more masculine love interest. But this is not the case in Steven Universe, where this trope is turned completely on its head

The writer of this article loves that the show is full of “non-traditional interactions, relationships, and expressions of identity” – it’s not something which came easily to the creator of the show as she mentions in her interview with Noelle Stevenson – impacted her mental health to always have to fight  for representation and authentic storytelling with the corporate producers – but her efforts made it easier for Noelle Stevenson to make her show and point to Steven Universe as an example 

It amazes me how a show like this is more reflective of the world today, yet it is rare to see such representations on TV, especially in a show made for children. This normalization of same sex (or gender) relationships, non-nuclear families, characters who are not constricted by gender norms, and characters who are allowed just to give me hope that our future will be a little brighter since children are now being exposed to these values.

Steven Universe, and shows like it, are so important for children who are growing up in a society that tells them who they should be, without taking into account who they are. It is essential for kids to understand that there’s not just one way to be a girl or to be a boy or to be feminine or masculine. As an adult who identifies as queer, it reminds me that I’m not alone and that everything is going to be OK. We must all understand that each person is different and it’s not about being pinpointed as “normal” or “other.” We are individuals, no matter what category we choose to fall under (or not to fall under) and it’s refreshing to see this positive treatment of identity displayed on TV.

 

16) Article – The Way the Solo Novel Treats Female Droid L3-37 Is Horrifying

This article discusses how even non-human female characters get a raw deal – where a female droid in Star Wars is robbed of her agency and has to submit to further a man’s story and how male characters manipulate her into saving her friends and doing something which goes against her sense of being and identity

The article explores the concept of consent and the absence of it – which makes me think of the lack of consent even with Leia and Han when he first kisses her. I don’t think Star Wars has a great track record with its women anyway – Rey’s story started off great but ended very dubiously – ostensibly as fan service to a bunch of enraged fans who hated the feminism and people of colour in the second film of the most recent trilogy 

L3’s story is so flawed that it’s hard to pair it with the feminist bent Lucasfilm has been aiming for with their current films. Never mind that her quest for droid rights is painted as a joke, but the fact she ends up voiceless and powerless, trapped on a ship that Han then takes from Lando, is deeply problematic.

We are shown a woman who advocates for social justice having her ability to speak taken away and then she becomes a servant who cannot stand up for herself. If that’s not a bad message to send, I don’t know what is.

This social justice and activism being treated as a joke by the male characters is so reminiscent of Hermione’s outrage against house elf oppression 

 

17) Research paper – Gender in Twentieth-Century Children’s Books

According to this study of a sizeable chunk of children’s books in the 20th century, they found male characters were more prominent than female characters – both in titles and as protagonists 

I wonder how much this has changed now that it is such a matter of mainstream discourse. I would be really interested in a more modern study, especially with Indian children’s books. A lot of writers are more aware of these issues and focus on gender diversity among other forms of diversity but even that can be in quite limited ways. A Mighty Girl produces booklists which feature female characters in prominent roles in different books of different genres and for different ages 

I remember when I was a kid and used to be so upset by the lack of girl names in science and maths textbooks – I would make up girl versions for the boy names and proceed that way. I was too young to have any understanding of feminism then but obviously I still noticed it 

I think it’s also important to see how the genders are represented not just whether they are not. Of course, it begins with mere visibility but there also needs to be more nuance and complexity rather than just superficial gender diversity – and what about children’s books normalising diverse gender identities? 

Are girls going on adventures and doing things which according to traditional gender roles they’re not allowed to do? What about women of all ages and backgrounds? 

Diverse representations of gender are important in children’s media because children are still figuring out and developing their own identities and how these fit within the world they inhabit 

I think have a more diverse group of academic researchers will help diversify the kinds of research that is carried out – in the context of children’s books in India, researchers from different genders, socioeconomic, caste, regional backgrounds can draw on their own experiences and priorities and use these perspectives to identify gaps in children’s literature – using quantitative data to back this up  – and of course, having more diverse writers, editors and publishers push for the change as well 

I think the male/female disparity is important in terms of representation especially in a country like India, huge parts of which are so directly entrenched in patriarchal structures – but I don’t think it’s enough to just focus on male/female at the cost of other aspects of identity which are contextually different and impact people in different ways. For example, Dalit men/black men have less power and are in more danger than a wealthy Brahmin/white woman. And among women, many different intersections of oppression and privilege exist. I wish this study explored other facets of identity