Report [October 2016] – ‘Pitching Feminism without Compromising Feminism: A Workshop on Writing for the Media as a Feminist Academic’
Led by Dr Michelle Smith (Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Fellow, Deakin University)
On 19th October, the Feminist Research Network hosted ‘Pitching Feminism without Compromising Feminism: A Workshop on Writing for the Media as a Feminist Academic’.
The workshop was informative and interactive as participants worked through how they would pitch their ideas to various media for feminist-inspired opinion pieces. This involved, for example, workshopping the titles they would use to draw in a wide and not necessarily feminist readership – all the while not abandoning or compromising their academic or feminist credentials. It was a fun and creative, yet intellectually challenging and productive process!
The writing workshop was inspired by the idea that feminist discourse has been increasingly visible in the media. Popular feminist writers like Clementine Ford, Celeste Liddle, Laurie Penny, and Lindy West are well known for their contributions to major newspapers, radio and television interviews, as well as their own books. Yet, this proliferation of feminist media prompts the question: What role can feminist academics play in this expanded—and yet often extremely hostile— space for feminist writing for the general public?
The workshop was led by Deakin University academic and feminist columnist for The Conversation, Dr Michelle Smith. Michelle shared her experiences of writing opinion pieces for a range of publications from major daily newspapers, such as The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, to online sites such as The Guardian and The Drum.
Michelle was incredibly generous as she spent the first part of the workshop sharing with participants how she came to be such a prolific writer outside the usual sphere of academic publishing. She also talked about some of the challenges involved in choosing to write for the media, such as finding the time to write while fulfilling the requirements of an academic position and reacting to public feedback, including what are, unfortunately frequent, occurrences of anti-feminist backlash.
The second and more substantial part of the workshop involved participants working together to produce pitches for their articles. We worked on how to produce pitches that would lead to articles that were “print-worthy” and shareable but still robustly feminist and informed by our shared background as trained academics.
We also worked on something that made many of us understandably uncomfortable, namely, how to abandon footnotes and complex theory, but to instead seize the opportunity to convey unfamiliar ideas to a wide audience!
Feedback from the session was great! I, for one, was inspired to pitch an article on the upcoming US elections to the Conversation. My pitch was accepted and my piece – ‘What’s gender solidarity got to do with it? Woman shaming and Hillary Clinton’ – was published in The Conversation on 8 November 2016:
As Michelle had outlined, feminist academics have the opportunity of disseminating feminist-inspired research well beyond the confines of academia. And, one of the really positive aspects of this pathway is that this research tends to reach audiences that are much larger and more varied than the usual audiences of scholarly articles or book chapters. Within the space of one day, for example, my Hillary Clinton piece – which expanded on my research into the history of gendered forms of shame and shaming – was accessed by nearly 5000 readers. I would hazard a guess that this is a far greater number of readers than my usual scholarly articles achieve!
Sharon Crozier-De Rosa
NB: Dr Michelle Smith is an academic at Deakin University, feminist columnist for The Conversation and contributor on feminism, literature and popular culture for a variety of media outlets including The Age, Washington Post, New Statesman, The Drum, and sbs.com.au. Some of her 2016 Conversation articles include: ‘‘Not fit to be president’: Hillary Clinton and our problem with older women’; ‘From scolds to “talking underwater”: Policing women’s voices’; ‘Meg Ryan’s face and the historical battleground of ageing’; ‘Friday essay: the ugly history of cosmetic surgery’; ‘No, you’re not ‘hardwired’ to stare at women’s breasts’; and, ‘Witches both mad and bad: a loaded word with an ugly history’. See http://theconversation.com/profiles/michelle-smith-128