This article was originally posted at the WAM! (Women, Action, & the Media) blog. Cross-posted with the permission of WAM! and the post author, Gender Focus’ own Jessica Critcher!
If you haven’t heard about the Occupy Wall Street protests yet, you’ve probably been living under a rock. Since the movement started in September, similar protests have sprung up in over 100 American cities and 81 countries around the globe. There has even been a show of support from Antarctica.
While major news outlets have finally started to give the movement some coverage, the primary method for spreading news about the Occupy movement has been the internet. A tweet attributed to Keith Olbermann describes the situation saying, “For those asking ‘where is the media coverage of the police riot at #OccupyBoston’ – Twitter IS the media coverage.” Updates, photos and video can be posted instantly. People who can’t make it out to the protests can watch events unfold live on their computer screens. This is a major reason why the movement is able to have such a global reach.
But as always seems to be the case, where there is media coverage, there is exploitation. Documentary film maker Steven Greenstreet has created a video and matching Tumblr blog called Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street. Why? In his own words:
Our original ideas were admittedly sophomoric: Pics of hot chicks being all protesty, videos of hot chicks beating drums in slow-mo, etc. But when we arrived at Zuccotti Park in New York City, it evolved into something more.
Apparently, since Greenstreet is telling us that there is something more to his page than hot chicks, we can’t get mad. In response to negative backlash, he said:
Apparently a lot of controversy has erupted online from people passionately opining (among many things) that this is sexist, offensive, and dangerously objectifies women. It was not my intent to do that and I think the spirit of the video, and the voices within, are honorable and inspiring.
He has also been quoted by Salon saying, basically, that he only titled it “Hot Chicks” to get attention, so we shouldn’t be mad. So which is it? Did he start off with sophomoric intentions only to be persuaded by the movement’s integrity, or did he start the blog with noble intentions and a sexy title to get the word out?
Frankly the answer is not important. No matter how you look at it, this is still a creepy form of voyeuristic objectification that raises serious concerns. Media that objectifies and sexualizes women creates a space where violence against women is more easily tolerated. Labeling these women as hot chicks, even if he does lip service to their political beliefs by calling them “smart hot chicks” implies that their only contribution to the movement is through their appearance.
Greenstreet is perpetuating the message that this is a men’s movement and women are simply around for decoration. While he vehemently denies that what he is doing is sexist, that claim relies on telling feminists they don’t know what they’re talking about. Last I checked, women make up about half of the 99%. And of that 99%, women, especially women of color, are disproportionally affected by poverty and our current economic crisis.
Though there are several unifying factors behind the Occupy Wall Street movement, it is also just as easy to exclude people who are already marginalized and excluded by society at large. Greenstreet seems to forget his privileged position as a white male. As Collier Meyerson points out:
The call for the redistribution of wealth alone does not get at the root of the problem. We have to think about this more critically and we have to be more vigilant of those (like homeboys that made this video) that are trying to keep existing power structures steadily in place.
Thankfully, the irritating chauvinists do not speak for the women of Occupy Wall Street, as they are more than happy to speak for themselves. There is a petition on MomsRising.org to encourage local mayors to be supportive of OWS. There is a sub-category of the protest in Chicago specifically for feminist issues and concerns within the Occupy movement. And all over, individual women are speaking about ways to make the movement more inclusive of women.
Jill Filipovic has turned Greenstreet’s recent rape joke into a powerful criticism of his film and his contradicting stance on women’s rights. While there is opportunity for objectification by the media, we can also use the media to speak on our own behalf.
Angi Becker Stevens sums up the need for a feminist analysis of OWS, saying “As feminists, we need to seize the opportunity to plug into this movement and make our voices heard. In turn, those already in the movement must be willing to listen. That’s what real solidarity is all about.” Why couldn’t Greenstreet have made his film about that?
Photo credit: IIP State via Flickr