Feminist scholarship has transformed our understanding of media history over the past three decades. Many of the best new histories of film, radio, television, video, digital technology, and playable media have been written from a feminist perspective or focus on female audiences, consumers, critics, artists, producers, and other makers. And much of the best new feminist media scholarship takes a historical perspective. This work has been propelled and sustained by landmark scholarly organizations in which communities of feminist scholars are fostered and nurtured. Console-ing Passions, mounting its twenty-third conference in 2015 in Dublin, has produced a wholesale rewriting of histories of audio, television, video, games, and new media. Women and the Silent Screen, convening for its eighth international meeting in Pittsburgh in September 2015, similarly has transformed research on early cinema. And in 2016, the Doing Women's Film and Television Conference will meet for a third time in London, bringing together scholars, archivists, distributors, and practitioners who have begun collectively to chart histories of women's engagement with multiple media formats, industries, and practices.
And yet, scholarship produced by feminist media historians in and around these events has not made sufficient impact on the wider field of media history. Our work has too often remained on a parallel track, confined to the peripheries of media history, relegated to sidebars set apart from the main text, cast as interesting marginalia in someone else's story. Why risk reproducing this marginalization with a journal devoted exclusively to feminist media histories? Why not? Our hope is that by showcasing a range of feminist media histories across multiple formats, multiple time periods, and multiple global contexts, Feminist Media Histories will demonstrate, issue by issue, how vital a feminist perspective has become to charting any history of any medium in any region. By publishing a series of themed special issues, we can demonstrate the breadth and scope of current scholarship in ways that will make a lasting impact on histories of media worldwide—and that impact might reach beyond the often closed circle of feminist media historians. Rather than concentrating on a particular medium, a particular time period, or a particular place, each issue will strive to be intermedial, intergenerational, and international in its focus. In this way, we can begin to provide the syncretic views so necessary to rewriting media histories from a feminist viewpoint.
We recognize that feminist perspectives vary across time periods and national, international, and transnational contexts. We recognize, too, that media is an expansive category that includes both technologies forgotten and those not yet imagined. And we recognize that histories of gaming, playable media, and new technologies must encompass the very recent past. To trace these histories, we must “look past the screen,” as Jon Lewis and Eric Smoodin would say, to consider a wider field of media cultures and objects.1 We must engage alternative archives and sources, for, as Giuliana Bruno reminds us, we are walking with a “ruined map.”2 We must make the absence of girls and women, the absence of queer and transgender people, the absence of women of color in traditional media histories productive. Feminist media historiography is not simply about finding women and inserting them into conventionally understood trajectories, or even about rewriting those trajectories with women and girls and lesbians fully incorporated into them. It is, first and foremost, about confronting the absence of women, understanding the effects of that absence, and grappling with its results. We will not always find the histories or the women we seek, but only the shape described by their absence, to adapt Patricia Williams's turn of phrase.3
With these methodologies in mind, Feminist Media Histories will include, in addition to scholarly articles, oral histories, original documents, photo essays, and ephemera—all of which help to tell rich histories of media and media cultures. In this issue, we reproduce portions of the first issue of a formative journal in feminist media studies, Women & Film, from 1972. Clarissa K. Jacob's analysis reminds us that from its first appearance, Women & Film demonstrated the necessity of not only looking at how women are represented onscreen, but also considering the wider fields of media industry and culture in which those images are produced and circulated—including, it should be noted, scholarly publications in our own field. It is at once humbling and infuriating to see how much of the work laid out by that journal's editors, Siew-Hwa Beh and Saundra Salyer, over forty years ago still remains to be done.
Our first issue of Feminist Media Histories highlights the work of an emerging generation of historians. As we take stock of all that has been accomplished over the past decades and plot a course forward, this cohort of scholars will be at the forefront of efforts to move feminist media histories from the margins to the center. Articles in this issue employ a range of methodologies to foreground feminist, queer, and trans histories. Candace Moore's research on proto-queer movie critic Lisa Ben traces the roots of queer media criticism back to the 1940s, demonstrating how fundamental a lesbian perspective has been to that history. Building out from an abortion scandal surrounding Japanese star Shiga Akiko in the 1930s, Chika Kinoshita demonstrates the central role that movies and movie culture played in the formation of the modern Japanese state—and how central women were to that enterprise, whether as actresses engulfed by scandal, onscreen protagonists, or “working women” moviegoers. Quinlan Miller, reconstructing a detailed production history of the ultra-camp 1968 television series The Ugliest Girl in Town, demonstrates how trans histories can be tracked through a material history of TV production. Niki Akhavan reminds us of how charged the figure of the “victimized” Muslim woman has become in western media discourse, contrasting the work of two Iranian documentary filmmakers. And, by looking at the culture surrounding Disney's popular Witch Mountain films, Kirsten Pike untangles the complicated messages received by girls coming of age in the women's liberation era. But these essays are only the beginning for this journal. With forthcoming issues devoted to useful media, new materialisms, audio, digital archives, celebrity, found materials, and a host of other topics, Feminist Media Histories will showcase the best new work in the field.
Jon Lewis and Eric Smoodin, Looking Past the Screen: Case Studies in American Film History and Method (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007).
Giuliana Bruno, Streetwalking on a Ruined Map: Cultural Theory and the City Films of Elvira Notari (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993).
Patricia Williams, from The Alchemy of Race and Rights, quoted in Avery Gordon, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 6.