The field of transnational feminist media cultures emerges from the intersection of three key analytical realms: the geopolitical site, a feminist orientation, and media technologies and cultures. Each of these realms originally derives from a specific discipline and its reinvention. The geopolitical site stems from area studies and its de-insularization under the pressure of globalization theory. The feminist orientation bespeaks a desire for gender and sexuality equality that has drastically reconfigured sociopolitical theories. Media technologies and cultures have been undergoing major transformations since the turn of the twentieth century, resulting in a highly dynamic field that embraces proliferating and interacting media studied through an array of historical, theoretical, and sociopolitical lenses. What brings these three analytical realms together is their shared transnational and poly-local drive, which is borne out in their historical genesis, and is only accelerating in the current era of expanding globalization characterized by five “scapes” of border-crossing flows—ethnoscapes, technoscapes, financescapes, mediascapes and ideoscapes—as theorized by anthropologist Arjun Appadurai.1
As a film scholar committed to exploring the border-crossing movements, translations, and transpositions of film technologies, cultures, and workers, while paying special attention to women's contributions as makers, performers, users, consumers, prosumers, historians, and critics, I find my intellectual home in transnational feminist media studies, which I also help foster through my work on Chinese cinema and its transnational, transregional connections, border-crossing ethnic stardom, and Chinese independent documentaries (especially those involving female makers and subjects, and tackling women-centered issues).
The field of transnational feminist media cultures is characterized by rapidly shifting terrains. As Raka Shome argues, the transnational perspective collapses the national and international binary, foregrounding “the asymmetrical and uneven relations between geographies and spaces … and their implications for rethinking gender.” Transnational feminism, therefore, accentuates the “geopolitical responsibilities that come from [white feminists] occupying geographically privileged spaces in globalization,” and “offers us the resources to continually foreground the complex global relations through which various ‘insides’ and ‘outsides’ of globality are being violently redrawn today, and the role of gender in such redrawings.”2 A seminal volume representing this transnational turn is Between Woman and Nation: Nationalisms, Transnational Feminisms, and the State (1999), which concludes with a chapter coauthored by Caren Kaplan and Inderpal Grewal, “Transnational Feminist Cultural Studies: Beyond the Marxism/Poststructuralism/Feminism Divides.”3
On the other hand, as transnationalism becomes linked with globalization defined in terms of neoliberal capitalism, and as globalization escalates the spread of media technologies and cultures, evoking Appadurai's theorization of the disjunctured global flows of mediascape and technoscape, feminist media scholars strive to develop critical frameworks that can adequately address the uneven impact of media practices as determined by preexisting gender, class, and race and ethnicity politics, as well as specific geopolitics. Transnational media scholarship also studies the ways in which the cartography of gender, class, and race and ethnicity inequities might be reshuffled and reconfigured through agential and innovative media practices undertaken by marginalized and disfranchised social sectors. An exemplary study in this direction is Niki Akhavan's article “Exclusionary Cartographies: Gender Liberation and the Iranian Blogosphere” (2011).4 Challenging the mainstream narrative that naturalizes the liberatory power of social media and espouses “Orientalist feminism” with racist and classist assumptions, Akhavan's article offers a densely contextualized study of (diasporic) Iranian women bloggers’ variegated sociopolitical and literary interventions, arguing that these bloggers come with different political orientations (debunking the Orientalist stereotype of Iranian women as victims of the Islamic government), and that they assert agency by linking their social media activities with real-life experiences.
Given the transnational, intersectional, and intermedial premises of transnational feminist media cultures, scholarship in this field often takes the form of edited volumes that bring together writings by established and emerging feminist scholars who work with a range of media cultures and eclectic theoretical frameworks (including postcolonial studies, diasporic studies, and critical race and ethnic studies, in addition to film and media studies and gender studies). Some key discipline-setting and pedagogically significant works include Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in Transnational Age (1998), edited by Ella Shohat; Multiculturalism, Postcoloniality, and Transnational Media (2003), edited by Ella Shohat and Robert Stam; Transnational Feminism in Film and Media (2007), edited by Anikó Imre, Áine O'Healy, and Katarzyna Marciniak; Circuits of Visibility: Gender and Transnational Media Cultures (2011), edited by Radha Sarma Hegde; and The Routledge Companion to Media and Gender (2014), edited by Cynthia Carter, Linda Steiner, and Lisa McLaughlin.5
These edited volumes demonstrate seismic transformations from the 1990s onward. The geopolitical locations of interest have expanded to include previously understudied areas in the Islamic world, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa. This transnational turn enables what Shohat calls “relational feminism” grounded in diverse communities, affiliations, and practices. For Imre, O'Healy, and Marciniak, transnational feminism underscores the fact that “transnational processes are inherently gendered, sexualized and racialized. The borders they erase and erect affect different groups differently.”6 The transnational perspective necessitates an interactive and border-crossing approach to both media cultures and identities. Thus, as the media forms under study expand from film and television to radio, digital media, social and mobile media, civic media, video games, and other audiovisual cultures, media cultures tend to increasingly traverse regional and national borderlines, such as call center services outsourced to India, industries of cosmetic surgery and beautification catering to an international clientele, divergent media representations of migrant female workers (including domestic workers and sex workers), cyberspace and the digital nomad culture, and traveling female media workers and their works. The topics of study range from gendered representation in film and media texts to the ways that intersectional identity positions shape and are reshaped by media industry, policy, labor, and audience studies.
Different from the volumes that strive to assemble studies covering extensive geographical loci and media forms across the globe, some edited volumes and monographs focus on one specific region, social sector, or media form. Laura Isabel Serna's Making Cinelandia (2014) studies silent-era Mexican film culture in relation to modernity and nation building, with specific attention to the female-gendered fandom discourse and its formation across the US-Mexican border while being harnessed for the nation-building project.7 Patricia White's Women's Cinema, World Cinema (2015) charts the brave new territory of twenty-first-century feminist filmmaking by studying exemplary works by Chinese, Korean, Balkan, Iranian, Indian, and diasporic directors. Drawing upon Lúcia Nagib's argument that women's cinema should always be seen as world cinema (or cinema of the world), White's monograph projects “a transnational feminist social vision” collectively articulated by women makers who exhibit their films at a globalized network of film festivals.8,On Shifting Ground: Muslim Women in the Global Era (2014), edited by Fereshteh Nouraie-Simone, debunks Western media representation of Middle Eastern women by illuminating their active utilization of digital media and social media as well as more traditional media (such as cassette tapes and satellite television) for self-expression and political assertion. The articles, all authored by (diasporic) Muslim female scholars, probe the significance of local and trans-local feminist media practices undertaken by Muslim women in response to globalization and its uneven effects.9 Along this line, Anna Piela's Muslim Women Online: Faith and Identity in Virtual Space (2012) explores Muslim women's voices in transnational online groups, arguing that their online activities facilitate the formation of Muslim women's global communities.10 Anjali Ram's Consuming Bollywood: Gender, Globalization and Media in the Indian Diaspora (2014) traces the ways in which diasporic Indian women interpret Bollywood in order to negotiate their transnational identity.11,Women and the Media in Asia: the Precarious Self (2012), edited by Youna Kim, tackles the contested relationship between female individualization and neoliberal capitalism (with the associated post-socialism and postfeminism) through studying the production, representation, and consumption of popular media in East and Southeast Asia.12 Unlike Kim's volume, which is centrally concerned with the impact of globalization and neoliberal capitalism on women's individualization, Complicated Currents: Media Flows, Soft Power and East Asia (2010), edited by Daniel Black, Stephen J. Epstein, and Alison Tokita, demonstrates that the formation of a shared East Asian popular media culture goes hand in hand with the nation-states’ appropriation of the popular culture for their “soft power.”13 Between the national and the global, Global Asian American Popular Cultures (2016), edited by Shilpa Davé, LeiLani Nishime, and Tasha Oren, portrays a kaleidoscopic picture of Asian American participation in and reconfiguration of popular media cultures, including music, film, television, comics, fashion, food, and sports.14
Of particular significance is the emerging scholarship stemming from the intersection of sound studies and transnational feminist media studies. The weekly online publication Sounding Out, edited by Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman, has published peer-reviewed writings with special themes of “gendered voices” and “gendered soundscapes of India” (the latter coedited by Praseeda Gopinath and Monika Mehta).15 Drawing upon diverse materials, ranging from autobiographical experiences of urban soundscape and sound technologies to ancient Greek philosophies of harmony to the female voices of AI robots, these writings illuminate the key role played by sound technologies in the construction of gendered identities and communities. A recent publication that specifically tackles the performative female voice in relation to modernity and colonialism in the Asian context is Vamping the Stage: Female Voices of Asian Modernities (2017), edited by Andrew N. Weintraub and Bart A. Barendregt.16 Historically and geopolitically grounded, the articles explore the agency of female vocal performers in negotiating colonialism, modernity, Islamism, and other sociopolitical formations. Contrary to siloing the female singers into discrete Asian countries and regions, the contributors mobilize a comparative and border-crossing approach to underscore the inter-Asian and transnational production and reception of vocal performances and pop music.
In addition to published scholarship, transnational feminist media scholars also present new research at conferences such as the Women and the Silent Screen biannual conventions (launched in 1999, so far held in Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, Mexico, and China), the Console-ing Passions International Conference on Television, Video, Audio, New Media, and Feminism (launched in 1992, held in the United States, the UK, and Australia), and the Doing Women's Film and Television History conference (launched in 2014, held in the UK). Covering historical periods from the silent era to the digital age, these conferences not only convene established and emerging scholars, practitioners, curators, and archivists from different parts of the world, but more importantly foster a collaborative network that is committed to the transnational feminist methodology, mobilizing it to fully explore interconnected women-oriented film and media cultures in the global arena. The comparative and transnational studies that emerge from such collaborations have and will continue to significantly decentralize the Euro-American premises of feminist theory and media studies, shifting our attention to interactions among location-specific feminist media cultures.
With the expansion of what Appadurai calls the mediascape, technoscape, and ethnoscape, transnational feminist media studies will need to take global-scale audience studies more seriously, and push the boundary between the maker and the viewer, in order to fully understand the feedback loop of production and reception of media cultures that travel far and wide. It is on this basis that we may foster a field of poly-local feminist media studies that will do full justice to interconnected feminist and intersectional identitarian agencies.