Women know their place

October 19, 2016

I often write about people ‘taking to the streets’ when referring to protest, but the choice of site for a demonstration is usually a communicative act in itself. Mobilizations by American women over the past few days are good illustrations of this. A video on the BBC World website this morning features women explaining why they are protesting outside buildings owned by Donald Trump in 15 cities throughout the US. Unlike reports we typically find on BBC World television broadcasts, the reporter is nowhere in evidence: the clip is comprised entirely of women explaining their ire, and why it is directed at the Republican Party as much as its candidate. The protest was also reported on RT (see above).

On Monday, BBC World also reported that prominent American journalist Amy Goodman was facing charges for participating in what the US authorities terms a ‘riot’, after filming anti-oil-pipeline protests in North Dakota. Giving her the power of definition, the BBC quoted Goodman as saying ‘I wasn’t trespassing, I wasn’t engaging in a riot, I was doing my job as a journalist by covering a violent attack on Native American protesters’. She was not the only high-profile woman documenting the event, and getting in trouble with the police for doing so. Actress Shailene Woodley was arrested while broadcasting the protest on Facebook, but not before the video went viral. Woodley is best known for her role in the dystopian film Divergent, where she plays a young woman who turns her back on the governing class to which she is born and becomes an armed rebel.

The politics of place extends beyond Trump Towers and pipeline construction sites in North Dakota. The Al Jazeera website still features a piece, published in September, about the symbolism of women’s protests, connecting the North Dakota demonstrations and the boats sailing from Barcelona to Gaza to protest against the Israeli blockade. (The all-women crew included members of the European Parliament, a Nobel peace laureate and a retired US army colonel.) It might be difficult, the author conceded, to see the ‘real and material impact’ of activists from around the world taking part in protests that will only get them arrested. ‘But the significance of these endeavours becomes apparent when viewed in the wider context of popular movements taking root around the world. One of the most visible current examples is happening in North Dakota. As the Women’s Boat makes its way to Palestine, an epic battle is being waged by the tanding Rock Sioux nation to halt construction of an oil pipeline that threatens the integrity of their land and water.’

The interesting thing about media artefacts such as these is that they are global – global protests communicated to and by global media – but given expression in local manifestations of dissent, on specific sites, in particular places. One thing we pay attention to in our research is whether and how the global broadcasters we study make the local-global connection.

Alexa Robertson

Cite This:
Screening Protest — "Women know their place," in The Screening Protest Project, October 19, 2016