restricted access In Focus: Gender and Labor in Recession-Era Media and Media Studies
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In Focus:
Gender and Labor in Recession-Era Media and Media Studies


In an October 2011 series of “Voices from the Trenches,” The Wrap’s Steve Pond quotes an anonymous postproduction vendor lamenting, “All the business models that we grew up with? They went out the window.”1 That lament should sound pretty familiar to readers of Cinema Journal. Hollis Griffin reached a similar conclusion in the previous “In Focus” (volume 52, number 4), where he observes, “The political economy of higher education has shifted in a way that makes having a long storied career—with plenty of support for research and ample energy for teaching—a luxury and privilege that fewer media academics will get to enjoy.”2 In media production and media studies, the ways we understand and feel about our work are shifting rapidly in response to the global economic crisis colloquially known as the Great Recession. Media practitioners of all stripes—artists and critics, teachers and scholars—find their labor affected by new economies of media production, consumption, and education. The following six essays interrogate these changes through a wide variety of objects and methodologies, but all analyze the role that gender plays in our personal, institutional, and cultural responses to the recession. Collectively, they ask how feminist theory, pedagogy, and art can combat the worsening inequalities of our era.

As readers will no doubt recall, December 2007 marked the beginning of the greatest worldwide economic slump since the Great Depression. By the time the Great Recession officially ended—in June 2009—a new austerity was determining labor practices even in the [End Page 119] allegedly recession-proof industries of higher education and entertainment. Although contingent contract employment and corporate culture have long shaped academia and media production in the United States, the new austerity reminds us that these practices affect workers disproportionately. Hard times throw into harsh relief the prejudices that inform employment for gender as well as sexual, racial, class, and other minorities in this country. The Great Recession disproportionately affected workers already marginalized by age, ethnicity, economic background, and ability, but the difference that received the most attention was gender. Citing statistics of early job losses in male-dominated industries, op-ed columnists and economic analysts quickly declared the Great Recession the “he-cession,” “the death of macho,” and “the end of men,” despite ample evidence that women, people of color, and older workers were among those most affected by public sector cutbacks and corporate restructuring.3 Media representations of the recession—from The Company Men (John Wells, 2010) to Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks, 2011), from 2 Broke Girls (CBS, 2011–2013) to The Queen of Versailles (Lauren Greenfield, 2012)—also depict recession experiences as gender determined. In short, gender has become the privileged lens for examining economic precariousness during the recession, but these discussions have largely proceeded without the insights of feminist media producers and scholars.

To redress that absence, this “In Focus” analyzes gendered representations and experiences of labor in the distinct yet related fields of media production and media studies to foster coalition building among workers on both sides of the screen. When we as media scholars study the labor of media creators or representations of labor in film and television, we rarely reflect on how these forms of labor affect or resemble our work as researchers, writers, and teachers. This section seeks to create a continuum between these media practices and industries. It asks how feminist pedagogies, political economies, production studies, and textual analyses can expose and perhaps remedy common issues in our industries. These essays demonstrate that the challenges facing women and gender minorities in media production and media studies resemble one another in the most disheartening ways. For instance, in both media studies and media production, contingent and short-term labor contracts hinder women’s employment opportunities and expand the gender pay gap. As we all know, contingent faculty now represent at least two-thirds of communications, fine arts, and humanities instructors in US postsecondary education. With this exploitative employment practice come increases in the percentage of female faculty members in the arts and humanities. The Society for Cinema and Media...