“You Don’t Upload Me?” Pre-Election Women’s Video

The new face of women’s political video?

It must be said, up front, that I am no scholar of elections, or even someone who follows political rhetoric carefully, in all of its complex historical manifestations, carefully.  I’m not even someone who religiously tracks the ways that video gets circulated during elections.  (There are, for the record, people who are fantastic at this: Chuck Tryon, for one.  Go and read his blog if you want expertise.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.)

But even for a layperson/concerned citizen/casual observer like me, it’s difficult to ignore the video production and circulation by and for women as we approach the final lap of this presidential election cycle, in part because it is beginning to counteract some assumptions that media scholars have made about the ways that women use video.  How does that work, you ask?  Stay with me, now.

Look: you don’t have to dig deep to find the news that women voters will play a major role on Tuesday; sources as disparate as the Huffington Post, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution,  and the Wall Street Journal have detailed the ways in which, as a constituency, women may very well choose our next president.  It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that we’ve seen an a significant amount of female-focused political video throughout this campaign.  But in the last few weeks, there’s been a decided uptick in the number of videos themselves, in addition to the kind of circulation they receive.

The clip of Fey’s speech for the Center for Reproductive Rights lapped the internet on Oct. 25; it’s been uploaded to YouTube in a number of formats, made the Facebook and Twitter rounds, and garnered some coverage in entertainment, culture and political coverage (E!Online, Salon.com, and the Wall Street Journal, who is hosting the video above, which now sits at ~137,000 views,).  And Fey’s video is just one of a handful that have emerged in the final two weeks before election day.  I’m also interested in the recent release and dissemination of Lena Dunham’s “First Time” video, the Nov. 2 “Don’t Turn Back Time on Women” video, with Cher and Kathy Griffin, and Lesley Gore’s 10/22 “You Don’t Own Me PSA” (see below).  What’s so significant about this handful?

Here’s the thing about this emergence of explicitly political video by and for women : it flies in the face of the data that women, particularly women over 30, are less likely to create and post video than men.  In a 2007 Pew study of online video, Mary Madden notes that while a small-but-meaningful gender disparity exists when one tracks video watching and downloads, the gap widens considerably when we consider uploads:

Nearly two-thirds of online men (63%) use the internet to watch or download video, while just about half of online women do so (51%). Video posting produces a more dramatic disparity; 11% of online men say they upload video, compared with only 6% of online women.

She goes on to mention, however, that the gender gap lessens considerably when you look at younger internet users:

When looking exclusively at the viewing and uploading habits of young adults (those ages 18-29), young men and women report roughly the same incidence of video watching and uploading. Instead, users age 30 and older are the ones who exhibit the most pronounced gender differences.

With these ideas in mind, it’s even more significant, then, that the majority of the figures in these election season videos are squarely outside of the 18-29 demographic (I’ll cheat a bit here and include Lena Dunham, who was born in ’86).  But for the most part, we’re seeing women making videos to persuade other women to vote for a particular candidate.  And the reaction itself is notable: not to pick on Dunham’s video in particular, but it is, as far as I know, the only one to get a special shout-out from the Family Research Council for being “disgusting.”  (You can follow that controversy here.)  Without Dunham, however, we have videos featuring women in their 40s (thank you, Tina Fey); 50s (Kathy Griffin); 60s (Cher and Lesley Gore).  It’s a cavalcade of mature women who are registering their political discontent, mobilizing women to vote and to vote for a progressive slate of candidates, and, in opposition to demographic media trends, have decided that video is the most powerful medium to accomplish their aims.

Is this political cycle, one that has focused on women as perhaps the most treasured voting bracket, while simultaneously featuring some of the most retrograde policies and opinions about women’s health and autonomy, simply an anomaly that is great enough to interrupt gendered, generational practices with video?  Or rather, does this indicate a growing interest in older women to harness video as a viral tool to represent their beliefs?

It could be either of these, as well as any number of other considerations that I’m not taking into account here. As a parting observation, however,  I will just mention that there is a fascinating rhetorical concurrence in the “Don’t Turn Back Time on Women” video and the “You Don’t Own Me PSA.”  Dunham’s video invokes a shared second person audience—the “you” that wants your first time voting to be with someone special (wink); but both Cher/Griffin and Gore invoke a “we” voice throughout their videos.  For Team Cher/Griffin, this is a multidimensional “we”: it’s “women and people who like women and respect them.  I’m looking at you, LGBTQs…”; later, it’s a “we” that is calling on voters in cities in crucial swing states (Portsmouth, Fort Lauderdale, Cleveland).  In short, it’s a “we” that is held together by values, and must be tended to/protected by those in key geographical locations (implicitly, also part of the “we”).

Gore’s “we,” however, is different, and that difference is one that may well instantiate the role that women’s political video is playing in the final days before Nov. 6.  Gore lends her iconic 1963 song for the video, which consists of women in solitude, in pairs, in groups, lip-syncing to her song in front of their webcams.  The video functions as a collage, then, of women making their own video in collusion with others, for the sake of a particular cause; almost literally singing with the same voice.  “You Don’t Own Me” is comprised of a multi-generational, media-making and producing collective of women, oriented toward the same political goal.

And so, as we move into the final hours preceding the election, I find myself hoping for an enormous voter turnout; a clear and decisive winner of the presidency; and the continuation of an emerging media trend that might disrupt some of our assumptions about who can make and circulate video.

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