Public Perception of Feminist Performance Activism

In examinations of women’s art and activism, researchers claim that the results of these activist groups’ performances are almost always challenging the cultural assumptions about genders - Public Perception of Feminist Performance Activism introduction. In “Code Pink, Raging Grannies, and the Missile Dick Chicks: Feminist Performance Activism in the Contemporary Anti-War Movement,” Rachel V. Kutz-Flamebaum argues that feminist performance activist groups integrate a combination of gender norm-embracing and norm-challenging elements in their performances.

By spreading their viewpoints as they attempt to gain public attention and legitimate results from mass media, these feminist demonstrations in both Emily Anderson’s “Treacherous Pin-ups, Politicized Prostitutes, and Activist Betrayals: Jane Fonda’s Body is Hollywood and Hanoi,” and Kutz-Flamebaun’s article, are socially unaccepted in which their actions are deemed as a violation of female norm.

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However, without the media support, these extraordinary performances, such as Suzzanne Lacy’s visceral performance, as examined by Vivien Green Fryd’s article, “Suzanne Lacy’s Three Weeks in May: Feminist Activist Performance Art,” will have very little to no effect on the cultural attitudes subsequently resulting failure on public discourse upon formerly silent subjects.

Moreover, in “Growing the Size of the Black Woman’: Feminist Activist in Havana Hip Hop,” Ronni Armstead states that lyrics and music performances can also express one’s beliefs and help feminist activist step up as the vanguard of feminism strategically, but often times these artists only get negative criticisms. Similarly, with respect of Suellen Murray’s indication in “Taking the Toys From the Boys Feminism and Australian Women’s Peace Activism in the 1980s,” these female activists shared much in common.

Even with the continuation of negative responses, these female activists are stubbornly motivated to execute significant unfeminine actions in attempt to seek for acceptance from society. Despite the differences in the activists’ concepts and their activism methods, their actions disrupt the balance of gender norms hence prevent female activists from directly expressing their ideas. According to these researchers, they conclude that in order to gain full attention from society, women are condemned to stay within gender norm boundaries.

While much research has be done to the cultural assumption that inform gendered performance activism, there has been little study on the outcomes of these feminists’ performances as they try to convey their messages through different gender norm strategies. Is the public perception aligning with these female activists to support their feminist performances? A study will be examined highly profiled websites, providing practical data of viewers’ judgments such as YouTube videos, artists’ blogs and CNN iReports.

Feminist performance activists: Ellen DeGeneres, Bikini Kill and naked street protesters will be categorized accordingly. By analyzing viewers’ comments, the effectiveness of these female demonstrations can be verified. While many scholars have focused largely on examining the cultural assumption of gender norm through feminist demonstrations, the responses from the audiences are often disconnected from the fundamental idea of the activist performances. This paper argues that the female activists’ motivations are misinterpreted because of the subjective discourse that is heavily based on the extraordinary performances.

The cultivation by the popular press of well-known hostess Ellen DeGeneres uses her fame to indoctrinate gay rights to her audiences. As a true lesbian icon, Ellen DeGeneres believes that homosexuality is not a threat to society and that people are allowed to be with who they love. Her images on screen as a female activist have gained public attention from variety of people, for instance, the non-religious and religious viewers, homosexuals and passionate fans. They commented on some parts of DeGeneres’ influential discussion on gay rights in her show. Most audiences often get carried away from the topic whether they agree or not.

From Religious viewers, they not only disagree and dislike DeGeneres’ opinion about gay rights; they think that love is being mocked. Hence, religious arguments arise as these YouTube comments are being analyzed. The comments made by these religious viewers slowly become a discourse of their subjective views on DeGeneres’ performances on screen. Having different cultural and religious backgrounds, audiences begin to debate the differences between sinners and angels. With their subjective criticisms, public is therefore misled with the responses as irrelevant as “Gays are wicked sinners” (Ellen DeGeneres Slams Sarah Palin on Gay Marriage).

In some ways, one may say that the topic is being discussed, but the main focus of gay rights is lost due to the heating arguments among the commenters. Hence DeGeneres’ activist message is ignored and she fails to express her thoughts as an activist. Solidarity plays a big role in the minds of the homosexual viewers. These strong minded audiences are aligned with DeGeneres’ ideas, but their similar experiences of being a homosexual create intense discussion upon the matter. These gender norm challengers share a common ground of bravery to stand up for themselves.

Consequently their comments contain aggressive tone. Due to personal issues of these viewers, they express their own thoughts as the “evidences” of the argument. However, paying too much attention on each homosexual’s opinion and experience loses the focus of DeGeneres’ fundamental purpose to use media to change the society’s views of homosexuals. Despite the aggressive statements using words such as “hate,” “curse,” or “retards,” people with no religious beliefs joins into the conversation and criticize negatively on those oppose to DeGeneres.

Building hatred on top of their judgments, viewers are ignorant of the actual message because they are occupied to defend for their opinions. DeGeneres’ constructed popularity greatly influences her supporters who simply respond positively about DeGeneres’ physical appearances without further explorations of her reasons to be quoted on YouTube videos. Also, their responses tend to be irrelevant because they are fanatical about the presence of DeGeneres, they agree with everything she believes in.

Assuming everyone that comments on DeGeneres’ videos are her fans, these passionate viewers become aggressive and respond harmfully to those that are non-fans. As a result, DeGeneres fails to present her media attention and her activist concept as a whole to society. Bikini Kill tries to challenge and overthrown patriarchy by opposing gender norms and the male oppression of women. They incorporate radical feminist lyrics with fiery performances to characterize themselves as the abrasive and hardcore influential band.

Through Bikini Kill’s blog, most viewers are fans who have been inspired by Bikini Kill. These viewers take time to comment on specific topic or lyrics that they have been inspired by, especially from those who are activists themselves. Formulating a discourse of people who are to some extent an activist, these viewers help new audiences to engage into the conversation more quickly. Consequently, Bikini Kill is spreading their activist message effectively. On the contrary, Bikini Kill tends to have an extraordinary looks when they perform.

Up on the stage, these artists would wear multicoloured outfits to gain attention. Either from YouTube videos or live performances, Bikini Kill seems to have attracted much attention with their fashion. Although for most activist viewers, there is not much effect on their perception of Bikini Kill’s activist message, but to those that are only fascinated by their fashion designs and music, they tend to be missing the motive of the activist group performances. Many unrelated comments to the activist message from these fashion and music viewers reduce the importance of Bikini Kill’s feminism focus.

From some perceptions, these activists have unsuccessfully introduced women empowerment concept to society as there are minor viewers that are misled with their extraordinary fashion trend. Public naked female protestors, without a doubt, are socially unaccepted to the society. Naked protestors of those that trying to stop war in Afghanistan and gain animal rights are presenting female activist performances to the audiences with hope to alter their perspectives of these subjects. However, reviews on CNN iReports and comments on YouTube videos are far from helping to spread the messages across.

People not only criticize the videos of these protestors, some made video clips to mock these naked women on streets. Creating a reverse effect on people, audiences made offensive sexual comments that are not beneficial to change the current concept of the subject matter. Lack of emphasizing on the focus of the protest, public is misled in such ways that they not only criticize on the strategies of these gender norm challengers, men, especially are taking these activist actions for granted. Public curiosity and men’s self-satisfactions disrupted people from understanding the reasons behind these actions.

From viewers’ opinions, these female activists should not be attractive and expect the public to reinforce on the subject because being sexually attractive automatically loses the whole purpose of the action. Most comments from YouTube videos are ignorant of the activists’ messages; in fact they do not consider them as serious issues. Ineffectively, these female naked activists fail to express their concepts of war in Afghanistan and the rights of animals. In an attempt to gain attention from the society, these female activists make significant contributions by executing unfeminine actions.

From popular hostess to naked street protestors, these activists use different gender norm strategies to convey their messages. Seemingly impossible to directly affect the audiences, these female activists tend to have unintentionally created unrelated arguments to the subject matter hence resulted failure of their activist performances. Had people not been distracted to criticize others’ opinions and emphasize on their own subjective perceptions, these activists may have being more effective to fully express their messages.

Analyzing through viewers’ comments conclude that these activists have unsuccessfully manipulate the society with the female activist performances, however there is a limitation in these examined resources that prevent a more in-depth researches which could have fully interpret the public perception from other different perspectives. If provided with wider range of resources, further examinations can be done on the effects of the outcomes as these feminist performance activists use different methods to convey their messages.

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