Shelf Life: Feminism 2.0
by Danielle Maestretti
Image by Linda Zacks
For a long time, I was pretty sure that feminism was too shrill, too uncool, too irrelevant to bother with. Power. Patriarchy. Equality. All that would have to wait until college, when I was assigned books and articles on the subject.
That was just seven or so years ago, but inroads to feminist thought are already much more accessible. Magazines like Bitch and Bust have built young, loyal reader bases by tying feminism to popular culture. (If girls are interested in America’s Next Top Model, don’t disregard it—engage it.) More recently, the blogosphere, that sanctum of nonacademic discussions on all conceivable subjects, has created a wide-open forum. What better medium could feminists hope for?
After logging some serious lurk time on 40 blogs and paying shorter visits to about another 50, I found that there’s no monolithic feminist screed out there, nor any sort of united agenda. This is a huge part of feminism’s appeal online: Thousands of people are maintaining their own minifeminisms, writing about whatever they deem important. Some think that reproductive health is the day’s most crucial issue. Others write about pop culture, or parenting, or sexual violence, or science fiction. Moving from one voice, one subject, one discussion to another, it’s clear that today’s feminism is about everything. And it’s this appeal to the mainstream, this proliferation of different perspectives and dissenting opinions that has the potential to make the f-word acceptable again.
The Starter Sites
Feministing (www.feministing.com), Pandagon (pandagon.blogsome.com), Shakesville (shakespearessister.blogspot.com), and Feministe (www.feministe.us/blog) post short, sassy items several times a day. Anything is fair game to be called out and riffed upon, from demolition of public housing in New Orleans to a Christmas-tree ornament with a gun-toting fetus inside. Because they’re pretty well-trafficked and provide so much content, all four sites get interesting discussions going in comment threads.
Sites like these tend to act as watchdogs for a broad range of feminist issues (or for their bloggers’ pet causes). Flip remarks and long-ago decisions by Mike Huckabee and Hillary Clinton are magnified and dissected, sometimes to a painful degree. Consumer products that are deemed offensive are called out, their offensiveness then confirmed by dozens of commenters. (A pair of age-inappropriate girls’ underwear from Wal-Mart recently set off a tempest on Feministing.)
This chorus of voices chiming in to state the obvious can grow tiresome, but on the other hand, these sorts of items often drum up the most discussion and draw more readers to the blogs. (And in the case of the underwear, Wal-Mart wound up pulling the product the day after Feministing posted about it.)
Jessica Valenti, executive editor of Feministing, says she’d like to see some of the “less trendy issues,” like poverty and international concerns, get more space in the feminist blogosphere. “But what happens with us is we put that stuff up and no one comments,” she says. “You put up a blog on abortion, and people do.”
Now Included: Nonwhite Perspectives
Most young people will have their first experiences with feminism online, and when they do, it won’t be difficult for them to find those perspectives that are often overlooked in the women’s studies classroom: those of people of color, people with disabilities, people who are not heterosexual.
Reading the magnificent La Chola Blog (www.brownfemipower.com) is as close as I’ve gotten to those first stirring, revelatory moments as a fledgling feminist. (And judging by how much discussion the posts kick up on other blogs, I’m not the only one.) The site’s administrator, an English graduate student working under the moniker brownfemipower, is particularly skilled at writing long, frank, personal items whose length is born not out of self-indulgence, but out of the gradual, genuine unfolding of her thoughts.
In a November 21 post about teaching feminism, she criticized the racial focus of her women’s studies classes. “We’ve got a lot we have to work through, we have a lot we have to be accountable to each other for,” she wrote. “But we can’t start working through this shit as long as women’s studies departments continue to passive aggressively eliminate the histories of women of color interacting with white women and vice versa. Women of color need those histories to connect them to communities that have long been under assault. White women need those histories to understand The Tone Of Voice they find so aggravating in women of color.” (If you’re thinking to yourself, “But wait, I read some bell hooks in college,” you should read this post and its accompanying discussion.)
Muslimah Media Watch (muslimahmediawatch.blogspot.com) critically examines the ways in which Muslim women are portrayed in the media, catching inaccuracies and biases in coverage and policing the embarrassingly frequent misuse of vocabulary. In a December 11 post, Muslimah Media Watch blasted Huffington Post blogger Danielle Crittenden, who wrote about her experiment in “taking on the veil” in a series of blogs called “Islamic Like Me.”
Before dedicating several hundred words to addressing Crittenden’s many ill-informed arguments, one of the site’s bloggers, Zeynab, took down the title. “For god’s sake,” she wrote, “would somebody check the Associated Press guidelines?! ‘Islamic’ describes architecture and history . . . things. A ‘Muslim’ is an adherent of Islam; Muslims are people, not things.”
Around and Around They Go
Do these bloggers know each other? Hate each other? Love each other? To some degree, I imagine, all of the above. They certainly seem to read each other, which keeps things lively, and there’s more interaction between them than I expected to find. Case in point: brownfemipower’s November post about teaching feminism drew in bloggers from Having Read the Fine Print . . . (guyaneseterror.blogspot.com), The Silence of Our Friends (the-silence-of-our-friends.blogspot.com), Hugo Schwyzer (www.hugoschwyzer.net), and others. It reads like a miniature anthology of perspectives on teaching feminism.
It’s easy to lose hours of your life to tracking the evolution of these conversations all over the Internet. Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog (finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com), an aggregator of frequently asked questions, is a good place to go when things start to get convoluted. The Carnival of Feminists (feministcarnival.blogspot.com) pops up twice a month, building networks by gathering “the finest feminist posts from around the blogosphere.” It has inspired several spin-offs, including the Carnival of Radical Feminists, Radical Women of Colour Carnival, the Carnival of Bent Attractions for GLBT communities, and others.
For now, the fact that feminist blogs are not part of a unified movement works in their favor; it doesn’t feel like you’re signing on to some all-encompassing agenda or reading canned opinions. The debate may be moving quickly—in real time, or close to it—but is it moving forward? I’m not sure that it is, but maybe that’s OK. It’s about time we stretched out, settled in, and really hashed this stuff out among ourselves.