Somehow I missed this until today, but Feministe got a mention in Newsweek (last paragraph). Which is very cool.
I’m glad to see mainstream news organizations covering feminist bloggers, and I’m glad they’re actually talking to some of us (like Jessica) instead of just talking about us. And the reporter picks some great feminist women to talk to — Jessica, Katha Pollitt, Susan Faludi, Carolyn Maloney, Deborah Siegel, and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
But. (There are always “buts,” aren’t there?). The article did a few things that really rubbed me the wrong way — first, it focused primarily on the activism and blogging of white mostly-middle-class mostly-heterosexual feminists (of which I am one) and didn’t mention all of the work that feminists of color, queer feminists, disabled feminists, feminist moms, and on an on are doing. Second, it had to write about “young feminism” as if it were the slightly bratty stepchild of the second wave feminist movement. It gave the impression that younger feminists don’t really get it, that we’re more concerned with pole dancing than equal pay, and that we’re pitted against older feminists. It also conflates “younger feminists” with stereotypes about “younger women.”
Will anyone fill their shoes? Young feminists point to the blogosphere. But some older feminists say a blog is not the same thing as a unified social movement. Despite signs of progress—Hillary Clinton is the current Democratic presidential front runner, Nancy Pelosi is Speaker of the House and college-educated women in some urban areas earn more than their male peers—older feminists worry that many gains of the movement, like reproductive rights, are being eroded by conservatives. “Rumors of our progress are greatly exaggerated,” says Maloney. “The time to move forward is now.”
But agreeing on how to move forward might be challenging for a generation who can interpret “Girls Gone Wild” videos as self-empowering. “There is a kind of popular, populist feminism that says let’s have fun,” says historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, author of “Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History.” “I can see the argument, except it seems like some of us worked really hard to develop a world in which women weren’t just sex objects.”
I find it rather telling that the reporter didn’t actually include a quote from any older feminist who said that “a blog is not the same thing as a unified social movement.” No, of course a blog isn’t the same thing as a unified social movement — but blogs are sure as hell a good way of unifying the people who make up social movements. I’m pretty sure feminists over the age of 30 know that.* I’m also pretty sure that there are lots and lots of older feminists who blog, who read and comment on blogs, and who otherwise engage their feminism online. So this older/younger technological divide is a false one.
I’m also really, really tired of hearing that younger feminists all think that the Pussycat Dolls are the height of empowerment. And while I do occasionally hear this critique from older feminists, it’s kind of like the Mommy Wars — it’s largely a media-constructed and media-perpetuated feud. Yes, the “sex wars” of the 80s genuinely divided the feminist movement; yes, the best way to start a giant flamewar is to write about sex work or beauty practices; yes there are obnoxious comments about sparkleponies and Fun Feminists and whatever else. I’m not denying that the inter-feminist feuds exist. But it doesn’t help that every time a mainstream media outlet writes about “young feminism,” they present it as a disjointed movement whose main goals include affordable strip-aerobics and access to glitter eyeshadow.
We — and by “we” I mean younger feminists — write about sex work, make-up, hair removal, plastic surgery, sex, blow jobs and body image because these things affect our lives. A really valuable part of the so-called “third wave” was the recognition of the diversity of women, and an emphasis on the fact that feminism has to stand up for more than just middle-class white women. And so women write about being feminists and being sex workers, and they say that those two things aren’t incompatible because they are both feminists and sex workers. Women write about the oft-ignored issues that women of color face, and they challenge dominant feminist constructions of things like reproductive freedom and work. Women write about the intersection of oppressions. Women who are members of non-dominant groups within the feminist movement point out that we should start listening to them and respecting their experiences instead of just talking about them.
And as much as I’ve heard all about these sparkley shiny feminists — and I’ve heard a lot about them, over and over again — I haven’t met too many younger feminists who argue that Girls Gone Wild is empowering.
I have, though, seen younger feminists doing all kinds of amazing work in their communities. I have seen that work supported and encouraged by older feminists. And I have heard younger feminists argue that women who strip or who do sex work or who flash their boobs on Girls Gone Wild are women, too, and don’t deserve scorn. I have heard women argue that all kinds of women can be feminist.
That isn’t the same thing as branding anything any woman does “empowering.” It’s generally advertisers who do that. To sell us deodorant.
And a lot of older feminists get that, and respect the work that third wavers (and feminists of whatever wave I’m in) are doing. But when reporters walk into a story with an agenda, it can be really hard to get your nuanced argument across. Susan Faludi, for example, makes a good point that, in the context of the article, comes across really poorly:
Susan Faludi, author of 1991’s “Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women” and the new “The Terror Dream” suggests that a consumer-driven culture has shifted the discussion from talk of liberation to talk of self-improvement, where purchasing replaces protests. “The idea of women as public actors, not just private players, has been replaced by ersatz feminism where you’re free to buy whatever push-up bra you want,” she says.
Having read quite a bit of Faludi’s work, I feel reasonably confident in saying that she’s criticizing the media and the dominant political conversation and not actual feminists. She’s criticizing “consumer feminism,” or the co-opting of feminist slogans and themes in order to re-package anti-feminist ideals and sell them in a capitalist economy. I don’t think she’s criticizing younger feminists as being lazy or politically unmotivated.
Older feminists worry that ERA-era feminism’s declaration that “the personal is political” has been lost on the latest generation, who don’t realize that their personal struggles should be addressed collectively. “If you don’t have the idea that you can make a claim on society, then you’re on your own. And that’s what happened,” says Katha Pollitt, feminist author, whose latest book is “Learning to Drive.” “Take this mommy-war thing. If we all had access to day care, would we be having a different kind of conversation?”
Now, maybe I’m mis-reading Katha, but I really don’t hear her saying anything like what the first sentence in that paragraph says. I don’t see her saying that “the personal is political” is lost on younger feminists; I don’t hear her saying that we don’t realize personal struggles should be addressed collectively. I do see her saying that lots of women feel like we aren’t able to effect progressive change. And that’s a very different thing.
The space for that conversation may be the Internet, on sites like Feministing, Feministe, Pandagon and Echidne of the Snakes. Valenti of Feministing.com says feminist blogs drove the million-plus turnout at the 2004 March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C., and helped secure the opening earlier this month of a controversial Planned Parenthood clinic in Aurora, Ill. But even if blogging can translate into real-world activism, will it be enough to hold a movement together? That’s a question this generation of feminists will have to answer themselves.
First, a clarification from Jessica: She actually said that feminist action online drove the million-plus turn-out at the March for Women’s Lives, not that feminist blogs did.
The question of whether feminist blogging will translate into real-world activism and hence create a cohesive movement or whether it’ll just lead to a generation of chicks sitting behind computers, though, is a false choice. A big part of feminist work has long been “consciousness-raising,” or, basically, to collectively discuss supposedly personal and individualized problems and make the connection that these issues are systematic and political. Blogs are a fantastic way to do that — they connect women all over the world in ways that were previously impossible. They make feminist writing widely available, and they create accessible and open feminist communities. All of the little things that we discuss here do make a difference — they may not get a million women out to protest every day, but they shape our worldview, how we live our lives, how we negotiate our relationships, and how we raise our kids. They give us tools for understanding our lives. And they do give us lots of resources for real-world activism.
I’m glad, at least, that the reporter interviewed Jessica, who I think is one of the most dynamic and interesting feminist leaders out there. Jessica is also really good at handling the mainstream media, and her work at Feministing has opened doors for a lot of us. I’m also glad that the reporter listed some actual feminist blogs.
But while I know she couldn’t list an entire blogroll, it would have been nice if she had mentioned more blogs with writers of color, and blogs that specifically focus on women of color. Pandagon and Feministing are good starts, but I read that paragraph and thought, What about Brownfemipower? Angry Brown Butch? Racialicious? The many, many more popular, interesting and challenging blogs written by feminists of color?
Maybe when I read this exact same article 10 years from now,** it’ll have improved on that end.
Or maybe not. As Coturnix points out, the same edition of Newsweek contains an article about the 10 Hottest Nerds — and they’re all “old, white, rich, politically powerful bosses of big genomics labs.”
*Not that being over 30 is old. Newsweek is using terms like “older” and “younger,” and, based on their interviews, I’m going to guess that 30-ish is the cut-off point.
**Because I definitely read this exact same article 10 years ago.