The future of #FemFuture

#FemFuture, launched Monday by feminist writers Courtney Martin and Vanessa Valenti, is a report and ongoing project aimed at creating a sustainable online feminism for the future by relieving the burdens that place feminists at a disadvantage to opposing forces — lack of resources, lack of time, lack of emotional support, lack of specific needed skills, and lack of funds that lead bloggers and activists to stop being active as everyday life and/or burnout encroach on activity. It focuses on creating “more radical, intentional, and transformative relationships between all the stakeholders in the feminist movement.”

It’s a solid concept and jumping-off point. I certainly recommend reading the entire thing if you have time; for the high points, Jessica Luther live-tweeted her reading of the paper via Storify.

It almost feels petty to start criticizing while Valenti and Martin are still, and deservedly so, burping bubbles from their celebratory champagne. But it isn’t petty. There’s room for “Hey, good stuff!” and “… with some seriously problematic implications” in the same conversation. So: Congratulations, Vanessa, Courtney, and all the women (including our own Jill) who worked hard to contribute to the #FemFuture project. It was a hefty endeavor, and it’s good stuff. With some problematic implications. That people are pointing out.

There is nothing inherently antifeminist about constructively criticizing #FemFuture.

Not that you need my permission to criticize it. You also don’t need the permission of any of the people characterizing criticism as “hating,” or of any individual whom we don’t link here who identified honest critique as “sniping” and questioned critics’ right to criticize at all.

BitchMedia highlights a good number of reasoned critiques in “How Do We Define Online Feminism? #FemFuture Ignites Debate.” Others have jumped out at me. I post them not to invite some sort of pile-on of #FemFuture and its components and contributors but to bring attention to opportunities for further discussion.

Flavia at Red Light Politics on the U.S.-centric approach to the project. “US Centrism and Inhabiting a Non Space in #FemFuture“:

To call what is going on in an Anglo centric environment “online feminism” is to case me (and millions like me) away from the umbrella. We live elsewhere. We communicate in English but we are not part of the culture that is being discussed. We are the outsiders that have issues that are alien to this “online feminism”. … I might get lumped into the term because I communicate in English but my reality is rather different: I live in Amsterdam.

And here’s what happens when you inhabit these cracks: you pretty much don’t exist.

Melissa at Shakesville on the convening of a conference of New Yorkers in New York to address the challenges facing feminists worldwide. “#femfuture“:

[T]rickle-down feminism [H/T Tressie] doesn’t work, for precisely the reason that external presumptions about a universal feminism, even among privileged members of the group, don’t work. Because other shit matters, too, like whether you live in Brooklyn or next to an endless soybean field.

It’s not just that I’m not connected in the same way: I have an entirely different perception of online (and offline) feminist activism.

… I’m just trying to convey that this isn’t exclusively an issue of failing to speak to people marginalized within movement feminism. I am regarded as a Big White Feminist, and I have many of the privileges of Big White Feminism. And it failed to speak to me, too.

And commenter Ana Mardoll on that post noted her likely inability, as a disabled feminist living in the southern U.S., to attend a week-long “feminist bootcamp” on the other side of the country. I’d imagine that would be a challenge for a lot of the feminists currently dealing with many of the problems #FemFuture is trying to fix — that they’re already short on time and resources.

Illegal Plum Pudding on the implications of linking feminist work to corporate funding:

how do we understand thousands and millions of people spreading out the tremendous fucking unbelievable work of creating a movement so that one person does an hour or two of work a day/week — being reworked so that a few “experts” get paid by foundations to do that same work?

why is becoming beholden to the agenda of unaccountable foundations considered a RADICAL approach to creating a movement?

On Twitter, Heather Corinna objects to the characterization of foundational online feminism as “accidental,” as if young feminists stumbled bass-ackwards into it from a primordial soup of Web sites and blogs that popped up with no intentionality.

Lisa FactoraBorchers has a lengthy and comprehensive analyses 140 characters at a time, and Grace has compiled a Storify of her responses.

And Jessica Marie Johnson’s lengthy and comprehensive “#FemFuture, History & Loving Each Other Harder” at Diaspora Hypertext, the Blog, simply defies blockquoting.

I think one of the most promising aspects of the #FemFuture project right now is Martin’s and Valenti’s openness to and willingness to address criticism — actually answering questions on Twitter and pursuing venues of dialogue instead of falling back on “Well, this is just a jumping-off point for conversations.” I hope that that will continue, and I hope that ongoing critiques really will be taken into consideration.

From Blackamazon: “It is not a good #femfuture.

It’s not good.

What it is, is acceptable. The omissions, the questions, the historical narrative being rewritten is acceptable to our belief of what feminism is and should be.

When we say things like #femfuture is an acceptable starting point, that it is a good, that is what we mean.

That what makes a good study of women’s use of technology online is a focus on what we “need” rather than what we have generated, we make a calculus of what we feel represents success.

That is what we mean by good.

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22 comments for “The future of #FemFuture

  1. A4
    April 12, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    I think the first step would be to edit the hell out of that report. It should be a lot more concise.

    It would be a little more transparent if the authors just came out and said “We all got together because we are trying to form an online feminism establishment that will link up to the current academic feminist establishment.”

    That doesn’t sound as good as “more radical, intentional, and transformative relationships between all the stakeholders in the feminist movement”

    You don’t need 3 flowery adjectives because 3 adjectives is what you use in your college paper when you’re trying to bullshit your professor.

    Online feminism is a very decentralized form of feminism compared to the feminism of the academic establishment. Now a bunch of notable figures from online feminist spaces have gotten together to centralize and form an establishment. If they know many groups they’d like to represent have reason to be wary of the feminist establishment, they should state clearly and unequivocally what they’re planning to do and why. They should talk in real world terms of concrete actions, because this big “blog feminism 101” document is inaccessible.

    Look, if a bunch of online feminist writers want to come together for collective action then that is awesome. But if they want to inform the online feminist community of what their doing, they don’t need all this exposition:

    The feminist movement isn’t without its complicated
    history. Combating racism, homophobia, classism, and
    other forms of oppression within feminist communities
    is a decades-old struggle that is far from over. But
    the Internet has allowed for a more open space of
    accountability and learning, helping to push mainstream
    feminism to be less monolithic.

    We don’t need to be told these things. There is no reason to try to create an overarching narrative of online feminism and feed it to the online feminist community and there are so many reason not to. The people you are supporting have their own narratives already! That is what is intersectional about online feminism. Please don’t try to write a grand encompassing narrative. That is not constructive. If you want to respect other people experiences, then you need to be honest and make it easy for others to place you in their own narratives where they center different groups and identities and oppressions than you do. You should not try to present a universally applicable narrative and then cast yourselves as the heroes.

    It’s a big power grab. People will recognize that. This new self-selected establishment should be straightforward about how they’re trying to grab power and and what they plan to do with it.

    • amblingalong
      April 13, 2013 at 12:15 am

      Yeah, I have no idea why even incredibly well-regarded humanities departments are so bad at teaching their students to write. Today there are thousands of brilliant sociology professors who are absolutely incapable of composing a halfway-decent paper; the fourth-grade take on what makes for good writing (that is, gratuitously using multisyllabic words with obscure definitions) has somehow caught on at the graduate level.

      The only upside is how easy this makes having utterly meaningless hoax papers accepted by reputable academic journals, which always ends in hilarity. If you haven’t read about “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” you really should. If you enjoy such things, you can also play my favorite party game whenever you meet someone with a PHD in “postmodern cultural studies” or some such, and see how long you can make stuff up before they catch on.

      • amblingalong
        April 13, 2013 at 12:32 am

        Also: The Dynamics of Interbeing and Monological Imperatives in Dick and Jane: A Study in Psychic Transrelational Gender Modes.

      • Alexandra
        April 13, 2013 at 2:35 am

        Calvin and Hobbes ftw.

        All those jokes were waaaay over my head as a 7-y-o; I reread the comic now and it is jaw-droppingly brilliant, especially the art-crit stuff.

      • Willard
        April 13, 2013 at 1:06 am

        Every time I read it I need to sit in a corner and take deep breaths at the end the of the first paragraph.

        (so-called) scientific method

        And don’t get me started on the word salad.

      • April 13, 2013 at 1:10 am

        Yep. Honestly, 80% of my criteria for the merit of any given literary criticism paper is whether or not the opening paragraph can be summed up as “I can has big wurdz?”

      • amblingalong
        April 13, 2013 at 1:41 am

        Wait, here’s an even better one (this time, not a hoax):


        “The privileging of solid over fluid mechanics, and indeed the inability of science to deal with turbulent flow at all, [is due to] the association of fluidity with femininity… From this perspective it is no wonder that science has not been able to arrive at a successful model for turbulence. The problem of turbulent flow cannot be solved because the conceptions of fluids (and of women) have been formulated so as necessarily to leave unarticulated remainders.”

        Also from the author:

        “Is E=MC^2 a sexed equation? Perhaps it is. Let us make the hypothesis that it is insofar as it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us. What seems to me to indicate the possible sexed nature of the equation is not directly its uses by nuclear weapons, rather it is having privileged what goes the fastest.”

      • April 13, 2013 at 2:05 am

        not a hoax

        Well, you just broke my wife. I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY.

      • Willard
        April 13, 2013 at 2:01 am

        This is an amazing OTT for a Friday night!

        I never realized just how masculine water channels were or that my use of hot-wire anemometers to measure turbulence was fatally undercut by the failure to consider the feminine in the wind tunnel.

        There’s so much cart before horse in all this it makes my head spin. It reminds me of some heated arguments I’ve gotten in to over “compensation” in rocket design. Humans see ourselves everywhere we look in nature, narcissism and the accompanying anthropomorphism should be painfully obvious by now.

  2. A4
    April 12, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    Also the Jessica Marie Johnson article is awesome.

  3. Computer Soldier Porygon
    April 13, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    Caperton, I am so glad you started writing for Feministe. That’s all! VALUABLE INPUT~

  4. Kerandria
    April 14, 2013 at 5:17 am

    Started? I hope you realise that this isn’t Capterton’s first post..

    • Kerandria
      April 14, 2013 at 7:45 pm

      *Caperton, even! I’m so sorry; that’s what I get for replying at work.

    • Computer Soldier Porygon
      April 15, 2013 at 8:56 am

      Er, yeah? Not sure why you read my post that way. I was just reading this and thinking about how I generally really enjoy her posts and think she’s been a valuable addition and I wanted to say that.

  5. hotpot
    April 18, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    What a quintessentially feminist controversy. It comes back to the idea that you can’t do feminism unless it’s politically good from a bunch of other left-wing angles too (not inclusive enough! too corporate funded! too centralized! doesn’t address fat issues! disability! asexuality! non-US!)

    Bullshit. There’s a difference between saying that feminists should care about issues according to merit as human beings (that should go without saying) and that feminism should be tied down to every little issue until it can’t do anything. Intersectionality should mean that when a feminist activist (or prison activist, or civil rights activist, or union organizer) encounters something within their activism that happens to be uniquely significant due to some other axis, that is recognized and exploited. It should not be about, IMO, checking off the boxes, like checking off the Black History Month box just because it’s February. Nor should it be about holding yourself back until the last, most marginalized person or any axis is on board. Attack on all fronts at all times, the Foundation/Money front included.

    Good for them, I hope they get the funding they need from rich people.

    • April 18, 2013 at 11:47 pm

      So your feeling is that if a paper is positioned as the future of online feminism for all women, but it largely ignores the circumstances of (for instance) women who are of color, women who have disabilities, or women who are poor, it’s picky or petty to criticize? It seems to me that if your project focuses on the future sustainability of feminism but ignores the particular needs of (for instance) women of color/with disabilities/of limited means, what you’re left with is a focus on the sustainability of feminism for white, able-bodied, middle-class women. Which is fine, if that’s your thing, but to propose that feminism shouldn’t only be shorthand for white, able-bodied, middle-class, cis, het feminism doesn’t strike me as picky.

      • hotpot
        April 19, 2013 at 2:13 am

        No, I don’t think anybody should be ignored. But I also think there tends to be too much focus sometimes on what divides us, than on what brings us together. I think when we focus on what divides us, it makes us politically ineffective. There’s too much of a sense that every feminist initiative has to be relevant to every woman, or at least, that it has to be problem-free on every possible axis of privilege, even those that have nothing to do with oppression that women face because they are women. Which is fine, as a left-wing social justice movement, but not necessarily as a feminist movement. There is a tension there, there are competing priorities, and on the feminist side, something is lost.

        IMO, being an effective activist requires specialization. It requires being able to simplify political work into something one-dimensional even while acknowledging that the real world is multi-dimensional. It requires judging yourself by the standards of your own issue, which means that a report/plan is good if it will help political progress on womens’ issues even if it is still problematic from a geographical or economic standpoint or from the standpoint of other identities. And yes, it’s right to openly acknowledge when you can’t speak for everyone or be particularly relevant to all women. But frankly it shouldn’t even have to be said, it should assumed. Because there are a lot of women out there whose primary oppressions or problems aren’t because they are women, it’s for some other reason. But feminist activism can’t and shouldn’t have to encompass all those other reasons if it is to have any coherent meaning apart from left-wing social justice in general.

      • April 19, 2013 at 12:02 pm

        It’s not about focusing on what divides us, but it’s also not about ignoring how different we are within the movement. No woman is just a woman. We’re white women, straight women, cis women, women of color, women with disabilities, poor women, lesbians, trans women, trans women of color, poor non-neurotypical women, lesbians with disabilities — and all of that affects our lives. You can’t take a woman with a disability and make her woman over here and disabled of there, because her disability influences the way she lives her life as a woman. You can’t talk about shunning marriage as a patriarchal institution without acknowledging that, for instance, a black woman who has kids without being married faces a lot more societal judgment than a white woman in the same situation — because she can’t just set aside her race for a few minutes while we talk about marriage; being a woman of color informs the way she lives her life as a woman.

        There is no “default feminism” or blank canvas; when you start setting aside all of these intersecting oppressions, the result always ends up being white, straight, cis, able-bodied, middle-class, and so on. And when you talk about things being assumed, that’s what’s assumed: that unless we specify otherwise, this is white/straight/cis/TAB/middle-class feminism, and it may or may not apply to you, too, even if you aren’t any of those things. And that’s the big complaint with #FemFuture: white/straight/cis/TAB/middle-class feminism doesn’t represent all women. Of course we’re going to focus on specific areas or axes of oppression in the work that we do; we just can’t pretend there’s any kind of “general feminism” in the middle without acknowledging that “general feminism” usually ends up being white, straight, cis, TAB, and middle-class.

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