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The Role of Blogging in the Feminist Movement

Melinda C.
Gender and Technology
March 19, 2009

The Role of Blogging in the Feminist Movement

I have been struggling with writing this paper. Initially, my paper focused on the ways in which blogs reflect the current climate of gender relations in the offline world, yet something did not feel right about the position I was taking. Then, tonight, I went to see Jessica Valenti (the founder of speak, and I realized why I felt uneasy with my negative commentary on the blogosphere: although the blogosphere is not a perfectly Utopian place for women to share their stories and ideas, I do think it is making a largely positive impact on the feminist movement, especially for my generation. Many of the conflicts that take place on blogs are certainly manifestations of the systems of gender/sex roles that have become thoroughly ingrained in our culture, and they are certainly things that should be talked about – but that is precisely why the technology of blogging is so important – it allows for a space to talk about the injustices and inequalities that exist, and to make commentary on them rather than being forced to simply accept them. Blogging creates a space in which these relationships continue to be played out, yes, but also a space in which they can be discussed and deconstructed by anyone with access to a computer and written language.

Blogs, to me, are all about accessibility and expression. I see them as a kind of blank canvas. They give the common person the chance to put their stories and experiences out there for the world to see, and allow for individuals to learn and read about the stories and experiences of others. Above all, blogging allows for the forming of connections and the existence of conversations that would not otherwise take place. Our generation, with all our technology, understands and approaches the world differently than did past generations, yet we are still operating with many of the same structures (of gender, for example) that have become a seemingly inextricable part of our culture. Although we do, in a sense, “engender” new forms of technology with those same structures, the technology of blogging allows for a kind of change, and a kind of involvement with movements such as feminism, that could not exist otherwise, and allow for productive criticism of those very structures.

I have frequented the Feministing blog for over a year now, and I can confidently say that it has greatly strengthened my conviction as a feminist, and helped me learn a great deal about what the feminist movement is truly about. On the Feministing website, the authors state the following as their mission: “Young women are rarely given the opportunity to speak on their own behalf on issues that affect their lives and futures. Feministing provides a platform for us to comment, analyze, influence and connect.” Feminist blogs such as these function as a space for young women to express their thoughts and experiences for other people to see and comment on. The authors of Feministing post about instances of sexism in pop culture, as well as political initiatives that involve feminist issues and numerous other topics that relate to women’s lives. In addition to the main blog portion of the site, there is also the Community blog, in which anyone can sign up to blog. The authors frequently link to Community postings on the main site, giving writers more exposure than they would receive if they simply wrote posts in their own blogs. In my experience, Feministing’s strength is in its ability to show young women exactly what it means to be critical of our culture, and to view our experiences through a feminist lens. The authors showcase instances of activism, big and small, and make it clear that we are still fighting for a reason, and that none of us are doing it alone.

As Tracy Kennedy points out in an article titled “The Personal is Political: Feminist Blogging and Virtual Consciousness-Raising,” “by simply looking at the presence of feminists on the Web, we know that this assertion [that feminism is dead] is false. What is evident is that feminism has indeed changed. In an Internet-saturated culture, feminists need to take on these ‘master’s tools’ of technology and embrace the Web, making it our own.” Now, I find myself wondering whether the prominent influence of feminist blogs  is a result of technology’s influence on our culture (and by extension, the feminist movement), or whether changes in our culture and feminism have shaped the ways in which we are using the technology. When I first posted to our class blog about feminist blogging, Laura pointed out that the tone of the posts Feministing is kind of “loud,” which turned her off of reading it; but perhaps that kind of tone is necessary to grab young women’s attention, to make feminism something interesting and provocative, and to keep our generation from being seen as apathetic and uninvolved. When Jessica Valenti came to BMC, she spoke about how she really sees blogging as a way to get young women to realize that feminism is something that can potentially improve their lives, and that the stereotypes of what it means to be a feminist are simply untrue. While our writings may shape the blogosphere, the blogosphere also has the potential to inform and influence our offline lives.

I certainly do not want to sound naïve and overly positive here – sexism certainly exists in the world of blogging, and fragmentation exists within the feminist blog circle as well.  Tracy Kennedy points out that many of the most popular political and current events-related blogs are run by men, and writes that “many A-listers belong to a certain demographic—white, right-wing, heterosexual men—and… this works to exclude others.” She also addresses the “experiences of women within the blogosphere, which is itself a gendered and raced environment,” saying that “research indicates that the comments people leave on blogs reflect gendered communication patterns similar to those evident in face-to-face communication.” I have certainly observed this in the comments section on Feministing, in which men occasionally comment with rude and dismissive comments, often writing in a condescending tone that does not particularly invite further discussion. The Feministing team also regularly posts a section called the “Anti-Feminist Mail Bag,” in which they make public some of the rude, ignorant, name-calling emails they receive on a regular basis, most of which come from men.

As I browsed through various blogs, I also discovered the story of Kathy Sierra, a female blogger for whom this kind of online misogyny took place at an extreme level. Sierra is a software designer who ran a blog called “Creating Passionate Users,” and she faced verbal abuse and many serious physical threats in the comments section of her own blog and other blogs. The comments became more and more violent, and after a commenter posted her home address, she froze further comments, cancelled all of her imminent speaking engagements, and stopped writing in her public blog. I also became aware of a controversial blog post written by bloggers Mandy Van Deven and Brittany Shoot, titled “What if the feminist blogosphere is a form of digital colonialism?,” in which they state that they “have tired of hearing the feminist blogosphere claim to be freshly chiseled, while we see bloggers pouring themselves into a very old mold and emerging fully sculpted by the past.” In their post, they argue that feminist blogs perpetuate hierarchy and systems of privilege, as well as “patterns that give certain groups advantages while disadvantaging others, patterns that emerged from a colonial history and are now firmly rooted in the (dis)functioning of global capitalism.” They point out that the larger feminist blogs (i.e. Feministing, Feministe, etc.) are primarily run by privileged white women, and believe that the women of color who contribute to them while maintaining their own, smaller blogs on the side are being tokenized and “purchased” without their realizing it – a situation that they see as the result of real world race and class relations. A number of feminist bloggers responded angrily to this post, and the original posters later issued an apology for what they said as well as how they said it.

In a lot of ways, this exchange seems to touch on many of the issues and questions that have arisen within the feminist movement over the past few decades. Many of the directives of the feminist movement have focused on situations faced by middle-class white women, not always taking into account the different circumstances and challenges faced by women of color. This exchange also brings up questions of who is positioned to be able to speak about particular issues, and about how one must present one’s argument in a way that is not ignorant or inadvertently perpetuating the very views that one is addressing. In the end, what I think is important about all of these interactions, the good and the bad, is that they are taking place in the first place, and that blogs have allowed for the existence of a space in which discussion of these issues can take place. We engender this form of technology with systems still laden in sexism, but also with the movements that are working against it – and the potential of the blog to unite and inform seems to far outweigh the fact that it is not an entirely safe space.  I need to post this paper for the sake of (finally) completing the assignment, but I am going to keep trying to think about how our blogs fit into the feminist movement, and about their potential to make change in the offline world.

Sites Referenced

Tracy L. M. Kennedy, “The Personal is Political: Feminist Blogging and Virtual Consciousness-Raising”

Joan Walsh, “Men who hate women on the Web,”

Mandy Van Deven and Brittany Shoot, “What if the feminist blogosphere is a form of digital colonialism?”

One Response
  1. Anne Dalke permalink*
    March 22, 2009


    I see this paper as emerging from our conversation about your last one, when you were worrying the question of whether feminism was about “justice or happiness,” and I suggested that public writing—adding to the range of social narratives we all need to imagine a wider variety of ways of being the world—might be exactly the contribution that is most needed.

    What you’ve done here is recognize the problematics of a feminist blogosphere that replays many of the gendered, raced, classed patterns of older forms of communication–and yet affirm the possibilities for real change which this new technology, so untethered from the (seen) body, offers. It’s a system, as you say in closing, that is “still laden with sexism but also with the movements that are working against it.”

    I have two thoughts about how you might “keep trying to think about the potential of our blogs to make change in the offline world.” One is to keep on participating, and keep on studying the phenomena; next spring, I’ll be repeating my course on “Literary Kinds” (the erstwhile “Emerging Genres”) and we will certainly take on blogs as the first sort of genre we want to understand. The last time I did this course, we spent a lot of time looking @ the ways in which the internet is reproducing the phenomenon of “gated communities,” closed spaces where like-minded can talk w/ those who agree w/ them; I’d like to keep on imagining—and making—spaces that are more open.

    The other possibility I have in mind steps off from Nat’s repeated injuncture for us to stop being so U.S. focused, so Eurocentric in this course. What difference has the internet made for women in the Southern Hemisphere? Shikha has spoken and written about female suicide bombers–and I found an interesting article today about how robot bombings in Pakistan activate local Pashtun customs of revenge for lost women and children.

    How might feminist blogging help us here?

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