This has been re-posted with permission from the Spring 2007 issue of The Scholar & Feminist Online. Deborah Siegel is creator of the group blog Girl w/Pen and the author of Sisterhood, Interrupted: From Radical Women to Grrls Gone Wild.
If you have signed on to this issue of the Barnard Center for Research on Women’s Web journal, The Scholar & Feminist Online, then you most likely already know that the Internet is a hotbed of young feminist activity. You know that more than half of all bloggers are, perhaps like you, under the age of 30. And you know that Pinko Feminist Hellcat and Echidne of the Snakes are neither circus acts nor rock bands but pseudonyms for some of the smartest and edgiest women bloggers around. You know that they and other women bloggers are offering vital critiques of business as usual, forging virtual rooms of their own and doing their best to creatively integrate the male-dominated political virtual water coolers the Internet has spawned, all the while infusing the online world with a spirit exhilarating and new.
But maybe you are a reader seeking to understand what all this fuss about the feminist blogosphere is about. After reading this issue, you know that, contrary to popular belief, half of all bloggers are members of the supposedly less outspoken sex. You remember a time, before the Internet, when women came together to talk politics in kitchens and church basements instead of online, a time when "clicks" referred not to clicks of a mouse but to clicks of awareness and transformations in consciousness. A time when surfing had to do with oceans, waves meant water, and the "where-are-the-women" debate referred to the paucity of women in non-pink-collar occupations, not the lack of visibility of women bloggers on the "A-list."
But wait. Feminism then and feminism now—at least as the contributors to this issue of The Scholar and Feminist Online envision them—are not as different as they look. If you were active in the women’s movement of the late 1960s and 1970s, surely some of the questions raised in this issue must sound familiar. When Gwendolyn Beetham and Jessica Valenti write in their introduction that blogging is "an exciting new way to think about activism," maybe it reminds you of an earlier moment when feminists were trying out and debating new forms—all those speak-outs and flush-ins and strikes for equality. Tracy Kennedy makes the point most directly when she writes about "virtual consciousness raising" as a tool for promoting cultural change. Kennedy’s invocation of tracts by radical feminists Carol Hanisch and Kathie Sarachild makes clear the analogy between feminist blogging and an earlier feminist generation’s method of high-speed connection.
If you are a "Third Wave" reader, you are likely both frustrated and increasingly galvanized by the need to level the virtual playing field. If you are a "Second Waver," maybe these continuities surprise or disappoint you, or maybe they confirm your sense that things, sadly, are not all that different today. Perhaps, upon reading Clancy Ratliff’s analysis of the frat-like clubhouse atmosphere that dominates the political blogosphere of the Left today—"Wonkette is INFINITELY more interesting because she’s got a decent-to-good rack" posts one male blog reader—it stirred up memories of a time when men of the then-New Left professed being more interested in the bodies than the brains of women fighting alongside them in the antiwar and Civil Rights movements. The continuity doesn’t end there. Almost all of the topics the bloggers in this issue are blogging about for this issue have roots in debates of the past. As Shireen Mitchell’s account of the race, class, and gender biases that continue to limit access to technology makes clear, discrimination is not yet sheer history. Discussions of being women in a male-dominated sphere bring to mind "Second Wave" descriptions of what it was like to be one of the rare females in the newsroom, on the masthead, or on the air. Pam of Pandagon’s rant against white-male and class privilege in the upper reaches of what she calls "blogistan" and her discussion of the "virtual glass ceiling" recall earlier rants against the corporate glass ceiling and the sticky floor. Ratliff’s exploration of women bloggers who use their sexuality to draw attention to their political musings taps into current controversies about today’s sexual politics—what Ratliff calls the "subversive, strategic appropriation of femininity"—but also implicitly invokes the "sex wars" of an earlier decade, when feminists turned assumptions about sex, politics, and women’s agency on their head. Echidne of the Snake’s discussion of "anti-feminist trolling" of course brings to mind previous antifeminist outpourings and interruptions that have served to silence debate. Tedra Osell’s account of women’s pseudonymous blogging call up previous moments when women have voiced the unspoken through the strategically placed and often anonymous written word.
In each case, these writers take the conversations to new levels, new frequencies, informed by the contexts in which they connect. Many of their topics herald new sounds in the world. Pinko Feminist Hellcat’s thread on the importance of "comments" on blogs as part of the public political conversation could only take place in an Internet era, and Margaret Ervin’s whirlwind tour of the online feminist frontier surveys the most recent developments. A novel language of "hit rates" and "trackbacks" introduces not merely new lingo but new concepts, ripe for exploration at the hands—or rather, the keyboards—of a new generation of activist-scholars. New questions inevitably emerge: What is the effect of women’s political blogging on women’s involvement in offline politics? What is the relationship between online activism and offline change? Perhaps in future issues of The Scholar & Feminist Online, such questions will continue to be addressed.
When Janet Jakobsen and I co-founded The Scholar & Feminist Online in 2003, we hoped that it would become a space where events and discussions launched by the Barnard Center for Research on Women would find an ongoing archival life, a hybrid forum where the online and offline worlds could meet to forge something new. As the editors and essayists and bloggers whose thoughts are recorded in this innovative issue prove, that hope has become a reality, both virtual and concrete.
This issue takes full advantage of its online environment, proving that today, as in the past, feminist scholars and thinkers are at the forefront of cultural experiment and innovation. If the naysayers are still asking themselves, "Where are the women bloggers?", it is only because they don’t know where to look. That question brings to mind one other, frequently asked, yet also misleadingly framed: "Where are the young feminists?" The answer to both? Right here.