I’ve been thinking a lot lately about feminist communities. Why do we join them, and what do they do for us? Should we even discuss them in these terms?
And what do online communities provide, as opposed to those in “real life?”
I found myself drawn into the online community before I made any moves in person. I suspect this is the case for many feminists, particularly in the younger generation. The online world offers a low-stress introduction for one unsure of the label “feminist.”
This community provided me with several things. I enjoyed reading the news from a feminist perspective and news about women in general. As discussed in a prior post, the mainstream media rarely features women, leaving many of us uninformed about these issues.
I also liked the intellectual character of the articles I read online. The power of a well-thought and well-written essay is hard to duplicate in an impromptu conversation.
However, I didn’t begin to develop relationships until I turned off the computer and walked outside. Volunteer events, happy hours, panel discussions, choose your poison. I began to engage in the offline community as well.
The offline community gave me more of a personal connection to the movement. I had friends and people who expected me to show up. It provided opportunities to socialize and to actually make a difference. However, this community came with its own issues.
That is not to say that one shouldn’t volunteer, or socialize. But I found something lacking in these interactions. Mainly, the presence of differing opinions or connections outside the community.
Of course, the purpose of a happy hour is not necessarily to debate. Social events can provide a support network for those who need it. However, the conversation can get a bit dull when everyone has the same beliefs. More importantly, this compartmentalization suggests that feminist issues aren’t important outside these spaces. As in, this is my feminist happy hour, and afterwards, I can go back to my regular life.
Feminist conversations with those outside the community are important. Whether we can persuade others to our beliefs or not, it’s important to show that people with our ideas exist, and that we are just like them. It is important that they know people who publically identify as feminists—the word doesn’t just encompass crazy bra-burners and man-haters. Insert your favorite stereotype here.
Recently, I wrote about how we can take our online activism off the internet to foster real change. Activity in the online community isn’t enough. However, the reverse is also true. One can also spend too much time in the insular offline community and still not make a difference. Here, we may also feel like social activists without actually doing anything. We challenge ourselves less, and congratulate ourselves more when we attend events that only include feminists.
Some feminists may not be bothered by this. The feminist I attended were entertaining. However, isn’t the feminist community about more than just fun? I would like to see ourselves challenged more, and challenging the status quo.
We need to devise ways to reach out to others, not just other feminists. Of course, we interact with these people every day, at work, at home, at the local coffee shop. But how often do these conversations involve feminism? Are you talking about women’s issues at work, at home, at the coffee shop?
Ironically, the online world can be more “real” in this respect. At least these conversations reach other people, even if many of them are unfriendly. At least there is some interaction between believers and non-believers.
Do you hesitate to bring up these issues with your friends, co-workers, and neighbors? Of course it is difficult, but it is also necessary. Are you a closet feminist? If the answer is yes, you’re not doing enough.