I’ve always thought of the internet as a kitchen where every web page, every email, every embed is a menu of creative delicacies feeding the soul of our culture. Every image, every word, every interaction carries meaning for the post or page where it is found. Collectively, all those billions of moments are not just being archived for as long as the blog or website is in place. Together, they are transforming our consciousness — the way we talk, the way we speak and, more importantly, the way we think of each other.
When I started blogging in 2001, there were fewer than two-million blogs worldwide. Blogger was the biggest blogging platform and yet a work-in-progress for the little company that created it, Pyra. MovableType, Typepad‘s older sister, was still in beta. WordPress didn’t exist and neither did Flickr, YouTube, MySpace or Facebook. Google was only 3 years old. Wikis were just going into the early adopter mainstream — Wikipedia had just been launched in January of that year.
It was an exciting time to set foot on the web and publish online from a technological point of view. Historically speaking, it was a tumultuous time as well.
I started blogging in December of 2001, months after the destruction of the World Trade Center. As any other New Yorker, I was still shell-shocked, yet had no time to dwell with a baby and a toddler to take care of. Yet it was the smell of the still-burning debris, magnified by the prospect of our country not just going to war but trampling our constitution in the process, that pushed me out of a writer’s block I had been carrying for years and dropped me smack in the middle of the first wave of bloggers.
I did it in search of kindred spirits, in search of other women and men who shared my hopes, my fears and my sense of outrage. And I make the distinction of putting "women" first because back in the day it was rare to find women with their own online domains.
Most bloggers were men involved in the technology or entrepreneurial development of web-based businesses. The women were scarce, but boy were they fierce: Meg Hourihan (co-creator of Blogger and co-founder of Pyra), Mena Trott (co-creator of MovableType and co-founder of SixApart), Molly Holzschag (web standards activist and web developer extraordinaire), Halley Suitt (indy tech writer at the time and publisher of Halley’s Comment), Elizabeth Lane Lawley (Rochester Institute of Technology professor and publisher of mamamusings) and the always breathtaking and awe-inspiring Shelley Powers.
The importance of these women as feminist voices at a time when the only feminism was "visible" through the institutional websites of organizations like NOW or Planned Parenthood cannot be overstated. They were writing about business and technology at a time when women were hard to find outside of the web in any CEO or CFO positions in the tech or business "analog" world. Yet they were also writing about their lives, their hopes, their dreams, their desires and the vicissitudes they had to contend with as a minority in the world of technology business. And then there was motherhood — Liz Lawley may well be the first "mommyblogger" way before Heather Armstrong shot to infamy with her blog Dooce.
Most importantly, they were writing about equality or the lack thereof in the real of business, technology and of course, the web. They were asking "where are the women" consistently, to the point of being called "bitter," but never giving up because they were contending with the assumption that women weren’t good enough to be considered "important" on the web. So much so that by 2003 a group of these women created misbehave.net, one of the first group blogs out there for women, by women, advocating equality in the world of tech. They called the blog so because "the women I know in the technology field have felt that to get where they are they’ve had to break rules, to behave in ways that the men–and women–around them deemed inappropriate."
In 2001 it was totally inappropriate to be a tech or web evangelist and publish about your breastfeeding issues or about the joys of knitting. It wasn’t that men didn’t digress from their blogging business duties into the realm of the personal. It was that it didn’t fit the mold of what they expected of women. Shelley Powers took way too many drubbings by male bloggers and techpreneurs for continually asking of technology conferences "where are the women bloggers/presenters/experts" and by continually exposing how blogging relationships among the men of tech excluded women and ultimately affected the flow of money and power to the non-male kind in that realm of the blogosphere.
Without these women and many more, we wouldn’t have the blogosphere as we have it today. I at least would certainly not be here either.
I was ready to quit sometime in the begginning of 2004. I was actually a homeschooling mom when I started blogging. I would rarely do tech consulting, choosing to focus on either helping produce my husband‘s net art or advocating for the digital civil rights that had been stripped away with the passing of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998. I felt overwhelmed by the amount of energy I was pouring into my blogging and underwhelmed by the response at the time. Then two things happened.
First, I met about a dozen bloggers of color in a New York City panel on blogging after having followed people like Anil Dash and the late Aaron Hawkins and Steve Gilliard for a while. It was a wonderful surprise to meet women like Lynn D. Johnson and Nichelle Stephens at that event. Second, I had a journalism student interview me at the time who asked me the following question: "I have read your bio page and was taken by your saying you are Puerto Rican, an atheist and a feminist. Aren’t you concerned about the possible backlash given how in Hispanic culture religion is so important and feminism has a bad name?"
I was so taken aback by that question and the implication that I shouldn’t exist because I didn’t conform to a way of being "Latina," that it’s the reason why I am still here today. I am here calling myself adjectives I shouldn’t use, like "Feminist" or even "technologist," because as one of the handful of high-profile women of color at the time I didn’t just think it was my duty to stand strong. I just really enjoy the opportunity to piss-off the "patriarcado" and patriarchy all at the same time with my just being here, standing as an example and maybe inspiration for other feministas of color.
And it’s why today I am working with the amazing group of women and organizations that are organizing Feminism2.0.
It is time we celebrate how women online have availed themselves of the technologies of the internet to fight for equality and women’s rights. It is time we celebrate the women who blazed the way with their contributions to the software and blogging companies they developed. It is time we recognized the women who fight the good fight with their advocacy of open standards, their defense of digital civil rights, with their tireless questioning of the structures of inequality being created through technological and social web practices (or lack thereof) and for not caring what people would say by their loud and clear "where are the women?" calls to action. And it is certainly time to get all these women and more together and have them celebrate with those who blazed the trail for women rights and equality way before the web was invented.
Feminism2.0 will be the "meta" of more than 10 years of conversations women have been having online after everybody keeps pretending we don’t exist by asking "where are the women bloggers?" It will be a celebration of those who came before the web and those who not just came after it but even built it themselves. To not just celebrate where we have been, but to look ahead and see where we are going together and finally as a digital movement.