Thursday, February 5, 2009

Looking at Fem2pt0 and the Feminist Web

This week was the Fem2pt0 feminist web conference.  I was not able to attend but was tweeted a link that included a listing of the top 30 feminist blogs. (1)

At first I was thrilled to find myself on this list as Womanist Musings is still under a year old.  To find myself listed with such excellent feminist blogs really gave me a shot of confidence. After I got over the initial tee hee look at me, I decided to have a closer look at the above list. 

In the larger group blogs there are women that are of colour however, Womanist Musings is the only individual blog written by a WOC to make this list.  As much as I toot my own horn, I am not arrogant enough to believe that my blog and my voice represent the best of what WOC have to say on the web.  Once this realization became clear to me my happiness turned to bitterness.

I decided to have a look at how the data was complied to generate this list.

  • See conversation territories and communities on the social web
    By narrowing the web to its relevant conversation spaces, we can focus on what’s important, we can ignore noise in order to analyse and measure the impact of visible and influential opinions. Seeing also means following conversations wherever they come from or go to. This is why linkfluence also analyses websites and conversations which, outside of communities’ borders, interest the latter’s members.
  • Hear conversations
    Beyond listening, there’s understanding. Messages coming from the social web are ordered by linkfluence in order to single out those that are the most read, listened to or viewed, those that are the most commented or referred to. Hearing rather than listening, it’s going way below the surface of conversations to analyse sentiment, arguments, mentioned opinion shapers, topics, semantics fields or the semiotics of the relevant spaces.

Who decides what is and isn’t relevant conversations?   If a womanist blogger decides that her primary focus is race and how it effects her life, does that suddenly make her less feminist?  I believe that considering that feminism has a history of silencing  WOC when we dare to speak about the ways in which race effects our life, this is an extremely important question to ask.  Were there any WOC on the panel that decided what constituted a “relevant” conversation.  Finally, who gets to decide what is and isn’t feminist, considering that perspectives change not only by race, but by class, ability and sexuality.

What I find even more disturbing is the evidence that our blogs were chosen because of how often they are linked to.  This once again brings up the issue of inclusiveness within the feminist blogosphere.   Even though WOC participate in the major blogs, our blogs are not generally understood to be a major force within the blogosphere.  It was this knowledge that inspired me to create the WOC and ally blog carnival.

WOC have routinely called upon white feminists to not only share their space but give considered thought to what we have to say.   I have held fast to the desire for openness by making my space open to those who identify as feminist/womanist across race,class and gender lines.  This is not something that has been replicated across the blogosphere. 

To say it plainly, when we speak out about racism what we receive is backlash.  Whether it is me in my guest posting stints at various blogs, or WOC bloggers on their home blogs, time and time again the resistance to what are essential basic concepts is forceful and repugnant.  We make people uncomfortable.  Rather than dealing with the fact that this discomfort comes from being forced to acknowledge privilege, many instantly go on the defensive.  It is like daily waging war against that which seeks to construct us as the eternal “other”.

Our blogs are considered controversial, no matter how reasonable we try to be in our approach.  I cannot tell you how many times I have been told that I am intimidating, or that I am angry and hostile.  That these words have often been used to shut down conversation or to render the speaker irrelevant is not given much thought.  The point is to discipline me into conforming to white ideals and focusing on a feminism that excludes my experience.  Whiteness is the privileged identity in every single social justice movement and feminism is very resistant to any form of change. 

The blogosphere is a completely voluntary association.  Unlike a womens studies classroom, one can choose to avoid reading blogs written by WOC.  Our comments are often loudly drowned out when we visit any of the major blogs and a gang like mentality quickly ensues., yet we are not to view this as racism..oh no they are attacking us individually, believing that we are blind to the fact that the same trend continually occurs.  Many of these blogs constitute an unsafe environment for our participation.  Racism flourishes in a covert manner and is supported in many cases by the group think that often passes for engagement in comment sections. 

I have said that white women need to do their due diligence and STFU & L however, engagement is equally important.  One must take the time to learn the basics and then have the courage to engage in meaningful and critical conversation.  Choosing to avoid blogs written by WOC or refusing to engage in meaningful conversation is one of the various ways in which whiteness maintains its hegemony within feminist circles.  A failure to actively participate on blogs written by WOC allows whiteness to function as the representative image of feminism.  If we cannot see our voices appreciated or our experiences respected, WOC will continue to disavow feminism despite the fact that sexism continues to play a pivotal role in our life's chances.

One phenomenon that I find particularly interesting is what I like to call white knuckle rage.  It is actually quite common in the blogosphere.  A white woman may express anger at some form of racial discrimination that she has witnessed and is praised at being so open and forceful in the cause of justice.  A WOC may point out the same issue and she is angry and irrational.  Somehow, magically whiteness is deemed better at articulating our struggles than we are.

In the end Fem2pt0 list is not at all surprising to those of us who have struggled to gain readership or foster a positive community around our blogs.  Blogging is hard work and it is often unrewarded but when one must fight racism as well in attempt to be deemed relevant, it makes the task difficult if not impossible.  The very open nature of the internet reinforces white privilege.  When given a choice, people avoid what makes them uncomfortable and return again and again to spaces that reinforce their social place.  It is no accident that there are no WOC blogs under the category of major blog, just as it is no accident that Womanist Musings is the sole blog on the Fem2ptO list. 

I thank my readers for engaging but I must issue a challenge to all feminist readers to look outside of their comfort zone and truly engage with the marvellous voices in the blogosphere.  You will only gain from looking at issues from a perspective that has not been overly normalized and privileged. WOC do not exist to function as a support network in feminism without acclaim or recognition for our efforts.  Our talents and our goals need to be recognized if this movement is to grow.  Women continue to be under attack and  if we allow privilege to divide us, it is patriarchy that will reap the benefit.


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