On the importance of the online feminist community
September 10th, 2012 • Uncategorized
Jessica Valenti had a really interesting Reddit AMA today. While it was a little bit focused on her newly released book, the parts I found most fascinating were those that came from young women telling Valenti how much her books had impacted them, some of whom had never considered themselves feminists till they read her work, and asking her for advice on how to deal with the negativity people tend to associate with those who call themselves feminists.
It reminded me of when I first started to think of myself as feminist. I remember a distinct moment in high school when I friend invited me to join a feminist group and I remember clearly telling him (yes, it was a him) that no, I wouldn’t, because although I agree with most feminist ideas, I can’t call myself feminist because it’s a pretty radical word and people will assume I’m some kind of radical man-hating anarchist or whatever.
I’ve come a long way since then, but it was a gradual coming out process.
It took me a good few years to feel comfortable self-identifying as feminist — largely because I was so afraid of what people would think. The vast majority of people, I felt, continue to think of “feminists” as some sort of radical, hardcore, man-hating group. What I find even sadder is women who vehemently reject feminism — because they believe all the silly feminist stereotypes they’ve been fed. I won’t deny that I used to believe some of that crap, but what changed for me was finding a community of other women who shared the same beliefs I did and didn’t give a damn if someone called them an angry feminist. It wasn’t until late in college that I started meeting women who shared the same opinions that I’d long felt I was alone in – and it was such a relief to finally find that community. It was a relief to find sites like Jezebel and Feministing and realize, I’m not alone! It was a relief to go to SXSW and meet people like Ann and Latoya and think, why don’t I know more people like this? There are more of us than I thought!
Finding that community had such an impact on me — it strengthened my beliefs and allowed me to finally feel comfortable in proclaiming what I care about, regardless of what most of my more mainstream peers might think. I no longer had to believe anyone who thought I was “the angry feminist” — because I knew I wasn’t the only one who thought things like the wage gap and rape jokes and abortion rights matter. And that’s why when I saw this question on Jessica Valenti’s Reddit AMA, I almost felt like she was speaking to a younger version of me:
How do you find a balance between keeping a positive outlook on things and criticising sexist behaviours or portrayals in for example the media or politics? I mean, can you still enjoy a movie if it’s sexist or be happy at a party when someone said some stupid things about women being sluts, make ma a sandwich etc? I often find myself being angry for too long, so I wonder how you deal with it.
Having community helps a lot. When things get tough, having someone to bitch to or commiserate with is the best. That said, yes – I can still enjoy a movie or song if it’s sexist and I can still have fun at a party if someone says something awful (though I would take them to task). I know that it can be difficult, and sometimes it’s hard not to be angry all the time! What helps me is using that anger towards a positive end – writing an article, tweeting something, calling someone to talk about it. Using humor also helps – it’s not just a political tactic, it’s a survival mechanism!
Reading your works and seeing you speak at my university were HUGE moments in my feminist path so far. I was just wondering who your biggest influences have been and how you first got started thinking about feminism?
You know, probably my biggest feminist influences have been other feminist bloggers and the community I’ve found online. That’s the wonderful thing about online feminism – you don’t have to have a stagnant feminist canon, it’s constantly moving! The folks at Feministing in particular, like Samhita, Courtney & Jos, are real inspirations to me.
Being a young feminist can at times be a really isolating experience – especially when you start to notice things you’re uncomfortable with, and things that go against what you stand for that might infuriate you, but you feel like you have to stay silent. Finding a community of other like-minded women makes all the difference — and this generation’s feminist movement is largely defined by the massive online network built through the blogosphere, Twitter, and Tumblr. Fitting into that network totally changed my worldview — and I hope some day I can have the same impact on other, younger women.