Blogging Sisterhood

How feminist blogs saved my life.

Sady Doyle

Fem­i­nist blogs saved my life. They gave me a com­mu­ni­ty when I felt alone. They gave me hope, pro­vid­ed me with a free edu­ca­tion and raised my expec­ta­tions for myself. They helped me over­come a writer’s block that had last­ed since col­lege. They rad­i­cal­ly changed my con­cep­tion of writ­ing. And then I start­ed one, there­by shoot­ing myself in the foot as a writer. Fem­i­nist blogs, many peo­ple will allow, are inspi­ra­tional. They may even be some­what edu­ca­tion­al. But they are not, absolute­ly not, real writ­ing, apparently. 

A movement can hardly encourage women to reach their untapped potential if it doesn't recognize and value potential that has been, you know, untapped.

Here’s a rep­re­sen­ta­tive take, from Jen­ny Turn­er in the Lon­don Review of Books last Decem­ber: And as for fem­i­nist blog­ging, isn’t it just one of those back-bed­room hob­bies, like home­made porn and craft­ing, that sud­den­ly becomes vis­i­ble because the tech­nol­o­gy allows it?” 

Turner’s essay, titled As Many Pairs of Shoes as She Likes,” is too com­plex to sum­ma­rize in just one line; it aims to be a review of con­tem­po­rary fem­i­nism itself. And it is a good review – it’s intel­lec­tu­al­ly engaged, rad­i­cal in many of its con­clu­sions and says very mean things about rad­i­cal fem­i­nist Andrea Dworkin, which I like. Turn­er even name-checks a fem­i­nist blog or two. But the casu­al dis­mis­sive­ness of that sen­tence stands out. Fem­i­nist blog­gers are hob­by­ists. Oth­er fem­i­nists are writ­ers. This mir­rors much of the crit­i­cism I’ve received while writ­ing at Tiger Beat­down (the blog I found­ed), or that I’ve seen oth­er women receive online: Fem­i­nist blog­gers whine, vent, rant, have tantrums. The one thing that we nev­er do, seem­ing­ly, is write. 

To be fair, I was once a hob­by­ist, with no real plans to be any­thing else. My rea­sons for enter­ing the blo­gos­phere were not grand, noble or artis­tic. I was in my mid-twen­ties, liv­ing most­ly alone in a big city while nav­i­gat­ing a sex­u­al and social land­scape that felt fright­en­ing­ly unfair. I looked for answers in dat­ing books and con­ver­sa­tions, and found none. So, even­tu­al­ly I got out my old women’s stud­ies text­books. When I’d exhaust­ed those, I start­ed scour­ing the Women’s Issues sec­tions of local book­stores. Sev­er­al of the books I read were by peo­ple who ran blogs; I start­ed read­ing them. I read Fem­i­nist­ing. I also read Jezebel, Fem­i­niste, Shakesville, Wom­an­ist Mus­ings, I Blame The Patri­archy, Racia­li­cious, Fem­i­nists With Dis­abil­i­ties, Hoy­den About Town and (soon­er or lat­er) sev­er­al dozen Tum­blrs. Their writ­ing felt vital and rare. 

These blogs woke me up polit­i­cal­ly. I sud­den­ly saw more than just dat­ing prob­lems and wardrobe issues: I saw dou­ble stan­dards, beau­ty stan­dards, sex­u­al polic­ing, gen­der roles. And I began to under­stand, too, how small those con­cerns were, and how my obses­sive focus on them was intrin­si­cal­ly tied to my priv­i­lege. The blogs trans­formed me from an anx­ious­ly navel-gaz­ing pri­vate per­son into a… well, into an anx­ious­ly navel-gaz­ing polit­i­cal per­son. But a polit­i­cal person! 

I had been inter­est­ed in fem­i­nist the­o­ry as a col­lege stu­dent, but it had always seemed like an aca­d­e­m­ic con­cern (prob­a­bly because I only encoun­tered it with­in the acad­e­my). Fem­i­nist blogs gave me that the­o­ry in a voice that was urgent – alive, con­tem­po­rary, emo­tive. I wasn’t mere­ly dis­cov­er­ing new sub­jects and ideas when I start­ed to read these blogs; I was dis­cov­er­ing a new form of writing. 

The fem­i­nist blo­gos­phere is, of course, a blo­gos­phere – mean­ing it pri­or­i­tizes quick expres­sion and con­ver­sa­tion­al slangi­ness. But that’s not to say it pre­cludes ele­gance. Con­sid­er this sen­tence from Melis­sa McEwan:

[Rom­ney] tells sto­ries in which the mis­for­tunes of peo­ple who do not share his priv­i­lege are the punch­line, and he doesn’t under­stand why the com­mon­ers do not laugh, because he has nev­er lived among them or served beside them. 

I don’t know how quick­ly this sen­tence was com­posed, but I know that it comes from one of 14 posts McE­wan pub­lished at Shakesville on March 28. Such out­put isn’t rare in the fem­i­nist blo­gos­phere, a fact that ought to put to rest the idea that these blogs are amateurish.

But sup­pose that they are? Why, in the long run, would being ama­teur­ish be a bad thing for fem­i­nist blogs? Why couldn’t it be a choice – even an implic­it­ly polit­i­cal choice – and not a weak­ness? If Judy Chicago’s instal­la­tion art­work The Din­ner Par­ty” is any indi­ca­tion, fem­i­nists have no prob­lem with crafti­ness. We have cel­e­brat­ed ama­teurism in music – what else was the riot grrrl punk rock move­ment? – and in pub­lish­ing. The zines of Third Wave fem­i­nism were self-pub­lished; so were the mimeo­graphed newslet­ters of the Sec­ond Wave. The ungroomed, the untrained and the unpro­fes­sion­al are cel­e­brat­ed in fem­i­nist writ­ing. As they should be: A move­ment can hard­ly encour­age women to reach their untapped poten­tial if it doesn’t rec­og­nize and val­ue poten­tial that has been, you know, untapped. 

There’s also the fact that fem­i­nist blogs reward voic­es for being what more polite or for­mal writ­ers would call ugly.” The pres­sure of the com­mu­ni­ty, the cycle of instant reward (you will always know what your read­ers want from you) and instant con­dem­na­tion (you will always know if you haven’t giv­en your read­ers what they want) eggs us on to be loud­er, more con­fronta­tion­al, more provocative.

No tar­get is unac­cept­able. It’s a lit­er­a­ture of con­fronta­tion and con­flict, and it’s not kind – rebelling direct­ly against the sup­posed sweet­ness and nice­ness of girls. But it’s also, strange­ly, a lit­er­a­ture of inclu­sion. The most intense con­flicts are waged in the name of a more car­ing world. It can feel para­dox­i­cal. But, as much as the fem­i­nist blo­gos­phere encour­ages peo­ple to find and voice their anger, it also encour­ages them to assume a moral seri­ous­ness based out of lived experience. 

All of this is hard to parse for an eye trained toward well-groomed writ­ing. The blo­gos­phere is anti-hier­ar­chy, anti-pro­fes­sion­al­ism and anti-polite­ness. It’s fast; it’s loud; it’s rough; it’s provoca­tive. It rewards the exper­i­men­tal and polar­iz­ing over the safe and crowd-pleas­ing. Read­ing fem­i­nist blogs is like lis­ten­ing to punk rock. It isn’t a utopia. Like the rest of the world, accep­tance – being cit­ed by influ­en­tial main­stream pub­li­ca­tions, or pub­lished else­where, or invit­ed onto talk shows, or hav­ing your pic­ture in a mag­a­zine, just like all those Real Writ­ers – can and does depend on priv­i­lege. A fact that trans blog­gers, dis­abil­i­ty blog­gers and women of col­or have repeat­ed­ly point­ed out.

On fem­i­nist blogs you will read things that make you rage; you will prob­a­bly get hurt. But it’s worth it because the pow­er you feel is drawn from real, live writ­ing. That is not the kind of empow­er­ment you get from a fresh­ly knit­ted sweater.

Sady Doyle is an In These Times con­tribut­ing writer. She is the author of Train­wreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear… and Why (Melville House, 2016) and was the founder of the blog Tiger Beat­down. You can fol­low her on Twit­ter at @sadydoyle.
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