On feminist blogging, community and privilege

All of us at Feministing have been following the heated discussion happening in the feminist blogosphere right now about issues of race and privilege. (We’re not going to summarize, but here is some suggested reading. ) We want to say up front that Brownfemipower’s voice will be greatly missed. We also want to say that, yes, there is a history of white women (and white feminists) appropriating the ideas of women of color. It’s a problem that persists today. That doesn’t make Amanda a plagiarist, and we don’t believe she is.
And that’s all were gonna say about the specifics. Not only because we don’t want this to get too blog-insidery, but also because many brave bloggers have forayed into this territory before, and the discussion doesn’t seem to be getting any more constructive. Here, we hope to have a larger conversation about feminism and privilege and community. And how Feministing, as a website and as individual bloggers, can find ways to contribute to a blogosphere that is vibrant, accountable, forward-thinking and just.


We are all aware of the privilege we enjoy because of our large base of readers, and we’re aware of ways in which we could be better bloggers. Being part of a feminist online (and offline) community is a big part of our mission, and we don’t want to neglect the huge number of smaller feminist sites that make up that community. We’ve heard from some bloggers (particularly those who write a lot about race) that sometimes the traffic they get from our site fundamentally changes their commenting community, so they’d rather if we didn’t link. We’re cool with that. But if you run a smaller blog — particularly if you’re a woman of color — and you think we do a shitty job at link-loving sites like yours, please let us know. We are making a concerted effort to be better about this.
We’re actually going to take this opportunity to pledge to do better. With every post we write, we’ll do a search to see if another feminist blogger has covered the issue. And when it comes to linking, we will privilege blogs with smaller audiences and those with greater expertise than our own in the given subject area. We’ll also continue to make alliances with grassroots and other organizations who are doing antiracist, and community-building work on the ground, and highlight the work of those people here on the site, with posts like our Voices Of… series. We also hope that with our soon-to-be-launched community site, we can continue to do good work — and maybe even great work — with the direction of our readers, allies, and friends. So if there are specific things you think we can do better, we want to hear about it.
Given the history of Western feminism and its often problematic relationship with the feminisms of women of color, working class and queer women, it is easy to reproduce those same inequities, online and off. This history in many ways has set the parameters of the debate around the way difference functions within the feminist movement, and it is a difficult history to move past. However, in order to move forward — to lead with race, to lead with gender, to create feminisms that work for all of us — we need to look hard at where we stand and how it relates to those around us (and in our case, to those who read us or are influenced by us). None of us is perfect, we all have our blind-spots and we have to keep each other accountable. To move forward is painful, awkward, often uncomfortable, but it is the only way to create the community we want here at Feministing. It is because we value this kind of community that our editorial make-up will continue to be and work towards being diverse, defined in the broadest way possible. We’ve got writers who grew up immersed in Evangelical Christianity, Buddhism, and Catholicism, writers who land on various places on the sex and gender spectrum, writers from contrasting class and cultural strata, and writers from a range of ethnic backgrounds. We don’t always agree, but we are committed to the necessary beauty of that complex diversity.
Feminist blogging is a labor of love. Most of us do it for no money, with jobs and school and lives and kids vying for our attention — but we do it anyway. So we write this with nothing but love for the feminist blogosphere and all the hard work that so many put into it. Even though we don’t always agree.
~Ann, Celina, Courtney, Jen, Jessica, Miriam, Samhita, Vanessa
*Note: We ask that the comments section to this post contain no attacks on Brownfemipower or Amanda. Please use this space to have a larger conversation. (There are many other forums in the feminist blogosphere where the events have been rehashed.) We’d like the conversation to be a forward-thinking and constructive, or as constructive as possible. We are going to take a heavy hand in moderating this post in order to ensure that this kind of safe, and progressive, space happens.

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60 Comments

  1. Charity
    Posted April 16, 2008 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Here’s my two cents. Or, thirty dollars, because it ended up being really long.
    First, I strongly echo what whatsername and KMP just wrote, above me. That seems pretty obvious. And if you’re not sure who wants you to link them or not, why not ask? Why wait and expect for them to come to you, assuming they want that invitation or even know it’s there? I understand that this blog is in a difficult position given that Amanda is a friend / colleague and that the whole Seal Press thing, which your post does not mention, represents a conflict of interest for you. I get it. But it’s impossible to make a statement about the last week’s events that simultaneously a)*means something*; that is appropriately reflective and critical, while b) saying nothing provocative or potentially confrontational to those two parties. To the people who matter in this imbroglio, the words about the future and community-building in the future, rightfully sound like empty and SAFE words, not to mention reminiscent of many earlier (and broken) promises. To people like me, who don’t have the same things at stake, the words also sound way too safe. Way too safe for feminism, and way too safe for the severity of the issues here. I have learned (painfully and extremely clumsily) in my own life that there really does come a point where I cannot have it all ways at once, because the goals of social justice and self-protection or self-promotion are not harmonious. And feminism is supposed to be about the former, not the latter.
    I have a sentimental attachment to this blog, I really do…it was the first self-proclaimed-feminist blog i found and that meant a great deal to me. (I am a white middle-class woman, and much of the content here resonated with me, frankly.) I think that to be that first gateway for young women is one of your stated goals, and in my case, you accomplished that.
    Lately, though, I have been dismayed by some of the comments sections on various posts, including letting the phrase “illegals” and other frankly racist language sit, and sit, and sit (and maybe it still sits?) without comment (comment from you I would have preferred over straight deletion, actually). Yeah, I know, you can’t be everywhere at once, and you get a ton of traffic and it’s impossible to control who visits and why. However, it does beg the question, if you are truly seeking to bring more young women to feminism – what is the effect of leaving racist language around your site (without even getting into other content issues, which are vast and great)? What kind of young women are you privileging over others, with many of the decisions you make? What young women are you helping to further alienate and marginalize? And these are just the questions that pertain to people *reading a blog*, without even beginning to reflect on the real life situations of the women being written about, and the real life consequences for them.
    Further, I’m disturbed by something you mentioned in this post – that some of your traffic has caused trouble or distress to smaller blogs, including presumably WOC blogs, whom you have linked to. I can speculate about what you’re referencing, but it is your obligation, in my opinion, to call out the people who perpetrated those actions, and I don’t remember that happening. It *is* your obligation, if this is a feminist site and your goal is fostering an inclusive feminist community, to make anti-racism a priority, and that includes sticking your necks out and identifying / banning / making public when certain of your readers, ANY of your readers, harass or intimidate WOC bloggers, or simply make ignorant comments that perpetuate racism or classism or ableism or anything else. And further, it is your obligation to question yourselves – as in, what kind of site are we creating here, where any proportion of our readers are not only not explicitly anti-racist, but are (at the very least) unaware of racism and privilege having shaped their behaviors and choices of language? And what kind of site are we if we simply don’t have *time* to make the naming of this a priority, to use our own voices to counteract these insults and this damage when we find it in our comments or find out people used our site to find and harass a WOC?
    It appears you believe you could not accomplish the goals you have set for yourselves without such a high-traffic site and a large mainstream readership. I can’t tell you whether or not that is right or wrong for you. I have, however, been thinking a lot lately about the myriad of expressed goals within the online / offline “feminist” community, and I have to say I really like this Jessica Hoffman piece – An Open Letter to White Feminists, which was linked by many but I found it at She Who Stumbles. I will refrain from directly linking to SWS because what you’ve said about your traffic to smaller blogs than yours has concerned me. But for anyone interested, I highly recommend SWS. Here is the link to the Jessica Hoffman piece (never did learn hyperlinks):
    http://www.alternet.org/reproductivejustice/81260/?page=1
    And here is the section that SWS found especially relevant to some recent events:
    “In the summer and fall of 2007, I found myself invited to participate in a slew of meetings and conference calls organized by small, new majority-white “feministâ€? groups around the United States; over and over again, members wondered earnestly how they could draw more women of color to participate in their projects. Around the same time, I read and heard a whole lot of white feminist media makers explaining that “weâ€? need to show young women “why feminism matters.â€? Sometimes I asked them why, in the face of a series of egregious, in some cases highly publicized examples of state violence against marginalized people (e.g., Jena 6 and the New Jersey 4), prominent white feminists are MIA in and largely ignorant of the work and analyses of major, often feminist-of-color-led movements against state violence? And, I wondered, what is your feminism for, and why does it matter? Because feminists of color don’t seem to need convincing on that point — they’re engaged in profound, intergenerational, cross-cultural grassroots work that is transforming not only feminist movement but all social-change movements. [emphasis mine]”
    - Jessica Hoffman, cited by She Who Stumbles.
    So let me pose that question here – “What is your feminism for, and why does it matter”?
    Also, for anyone interested, here is a link to a wonderful essay by joan olsson that has been very educational for me – the link was shared at another blog (a major and I believe, white blog linked in your post, above) by a commenter and blogger named Ravenmm.
    http://ci.mpls.k12.mn.us/sites/ee869d27-88e5-478a-97e1-b5e41772b8f7/uploads/Detour.pdf
    Finally, it bears noting that with all the (inappropriately placed) concern about Amanda’s career and hurt feelings, the conversation you say you hope to further, has taken a tragic and useless turn and deserves a gold “missing the point” award. Acknowledging that our race privileges our voices and benefits our careers in the first place is an issue worth our concern, as is our accountability as self-proclaimed feminists, and our accountability to the real people whose real lives are the subjects of our writings, and our obligation to realize that our egos and our status in the freaking hierarchy of the INTERNET are so, so far from important. Amanda, last I checked, has suffered no professional repercussions and is now, in fact, *guest-blogging* at the site that published her article on immigration. That really speaks volumes.

  2. Posted April 17, 2008 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    We’re actually going to take this opportunity to pledge to do better. With every post we write, we’ll do a search to see if another feminist blogger has covered the issue.

    I have suggested that this kind of reasonable investigation of prior work in an area of inquiry before posting on it is required by academic norms of scholarship. Your willingness to take the time and effort to do so is noteworthy given the claims by some that it is either too much effort or not worth the effort.
    http://physioprof.wordpress.com/2008/04/13/intellectual-appropriation-attribution-of-credit-privilege/

  3. Mina
    Posted April 17, 2008 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    “With every post we write, we’ll do a search to see if another feminist blogger has covered the issue.”
    …and not just bloggers! Don’t forget the rest of the internet. ;)
    “and that includes sticking your necks out and identifying / banning / making public when certain of your readers, ANY of your readers,”
    Assuming you can figure out who they are. :/
    For example, it seems kinda hard to stop someone who never posts here in the first place from reading a post here, following a link in it, and flaming there or at least crashing the site as part of a sudden upsurge of more traffic than the other site’s prepared to handle (like when a site gets slashdotted).
    For another example, if someone reads a post and responds here under one username, then follows the link in the post and flames there under another username, could you share your IP address logs with the other site in order to figure out which username here comes from the same IP address as the flamer there and block that jerk here?

  4. Posted April 17, 2008 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    hey just want to say that i admire your commitment to try to make sure marginalized voices are heard; i wish more blogs had that mission statement, tho i won’t mention markos and duncan by name.
    and i think you guys (gals?) did a great job discussing the current fiasco w/o finger pointing.
    makes me wish i was a woman.

  5. PrincessTamTam
    Posted April 18, 2008 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Show your true solidarity for ALL women and pick-up the phone, hop a flight, but take the initiative and contact Brownfemipower. I encourage you-all to have a dialog, come to a mutual understanding, kiss and make-up.
    The net needs BOTH blogs!!

  6. Posted April 21, 2008 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    The response from Feministing on this issue is disappointing. I’ll go so far as to say “cowardly.”
    Not going to go into specifics because it’s “blog-insidery” territory is a fantastic excuse to do nothing. I wonder if the writers/readers of this site would be so happy with empty promises for future change if the matter concerned a man appropriating from a woman? Would we then decide a “sit back and talk about the future” approach is better?
    All your sentiments about inclusion and working together are lovely. But when the situation actually *calls* for some real action on an issue that has plagued feminism since its inception, what do you do? You back off it and say “we’ll do better next time.” Only next time comes around and you say the same thing. You have done this before, and if only your readers had a longer memory they might realize that (FFF, anyone?).
    Here is the situation you have only lightly sketched out: right now there is a huge rift between WoC feminists/bloggers and the large feminist blogs such as this one. That rift has led many women of color, dedicated women of color who have been fighting oppression forever, to renounce the label “feminist.” A blog-insidery issue? No, this is about the entire feminist movement. Where do we as a movement stand? Are we against oppression or for it? And if we are against it, why haven’t we done anything to stop the racism in our own ranks?
    Just take a glance here:
    http://dearwhitefeminists.wordpress.com/2008/04/17/an-open-letter-to-the-white-feminist-community/
    It is no small matter. It is not just a blog-insider issue. Feministing, if you are truly concerned about fighting oppression, then do it. No excuses, no “in future we will…” NOW. DO IT. Explain what happened, and publicly demand Marcotte credit the WoC she has silenced. Give your readers links to the blogs of women of color who have been writing about this (I can provide some. Lots. More than you might ever like to acknowledge exist. Check out the post above)
    This issue is not going away. Empty promises for the future do not make it better. Please, act like feminists, not oppressors. Our sisters of color are shouting at us. So if you mean any of what you say, LISTEN to them. Stop glossing over this and take a stand.

  7. ThereIsNoSuchThingAsRealFeminismThereAreOnlyFeminisms
    Posted August 10, 2008 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Ah, more self-congratulatory bullshit. Come on now, are you really going to continue to deny your place in the hierarchy (esp. the feminist blogging one) and condescend to WOC and white people who are their allies, both in theory AND action? Censorship by omission may be a more sophisticated and covert method, but it’s still censorship. And Feministing is just as much a part of this as Amanda or many other white feminist bloggers. Might as well call it like it is.

  8. Lala
    Posted August 10, 2008 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    In all honesty I believe as a latina you really can’t open up about issues of race on non WOC blogs. Hell the second post I made here when i was trying to share something deep and persoanl that happened to me I was lectured about winning “the opression olympics” and told by someone “they were tired of my scthick”. so I save real talk foe other places.

  9. Lala
    Posted August 10, 2008 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    That is “for”,lol sorry.

  10. Mina
    Posted August 10, 2008 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    ThereIsNoSuchThingAsRealFeminismThereAreOnlyFeminisms commented at August 10, 2008 10:17 AM: “Censorship by omission may be a more sophisticated and covert method, but it’s still censorship.”
    So, did you just censor the issue of date rape in that comment? After all, you omitted any mention of it…

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