Reflections on the losses of online revolution

My relationship to the country has transformed. People never used to talk to one another. This has been broken, and this is why I now want to stay — because I have a right to be here, I have a right to my identity, I have a right to this place.

This is a quote from Omar El-Zuhairy, a 22-year-old film director, told to a New York Times reporter about how he was changed by the revolution in Egypt. While reading the deeply moving piece, in which he was featured, I began to think about a conversation I had last week with a group of diverse feminists in a St. Louis living room while on a speaking trip. Bear with me on this one…

Essentially, we were discussing the fragmentation of the feminist movement, something I have written about both in my columns and here at Feministing, at length. In short, I believe that the movement has become less cohesive as it has become more intersectional. The upside of this evolution is that there is all kinds of amazing grassroots activism going on all the time that falls under the big tent of feminism. The downside is that we are less able to leverage our collective power and, as I remembered while reading this piece, we very rarely have visceral experiences of our feminist numbers.

Protest marches, in an era when we can mobilize thousands via the internet fairly quickly, often seem ineffective and sort of quaint. When I went to the March for Women’s Lives in 2004, I found it invigorating and fun, but never expected it to actually make much of a political impact. But reading about the protests in Egypt, and the way in which the physical togetherness, the in-the-flesh uprising among like-minded community, make me nostalgic for the days when feminists gathered and looked one another in the eyes, when there were more frequent opportunities to feel a sense of power in numbers, of collective action, of the momentum of foot pounding, sign waving, and song singing. Today we’ve got scroll and click, forward and sign, tweet and retweet. It doesn’t quite enliven the soul in the same way, even I–a massive proponent of online organizing and the feminist blogosphere–must admit.

As much as feminism has gained from the internet, there have been undeniable losses. Sometimes, as I’m typing away, the whole thing makes me pause and long for a time when my in-person feminist experiences weren’t mostly limited to dance parties and editorial meetings (as totally awesome as those are). The great news, is that this weekend is going to provide one of those wonderful, rare experiences. Myself and just about the entire Feministing crew will be at at the Planned Parenthood-inspired rally to Stand Up for Women’s Health. See you there.

Join the Conversation

  • nazza

    I think to some extent this evolution was inevitable. The world is much larger and interconnected now. Our focus is increasingly global and international, whether our politics or beliefs acknowledge it.

    But I agree that there will always be a need for face-to-face community. Still, we should resist the impulse to self-isolate as a means to achieve this, in my opinion.

  • Julia

    I have been thinking about this a lot lately. In fact, this is the topic of PhD dissertation (Sociology). I’m examining how the feminist use of social media fits into ‘Feminism’.

    The fragmentation is certainly something that I felt when speaking with one of my feminist (‘2nd waver’) supervisors (A superstar in our Women Studies dept) about feminism online. To my shock and disappointment, our conversation ended before it started. Although never having heard of feminist online communities, she rolled her eyes at the notion that these could be productive and critical sites of feminist thought.

    I feel that this experience underscores 2 of the many lines of feminist fragmentation: 1. Generational fragmentations, and 2. The disconnect between academic feminism and grass-roots, feminist activism.

    I appreciate your reflections of the potential “losses” of online feminism, but I am also wondering to what extent online feminism, especially thinking about it in the context of the recent revolutions happening in Egypt, Libya, Tunsia, etc… represents an important link between the latter line of fragmentation. For example, can we understand online activism a ‘backstage’ to these revolutions?
    Perhaps, online activism can be understood of as a suture between academic feminism and activism, instead of a division? I’m not sure? Thanks for this post, Courtney.

  • Misty

    First, thank you for taking the time to meet with all of us in St. Louis. It is always so inspiring to get together with women to discuss feminism. Hearing everyone’s perspectives on what feminism means to each of them was absolutely amazing. I think that some excellent points were made that the issues of feminism are no longer only those that affect elite and upper middle class white women. In encompassing differing perspectives, some fragmentation may occur; however, the trade-offs to me seem well worth it.
    Thanks again!