Thank You Wednesday: The writers and readers of Feministing

I couldn’t wait until tomorrow and make it a Thank You Thursday. I am full to bursting with gratitude, and it could cause me serious bodily harm if I were to keep it in for an extra day just for the sake of alliteration.

More than four years ago, at the 2010 Feministing annual retreat – my first – I sat in Jessica Valenti’s living room in Queens on a freezing February morning and made a proposal to the assembled crew. I was at the time the newest and most junior member of the Feministing team, and I was nervous. I was in a room full of people whose writing I had admired for several years before joining the team: Jessica Valenti, Vanessa Valenti, Courtney Martin, Miriam Pérez, Ann Friedman, Samhita Mukhopadhyay. They were (still are) pretty much the coolest women alive, and I really wanted them to think I was cool, too. Which was perhaps a bit of a stretch because I am many things, but cool is not one of them. 

The proposal was this: I wanted to go see every romantic comedy that came out in theatres that year and review it, from a feminist point of view, for the site. I’d call it something really smart and out of the box, like The Feministing Rom Com Review. Luckily for me, the editors agreed to let me go ahead with the idea – must have been the amazing title that sold them on it – and I dug in, starting with Our Family Wedding and wrapping up with the clusterfuck that was Valentine’s Day.

Over the course of the year, I learned a lot about romantic comedies, but I also realized how little I knew, and I realized that I wanted to learn much, much more. I had deferred the start of my PhD program, but was planning to start writing my dissertation at the end of the year; I had proposed a dissertation about the differences between how young American women understood feminism, and how young Australian women understood it. By the end of the year, I had changed my mind about what I wanted to write. Instead of writing that cross-cultural comparison, I decided, I wanted to write about contemporary Hollywood romantic comedies. I wanted to investigate how they depicted gender, sex, and power, and how those depictions came to be. I wanted to understand why they were the way they were – mostly sexist, but with this weird gloss of feminism over the top, just enough so that it felt odd to totally pan them, but not enough to move them out of the category of “guilty pleasure.” How did a movie as spectacularly sexist as The Ugly Truth come to be? Had rom coms always been this bad? Were they getting any better? What the hell was going on here?

My second thesis proposal was approved, and I was off to the races. I’ve spent the last four years trying to figure out what the hell is going on in rom com land. The end result is a 240-page dissertation about that very topic. And this week, I found out that it’s been approved, and that in a few short weeks, I’ll officially be a Doctor of Rom Coms (well, that won’t officially be my title, but I really like how it sounds). I can’t say I’ve figured it out definitively what the hell is going on in rom com land, but I do know much, much more than I did when I first decided to dive in to this project several years ago.

And a lot of that is thanks to the then-editors of Feministing, who gave me the green light to invent that review series and run with it. Without their willingness to take that chance, I might not have discovered that this particular line of scholarly inquiry was in desperate need of exploration, or that I could be the one to do some of that exploring. I am profoundly grateful to them.

That I was able to finish this behemoth of a project is thanks to the current editors of Feministing, who have been incredibly patient, supportive, and flexible, especially this year, while I’ve been sitting on my couch for 8 to 12 hours a day, unable to write about or think about almost anything else (or hold a conversation about anything else – just ask my poor friends and family). To Jos, Lori, Maya, Katie, and Alexandra, and to all our fantastic contributors: thank you. A thousand times, thank you.

There’s a spirited ongoing discussion, in academia, about the role of internet feminism in shaping, maintaining, and catalyzing feminist thought and practice. The sense that I get is that a lot of academic feminists look down on the ways that feminism plays out in the blogosphere, that they don’t think it’s adequately serious or intellectually rigorous. Similarly, I think a lot of feminists who work online, outside of academia, or who do on the ground activism that isn’t in the ivory tower or on the internets, feel that academic feminists are out of touch, and that they’re too much feminist talk and not enough feminist action. I think they’re all a little bit right. And I think that if feminism is going to be a vibrant, powerful, and effective movement, then it needs all of us – academics, activists, internet feminists, and those of us who don’t easily fall into any one category – to do what we do really well. We need cutting edge ideas from academia, and effective communication on the internet (how else will we convert the unsuspecting youth to our nefarious cause of equal rights for everyone and unlimited Beyoncé gifs?), and we need boots on the ground activists who show up and shake shit up. And we need people who blend all those things brilliantly, like Tressie McMillan Cottom, and Lisa Wade, and our very own Gwendolyn Beetham and the great Katherine Cross.

Which brings me to you, wonderful readers of Feministing. My dissertation started with you, and it ends with you, too. The last few paragraphs of my concluding chapter are about the need to share what I’ve learned in the last few years with the people who need it most: the people who consume popular culture daily and who don’t spend their days reading and writing academic analyses of it, the consumers who are in a position to imagine, demand, and support better rom coms. As I wrote in the final pages of my dissertation:

As a feminist student, I am deeply invested in the project of gender equality, as are the readers of the blog Feministing. As a scholar who also does popular feminist commentary, it is also extremely important that those whose exposure to feminist inquiry is entirely popular, rather than academic, have access to my findings, so that they might better understand the popular culture they consume. It was the readers of Feministing with whom this project truly began, and it seems only fitting that they should avail themselves of the knowledge I have gained and the contributions I have made here to the growing body of scholarship on romantic comedies.

I’m still working out the best way to do that, short of posting my entire dissertation online (not the worst idea, but bits of it are pretty freaking dull).

My very first instalment of the Feministing Rom Com Review started with my declaring my love for the readers of Feministing. More than four years later, I feel the same devotion, as well as a deep gratitude for what you’ve given me, and what you’ve made possible for me. Time to pay it back, and forward.

Avatar ImageChloe Angyal is so, so thankful.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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