Thursday, April 23, 2009

The New Wave of Feminism is Leaving Campuses and Infiltrating the Web

In the past few decades, feminism has spread across many of the Universities around the country. Many colleges now have a Women’s Studies department, and one can find classes on feminist theory, history and methods. Even academic research has changed due to feminism. Feminism has affected every aspect of our academic lives, including the language we use, as well as how we gain social knowledge. Today, a new wave of feminism is building, and it is off of the campus and in the internet in the form of blogging. This expansion of feminist knowledge out of academia is crucial to the movement in this day and age where information technology is booming. Blogs not only serve feminist research practice by providing immense qualitative data from many marginalized walks of life, but also changes the language of feminism from that of academia to a language that is accessible to many other people who are not scholars or go to college.

Furthermore, blogging eradicates most discrimination when it comes to free speech as most people from any economic background can have access to this free form of publishing. And there are no stipulations about race, sex, class, sexuality and other aspects that can bar someone from writing a blog. Absolutely anyone who can read and write and has access to a local library’s internet is able to have a blog. As a forum for debate, a blog can be more critical than a campus debate because there are no speech codes enforced on the argument. Speech codes are campus guidelines for acceptable speech on campus. The reason that these codes can represent a threat to free speech is the simple question of who gets to decide what indeed acceptable speech is. In the blogging forum there are no codes, rules or guidelines that one must adhere to in order to speak. Even if one is extremely offensive, they cannot be silenced in this particular forum. This no holds bar freedom of speech within the blogosphere is what makes blogging so powerful. One can go on the internet and read almost every point of view, from the ultimate religious conservative to the anarchist prostitute.

Before, social scientists placed primary importance on quantitative research, that is, research that is numerical at its base, can cover a large number of people, and be generalized to a certain group. This type of research comes from a sociological scientific ideology called positivism, where information that is considered social fact must be collected from a purely objective, non-biased, value free researcher. However, women have found that fitting knowledge about women into this paradigm only served to subjugate us further. We know now that the view of positivism in the academic, social science arena is not unbiased at all, but comes from the perspective of the dominant group in society who created and presided over the field for so long. Namely, those with sex, race, heterosexual, ability, and class privilege. In Feminist Research Practice, Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber and Patricia Lina Leavy insist that, “…feminist disciplinary goals…aim to avoid hierarchies and unearned privileging of quantitative methodologies” (276). Quantitative research alone does not serve to illuminate the experiences of the marginalized, invisible and oppressed groups. Secondary to quantitative research is what is called qualitative research. This is research that is not about numerical data but focuses more on the experience of the individual in a certain group through involved interviews with that person. Feminists were worried that quantitative research leaves out the whole story and has the ability to misrepresent women and girls in the research findings. We know that research conducted on women and girls can profoundly affect their lives, and the feminist goal in research is not to do research “on women and girls but for them.”(250). To put women, girls, and other marginalized groups in the center, a new way of gaining knowledge is critical. Feminism helped launch the acceptance of a different type of research, one that does not value numbers or generalizations but instead places critical importance on the thoughts, feelings, language and daily experiences that an individual goes through in their life. This is called feminist standpoint research, and is very important to feminist epistemology, or how we gain knowledge about women and other oppressed groups. According to Feminist Research Practice, “Feminists, in contrast, give priority to actors’ own subjective experience and emphasize the emotional aspects of social life grounded in concrete, daily experiences. For them, data must be qualitative in order to reveal these aspects.”(268). Because all forms of sharing experience are valid in this methodology; poetry, art, journaling, music and much more are now all accepted forms of knowledge. Blogging is no exception.

We may be familiar with the old, childhood rhyme, “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” As a feminist, I hold this to be false. Language is very important in shaping social ideology, which in turn shapes social policy, and even our face to face encounters with our associates, friends and family. Rosalie Maggio writes in her essay, Bias-Free Language: Some Guidelines, that, “Language goes hand in hand with social change – both shaping and reflecting it. Sexual harassment was not a term anyone used 20 years ago; today we have laws against it. How could we have the law without the language?” (471). In this quote, Maggio illuminates the importance of bringing the language of feminism to the average person and how this language has had a profound effect on our laws and our lives. To this day, the word feminist is subject to misunderstanding, due to the media backlash against it that started in the 1980’s. Today, that can be repaired if the word feminist is normalized and has widespread recognition. If feminism is really for everybody, as I firmly believe that it is, it needs to be presented in a language that everyone can understand. Because of the wide reach of the internet into the homes and minds of so many, blogging can be the antidote to the feminist backlash that we still suffer from, as well as bring the language of gender equality into the everyday lives of many people.

Another reason to take feminism to the blogosphere is to separate feminist writing from political rhetoric, a form of writing that George Orwell, author of 1984, believes is designed to, “…even think your thoughts for you…” (210). Political writing in the form of propaganda is given very little respect in some corners of the literary community and has been described by Orwell in Politics and the English Language, as, “the enemy of truth and the cause of linguistic degeneration…that endanger free thought and truth…”(204). Even though feminist blogging could indeed be political, feminist writers seek to deviate as far away as possible from stereotyping, biased language, and exclusionary language. The type of language that Orwell describes as, “ugly and inaccurate…[and] makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” (205). If people are swayed to embrace equality and compassion from a blog, it is not because of a savvy political writer’s ability to wield euphemisms, glittering generalities, and gobbleydegook. These are all forms of propaganda that purposely ignites our emotions in order to control our thoughts and come with many logical fallacies. This is not the language of feminism. From a feminist perspective, empowerment has come from refusing to be silent, sharing knowledge with other women, and naming those things that oppresses us as well as uplifts us. Never does it come from manipulating the thoughts and feelings of others.

The argument against blogging is the same as the reason why it’s so powerful. That anyone and everyone can blog and that there are no rules and regulations to control it. Opponents of feminist blogging believe that the information cannot be trustworthy because it does not come from academic sources. I believe that this view is biased towards scholars and de-values people who may not be college graduates. I do not believe that anyone should be disregarded because of their academic status, or lack of it, just like I do not believe that people should be de-valued for their economic status, race or gender.

Some feminists still oppose blogging, believing that women should be out on the streets creating social change, instead of wasting their time writing about whatever they deem interesting at the moment. But even those who oppose blogging have their own blog. One woman, who goes by “Mother Jones,” writes on her blog that, “Today's feminists need to blog less and work more. If women want reproductive choice to remain more than rhetoric, they'd better stop assuming these clinics will be there when they need them… OK. Tell me exactly what today's feminists are doing for the struggle.”

In response to her post, another woman blogger who calls herself Holly, writes, “I am often asked what I am doing for feminism and what I tell them is that I blog. I share my feminist ideals on my blog and encourage educated and informed conversations on a wide range of topics that matter to me, to humans, and to my feminist activism. Many people don’t think that blogging is enough, but if you read the bulk of feminist, womanist, and humanist blogs out there, most of the topics that are brought up for discussion come directly from living life and being a humanist out in the big, sometimes cruel, always controversial world.”

This exchange of ideas between feminists is very important if we are to unify ourselves to create social change. There are numerous debates within the feminist community that take place in various feminist blogs. It is critical that this dialog happen if the movement is to evolve and become successful in diversifying and including all women from all walks of life. Because of the ability to get the point of view of so many different types of women, the feminist movement itself is better at being inclusionary to all of us through blogging. Those voices that have been previously invisible in a movement that was predominantly white and of upper middle class can now be heard. Women of color, lesbians, girls, sex workers, house wives, immigrant mothers, single mothers, transgendered women, disabled women, welfare recipients, and too many others all now have a better chance at getting their stories heard and their troubles addressed. In this day and age, diversifying, not homogenizing our numbers in the feminist movement is key to accomplishing the social change that we so adamantly want in our lives and in the world in general.

Consciousness raising has been a tool of the feminist activist since the first wave. Historically, it is how the feminist movement began. Many times this was done by getting a group of women physically into a room together so that they could talk to each other and share their individual experiences which serve to illuminate the oppressive forces in society. The blogosphere is a virtual room where consciousness raising is taking place on an international level, 24 hours a day.
Feminism has needed a vehicle to take it out of the universities and into the everyday lives of people in order to be successful. Because of technology, blogging is that vehicle. Not only is it bringing the language of gender equality and humanism in general to the masses, but it is also changing the way we gain knowledge about women and girls. Most importantly, the stories, feelings, thoughts and experiences of women and girls from all walks of life and all over the world are accessible to the masses. The voices of the marginalized no longer have to be invisible, and we have the ability now, with blogging, to see the many different perspectives that are presented, not just what mainstream media decides to feed us. For the feminist movement, blogging can be the way to expand, diversify, dialogue and gain insight in order to create social change that benefits women, girls, and other oppressed groups. Feminism has escaped the bars of academia, and we can now share our language with the masses, thanks to the medium of blogging.

Works Cited
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