The great advantage of blogging is the fact that nearly anyone who is literate with internet access, a computer and something to say can do so. As Barlow states: “Anyone can blog, and can begin doing so within minutes of getting online. The technology, though complex behind the screen, is simple enough for use even by those with minimal online experience.” This opens an infinite realm of possibilities for opinions to be heard and issues to be discussed. It provides a valuable opportunity to those that may lack a voice in society based on economic status or social status. In the past, most women have been denied the same educational opportunities as Caucasian males. Even still, women are not encouraged to speak out or be assertive in the classroom or in professional environments. However, with third-wave feminism and the slow social changes taking place, women are beginning to find their voice.
Feministing.com is one of the most prominent online feminist discourse communities. Jessica Valenti, a third-wave feminist author, co-founded this community with her sister, Vanessa Valenti, an online strategist, in 2004. Their aim was to give women the opportunity to discuss issues that concern gender, the media, race and social equality. With nearly 2,500 posts since its creation, Feministing continues to provide a wide range of opportunities for women to discuss topics, engage in activism, and share knowledge. Overall, this community successfully provides its members with a multi-modal, safe, and progressive resource for feminist writing, discourse and news. As Barlow mentions that blogs “re-establish the public sphere much in the way that the coffeehouses, salons, broadsheets, and pamphlets *and more) first established it three hundred years”. (Barlow 5)
On April 12, 2004, the very first post was written by Jessica Valenti. (link:http://feministing.com/2004/04/12/feministing_launches/) She clearly points out the need for the type of conversation and ‘interactive space’ that a blogging community can provide for young women. Within the first few months of existence, Feministing attracted a few contributors, including Valenti, that published at least one to two posts each day. The posts consisted mainly of text, one or two pictures, and a few links to guide the reader to the issues that the author is referencing. . In addition, her sister, Vanessa Valenti, was and still is a main contributor and editor of Feministing.com. Both of the Valenti sisters utilize an informal writing style and their ability to use humor and sarcasm makes their posts easy to read and amusing.
This post from January 6, 2006 is an example of the blog’s writing style. (link: http://feministing.com/2006/01/06/most_meaningless_study_ever_sh/) The title of the post is humorous, the post is relatively short and the uninhibited use of swear words demonstrate an informal writing style. It should be noted that she allows the reader to start thinking about what the article is suggesting by stating: “While we could get deeper into this in terms of consumer culture…” and instead ends, ironically, by saying that she has to run to the mall.
The fact that most of the contributing writers to Feministing use cuss words does not take away from the seriousness of the issues that are being discussed. Instead, the informal language allows the reader to connect emotionally and demonstrates the use of pathos. The use of pathos throughout the blog emphasizes the issues and their urgency. For example, if Feministing was instead a scholarly or academic resource, it would attract a very different audience that would most likely consist of people from a different age group. However, since Feministing caters more towards younger women, the writers do not use complex sentence structure or Women Studies’ jargon to alienate younger readers that may or may not have a lot of knowledge about feminist history or theory. The fact that the writers are young women that swear and are not afraid of ‘coming off too strong’ encourages readers, many of which are also young women, to feel empowered to engage in discussion. For example, Feministing started a weekly post called “the Friday Feminist F*ck you/F*ck Yeah!” which focused on an either positive or negative news piece. In this one specific edition, a contributing writer focuses on Seth Rogen. She starts the post with:
“This week we offer a big Friday feminist f*ck you to Seth Rogen and the crew behind Observe and Report. Here at Feministing, as you all know, we’re not exactly uptight–as the tired old feminist stereotype goes. We curse a lot. Okay, a lot. We love ourselves really dirty jokes. Heck, we’ve thrown up graphic clips from Wanda Sykes. There’s not much that’s off limits.”
I believe that the author’s decision to make the obvious statement that third-wave feminists are not going to subscribe to the stereotype that females should not use harsh language and be overly polite is an accurate representation of the overall Feministing community and third-wave feminists. The fact that women can establish a strong and assertive online voice is hopefully indicative of changes in the way that women present themselves in the real world.
Analyzing the way in which the writers bring up various issues, it is necessary to also consider the Feministing audience through the discourse that takes place in the comments section. The code of conduct is clearly stated on the “About” page. (link: http://feministing.com/about/) It lays out clear ground rules that keep the Feministing community free of commentary that does not contribute to feminist discourse. Basically, comments should not blame the victim, contain fat-shaming, racist, sexist, ageist, transphobic, sixeist, ableist, homophobic commentary, plain malice, silencing, questioning of the feminist validity of a topic, and a comment that takes the discussion in a totally unrelated direction from the original post. In addition, first time commenters have their comments automatically held so that they can be moderated until the member can be trusted. It is clear from the code of conduct policy that promoting respectful discussion is a priority.
In the earlier posts on Feministing.com, it is clear that the community was in its forming stages because of the infrequent comments or none at all for a few days. Even though the most recent posts do not have hundreds of comments, it is interesting to see which posts get more attention than others. For example, a post about art school and being a feminist artist had eighteen comments while a post about Johnny Depp had four comments. There are weekly posts titled ‘Weekly Feminist Reader’, which consists of a list of links to various current events. In addition, the members of Feministing comment with various links to other things that they have been reading or have written themselves. This demonstrates that members of the community are actively promoting discourse in real life outside of the community. An example of this is in the Weekly Feminist Reader for October 9, 2011. (link: http://feministing.com/2011/10/09/weekly-feminist-reader-63/) Giving the members an opportunity to post what they are reading or protesting or posting on their own blogs helps connect people of the Feministing community and expands it beyond the Feministing website.
An aspect of the Feministing website that reflects the proactive nature of the community is “Take Action” column and the “Quick Hits” column. The “Take Action” column consists of a series of links that encourage members of the Feministing community to, well, take action! It extends the Feministing community of discourse into different realms of activism. As Barthes states, text (or a blog) “is not the ‘thing’ that a work (a book) is, but is a process, a demonstration: ‘it’s constitutive movement is that of cutting across (in particular, it can cut across the work, several works).” (Barlow 77) Feministing, as a blog, is symbolic of the online feminist movement that has begun to connect women from different backgrounds and places. For example, there is a link to petition facebook to remove material that promotes rape culture. (link: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/petition-facebook-to-remove-material-that-promotes-rape.html)
In the screenshot above, there are nearly six thousand signatures and nearly nine thousand people have recommended this link. It is probably unlikely that all of the signatures and recommendations were from members of the Feministing community, but it is a reflection of how many people are potentially involved in the issues that are discussed on Feministing.com. It also shows how Feministing works to connect people to various issues and opportunities for participation through the website.
The “Quick Hits” column is very similar to the “Take Action” column because it consists of links that lead the reader to different websites about issues of social equality and feminism. It, again, emphasizes the connection of this online community that encourages and expands discourse beyond Feministing. It reflects different points of view, increases a sense of solidarity and support within the feminist community, which Barlow states: “is what lies at the heart of the blog – though that is not how the blogs have often been seen, too many envisioning them as a force weakening the very real-world communities they can – and often do – help strengthen.” (Barlow 37) As more and more individuals participate in the online feminist movement, the real-world feminist movement gains more strength as people spread awareness.
It is difficult to cultivate an active and thriving online community, but Feministing.com has been successful thus far. This post: http://feministing.com/2011/09/14/see-you-around/, written by Courtney, one of the former editors of Feministing, seems to pose some questions about how to expand the online Feminist community in general. She also includes lessons that she has learned while being a part of the Feministing community that can be applied in the ‘real world’. This post embodies, in a sense, the reason for the Feministing community. From her experiences online and contributing her writing and editing abilities, Courtney discovered how to bridge the gap between the virtual world and the real world, which improved her understanding of feminism and caused her to question further. In discourse, it is important to question and discover or solidify ideas and encourage others to do the same. The Feministing community is just one part, a beginning, of the online feminist movement.