[Content Note: Disablism; racism; ciscentrism; regionalism.]
Earlier this week, Vanessa Valenti and Courtney Martin, who have a media consulting firm (Valenti Martin Media), released a report on the Future of Online Feminism this week, #femfuture: Online Revolution. The report is available in pdf format here. Jessica Luther Storified her live-tweeting of reading the report here. You can find reactions to #femfuture on Twitter using the hashtag here.
Before I get to my response, I want to say a couple of things:
1. I recognize and acknowledge that Vanessa Valenti and Courtney Martin put a lot of work and time into this report. I also want to acknowledge the work that the feminist online activists who shared their time and ideas contributed to the report. I further want to acknowledge the time and effort that both supporters and critics of the report have dedicated to reading it and discussing their personal perspectives.
2. I have met and corresponded with Vanessa Valenti, and I like her very much. I don't know Courtney Martin. What criticisms I have are not motivated by personal animus. Which I feel obliged to say not because I believe other critics are motivated by personal animus, but because, as always, criticism is being dismissed out of hand in some places with accusations of personal animus.
3. I am going to be talking about my personal reactions to the report. There has been much discussion about accessibility, representation of participants, and inclusion on Twitter, and I want to direct you to some of the women, particularly women of color, who are sharing their own perspectives, so that they might speak directly to you for themselves: Amadi, Flavia (see also Flavia's piece here), Trudy, Grace, Sister Outsider, Angry Black Fangirl, Spectra, Veronica, Alison Rose, Jess. (That is hardly a comprehensive list.) Please read their responses, which are a crucial part of this conversation.
(Lest there be any confusion: These are concerns and criticisms I share. I absolutely do not want my recommendation to read other women's individual perspectives at their source to be misinterpreted as distancing myself from them. I stand in solidarity with them.)
There is also a Twitter account collating responses: #FemFuture Responses. Please feel welcome to link to other critiques (including your own) in comments.
4. I am not going to respond to specifics of the report, but rather give a broad overview of my reaction.
* * *
Let me start by observing that I exist in a weird space. Shakesville is frequently cited as one of the Big White Feminist blogs, for reasons I understand: Content; US-centrism; racial composition of contributors, though we have had for years multiple contributors and mods of color on staff whose work I do not want to invisibilize; a disproportionately white commentariat; and, most importantly, that I am white—the privilege conferred by which is deeply and inextricably embedded in the visibility of Shakesville in ways I can't even fully know.
Shakesville is also fundamentally different from the other Big White Feminist blogs in that it is run out of exurban Indiana. None of our contributors are in the major media centers of NYC or DC. I am not in academia; I don't have an advanced degree; I have never worked for a feminist organization. None of my volunteer work has been for an explicitly feminist organization. I am terrible at networking ("No shit."—The Entire Planet), and, even were I so inclined and had that particular skill, there is no feminist network where I live anyway.
The closest I've got to a feminist network is in Chicago, which is a short train ride or drive away that is increasingly difficult for me to make with any regularity because of my garbage back.
I always joke that Shakesville is run from the middle of a cornfield, which is really only half a joke.
All of which is preface to this: Ostensibly, Shakesville is a Big White Feminist blog, and I am a Big White Feminist blogger who should appreciate what #femfuture has to say. But it doesn't resonate with me. It doesn't speak to my needs, or my experience.
Its authors didn't inquire what my needs and experience are.
By which I don't mean me, personally (although, for disclosure's sake, I was not invited to participate), but online feminist activists who are outside major media centers, we Flyover Feminists.
There is a thing that happens in lots of progressive organizing, whereby privileged members of a group located in a major media center universalize their needs and experiences, presuming that someone in another part of the country (or other countries) needs and experiences the same things—and if only they get what they need, they can pass it along. But trickle-down feminism [H/T Tressie] doesn't work, for precisely the reason that the external presumptions about a universal feminism, even among privileged members of the group, don't work. Because other shit matters, too, like whether you live in Brooklyn or next to an endless soybean field.
It's not just that I'm not connected in the same way: I have an entirely different perception of online (and offline) feminist activism.
I have had to do things differently; I have had to be innovative and self-reliant in ways I wouldn't if I were tapped-in the way I am frequently presumed to be. I have been turned down for writing jobs because of editors who presume I can't know shit about shit if I don't live in NYC or DC. I have had producers realize I'm too far away from a studio to appear as a guest. These things have colored my perception, broadened and diversified my online connections, given me natural allies forged in shared experience irrespective of identity, challenged my creativity, limited my opportunities, and shaped me in innumerable other ways.
Listen, I'm not moaning. I'm incredibly fortunate to have had the success I've had, and to have the help and support of so many extraordinary people—most of whom are as removed from major media centers as I am. I'm just trying to convey that this isn't exclusively an issue of failing to speak to people marginalized within movement feminism. I am regarded as a Big White Feminist, and I have many of the privileges of Big White Feminism. And it failed to speak to me, too.
#femfuture isn't about me. Which is fine. It doesn't have to be. But it needs to be more cognizant of that fact, and more straightforward about for whom it's really meant.
The future envisioned by #femfuture will not be mine. I would like to not be disappeared as a presence in online feminist activism just because both my present and my future look very different from where I'm sitting.