Update: Bitch Magazine has published a blog post that is a round-up of the debate and critique happening around the #femfuture launch. My short reaction is included.
Update #2: I really like this post by Dr. Jessica Marie Johnson at Diaspora Hypertext about #femfuture. I highly recommend it.
Over the weekend, I read this post written by Vanessa Valenti at Feministing announcing that on April 8 (this past Monday), she and her partner Courtney Martin (they have a media company together) would release a report about creating sustainability for online feminism. The associated Twitter hashtag is #femfuture. The discussion happening at that hashtag is definitely worth perusing.
And I did what I do. I got on Twitter and said I was nervous about any paper that was about “feminism” and authored by two white women. But then I read more carefully (this is what happens when I read on my phone while cooking dinner and having a sort-of conversation with my art-making four-year-old son) and saw that they were basing a lot of the ideas in the paper off a meeting they convened last summer that was diverse in its participants (I can’t love the Crunk Feminists more than I do).
I did make a point of noting that I was concerned that this would be yet another example of “feminism” as seen through the lens of NYC. This is obviously something I care about – the centrality of the Feminist Movement in NYC, DC, and San Fran and my on-going annoyance when people from those places speak for “feminism” as a whole, or even appear to speak for “feminism” as a whole.
I admit: I was skeptical going in to #femfuture.
It was released on Monday (you can download report here). I tweeted again about being nervous about the project but made sure to note that I hadn’t yet read it and was planning on do so soon (maybe I’d take back those tweets if I could).
I was then asked by a site to write a short 200-word response to #femfuture for a roundtable they were putting together (hopefully that will post soon). So, I knew I needed to take the time to sit down and read the report from cover to cover so I could give a true, honest response. I printed the document out on Tuesday (I like to highlight, what can I say?) and then late on Tuesday night, I read and live-tweeted my reading. There was some critique of content as I went (some sentences and words here and there – very little about overall argument) and then a pointed critique at the end about my surprise at how little a social media presence #femfuture has (no specific FB page, Twitter handle, or Tumblr). My point was that it was hard to engage directly with Martin and Valenti in order to ask questions about content and argument, though perhaps I should have made that point more specifically.
Then the next morning I storified my tweets, said I thought #femfuture was a good starting point but hoped that it would not be viewed as the authority on this topic, that I hoped this was the beginning of a conversation about this topic.
I thought that was going to be the end of my participation in the conversation.
But now there is critiquing of critiquing (and down the hole we go). And so some final words on this:
1) Yes, we need more sustainability in online feminism. I completely agree with this. And if for some people that is through teaming up with corporations, ok. If for others that is crowd sourcing, ok. If for others that is searching out grants, ok. Having a set of ideas is a good thing.
2) I understand that Martin and Valenti put a lot of time, thought, and work into this report. And I know what it is like to do something like that and have it met with criticism. It is hard. There is a part of me that is sad to have participated in that at all.
But my critiques (and I speak for myself alone) were done in good faith and in a vein from which I often critique about the way feminism is practiced in the US. In some capacity, I felt it necessary to have a response ready because I identify as as “online feminist” and because of my concerns about the NYC centrality of this project.
3) I am still confused as to the HOW of the #femfuture report. As someone in Austin, TX, who’d like to help start an organization to get information out about reproductive justice in this state…HOW do I use the #femfuture report to make my effort sustainable? I am not quite sure where the creation of new structures of sustainability will come from or how it will be decided who gets to be in the meetings for strategic planning. Is #femfuture just a call for those things to be created by whomever wherever?
Perhaps that is not what Martin and Valenti were trying to achieve with this paper, explaining the specifics of moving forward. Perhaps they just wanted to do a call for change. Perhaps that is the next step, for us all to figure out the how together in the different feminist spaces in which we all operate.
Or maybe it’s just like Melissa McEwan wrote on Shakesville today:
#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.
But I will say that my criticism of this particular project is, very likely, an exhaustion with things labeled “feminist” or “feminism” that aren’t actually about me for one reason or another, often because of where I live, the political landscape I operate under, and my desire to be as inclusive as is humanly possible (I am well aware that many things about my privileged existence place me squarely under the the center of the “feminism” umbrella at the same time that other things leave me out in the rain).
Or, what Spectra says (she is always right, by the way):
Maybe that's why activist / feminist circles can be so vicious; so many of us are in pain, and work in defense mode, not healing mode.
— Spectra Speaks (@spectraspeaks) April 11, 2013
My criticisms were and are an attempt to move the conversation forward, not halt it. It’s an important one. People need to understand that online activism is activism. I appreciate (SINCERELY) Martin and Valenti making that argument and making it loudly.
I hope this is beginning of a creation of new sustainability networks for all kinds of people practicing feminism all over the place. I will do my part as we move forward to make those a reality if I can.