On Friday September 23, 2011, I attended a conference at Barnard College on Manhattan’s Upper West Side with my fellow students enrolled in the feminism course at LREI with our teacher. The conference was entitled Activism and the Academy: Celebrating 40 Years of Feminist Scholarship and Action. Yes, this conference was a way of celebrating the first research center for women founded at Barnard College forty years ago in 1971, as well as commemorating the amazing work those who have participated in the feminist movement at this facility and all over the world have done in this time. It was also a way to instil a sense of urgency, and to put an emphasis on the present and future of the feminist movement.
Back when the research center for women was founded at Barnard College forty years ago in 1971, the Feminist Movement was tangible, and in view of the American people. There were marches and demonstrations and rallies. With bra burnings and images of Rosie the Riveter, feminism was never far from the eyes and minds of the American people. Now we’re in a different time. As Janet Jakobsen, Director of the Barnard Center for Research on Women, described in her opening remarks, many media outlets have denounced the Feminist Movement as “dead.” The audible laugh in the auditorium, filled with all manner of feminist activists, jeered at the notion that the feminist movement could be remotely close to being dead. Their laughter was enough to put that misconception to rest. As Janet Jakobsen went on to say, the feminist movement is “alive, well and relevant.” Though bra burnings and demonstrations may not be the physical manifestation of the feminist movement as it was when the research center for women was founded at Barnard, the auditorium filled with women and men passionate about feminist education and activism is.
Another example of the manifestation of the contemporary feminist movement is the ever-expanding feminist new media scene which was discussed in the panel Writing, New Media & Feminist Activism. One very predominant and growing portion of feminist new media is the feminist blogging scene. Before the popularity of blogs and the Internet, those whose voices were heard were the people who had the skills and resources to write and publish books and those who were holding microphones at rallies. But today, as Veronica Pinto, from Hollaback!, so eloquently put, “now, we all have a mic.” With this online tool, feminists all over now have the opportunity to share their experiences and ideas, and to create an online narrative for the movement and build alliances.
Though feminist blogging is an amazing tool, it is also relatively new. With this newness comes hurdles to jump, problems to solve and failures to make and learn from. As Mandy Van Deven, activist, writer and author of Hey Shorty, put it: “I fail all the time. It’s pretty much a daily occurrence.” According to Van Deven, blogging breeds a certain “arrogance” that writers can acquire. To combat this, Mandy Van Deven suggests keeping a sense of empathy, for if we do not keep a sense of empathy, it hinders the work. Another hurdle that the feminist blogosphere is facing, according to Veronica Pinto, is building a sense of being part of a community using Internet tools like Skype and e-mail. With a predominantly volunteer blogging workforce, feminist bloggers need support and a feeling that the work they are doing is really making an impact. Support and community building is not the easiest thing to do over the Internet, shown when in 2005, Hollaback! NYC launched twenty different sites around the United States, and by 2006, only three had survived. So the question seems to be how do we take the feminist activism that goes on online, and see that change on the ground.
and my high school feminism class teacher has a few ideas about how we should take the ideas that are prevalent on feminist blogging sites and put them into action in the real world. According to Jiménez, it’s all about having more conversations at a younger age in schools. Because, as Mandy Van Deven said, “Anything based solely online is really missing out on not only the United States audience, but also the world. And even those with access aren’t using it.” Not to mention that not all of our world’s youth or adult population have Internet access, but those who do are not necessarily being exposed to feminist blogs. So we need to continue the feminist movement online, as well as incorporate it into our school system, because at this point in time “there really isn’t a lot of money for teachers to do this kind of [feminist] work,” according to Jiménez. So, we have to make these conversations about what feminism is all about in middle schools and elementary schools a priority, so these ideas will already be installed in our youth by the time they become old enough to bring those ideas into action.
After all, as Janet Jacobsen so powerfully put, “thinking is as important as marching, for we need to know what we are marching for.”