Jill Filipovic published an interesting post on Feministe yesterday in which she reminded us, basically, that despite running one of the most visited feminist sites on the we, she is a human being - with a demanding job, a social life, a personal life, and her own set of personal problems to deal with. And being a human being, she doesn’t have time to read everything that is ever posted about feminism on the internet.
It was a timely reminder that the people and organisations we often perceive as powerful “institutions”, are in fact poorly funded labours of love, run by human beings as flawed and time poor as the rest of us. They may have influence, but they also have their limitations.
Still, I had to disagree with Jill on this point:
I am admittedly not the most comprehensive consumer of feminist media; there are only so many hours in the day, and since I have a very demanding job and also feel quite a bit of pressure to keep Feministe stocked with regular content, I tend to go to reporting-focused media outlets (like the New York Times) to look at mainstream content and then filter it here through a feminist lens. I do read other feminist websites, but not regularly — I assume if you’re reading Feministe, you’re probably reading other feminist websites and you don’t need to see the same stuff written about in the same way on site after site. So I didn’t see the Shameless Magazine piece until I ran a search for “feministe” on Twitter, and saw that someone had written “Hey @feministe, you’re being called out” with a link.
Back when Naomi Wolf was doing her Wikileaks campaigning, and destroying every thread of support she had in the feminist community in the process, my disappointment was not primarily about what she said - people have a right to be wrong, after all. It was that she didn’t listen.
And in the twenty-first century, being a good “public intellectual” - or to put it less pretentiously, being a good contributor to community debate - isn’t just about talking, it’s about listening. And it’s especially about listening to your own community, the people who trading in the same field of ideas that you are.
In the case of someone like Naomi Wolf, one of the planet’s highest profile writers on gender issues, that translates to having a responsibility to pay attention to what’s being said in the feminist blogosphere - at the very least to the major outlets, or the ones that align most closely with your current interests, even if you don’t have the time or inclination to dig more deeply. And it means that when your entire community is “calling you out” (to borrow from Jill), you listen to what they have to say, consider whether it might be in some way valid, and you don’t want to moderate your position, at least acknowledge the counterarguments.
In Jill’s case (and the case of so many others writing for major feminist publications), it means reading other feminist blogs. Not reading every single post in great detail, but adding them to your RSS feeder and skimming the headlines. Responding to what interests or inspires you. Paying attention to your Twitter @-feed, responding to (non-trolling) people who are trying to engage you in conversation and adding them back if they seem interesting.
Because while the blogosphere may be made up of normal, fallible human beings with too much to do and not enough hours in the day, a lot of us have influence - and when you have influence, where you direct that influence matters. I’m pretty medium-fry when it comes to feminist blog land, but I do have somewhat stronger networks in mainstream media, and I know of at least a couple of people who have been commissioned by editors I work with on the basis of being linked on this blog.
This post isn’t written as a personal attack on Jill - I’ve met her, she’s published my work on multiple occasions, and she does an incredible job of moderating and responding to Feministe’s very active commenting community. I think she’s pretty great. But that doesn’t change the fact that the way community debate and influence works is a-changing, and if we don’t want to be left behind (or cannibalised), we all need to come along for the ride.
Elsewhere: Filling the gaps (Feministe)
On being noticed when you’re not in the know (Radically Hott Off)
Responding to the mainstream feminist blogosphere on Feminism FOR REAL (Racialicious)
So, here’s a thing (Sady Doyle)