Thursday, May 10, 2007

Blogging and beyond: building online communities

In Part IV, the contributors to (Web)Sites of Resistance explore the various ways of building online communities, in and outside of academia.

In the video blog “We Are the Media,” Mary C. Matthews details her experience in the world of video blogging, examining the ways in which women journalists are able to share intimate experiences through the video blog.

Hosu Kim’s “A Flickering Motherhood: Korean Birthmothers' Internet Community” explores the online support networks built by Korean mothers who gave their children up for adoption. Kim examines a nontraditional type of “virtual mothering” expressed by these women, which is enabled by an “epistemological and ontological shift from a human-centered paradigm” that “opens the possibility of a new body politics in this age of global teletechnology.” Kim also argues that the very existence of these communities “demands a critical examination of the practice of transnational adoption and women's sexuality in a transnational feminist framework.”

In “The Little FemBlog that Wasn't,” Shira Tarrant explores lessons learned from her experience using blogs in the classroom. This article should be especially useful for those thinking of using the blog to supplement & enhance class discussion. For those interested in learning more, we have also provided a “S&F Online in the classroom” section on the Scholar & Feminist website.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Thank you!

We'd like to thank you for joining us on this companion blog for Blogging Feminism: (Web)Sites of Resistance, edition 5.2 of the Scholar & Feminist Online. We would also like to thank the Barnard Center for Research on Women, especially Janet Jakobsen for her vision and support. Thanks also to our wonderful contributors and bloggers, who helped us start what we know is a very important conversation.

For a wrap-up of the issue, be sure to check out the Afterword of (Web)Sites of Resistance, written by author and founder of the Scholar & Feminist Online, Deborah Siegel.

And thank you again -- we know that the conversation will not stop here, and we encourage you to keep the spirit of this issue alive by visiting the blogs listed, creating your own, and contributing to the resistance online!

Gwendolyn & Jessica

Overcoming Digital Divides

Today our post from the Journal portion of (Web)Sites of Resistance focuses on Part III: Gender Disparity and Web Access. In this section, Gillian Youngs and Shireen Mitchell provide an in-depth look at some of the barriers to online feminist organizing.

Youngs argues that, while "feminism is alive and well, evolving and changing in these cybertimes," divisive social and global inequalities are also in danger of growing if "the kinds of warnings about exclusion that feminist voices articulate are not heard and acted on."

Mitchell discusses the “digital divide” in the U.S., which acts as a barrier to women’s participation not only in terms of online activism and discussion, but in improving their livelihoods. The “digital divide” is explored as it specifically affects women of color and poor women, with a look to improving the situation through the example of Digital Sistas, Inc., a nonprofit organization founded by Mitchell that focuses on building self-sufficiency skills for women and children who are traditionally underserved technologically.

Blogging and vulnerability

I read with interest the post "“The Vulnerable Video Blogger: Promoting Social Change through Intimacy,” which is a brilliant use of video activism. I picked up on the word "vulnerability" and in particular Rox's decision to wear a bikini on her video whilst discussing serious issues. The point I want to raise here is the "risk" and "vulnerability" element when we as bloggers (using, text, audio or video) expose our intimate selves particularly those of us who do not blog anonymously (admittedly at least in my case,a choice I freely made). I recently chose to write a piece on violence against women (VAW) on my blog. Initially I wanted to simply link to another blog that was created solely to highlight VAW called VAW: Do Something. Somehow or other (I am not sure how) I ended up drawn into revealing my own experience of domestic and sexual violence. I believed it was important as the blog VAW: Do Something, challenged us all to speak out. I could not ask or expect others to speak out unless I too spoke out. But in doing so I felt extremely vulnerable. Somewhere deep inside a series of very disturbing unpleasant feelings of having exposed myself to the point of stripping naked in front of the whole world. In short I almost feel as if I violated myself in revealing my own experiences and worse because these experiences have not been acknowledged.

So how far do we as blogging feminists and activists go? How much of a tight rope do we walk before we fall off and when we land who is there but ourselves to pick up the emotional pieces. Blogging is very much a solo activity - we may have partners, family, friends who support us in our daily non blogging or even blogging lives. But it in cases like this - it is really only the blogging community that can really understand landing on your head and ending up with an almighty headache that wont go away very easily.

On the other hand the point of the post was to speak out against the silence and normalisation that exists around VAW - but the point is if we as women are going to do this then we need to have the support of the community of feminists - women and men behind us because otherwise we end up in a place of self made violation which is not where any of us want to be.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Women's voices are louder online

In the final article of the section, “Blogging Was Just the Beginning: Women's Voices are Louder Online,” Chris Nolan argues that instead of becoming fixated on the "where are the women" discussions, women should look forward, focusing on how women's voices can contribute to public discourse by taking advantage of new technology. Nolan issues a call to action for "women who really care about politics and public discourse" to support Web sites and other online efforts that speak to women's needs better than mainstream, male-dominated media outlets.

Pseudonymity and the where are the women debate

In the second article in Part II, “Where are the Women?: Pseudonymity and the Public Sphere, Then and Now,”
Tedra Osell uses survey findings to explore the differences between men and women’s choices to blog pseudonymously. Osell traces the historic roots of women and pseudonymous writing, asking whether the contemporary perception that men dominate the blogosphere might stem from "…this question of pseudonymity… perhaps part of the gap between reality and perception comes from women hiding in plain sight."

Where are the women?

Today we will be posting from Part II of Blogging Feminism: (Web)Sites of Resistance, Women and Politics in the Blogosphere, which focus on an important and ongoing discussion on women’s participation in the blogosphere, popularly known as the “where are the women?” conversations.

Clancy Ratliff, in “Attracting Readers: Sex and Audience in the Blogosphere,” examines both the ways that female bloggers choose (or not) to make their gender known and how some women bloggers choose to use elements of femininity in performative ways via the blogosphere. Ultimately, Ratliff argues that “bloggers’ fixation on the element of sex in the ‘Where are the women?’ discussions shows that gender is a difference that cannot be set aside,” but one which “affects weblog conversations before they even begin.”

Stay tuned for excerpts from two more articles in Part II, Women and Politics in the Blogosphere...

Monday, May 7, 2007

The vulnerable video blogger

In “The Vulnerable Video Blogger: Promoting Social Change through Intimacy,”
Patricia G. Lange examines “…videos made by women video bloggers who explore ideas about self-image, diversity, and helping Internet strangers.” In the last article in Part I: Cyberactivism and Online Movement Making, Lange provides examples of instances where video bloggers have shared intimate details, asserting that, in doing so, women video bloggers are able to create an atmosphere in which “greater public discourse is promoted in the minds of viewers, in the attitudes of video bloggers themselves, and publicly through the circulation of issues raised in the videos and on blogs.”

Race, class and gender in the blogosphere

The virtual community known as blogistan or the blogosphere can feel inordinately like the offline mosaic of the real world. While the upper atmosphere of the political blogging world feels like a white, highly educated, middle-class, testosterone-filled world, one can find examples of gathering places and online watering holes where women and minorities gather in separate, and dare we say, unequal spheres.

It is almost as if we still exist in a segregated online world at times; not because it is inherently policed to be that way, but because there is so little cross-pollination between communities of color and gender in political blogging -- it's a self-imposed cultural divide, much like the phenomenon of a school lunchroom, where people of like races, genders, and class congregate amongst themselves because of familiarity and comfort.

A recent example of how the communities of gender and color differed in response to a race- and gender-charged event was the Don Imus debacle. The MSNBC-simulcast political radio show host lost his job in April of 2007 after calling the Rutgers University women's basketball team "nappy headed 'hos."

The initial reaction in the popular (i.e. dominant culture) element of the blogosphere as well as the mainstream media, was not all that dissimilar -- progressive white guys navel gazed and sincerely addressed the statement in general terms, the conservative blogosphere simply said that blacks were oversensitive -- and hypocritical, since Imus cited the use of "bitch" and "ho" by black hip-hop artists as cover for his statements.

The issue of misogyny of Imus took a the back, make that the dark trunk of the car, nearly hidden away. On either end of the political spectrum, there was little discussion in the virtual boys clubs about what was really behind Imus's "joke" -- he asserted his white supremacist position to remind women of color, in just a turn of a phrase, that they are inferior because of their hair texture.

Race, class, beauty, success. Women with kinky hair have always been told that in order to succeed or to be attractive, you had to do something with that hair. There are many YahooGroups devoted solely to kinky hair (LadyLocs, Natural hair and black women Natural Grooming), and they can get very political. It is the watercooler for these women. I found one post on a Black Hair Group on this, by a woman calling herself Ta Ankh, who shared background on the topic in a way you wouldn't find on most blogs:
In contrast to the white girls who had been so obviously blessed by God, was us. Now again, a few of us had "good hair", but the most of us didn't. With nothing but the straightening comb to your repertoire, you couldn't forget that your hair was nappy for too long. And you all just gonna have to trust me when I say that you were trying to forget. They don't have all those words and phrases with a negative connotations about our hair, (our naps, our peasy hair, our kitchen area, etc.), for nothing. Bad enough you were doing backflips not to let your hair "go back". You always lost, and when you did, here come the insults.

So, we all hated our hair. There was not bullshit back then because a spade was a spade. It was understood as a common sense type thing that if you were going to take a searing hot piece of metal to your head to alter it then it wasn't because you thought your natural hair was fly. And oh yes, white girl hair was the goal. No bullshit, no diggedy, no doubt.

That is how relaxer came to be all over the shelves of the ghetto. Accomodating our need to be a little whiter.
Black female bloggers, myself included, took on the issue in a way that addressed the "third rail" topics that were not discussed in the big boy blogosphere or the mainstream media either -- the politics of hair and holding not only Imus, but the mysogyny of hip-hop artists and their labels for promoting misogyny for the almighty dollar.

Activist and black blogger Jasmyne Cannick took the bull by the horns.
Just because we were brought over here as slaves doesn't mean that we have to keep the slave mentality. Imus losing his job isn't going to do anything to change the deep rooted culture of self-disrespect in the Black community that is assisted by the legions of rap artists who promote the use of the word ho and bitch as an acceptable reference to the female sex.

In order for that to change, Black folks would have to take a long hard look in the mirror at themselves and that's something that we've been unwilling to do.

I swear, sometimes we're our own worst enemy. The Imus controversy will roll over and when it's all said and done, he'll still have more money than most of us will ever see in our lifetimes and we'll still be "in the hood" talking about "G's up and hos down" and how we "can't stop won't stop" calling each other bitches, hos, and nigga's.

So who's the real winner, Imus or us?
If you are a reader of A-list blogs, you weren't going to see that perspective. It has been said that the civil rights movement saw black women march alongside black men for equality for all blacks, but the crushing truth exposed by the Imus affair, is that some black men -- the hip-hop artists defending their denigration of women for cold hard cash -- that they were actually fighting for the right participate as equals in enforcement and support of the patriarchy.

Friday, May 4, 2007

The Personal is Political

Also in Part I (Cyberactivism and Online Movement Making), Tracy L.M. Kennedy’s piece, “The Personal is Political: Feminist Blogging and Virtual Consciousness-Raising” traces the connections between the consciousness-raising feminist groups of the 60s and 70s and the online networking and discussions taking place among feminists today. Kennedy calls blogs a “new and valuable site for feminist consciousness-raising,” further commenting that

In the twenty-first century, there has been considerable feminist-backlash, antifeminist sentiment, and talk about feminism being dead. By simply looking at the presence of feminists on the Web, we know that this assertion is false. What is evident is that feminism has indeed changed. In an Internet-saturated culture, feminists need to take on these "master's tools" of technology and embrace the Web, making it our own.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Blogging Feminism: The Journal

For the next few posts, we are going to provide excerpts from some of the journal articles currently up over at the Scholar & Feminist Online. The wonderful authors of the articles are going to be available for discussion, so comment away!

The first article is from Part I: Cyberactivism and Online Movement Making.

In “Race, Sexuality, Cyberactivism and the Legacy of Rashawn Brazell,” Marie Varghese argues that "blogging as an act serves to refocus the lens and add more depth to the available images of queer experiences in the US." Varghese’s work provides a poignant example of the importance of new media in providing a voice for the marginalized. Using the case of the online “netroots” response to the brutal murder of Rashawn Brazell, Varghese shows how cyberactivists were successful calling attention to the violence which is common to LGBT people of color, but which receives little attention in dominant media discourse.

The Public Woman

Over the past few months, much ado has been made about the harassment of female bloggers, and the online harassment of women in general. The Kathy Sierra incident -- wherein a female technology blogger was threatened so badly that she canceled speaking engagements and was afraid to leave her house -- was the final straw for a lot of women, and more of us are speaking out about the harassment, threats and intimidation tactics that are leveled at us on a daily basis. Even The Washington Post is covering it.

It's no secret that women face sexualized threats online. Female bloggers who speak with other female bloggers know that we all get it -- and research backs us up:

A 2006 University of Maryland study on chat rooms found that female participants received 25 times as many sexually explicit and malicious messages as males. A 2005 study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that the proportion of Internet users who took part in chats and discussion groups plunged from 28 percent in 2000 to 17 percent in 2005, entirely because of the exodus of women. The study attributed the trend to "sensitivity to worrisome behavior in chat rooms."
Women are harassed in a particular way -- it's about what you look like, and what's between your legs. Feminist bloggers in particular seem to garner attention for their physical appearance. Either we're too ugly to get a man and so we turn to feminism (and cats), or we're too pretty to be taken seriously. Often it's some combination of both.

And then there are the rape comments. On one website where commenters are routinely racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic -- and where I'm not particularly popular -- there are threads and comments with titles like "Official Jill Filipovic RAPE thread," "I want to brutally rape that Jill slut," and "I'm 98% sure that she should be raped."

I don't know a single feminist blogger who hasn't had similar comments made about her.

As the WaPo article points out, this kind of harassment has driven many women out of chat rooms and off of blogs. It's encouraged others to blog under gender-neutral or male pseudonyms. Conservative female bloggers like Michelle Malkin and even progressive male bloggers like Markos Mousilitas (Daily Kos) have basically told women to get thicker skin and expect these kinds of comments if we go online.

The news media is covering this issue as if it's a new story. It isn't. It's been the narrative for hundreds of years.

The original "public woman" was the prostitute. Men have traditionally occupied the public space (including the political), while women were relegated to the domestic -- or at least, certain kinds of women were relegated to the domestic. Cloistering women away or at least keeping them tied to domestic duties has long been a sign of socioeconomic class, from ancient Greece through Victorian England through the 1950s and The Feminine Mystique. "Other" women -- poor women, women of color -- worked outside the home. The lowest class of women were the publicly available ones. And public availability was tied to sexual availability.

This mentality thrives anywhere and anytime women transgress traditional roles and enter into the public discourse -- and especially when they want to play with the boys. Second-wave feminists were routinely sexualized or deemed to ugly to be taken seriously, whether the topic of conversation was Gloria Steinem's miniskirt and Kate Millet's breasts, or Andrea Dworkin's overalls and Kate Millet's face on the cover of Time Magazine. The Riot Grrls of the 1990s tried to give girls a place in the mosh pit and owned sexual slurs by scrawling words like SLUT across their stomachs -- and were still met with calls to "take it off!" during their shows. And do I even need to mention the treatment of female politicians (see: Hillary Clinton)?

Street harassment is still a major issue for women. It isn't unusual for a man to feel he has the right to comment on your body, your clothes or your demeanor ("Smile, honey!") when you're female and doing little more than walking down the street. The message is that you have less of a right to that space than he does -- his presence in public is assumed to be right and natural, whereas yours is a privilege and something that he can take ownership of or exert power over.

Harassment of female bloggers, then -- and sexualized insults and threats in particular -- is not new, and it's not surprising. Short of obliterating patriarchal social norms, there isn't much we can do to completely end it.

But there's a lot we can do to control it -- and the answer isn't just to "get thicker skin."

First, blogs can moderate comments. I'm not a fan of universal moderation pledges or censorship, but a responsible moderation policy will at least come down on users who level threats at others. Rape threats aren't protected speech any more than yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater is, so this isn't a First Amendment issue (and besides, bloggers aren't the government, and we can control our sites as we see fit). Second, feminist and progressive bloggers should watch out for each other -- if someone makes a threatening comment on my site about another blogger, I have no qualms about sending her that person's IP address. Outing anonymous bloggers or commenters because you disagree with them is completely out of line and unacceptable; outing people who make threats is a pretty good way to make others think twice before posting similar comments. And if the threats come over email, all the better -- post the harasser's email address. Sort of like Holla Back, but in internet-land. Finally, name it. Point out harassment when it happens. The reaction to the Kathy Sierra story has been so strong in part because so many women had experienced similar things and had simply chosen to quietly leave, or just ignore it. Ignoring it doesn't work -- or at least, it hasn't worked for me. The website that has allowed commenters to post sexual-assault-related comments about me has somewhere around 100 threads where my name comes up, and they've been commenting, posting pictures, and filing "Jill sightings" for more than a year and a half. I don't comment on their site and I've avoided writing about them, but they aren't going away. The more we talk about it, the more we emphasize the fact that this is common, that we aren't doing anything to incite it, that it is gendered and that it is unacceptable -- and the more we can share strategies for how to stop it.

It's high time women were able to be publicly present without being considered publicly consumable. Blogs have been at the forefront of progressive activism, bringing together people of all backgrounds and locations to discuss issues of interest, take action, or simply share stories. Now, we should be at the forefront of taking a collective stand against harassment and in support of the "public woman."

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Borderline Trolling on Feminist Blogs

Trolling is a particular use of commenting on blogs: commenting intended to stop the ongoing conversation or to turn it into a fight. A troll is someone who has no real desire to engage in the conversation but a considerable desire to stifle it or to make it into something troll-centered. Trolls apply several methods to achieve this, ranging from the posting of unrelated material, spam or repetitive strings of words and/or symbols to personal insults and the adoption of regular participants' identities. All types of blogs and websites can suffer from trolling, but feminist blogs are unusually susceptible, given the subject matter and the considerable number of misogynists and anti-feminists taking advantage of the apparent anonymity blogs can offer.

Anti-feminist trolling covers a wide dimension of behaviors. At one extreme, such trolling is indistinguishable from threats of violence. The recent Kathy Sierra case is an example of the severe kind of anti-women trolling albeit not in an explicitly feminist context. At a slightly less extreme level, comments such as the following examples can sometimes be found on feminist blogs (all examples in this post are from the comments at my own blog, Echidne of the snakes, unless otherwise identified):

Now after hearing a lot about you western feminists from our American brothers, I strongly believe that all of you feminists everywhere must be ass-fucked and gang-raped and then we will cut your boobs with our combat knives and empty whole magazines of 16 bullets into your vaginas. And we will post the digital videos of serial rape+executions on men's websites and video-game portals around the world for our wholesale XXX entertainment.



These types of comments are easy to spot as trolling, and so are the common obscenity-filled rants. What can be more difficult to identify as trolling are comments which do not use violence or obscenities but which nevertheless aim at stifling the ongoing conversation rather than contributing to it.

I call these comments borderline trolling. This term reflects the superficial validity of the comment in the discussion, because sometimes quite similar comments might indeed advance the debate. What distinguishes valid critical comments from borderline trolling ones is that the latter, if accepted, always end the debate or turn it into a general criticism of feminist discourse, and that is their sole intention.

Borderline trolling can achieve this by

1. questioning the authority of feminist bloggers to speak on the topic,

2. questioning the importance of the topic either in the abstract

3. or in comparison to other topics which the troll deems more important.

All this questioning takes place in short comments without any actual evidence to support the troll's arguments. Let us see how it is done:

Examples on questioning authority:

Re: Bitch PhD. When your first view of a web page is a picture of a what, five-year-old? throwing you the finger with a snarl and the word "bitch" screaming at you, I think one can be forgiven for not listening to what the person has to say.


Please do not waste good bandwidth and your immense talents of Salon's Broadsheet. It is to feminism what Bush is to compassionate and conservatism.
Neither that 'sculptor' nor the purported antics of TomKat need our attention.

These comments were responses to posts I wrote which used material from the criticized sites (Bitch, PhD and Broadsheet). By questioning the authority of my sources the comments also question the value of my posts. The latter comment also questions the importance of the topic I was writing on (and includes an additional and unusual form of borderline trolling: Implying that the blogger is too smart to write on feminism).

Examples on questioning the importance of the topic:

Again, why bother pointing out how insipid this is? Folks who take sustenance from this type of drivel are most likely beyond reason, especially when feeling anonymous online.
It's waste of time to even read it.


Complaining about poems and imagery (and supposed message) of a poem from the 1600's is probably one of the biggest signs that someone has absolutely nothing better to do.

(The poem referred to in the last comment was Andew Marvel's To His Coy Mistress, and the discussion addressed the very real reasons why Marvel's fictional mistress might not have wanted to have unprotected sex outside marriage in those days; reasons which had very little to do with his pleas about time running past and death approaching.)

In my experience any feminist topic can provoke this reaction. If I write about, say, Rush Limbaugh's anti-feminist screeds I am told that I give him more attention by writing about him. If I write about the media treatment of women's issues I am told that I should talk to the media, not on my blog. If I write about the problems of women in other countries I am told that those should be addressed in other countries. If I write about the problems of women here at home I am told that those problems are minor and that the real problems are abroad. Thus, while questioning the importance of a particular topic can indeed be a valid criticism in some cases, the ubiquitousness of this questioning makes me see it as borderline trolling.

Examples on questioning the importance of the topic in relation to other topics:

This seems to be the new PC distraction from real issues to irritate voters.


The Supremes just wiped out the damn Fourth Amendment and you're talking about blowjobs. No, I don't have much sense of humor about this -- Rome is burning and your fiddle playing will not do.


Weird, creepy, and sometimes physical shit happens to everybody. But not everybody develops a victim complex out of it and gets paranoid and claims it's a conspiracy of the other gender, and then starts embellishing the stories to make them even worse the way Graff does.

I've been mugged in the wrong place at the wrong time. I've had people hit on me physically in an unappreciated way, grabbing and groping, men and women. I've seen plenty of crazies on the streets and gotten dirty looks and rude comments form people, even seemingly normal business people downtown.

There are always a few assholes, and you have the same options as men: legal, self defense, and avoidance.

Get over yourself.

The first two examples here compare the importance of a feminist post to posts on other topics which the progressives or liberals support. These other topics are regarded as more important, and the feminist posting is viewed as taking the place of more urgent missives. The third example uses the borderline trolling trick of assuming that men's concerns about violence are no different from women's concerns and that feminists "whine" if they write about the additional concerns women face.

None of the borderline trolling tactics I have described are as frightening as the threats of violence or as annoying as the general obscenity-laden tirades. Neither are they as likely to cause an exodus of women from blogging. But feminist bloggers should be aware of these subtler efforts at silencing their voices.

Blogging While Female In A Male-Dominated Blogosphere

Like most feminist bloggers, I started out by blogging at my own little website, which I named Mouse Words. It was mostly a place for me to tee off about how I felt on various issues, and mostly started to give friends and family a break from me teeing off about those issues to them. To make a long story short, my little blog got some attention from bigger bloggers and I was invited to join the big dog blog Pandagon by the site owner, Jesse Taylor.

At the time I joined, one of the great jokes running around the feminist blogosphere was how, every few months or so, one of the high traffic bloggers would wonder on his blog why more women weren't blogging. This would tee us off every time, because women were blogging, and the real question was more, "Why aren't there more women writing the high traffic blogs I like to read?" But the reason that question wasn't asked more was that it made it harder to blame some sort of inherent female distaste for political blogging and made it much more obvious that the reason that for the male dominance in the liberal blogs was boring old sexism.

It would be really unfair to say it was conscious sexism. A lot of the men who asked this question, most notably Kevin Drum, sincerely wanted more female participation in the liberal blogosphere. Unconscious sexism, however, ran rampant in the liberal blogs, and two major strains of it led to the problem of male dominance of the top ranks of bloggers:

  1. People tend to take women less seriously, and without even meaning to, will often dimiss women's opinions more quickly. In terms of gathering readers, this tendency was devastating to female bloggers.
  2. The laws of self-interest will dictate that women will generally be more interested in "women's issues" on average than men. "Women's issues", i.e. all the ways women struggle against the patriarchy, are considered less important than big issues like the economy or war, even though the oppression of women worldwide is, by any objective measure, a serious humanitarian crisis.
The solutions to the "women bloggers" issue were simple---top tier male bloggers had to make a concentrated effort to overcome internalized sexism by linking more to women, promoting female bloggers on their own blogs, and taking "women's issues" seriously. After the February 2005 drubbing of Kevin Drum for his mistake in assuming that because he didn't read or link female bloggers, there weren't any, there was a sea change. A number of top tier male bloggers seemed to take a hint and start linking women more, and then, in March 2005, I quit my little blog Mouse Words and joined the A list blog Pandagon.

The fallout was pretty startling to me and more so to my co-blogger Jesse. While we both expected some grumbling about a feminist waltzing into a big blog and starting to write about "women's issues" in a more mainstream blog, we were surprised at some of the hostility we got. Jesse particularly was amused/annoyed by all the emails he got from male readers who seemed to be under the impression that he'd been somehow hooked in by my feminine wiles (we'd never met and he had no idea what I looked like) and needed to be straightened out and told that I didn't deserve my spot at Pandagon.

What got really ugly, though, was not the "concerned" liberal male reaction to my presence at the blog so much as the unhinged hostility that came from blatantly sexist readers. On our blog and various others, speculation about how ugly I must be in order to be concerned about women's equality started flying around, and a single (unflattering) picture of me was discovered on the website for my day job. Once my day job was discovered, phone calls and emails were placed to my boss in an attempt to get me forced off the blog. My home addressed was published, and I had to spend time filing a police report and contacting anyone who may have my home address to make sure that it was taken out of public record.

Eventually the furor died down, and after awhile, I formed a pretty solid relationship with the readers who weren't run off by the scariness of the feminist blogger on Pandagon. My real fear, with all the threats being made by male commenters at Pandagon and elsewhere, was that I really was going to damage site traffic, but that didn't happen at all. Having a woman talking about stuff important to women in a big blog had the opposite effect: Our traffic began to climb, in fits and starts. By the time that Jesse had to leave the blog in November, we'd doubled our traffic and gone from having a predominantly male readership to one that was more 50/50, and even leaning slightly towards majority female.

The most fun part of joining Pandagon initially was getting a chance to link my favorite female bloggers who never got much in the way of big dog links. It ended up being a solid demonstration of how getting links and attention is a matter of getting links and attention, and if women got the links and attention, they'd revel in it just as much as men would. In the months after I joined Pandagon, in part because of Pandagon links and in part because of an effort from many male bloggers to be more conscientious of linking female bloggers and paying attention to women's issues, a number of female bloggers saw their traffic rise. And it stayed high, and the question of where the women bloggers were disappeared. Within a year, I found myself walking down the street on vacation with other bloggers in Amsterdam, and of the four of us, only Ezra Klein was male, and he suddenly joked, "Where are all the women bloggers anyway?"

As for me, I got a much thicker skin, especially over things like being told I'm ugly and stupid and no one cares what I have to say anyway. For a time, being one of the few female bloggers on such a high traffic blog also invited some blatant sexual objectifying, and it's still disconcerting when whether or not I rate high on some fuckability scale is dragged out and discussed on other blogs. Still, even that kind of discussion has died down as it's becoming clearer that female bloggers are here to stay and that all the discussion about their waistlines and breast size in the world won't be stopping that.

Even the most stinging criticisms I received, about how it's supposedly tedious to write frequently about "women's issues", as if such issues were a minor thing, have died down. This I don't think has much to do with the ascendency of so many female bloggers into the higher levels of traffic as it does to do with the increasing problem of sexism in our country. It's easy to suggest that feminists need to write about something else when reproductive rights seem secure and women seem to making gains all the time, but lately, the rollback on reproductive rights and the general culture of machismo that helped lead to the war are getting a lot more notice as mainstream issues. Now, I don't see feminist bloggers get as much credit as they deserve for calling attention to these issues as they should be getting, but at least these issues that used to be considered minor are getting a lot more attention and respect in the major blogs, and with that attention and respect comes a side dose of attention and respect for feminist bloggers.

We Know: The Personal is Political

Perhaps it was to be expected that a tool built around the concept of an online journal and commandeered by the politically engaged would be of particular interest to those of us who have most deeply internalized the notion of personal as political, and perhaps it was inevitable that we would use this tool to make political activism as personal as it has ever been. When Carol Hanisch wrote in 1969 that "personal problems are political problems" and asserted there is "only collective action for a collective solution," she was just as certainly speaking to feminist bloggers as her contemporaries, despite the emergence of the blogosphere being decades away.

Now, as then, we continue to struggle to reconcile having blithely and distantly called "issues," even by many ostensibly on our political side, what feminist women generally call, collectively, life—and now, as then, feminist women attempt to bridge that gap by communicating the immediacy of "issues" politics with personal experience. It's a rather comfortable fit for feminists, by virtue of the nature of the blogosphere. To both celebration and condemnation, bloggers often make no attempt to hide our passion as we straddle a middle ground between activist and journalist, protestor and reporter—and, in their most frequent incarnation, blogs are authored by women and men with no immediate ties or access to major political power-holders, and so we, their authors, become our own best sources.

Feminist political blogging has thusly taken on a distinctly confessional aspect, as personal experiences with abortion, rape, marriage, childrearing, etc. become an important part of our political discussions as our bodies and choices come up for legislative consideration.

We know that it matters if male legislators have daughters, and we know that having more women in Congress matters, because the personal is political. Intuitively, we know that "getting personal" makes a difference, that the most effective way to undermine talking points about abortion is to counter the conservative straw-woman abortion-seeker, drawn with thick crayons as a ninny-brained trust fund slut who uses abortion as birth control and washes down RU-486 with a martini, with the real stories of real women who get abortions for a myriad of reasons. We know that relating our own personal, private, and sometimes painful experiences during a political discussion can have the effect of extricating the "issue" from the realm of the abstract, putting political theory to a real-life test.

We know that getting personal is the most effective way to stop people talking in theories when they're talking about the fate of the personal autonomy of half the nation, to subvert the aloof intellectualism, such comforting insulation that makes possible the clinical detachment necessary to consider what to do for "women," as opposed to this woman and this woman and this one, too.

We know that the experience of womanhood, commonalities so universal that any woman nods her head at their mention, are not self-evident to the majority of people tasked with making political decisions that affect us. We have spoken to men from whom a concept like a woman's body being treated as community property elicits nothing but a blank stare, a complete disconnect from one of our most basic experiences as women in this world. Many of us live with and love men who regard with some amusement the stereotypical mysteries of womanhood—the plethora of bottles, jars, and contraptions that make a bathroom countertop look like a chemist's set, the fascination with shoes, going to the restroom in pairs, the stuff of jokes and sitcoms. But there is a whole unknown cultural experience of womanhood that is a mystery to them, too, much of which they don't even realize exists, until we tell them. We know that manhood is so easily substituted for personhood that making the political personal is essential just to convey how very different our lives are, even though they can look so very similar.

We know that the personal is political is even more powerful when it is not just the personal story of this woman or this woman or this one, but all of our stories together. We know that a cacophony of voices that cannot be ignored is the basis of the collective action that slowly, determinedly, inevitably yields the collective solution.