(adapted from something that started like this)
Finally, I’m reading books again by other people that have nothing to do with my book, my work, or anything else but what I want to give five minutes on a bench, and that’s where and how I found myself with enough space to rattle out the following after reading exactly one and one-half pages of Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, which by my recollection could be the first New York Times bestselling feminist book of the Internet feminist age. And if that’s true, then one of the bestselling books right now opens with an acknowledgment that feminism is painfully dominated by those with the biggest platforms. Of all the things about books that have thrilled (and pissed me off) this year, that this is the book on feminism dominating now is amazing.
I got online in 1994. Made a website in 1996. Added a diary in 1998. Feminism, trust, was alive on that Internet. Blogging – let’s see, I remember installing MovableType in 2003. “Real blogging.” We were getting the sense that what all we were getting up to on LiveJournal was girly, unserious. Probably we were getting that sense from elevated profiles of the handful of men who were getting known from blogging c. early 2000’s.
By the time “feminist blogging” happened, I had been online ten years. New gloss on an old convo. More people raised their profiles.
Some of us oldsters started getting jobs. I mean, my first writing job was online, in 1999, reviewing goth clubs for a porn site. (A porn site. With a hyphen in the URL. In 1999. I know.)
I got a steady writing job from Valleywag in 2008. Blogging was so grown up it was something we argued about being over. (Twitter, at that time, was two.)
What was then crystallizing as “feminist blogging” was just the tippest top of the iceberg. Very white, fresh out of college. The issues that rapidly-crystallized slice of feminist blogging drove soon became mainstream lingo: rape culture, slut shaming, “the war on women.” Not so much sex or reproductive justice. A bit of branding was going on. Rough edges were hewn off, if ever posted in the first place.
(Quick pause to remember the Xeroxed underground paper and zines where I published my first feminist writing in 1993…)
I was a feminist writing for a living on the internet, mostly for men, about technology and sex. (Not gender. Fucking.) As I found my place, I saw mainstream media found places for more of us outside weirdo bloggers. And predictably, shit got less weird.
That white, recently-graduated slice of Internet writing about rape culture & slut shaming? Soon became synonymous with “feminism” in media.
I miss the bigger, broader, messier online feminism I owe my analysis and desire to write from. Even as media has shrunk it down. (Ok, not just “media” shrunk it down. Patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism shrunk it down.)
So now we have outlets who never would hire bloggers let alone feminists five-or-even-seven years ago scrambling to get a feminist blogger on staff. Yet the thing they are hiring when they are hiring a “feminist blogger” is that white, millenialish grad. Who can hot take with blogger speed.
I don’t think I’m an old lady when I crave the days when even the Internet moved slower. Email lists. Usenet. LJ threads over months. Losing the slow, incremental crawl of ideas over weeks and months online is structural. Tweets decay too fast.
Meanwhile, “feminism” is enjoying a brand revival, just as the web content maw cannot be satisfied by any number of tragic sexist tales.
I was having a drink w a fab radical lawyer this week. Talking about journalism. The “abortion law shit show of the day” beat. I was saying, as someone who covers a similar shit show on sex work, as depressing as it is on abortion, it’s almost worse. If you cover abortion law, you have the Guttmacher Institute. Planned Parenthood and NARAL. Communicationss staff at their desks and phones. Press releases. Quick quotes. If you cover sex work law, chances are there is no one seeking you out, let alone returning your call on deadline. There’s simply no comparative infrastructure. You have to build it.
So part of what defines a “feminist writer” or beat is shaped by those resources: this is how some issues are mainstream or are considered whole beats.
You do work with a gender lens outside the “feminist issue” mainstream? You have to compensate for all those deficits, these systemic disinvestments in our culture, politics, and media. You cover women & labor, the drug war, women’s prisons, queer women’s issues, transmisogyny in law? You are doing triple work. You are building sources outside the usual feminist suspects you see quoted again and again, outside and in absence of organizations. You are convincing editors it is a story. You are educating a newly cohering audience.
(And you know, being posi. Supporting ladies.) (Only slight sarcasm.)
None of us does this alone. So who made my job with me? Audacia Ray, a deeply principled sex worker rights’ advocate and media maker, over a long time and with many hats. Sarah Jaffe, a hardworking labor journalist and old friend, who made space for me in her networks. Joanne McNeil, the most human of tech and culture minds, always for the longview.
I wouldn’t be here without their late nights, networks, messy convos, shit-stirring. I’m hyperaware how hard it is to get anywhere right now. And hyperaware how limited this space is, how easy it is to fall off, fall out, claw in only to be pushed out.
It’s why I always look back.
tl;dr I’m a feminist writer, who feels desperately constrained by what’s regarded right now as feminist writing, and so all hail Roxane’s book kicking ass, and wish me luck finding a few minutes to get more than a dozen pages in some time soon.