Sunday, January 06, 2008

Resisting Top Shelf Feminism

With Sylvia’s latest and greatest post (where the most significant quote of 2008 has already surfaced: “Most of these people are wondering, ‘What the f*** is a blogosphere?’”) I have been thinking about accessibility and its relation to "real life" feminist activism.

Let’s face the truth of our lives. As you read this, we both are veiled with anonymity while we both live our supposed feminist ideals in the real world. In the real world, there are dinners that have nothing to do with the internet, friends who think online dating is weird let alone building communities and activism, and families go about their merry way with no clue that their daughter is a feminist blogger. As you read this, I am breathing somewhere else and choosing what milk to buy. As I do that, you have likely moved on from my site, gotten up from your chair and made 42 decisions off line.

The activism online is not about a wish that the online world will transform the offline world. The point of my online feminist presence is that my conscience, my awareness is heightened by other’s writings, informed by their experiences and power so when I am out buying milk, I think about the rights of migrant workers as my hands smooth over fresh produce and cartons of milk. The point is that you think twice when you meet a Filipina and assume a ten point bullet of what it means for her to be Asian and Asian American and how the two are different. The hopes of my online feminism is that the readers are affected, empowered, stimulated and in turn, that stimulation provides some sort of change in the real world – in the classroom, in the bedroom, in our relationships, at the kitchen table, at social gatherings, town hall meetings, in our thoughts.

So how accessible is feminism?

My question comes back to how accessible am I?

How accessible are my words, my ideas and plans, my language? How important is accessibility? Most important, I have found.

I think back to my own journey as a young woman, how scared and uncertain my opinions were about the world. Knowledge of the world rings different than experiencing the world and I often wonder how much more enriching my journey would have been had I known more questioning, seeking, struggling womyn of color along the way. My confidence would have longevity, I assume, my doubts a bit more curbed, perhaps.

Accessible feminism is not just about reading ability on our blogs, or how much common ground we can find together. It reaches beyond waived conference fees and essay scholarships.
If only it were that simple. Something tells me it has to do with questioning womyn who boast a title as a "professional feminist." WHAT is that? Please, enlighten me on that one.
Being accessible requires adamant loyalty to staying on the ground: inspiration without the lofty, academic jargon; self-analysis lens without self-centeredness.

I believe that accessibility is about putting in the time now in our work so it remains relevant, streamlined, and foundational for future generations. Gloria, Lorde, hooks, Maracle, M.L. de Jesus, Zia invested themselves into accessibility by centering the timeless issues of their time that would eventually be the timeless issues of our time: racism, poverty, violence, and homo/transphobia.

Their accessibility is reflected in their prophetic writing, making certain that we understand that the mountains we climb are the same mountains they faced. Their words become our food. Their lives became our bridges. These womyn marked inclusive, radical, unafraid and rocky terrain as their land. No journeys were easy. Nowhere in their works did I ever read it was going to get better or hear loose promises of peace in my lifetime. I only read the necessity to give voice to what was happening and the instruction to put to rest all that contributed to womyn’s silence.

Without accessibility, there is no translation between blogs and “real world” action. Greater accessibility must remain a consistent priority for feminists. There is always a womyn out there searching, needing, and being pushed into a corner. Always. And maybe someday she'll come looking for an everyday womyn who struggles with womynhood, with her identity, and her choices. Maybe she's looking for someone who's unafraid to admit she's very much afraid, without agenda and uncertain as hell. Maybe that's one thing that I can do because she likely won't find herself on the shelves of Barnes and Noble or ever get to a class where she will likely be misunderstood. Maybe I can help by just putting my voice out there and saying

You are not alone. Not by a long shot.

It is not so much her responsibility to find me, but more my responsibility to prepare a space so she can be heard, and live, and breathe. I do this in hopes she will unfold and do it for someone else.

That is my feminism. That is my accessibility.


  1. this goes along so well with things i have been thinking about lately. i want to comment more at another time. thanks for writing it.

  2. And that is why you are awesome. XOXO

  3. This post leaves me wondering, who needs feminist thought the most that is left outside the conversation? Can I ask this question and offer some thoughts without stereotyping or being plagued by the activist's problem of defining and "solving" the problems of the oppressed? How can feminist thought directly help womyn who are homeless, battered, raped?

  4. I don't know if it's "feminist thought" that is needed the most or if it's more justice and voice that is needed that feminist thought should be providing.

    Feminism or "feminist thought" does NOT directly "solve" any problems whatsoever. For me, it is a lens to view the issues of the world, prioritizing womyn, particularly poor, marginalized womyn of color who are oppressed in a structural domain that feeds off sexism and racism. Feminism alone does not liberate. It frees the MIND, but not the chains on the minds or sheathed swords at our necks.

    In an ideal world, feminism wakes up. It stirs people to action, to greater awareness. It is meant to blast awake the apathetic, focus the frenzied activist, organize resources and funding, and inspire anyone seeking a socially just world.

    Your question as to who is getting left out: depends on what circle of feminism you are referencing. The more I read, the more exposure I have to others' works and projects, the more I am convinced that feminism is a position in one's life, a commitment of equality and there is no ONE MOVEMENT where there are few in the center and the rest are looking in. There are several groups, sporadic and long-term, some functioning, some active that are diverse in strategy and goal. These groups put together is feminism. Now, putting those together, one could argue there are still womyn disenfranchised and I would argue that it is global womyn and girls in developing countries, womyn at the border, womyn in war-torn areas, with no basic human rights that are rarely considered in the conversation of feminist thought.

  5. Anonymous3:10 PM

    How timely, we're in sync...I was thinking about accessibility this morning. About blogging and ways in which it is accessible or not, the benefits to the immigrant women in my family, my sister-in-law and her friends who look like a million bucks daily, grandma, and all of the mothers that I know of. All of these women that are day in and day out in front of us. Who feed us, who we feed. Who reach out to be heard.

    Thinking hard.

    I especially liked this what you said:

    "Being accessible requires adamant loyalty to staying on the ground: inspiration without the lofty, academic jargon; self-analysis lens without self-centeredness."


  6. Huh. I have to admit, this is really the first time I've thought about my blog in terms of accessibility to others. Generally I think of my blog as my dump space where I can work my own shit out before going back out into real life and finding a way to apply it. It's like an external hard drive so that my wired-in brain doesn't have to deal with too much heavy-thinking shit at once.

    But this business of paying it forward: "my responsibility to prepare a space so she can be heard, and live, and breathe. I do this in hopes she will unfold and do it for someone else" ... I like that. It's inspiring on a whole new level. Thank you.

  7. Although I got a lot of comments on my thread titled "Where are the old woman bloggers?" -- I also got a couple of depressing emails about accessibility in general... old women who will not start blogging because they say young people (the majority of people online are 40 and under) are simply not interested in what they have to say. I mean, there isn't much we can do to change something as ingrained as that, is there? I actually found the whole exercise of other bloggers linking me on that thread kind of depressing, since it reinforced the whole gap I was talking about in the first place. :(

    Anyway, great post.

  8. Joan Kelly4:26 PM

    I love this Sudy, in so many ways, and need to read it again and again.

  9. Well, I am studying to be a feminist therapist (yes, there is such a thing... type in wikipedia). I am a social worker earning my license in clinical social work. So... in my case, feminism has merged with activism. Feminism must be "applied" if it is to make a difference in people's lives. Whether applied means sharing a conversation with your girlfriends, boyfriends, family, etc.

    What does feminism do for women who are raped and for those who have experienced domestic violence? Well, I happen to have an internship where I have been facilitating group work with women who have been raped. I teach them about patriarchy as a psychoeducational component. Without that component, I would be a sitting duck.

  10. I would also like to add, that I agree with what you say... there are entirely too many elitist ivory tower feminists who could give a shit less about communicating their knowledge in an effective and "connective" way to others. For my empowerment class, (yes, it was called "empowerment"), we read Mary Pipher's book "Writing to Change the World". I really learned a lot from it. It's a fairly quick read, but packed with a punch!

  11. hey, i really like what you said about accessibility and the relation between the blog world and the real world. I was wondering if you could comment on my blog because the questions that I'm asking are in line with what you were writing about. I'm working on a research project that has to do with why people blog and if cyberspace is becoming a place of resistance and how people are making that happen. It would be great if you could contribute because I think your writings are great.

  12. Borderlands,
    I would like to see your blog, but I was unable to link there. Can you send me your blog address or provide another link?

    Thanks very much!


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