Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Lure of Online Feminism

I wanted to try an experiment this week, the week that I started a new job.

I wanted to try and disengage from the online world of feminism and refocus that energy into the human interactive relationships I would soon be facing in my new work. After being an active blogger for about three years, it was difficult to do at first. I resisted the urge to obsessively check my blog's email, comment moderation, and my favorite feminist bloggers as I normally do throughout the day. The rules were strick: 2-3 internet slots a day, no more than 20 minutes each. When you consider correspondance, reading, news, Facebook, listserves, and random recipe searches on Google, 1 hr/day is not a whole lot if you're an active blogger.

Slowly, though, things got easier as the pace of my job increased.

I work with the MRDD (Mentally Retarded and Developmentally Disabled) population and supervise a staff that works with homes to teach, encourage, and support folks who are trying to live more independent lives. Needless to say, it's hard work. It's draining work.

Today, as I watched a table of four clients eat their lunches, I thought about how little I have been online and how removed I felt from "Feminism," capital F. The news might be breaking something huge and I'm not reading it, or whatever the latest and greatest (or worst, depending on how you see it) IT thing is being talked/written about, I'm not around to read or react to it.

I believe in feminism. I believe in the flaws and all the rights of it. I believe its purpose is multifaceted, but one of the primary faucets of its existence is to be used as a lens for liberation work, a method to view oppressive relationship and overpowering structures that abuse and ignore womyn's voices.

If I believe that, then how is it that I started to measure how current I felt with "Feminism" because I haven't blogged in a week? While I am standing in a house filled with women of every size, mobility, and age who are trying to lead independent lives, make their own decisions, and improve their own quality of life -- WHY AM I THINKING ABOUT ONLINE FEMINISM?

The truth is that we're all prone to comforting ourselves and patterning our behaviors to what feels good, complementary, and familiar. The feminist blogosphere, for all of its energies and wondrous capacities, has not yet fused or connected to the "real" world.

The "real" world is a relative phrase, but for me, this week, it was observing and training womyn on how to measure laundry detergent, how to tuck the sheets into their beds, and counting pills for medication.

The "real" feminist in me saw the staff I work with, all women, who are juggling two sometimes three jobs and internships to put themselves through school and make ends meet for their families.

I am drowning in "real" feminist work and have open opportunities to forge relationships with new womyn in my life who only know me as their supervisor.

And yet, I stood in the kitchen wondering what I might have missed in the online world.

ONLINE FEMINISM IS BASED ON ACTUAL LIVED EXPERIENCES

Why look for the second version when the original is staring you in the face?

So, how had I learned that writers and opinionated activists who have their own corners of the internet to speak were more relevant than what this other womyn with oatmeal all over her smiling face had to tell me about her mother?

A lesson for today for all bloggers and readers of feminism:

the moment you begin preferring screens and books to human contact/relationship building and stories, however slight that preference, remind yourself that it's time for a break.

17 comments:

  1. Considering that the new make/shift is on the coffee table in front of me, this still may be the most important thing I've read all week. It certainly sits among the things I will reflect on in the days to come. Thank you for saying this, publicly. It warmed my heart to remember, to know.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yah, sometimes I think I should get away too... Good for you for actually doing it. :D

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is a wonderful work, Lisa. Most of my friends do not have anything to do with the blogosphere and they look at me like I'm crazy when I say something to them about how it effects me at times. These looks are part of what reminds me of the dual nature of reality--that online can only exist because of offline, not the other way around.

    ReplyDelete
  4. agreed. without the work in the real world it is just fictions of a revolution on a blinking screen.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yes, this all sounds very familiar. I've disconnected myself from online feminism recently (this is one of the places I still read) and, well, it does start to feel almost like a place where women go to have a pretend feminist revolution where they can't be interrupted by the real world.

    Considering how much like hobbyism the world of activism has become, even in real life, at least in terms of white middle-class activism, it's only really accessible - and importantly, only desirable - to ladies who lunch... well, there's a lot to think about there. I don't know if you agree, but, although there is a lot of excellent writing going on in blogs, lots of people doing a lot of thinking, it just seems like this vortex where all that good stuff gets wasted.

    I dunno, I just don't think Google and so on would give us the tools if it was possible to have some sort of anti-capitalist feminist revolution using them, it just makes no sense. It's like hiring a world-class advertising agency to organise your demonstrations for you.

    (which a lot of middle-class protest groups all but do, indirectly, I mean they use the glamour of brands they're protesting against for one thing).

    Anyway, I won't witter on for 500 words as I usually do.

    ReplyDelete
  6. i feel you, i struggle with this all the time.

    ReplyDelete
  7. This is devastatingly true. Can we get your permission to cross-post this at Raven's Eye?

    ReplyDelete
  8. @ Raven - feel free to cross post anytime with the link back to the original! **flattered**

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thank you for this post. I linked and commented on it here.

    http://www.reappropriate.com/?p=1320

    ReplyDelete
  10. the thing is that most of the women of color bloggers i follow are doing this type of work in their own communities then blogging about it or inspired by it. "online feminism," i don't even know what that is.

    ReplyDelete
  11. nidhijai1:53 PM

    thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  12. this is wonderful, and so very true. thanks :)

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hi Lisa, this post really resonates.

    I found myself going through a similar transition when I began a job where I felt I had the chance to live/work/work out questions in "my" feminism/activism. For me, it meant that my time as an active blogger pretty much ended, and that for a time I didn't really read or keep in touch w/my online community. I've found my way back to the people, though, and that was always the most valuable part of blogging for me - the very real relationships that formed because of my time reading, writing, commenting. I still care very much about the online feminist community I came to love and I think it's hugely important; but like other aspects of activism, I'm okay with how my relationship to it has changed.

    @nosnowhere, I know what you mean. but definitely when I started to build my relationships with bloggers - I had very limited access to similar relationships IRL. so I think there is a kind of community that can at least start online and then expand out.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Anonymous12:42 PM

    I totally hear what you're saying Lisa, I really really do--but I wonder about several things. i started blogging as a stay at home mother and I gave way more of my life to blogging at that time than I would've liked to--but I didn't have the resources to get out and do "face to face". how do I tell that woman that I was that the stuff she was doing online doesn't count as much as the stuff you're doing through your job? i also know that for the disabled community--the screen that able bodied people find so "non-human" is often their mode of communication. How do able bodied people tell the disabled community--no, actually, that's not right, you're not looking at a human, thus it doesn't count?

    God knows that I'm the first person to throw my hand up in the air and scream that it's physically unhealthy for *me* to sit and surf for hours at a time--I know this with every fiber of my being...but is it ok for any of us to make the judgment call for why or how others are using the internet? you know what i mean?

    ~bfp

    ReplyDelete
  15. I think that the real lesson is that feminism is anywhere women are interacting and that none of these areas should be overlooked, belittled, or written off. The internet is "real". If you think about it this might be another reason why FireFly is hurt about RWOC feminism/womanism, because you are saying that the relationships she has built with us aren't real, because she probably won't ever meet any or at least many of us face to face.

    My medical issues sometimes mean I can't even drive without being in pain, hell, I had a couple of days where I couldn't dress myself and my husband had to do it for me. The problem is keeping my arms lifted for extended periods. So the internet is a lifeline to me and as good a means of communication as speaking face to face. I've also felt more supported by my friends online at times than I have by people I know in meat world/face to face world/"real" world. I'd like to think I have also been supportive and a true friend online.

    I guess mostly I am asking for you to reconsider your position on online interactions being "real". You are looking at a screen but there are flesh and blood people behind the words you are reading and responding to. It's just a different means of communication rather than spoken word.

    ReplyDelete
  16. No se. Is there not a way to do both? I know I was drawn to the internet at a time when I was a very heavy active outside world organizer. The internet was a place for me a single activist mami to find other like mami's when I wasn't seeing those in the spaces I worked in.

    With my second daughter, getting out there has been hard. She requires different attention than my older daughter. So while I continue to draw so much joy from her and from my work as a radical tutor :), I am also grateful for the online organizing space.

    I think the key is being able to shift, move back and forth the same way we do in other parts of our lives depending on the circumstance.

    ReplyDelete
  17. i lost my comment. just that I hear you and I agree...when I started working I had to stop engaging as much..it's now been three years of this and I started blogging back in nid 2004...anyhow like mala says it's about shifting back and forth, when we deem necessary shift to write/connect/dialogue online to shifting out to fullyl immerse offline without a worry/thought/engagement online.

    You'll find your pace mama.

    Let's talk soon!

    ReplyDelete

Hey there,
Before you leave a comment, just remember two things:
1. You are taking responsibility for a public comment
2. Anything that resembles racism, homophobia, classism, ableism, or anything based from religion, citizenship, or ethnic bias - don't bother commenting, you'll be deleted.