Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Lure of Online Feminism: Relationship Building and the Internet

I've received numerous emails and messages about my last post in which I shared the process of starting a new job and deciding to intentionally decrease my involvement in the feminist blogosphere. In my personal reflection, I offered a few insights about the process in which I realized that I was not fully engaging in human relationships because I was thinking about the online forms of feminism.

Three years ago, I was fully offline and not finding what I needed: community. I started blogging because of that void. The ache to be in deep, challenging, analytic conversation throbbed deeply in my bones. As a writer with no community of women of color or like-minded radical feminists, I found a wonderful resource in the online world. The mobility and accessibility, to me, was exactly what I had been needing. Through the feminist blogosphere, I found a connecting thread with others and in this space, my voice became stronger.

The function of the internet is complex and multipurpose. For those unable to be or engage in offline communities, for any reason, the internet can be a life-saving ticket of relationship, learning, and creativity. The function of the internet will be varied and in different degrees of significance. I would never say that what I did three years ago, or have e-built since then, doesn't count or is less meaningful. Quite the contrary. The online work and relationships I made were some of the most meaningful and enriching experiences of my life.

What needs to be clarified is my point: I am not saying that all online interactions is less significant or valuable as offline. My finding the RWOC and feminist blogosphere is a testament to that. Those connections got me through transition, job hardship, moving, confronting inner demons, and gave me back my sanity on countless occasions.

That counts. That counts beyond numbers, words, or reason.

I recognized a conflict last week when I realized I was paying more attention to blog topics and subheadings than the womyn a foot away from me asking me to get her walker so she can exercise her leg muscles for ten minutes. Wondering what any blogger is writing about is nowhere near as important in the moment I am trying to assist a womyn take medication after a seizure. In that moment, the work I am doing is not more important than any person blogging about their insights. I'm saying that the work I am doing is more urgent, more necessary than letting my thoughts float into the blogosphere when I am nowhere near a computer.

The crossroads lie like this: be present to the client or think about what Nadia is going to post about the AMC. Talk to a staff member about her internship and getting her associate's degree that she's worked on for several years or give my mental energy to wondering how BFP and Jess' walks are going. That's not a judgment call on the significance of that work, but it's a judgment call on the function of the internet for me in that moment. It is not a message to the disabled community nor is it an attempt to throw a blanket on all bloggers and readers of feminism to get offline and do "real work." That's a judgment call on where my own head is and what where my priorities lie in that moment when I have a decision to make.

To be human is to need relationship. To be in relationship, we must be present. However relationships come to us - offline or online - we need to be fully engaged to their the offerings and misgivings. One of the misgivings of the internet, for me, is that it lures me with its instant gratification and constant change. I began to grow comfortable in the mode and preferred that work over the offline womyn in my very hands. Examining an unexplained bruise on a womyn's breast is more important than reading my blog roll. Because of that fork in the road, because of that choice that is at my feet, I must make a judgment call on what is more important, what deserves my undivided attention.

That offline work that I am currently doing is not more important than the relationship building I did/do with the online RWOC. It all counts. It's all valuable. But when you start to sacrifice relationship for online activity - activity that is not consciousness raising, relationship building, or serving a greater purpose of need - then, yes, I believe it's time to get off the computer.

Saying that I need to be fully present to an individual human is not a message to the disabled community that their methods of communication are less valuable or "don't count," nor do I tell the person I was three years ago that her online outreach work weighs less than what I do now. It's when I begin choosing nameless and safe avenues of communication that serve more as a distraction AND deny the opportunity to be in full relationship with a human person breathing in front to me...THAT's when a problem occurs.


  1. Why must we always internalize what others have written about their own lives and experiences and priorities as a criticism of our own? Must difference be experienced as a hierarchy rather than as equally valued and valuable?

  2. Anonymous10:51 AM

    thank you for clarifying woman, I totally see where you're coming from--that issue of "value" that was the one sticking in me, and I see now what you mean. AND I totally agree. I think that's part of what I personally am trying to do with the walking series, is learn how to be more present and in the moment.

    I hope your job is going beautifully. I am totally jealous that you found one--and am completely positive that women's studies major is, well, worthless. :p



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