How the Feminist Blogosphere Has Sent Us Back in Time


Sites such as Jezebel and The Hairpin have unleashed a dynamic conversation about sex and gender that is reminiscent of an earlier era


When we think about the blogosphere, the 1970s is not usually one of the first things to come to mind. But in a smart essay in New York Magazine, Emily Nussbaum explores how lady blogs -- sites such as Feministe, Jezebel, The Hairpin, and Feministing -- have brought back an era of dynamic feminism that is reminiscent of the activists of an earlier generation. She writes:

Ms. magazine was a crucial publication, and I read every issue of it up until 1994, when its out-of-touch porn-debate issue irritated me sufficiently that I put it down forever. But as many women as Ms. spoke to and for, it rarely featured the kind of swashbuckling manifestos that supercharged so much of seventies feminism--the sort that were published in The Village Voice (Jill Johnston) and in small-press journals (Audre Lorde) and in slightly bananas but also kind of brilliant books like Shu­la­mith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex and in writing I disagreed with entirely but found spellbinding. (Say what you will about Valerie Solanas, she was never boring.)

It's the stuff that for many years you could find only in the file drawers of the Lesbian Herstory Archives, rarely in mainstream magazines, and certainly not in women's magazines, which over time became blandly liberal-feminist by default, but never wild, let alone capable of pushing an argument so hard that everyone had to talk about it. For too long, it was the anti-feminists who owned that brand: Katie Roiphe, Camille Paglia, Caitlin Flanagan.

And this bold style might have been lost forever, if it weren't for the web. Lacking editors (whose intolerance for insanity tends to sand off pointy edges), lacking balance (as any self-publishing platform tends to), laced with humor and fury (emotions intensified by the web's spontaneity), the blogosphere has transformed feminist conversation, reviving in the process an older style of activism among young women.

I think that this adds a nice and often overlooked to the default assumption that the medium in which an idea is expressed somehow controls the experience of that idea -- that a given conversation appearing in different media will look and feel different based on the qualities of each particular technology. Nussbaum's point both confirms and complicates this theory. The particular qualities of blogs (the lack of editors, the self-publishing aspect, and the spontaneous nature) enabled this feminist revival, but the point is that it was a revival. The new-ness of the blogosphere revived something old, something past, because while mediums may shape a message, ideas and debates that are vital tend to crop up in a variety of media.

Image: ostill/Shutterstock.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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