IIn the previous post, I looked at the rise of the collective blog sites as a tool for creating a space for feminist discourse online whilst protecting the participants from threats of violence and bullying, as discussed in the earlier posts in this series. I now examine one collective blog site, Feministing.com in greater detail.
Part 5: An example of a collective feminist blog site and how they keep their space safe for their users
Feministing.com was launched in 2004 and is an example of a collective blog site, funded by donations and community members. It is aimed at younger feminists and calls itself an "online community for feminists and their allies. The community aspect of Feministing – our community blog, campus blog, comment threads, and related social networking sites – exist to better connect feminists online and off, and to encourage activism." The site is highly explicit about its activist intentions, a feature which has won it both praise and awards from the blogging and activist communities.
Founding Editor Jessica Valenti described Feministing's purpose as "a way to get through the mommy filter" and make feminism more accessible to young women through providing a space for young feminists to have an Internet presence. The founders make an explicit connection between feminist ideology and activism, stating that the Feministing community seeks to provide a forum for a variety of feminist voices and organizations. The writing on Feministing is not exclusively political, but also concerns feminist perspectives and observations from the staff's daily lives.
Site members are told when they register that the site editors can’t guarantee a completely safe space on Feministing, they can strive for an accountable space. This means that members of the site are held to account for their behaviour on the site by other members, measured against the site’s mission statement. The differences of opinion between contributors is welcomed as long as it is respectful and thoughtful. "We expect civility, respect, and patience for your fellow readers and for this space – please remember that we are all here to grow and learn from each other. There is enough hate and oppression out there in the real world – we don’t need any extra of it here!"
As with a number of collective blog sites, Feministing.com operates a strict policy regarding posts deemed to be harassment or unsafe. In order to maintain a progressive and safe discourse on the site, anti-feminist comments, posts, and profiles are not permitted. The priority placed on this belief by the blog editors is communicated by the inclusion of the following statement in the site's 'About Us' page: "the Feministing editors believe that racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and hate speech constitute anti-feminism and have no place on the site." If participants are seen to be in breach of these guidelines, the user's posts are removed, along with their access to the site.
This issue was the subject of a post on Feministing.com, published by Jos, in August 2009. Titled ‘There are no safe spaces’, the author makes a number of interesting points pertinent to this discussion. They states that “I have come to believe that creating safe spaces is an unrealistic goal and that labeling a space as safe is highly problematic”. Jos finds the idea of safe spaces on sites with high traffic incomprehensible. If we recognise that we all wear different hats at different times, and that the process of working out who we are and how we define our own identities is a complicated one, then safety can never be guaranteed and so shouldn’t be promised.
The author’s opinion is that instead of striving for safe spaces, we should be discussing how to make the spaces online accountable, a viewpoint consistent with the Feministing.com policy. “Accountability means being responsible to oneself and each other for our own words. It means entering a space with good intentions but understanding that we all screw up and need to accept responsibility for our mistakes. It means being OK with and open to being called out.” This sheds further light on how we can understand the philosophy behind this particular collective blog site’s approach to this issue, however it is not the only approach, and many sites have much stricter moderation standards.
In the next blog I will take a look at an innovative, different approach to creating space online for feminist discourse which deals with the criticisms of the early feminist blogosphere’s narrow representation of feminism – Blog Carnivals.