Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Feminism online: the bullying and the beat downs (Part 6)

In this final section looking at how the feminist blogging community has responded to threats of online violence and bullying, I look at Blog Carnivals. You can read about my investigation into the rise of collective blog sites here, and a closer look at one in particular here and the tactics they use to create an accountable, not safe, online space.

Part 6: The Carnival of Feminists

imagesCA0PPWJK Blog Carnivals are one way that feminists are using the internet to bring feminists together across nationality, sexuality, race, gender and ideology, providing an opportunity for the generation of collaborative, transnational analysis. The volunteer host blogger makes a collection of outstanding blog writing from across feminist blogs. In addition to the host trawling the Web and using her contacts to find material, bloggers may submit their own pieces or nominate the work of others for consideration.

Many blog carnivals are organized around a specific theme, for example the fifteenth Carnival of Feminists addressed the theme “Shut Up! Sit Down!”. Even when the content is more general, posts are often grouped thematically, with the host blogger introducing and linking to each post. The introduction may include a comment from the host blogger, a brief quote from the piece, or simply a title and a link.

This method of connection can be understood in the same way as a curator choosing the exhibits for a collection. Although the choice is a conscious one and will be underpinned by ideology and pre-existing prejudices, a conscious curator can include sources that challenge hegemonic powers.

vinylfeminism Blogger and founder of Carnival of Feminists, one of the most visited carnivals, Natalie Bennett feels that the carnival has done much to help new feminist voices online. She states that the carnival helps to encourage and support new feminist voices, citing some who have gone on to mainstream media writing and others who have grown to be major parts of the mainstream blogosphere.

She also believes it helps the general visibility of women bloggers, describing how the carnival is not infrequently cited or its participants cited, in the mainstream media as representing in some way ‘young’, ‘new’ feminist voices, although the age range of participants is quite evenly spread from late teens to say 50s.

moonlightacrobats by Marcio Melo 2004 A quick online search for the term Carnival of Feminists reveals a significant range and departure from the original, with a bi-monthly Carnival of Feminist Parenting, looking at writing around the world on raising offspring with feminist principles and practices, and a very popular Carnival of Radical Feminists, being widely cited across the web.

The critique of feminism online is something Bennett has tried to respond to in her own attempts to extend the reach of the Carnival of Feminists. In an interview with Georgia Gaden for 'thirdspace: a journal of feminist theory & culture', Bennett states that she “started out hoping to get a real dialogue going between bloggers in the developed and developing world, and that really hasn't worked out.” To date, the Carnival covers and has been hosted on four continents, and she is keen to involve bloggers in Africa and South America.

Whilst I am not suggesting that either this response or the example of collective blog sites really accomplish entirely the overall aim of providing an online space for safe transnational collaboration, sharing experience and reflexivity, they go some way to reaching towards establishing these principles as fundamental tenets of internet usage.

womenunite The achievement of these principles would allow increased visibility and participation from all individuals. The critique that the feminist blogosphere mirrors the practices of off-line privilege, begins to be addressed whilst simultaneously self-regulating the behavior of those who enter the spaces provided. The blog carnivals are another innovative technique of including voices from outside the hegemonic hierarchies of power replicated online.

The real test of this will be the inclusion of bloggers from the parts of the world so far not yet reached by the carnivals held to date, and also the sustainability of the relationships formed during these online events. If the interactions online lead to increased participation on a regular basis from feminists not yet included online, it will be proof that these efforts are having an effect.

The final part of this investigation will look at the trade off between online safety and space for discussion which challenges us. Is the feministing.com approach the best answer? Is there a better way to keep the internet as a level-playing field but one in which violence and online threats are not tolerated? These questions and more in the next post!

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