And there’s the problem of scarcity. Feminist work is rarely paid, and when feminist writers and activists are compensated, it’s not usually with much. In their new FemFuture report about online feminism (pdf), bloggers and activists Courtney Martin and Vanessa Valenti detail what they call a “psychology of deprivation”:
“[It is] a sense that their work will never be rewarded as it deserves to be, that they are in direct competition with one another for the scraps that come from third-party ad companies or other inadequate attempts to bring in revenue. As a result, they are vulnerable, less effective, and risk burn out. Under these conditions, online feminism isn’t being sufficiently linked to larger organizational and movement efforts and/or leveraged for the greatest impact at this critical moment.”
As such, feminists routinely see their work immediately picked apart by other feminists. Much like the trashing Jo Freeman and Susan Faludi detail, inter-feminist discourse often dips into character assassination. But there’s also personal attack masquerading as critique, and it’s nearly impossible to draw a line separating the two (although Ann Friedman does a good job with this handy chart).
Thoughtful criticism meant to improve a project is a good thing. The explicit intent of finding fault in a work is not. Going a step further, and suggesting that a project’s flaws and gaps reflect the motives of its creators – they’re corporate sellouts, don’t care about X group of women, just want to promote themselves – is what kneecaps activism. Why act at all if the social norm in your group is to chew up and spit out every new idea?
Unsurprisingly, the FemFuture report was met with the usual criticism-for-criticism’s-sake – but also, thankfully, some thoughtful and cogent suggestions for improvement. Within the feminist blogosphere, though, a paper meant to make our work more sustainable was only lightly promoted. There was little recognition of its many strengths, and even fewer pledges to help make sustainable online feminism real. It’s not because supporters don’t exist. It’s because many of us were scared to wade into a sudden conflict. We didn’t want to be perceived as insufficiently critical, sellouts, or too aggressive. You know, not sufficiently accommodating. Too ambitious. Not sufficiently feminine.
That has real consequences. I have spoken to countless women who have ideas for books, blogs, campaigns or other projects, but are terrified to carry them out, lest they make a misstep and be branded a bad feminist, unworthy of support. They’d rather keep their heads down than put out new ideas. Better to join the chorus of critics, and position oneself as a “good” feminist, in opposition to those other, “bad” feminists.
That’s not the sign of a healthy movement, but it is how one earns credibility in online feminist circles today – nothing looks better than pointing out how everyone else is doing it wrong.
From “The tragic irony of feminists trashing each other” by Jill Filipovic in The Guardian.