Online Feminism Class Mid-term Reflections

March 18, 2011

My USC undergrads are great sports, engaging in innovative primary research and production for their course work for Online Feminist Spaces. They have to choose an online space for the semester and do a variety of assignments within it. To my surprise, a majority of the them chose generic, corporate, often hostile or misogynistic spaces for their assigned feminist practices, believing I think, that the easiest intervention for would-be scholar/activists would be to name and fight sexism where it was most obvious and obnoxious. I warned them on several occasions that it might be easier to accomplish the first assignment–analyze your site as an online feminist of color space within your site–by choosing a bona fide feminist, or perhaps at minimum female friendly space, but they shouldered on amidst the corporate wastelands. On further discussion with them, I learned this was largely because these are the sites and experiences they have. They are not familiar with a radical or alternative Internet.

The good news is that we all learned a great deal from how truly inhospitable were these sites to the kinds of critical, political and self-aware online interaction I required of my students; the bad news is how deeply racist, misogynistic, and brutal are the “entertaining” and “funny” norms and regulations of the places online that college students spend their time. It turned out that a significant number of the students attempting to rather benignly discuss gender, race, or sexuality within their various “communities” (stoners, frat brothers and sorority sisters, a corporate make-up site) were almost immediately called out as trolls and expelled from the site (making their course work almost impossible). For instance, when a young Asian-American woman who was using the make-up site that she actually visits daily as her research site asked a question about the paucity of foundation products for women of color, she was outed and ousted.

As proved true for my long experiment on YouTube, learning through the reverse seems definitive of much Internet research. We begin by naming the unfulfilling, limiting, and highly regulated conventions of most Internet spaces, and from there can give words to what we might actually want. Below, find just such a list culled from the writing and presentations of my industrious, adventurous, and pretty beat-up young feminist researchers.

online feminist space

  • safety: respectful, be oneself without apologies,  fear, or camoflauge
  • easy to be heard and seen
  • self-authoring: a place to build a voice, stabilize and authentic it, and build a reputation
  • sense of place: well organized, easy to use, norms of behavior
  • transparency of rules, structures, and architecture
  • empowering: a place to build and disrupt authority
  • self and other: empathy, understanding, reciprocity, personal, nurturing
  • community: alliance-building, affinity, kinship,
  • dialogic: insightful, interactive, feedback
  • shared interests and values: talent, creativity, originality
  • accessible, open, free, uncensored
  • discussion: ongoing, directed, moderated

normative, corporate, online space

  • fear: hostile, hierarchical, flaming, entitlement, betrayal, exploitation, manipulation
  • entertainment, humor, sarcasm, never serious
  • ADD attention, no depth, fragmented
  • generic, corporate
  • exclusionary, authoratative, hierarchical
  • hostile: misogynistic, racist, homophobic
  • loss of identity: no ability to warrant or authenticate yourself or other users

A quick flagging of some of the larger contradictions expressed to date (and apparent in the lists above): safety requires rules that are often hierarchical and/or exclusionary, they make access harder; building a voice often produces authority and/or exclusions or hierarchies; shared communities exclude by definition. Can spaces or communities by unequal and still safe? Can authority be used in ways that are not brutal? Can feminists be funny? (yes! I write about that here).

If you are an everyday user of this blog, I’d love to hear if you think this blog (or others you can name) do or do not demonstrate terms from either category. Namely, do feminist blogs model online feminist spaces? If you are a student in the course, you are required to respond by class on Monday. Let us know how this space is different from or similar to the one you are studying, and how or if these terms are useful to begin to draw out what we might want, need, and expect from feminist experiences online. It might be useful to reflect upon how our feminist classroom is different from this online space or also, how requiring you to comment (as well as interact on feminist spaces) produces a different investment than might be true for my largely anonymous and quiet readership (see last post on feminist blogging and the “service” of commenting.)

45 Responses to “Online Feminism Class Mid-term Reflections”


  1. What an interesting assignment & class project.

    My (queer feminist sports) blog developed into what it is exactly because I found that the mainstream sports sites were so hostile, so vile that I actually didn’t feel “safe” posting on them.

    I write about this here issue here: http://fromaleftwing.blogspot.com/2011/01/do-you-get-rape-y-comments-too-on.html

    I’m afraid that lately my posts have been erratic (finishing non-soccer related book). I’m looking forward to getting back into, partly because I really enjoy creating this very simple blog as one environment in which readers will be spared sexist and abusive rhetoric.

    JD


    • I just wanted to respond as the student who is trying to analyze twitter through the lens of March Madness. I haven’t really received a ton of outward expressions of dislike or being kicked off my space, but I haven’t really been acknowledged at all. It’s seemingly more and more like twitter is genuinely just a place where everyone talks and not many people actually communicate.

      I was really excited to hear you mention womentalksports in your blog, because that’s where I’m looking to go next in terms of finding a safer/more communicative place online to talk about sports – specifically the tournaments (because as no one on twitter, much less espn.com, seems to realize right now, there is more than just a men’s tournament included in “the madness”).

  2. MP:me Says:

    Jennifer: It has been downright shocking for me to watch my students harrassed, bullied, and talked to (and about: you should hear what they say on those frat and sorority sites, or better yet, not) in ways that would be unimaginable anywhere in their real life, and to understand that this is their normal experience online, to listen to how they adapt or not to this brutalization, and to realize we all sort of accept it and personalize it (and then hide or cower or leave).

    I have two students working on sports and the internet (twitter and march madness, women’s rugby) and I will certainly turn them towards your work.

    And, it’s interesting to hold your noxious experiences against the anxiety-provoking ones I’ve been discussing here and at Antenna (about feminist academic blogging), and to see how “safety” continues to matter greatly for women and feminists, how hard it is to find, unless we fight for it and make it and also, contradictorily, how for a long while I’ve thought that “safety” was passe, a left over from 2nd wave victim feminism that assumed that women needed to be protected, and that we couldn’t be aggressive, powerful, or capable of taking care of ourselves without special protection. In your post, you say that you were “aggressive” when you called out misogyny, and that was the same thing my students were called (and kicked) out for as trolling: as if naming a hard truth in a rational voice is somehow on the same spectrum as calling someone a Nazi or describing how you will rape them.

  3. Martin Says:

    I think I’ve mentioned this before in class, but I’m very intrigued by the aesthetics of an online space and their effects. This blog is presented in white background with headings and tags in eye-friendly colors (orange, light green, light blue). And the black and grey texts grab the reader’s focus on this page. Fonts used in this page are also warm and familiar. I feel comfortable as I move through different pages, and most importantly, I feel safe to share my opinions. The layout is very simple, and easy to navigate.

    Now, on the other hand, the online space that I have been a part of for this project (www.blackopsforum.com) is the complete opposite. Main page displays images from the videogame Call of Duty: Black Ops, and all materials are presented against a solid black background. This alone describes a very masculine space for me because I associate the color black with themes like fear and confusion, unlike white which I associate with purity and transparency. Layout is also very complex and disorganized. There are sub-threads in threads, and topics are all over the place.

    It is quite fascinating how one, like myself, can feel differently about a website based on its aesthetics…

  4. Maggie Carroll Says:

    So, since I inhabited a blog, about women’s rugby no less, and I decided that it WAS feminist, I feel like I had a little bit of a different experience than some of the other students in our class… I play rugby and have often had thoughts about the sexist nature of the sport itself (old, typically white, male refs will tell us condescending things like, “rugby’s a THINKING game ladies!”, as if we aren’t thinking), and it was empowering and exciting to read a blog focused entirely on our side of the game. It is women friendly and queer friendly, and the response from the (mostly) female readers is overwhelmingly positive.

    A blog, as an online space, seems to more easily fit the requirements you list than do the other types of sites. It is generally authored by a single voice, or at most, a group of voices, so it tends to be more personal (self-authored) and more transparent. Because, as a reader, you are interacting with a smaller group of people, your input is more likely to be read and responded to. And, because of the nature of blogging, if the writer of the blog is feminist, the writing tends toward the feminist variety, creating a space that is safe for women/celebrates or values women.

    The blog that I chose to inhabit (scrumhalfconnection.com) was more of the “hub of information” type than this blog, but I would feel as comfortable commenting on both without fear of being called a troll/whore/nazi, etc.

    As to how our class is different from the online space… The class (and you the professor) are outspoken about being feminist, causing the students (some of which, I think, that are still not quite sure what feminism is) to self-edit, whereas in anonymous spaces, they don’t have to. Online, terrible things are said to people, whereas, presumably out of respect for the class and for other students, students are rarely called trolls/whores/nazis within the confines of our class. The questions and answers and discussions are all put forth with feminism in mind, so it changes the tone of what is said. Face to face, nobody wants to be offensive, and nobody wants to be wrong. This is going to cause a huge difference between the dialogue on more anonymous online spaces such as total frat move, and our class room.

  5. Ryan Says:

    I find both this space and my online research space (a Buffy the Vampire Slayer Forum) to be safe places where respect is key to interactions with others in the community. In the Buffy forum, I was able to have a discussion with others about race in the show that was conducted overall very tactfully by all involved regardless of differing opinions. I was surprised that after 22 replies no one seemed offended or aggressive towards anyone else and I felt I should write a thank you post to the members for their input so I did so.

    My research space is definitely a self- authoring space where I am still attempting to build up my reputation (literally, as there are “rep points” awarded.) However, since I have spent over 15 hours in my space and am still called a “tourist”, I am finding it to be somewhat exclusionary. The way to be seen is fair enough however with every new post placing the thread at the top of the thread list. Overall I do find it to be similar to this space in that it encourages comments and the designation of “rep points” seems to be arranged to encourage users to jump into the conversations to earn points. This website still seems to be more inclusive and I don’t see anything indicating I will be working towards earning points here so it seems significantly less competitive (aggressive?)

    After the class presentations I have decided to take some steps to avoid being called a troll, which hasn’t happened to me yet, thankfully. Instead of only posting threads dealing with gender or race representations I am now starting to interact with others in threads that have nothing to do with the themes I’m looking to report back on so that I can prove to the other uses that I’m not in the space just to spark up controversial discussions. The users of this forum seem to be nice people, but just in case… I really like this space and I want to stay in it. I’m hoping that by the end of this project I will be raised to the next level of reputation; I’m getting tired of being a “tourist” even if no one has treated me any differently for it so far.

    I do not find the Buffy forum to be a place where identity is lost as in some of the generic spaces. In fact, each member has the option of creating a profile with info about themselves where others can leave them comments (basically like a facebook page within the Buffy forum). This makes it seem as though the creators of the site wanted to encourage users to make the space personal and comfortable for themselves – you can even set your personal page’s background color.

    The forum is also not a place with an ADD attention sort of logic. Many of the comments users post are several hundred words long and must have taken several minutes to compose, as opposed the the short sarcastic postings of some of the more generic sites. In fact, according to the forum rules – users are not supposed to post comments that are less than one sentence – probably to avoid turning the space into something like the more generic sarcasm sites. However, before reading the rules I did post a one sentence thread and it was not deleted, so I think the “one-sentence rule” is to prevent spam and to encourage users to post complex ideas/questions as often as possible.

    • MP:me Says:

      Your comment raises one huge contradiction for me: to build a reputation one has to participate a lot. That makes sense, as it marks investment and commitment and knowledge of a site’s norms, on the other hand, the way it makes a novice feel unwelcome is a hard road to entry and does not promote a sense of open access or equality. Also, the points thing seems strange, making it like a game, and competitive. Is there another structure that might insure the first without promoting the second?

      • Ryan Says:

        Exactly. I have yet to determine if the reputation points are useful to encourage conversation and participation or simply ways of excluding and ranking people. I think it is ultimately a combination. I do not think the points were originally intended to unfairly elevate some over others however the designations given to users seem unwelcoming (for example – calling some “tourist”) and I would suggest giving nicer sounding nicknames to users if they are to feel welcome. A better explanation of exactly how users can proceed to the next reputation level would also be useful and I feel the lack of specific rules for what qualifies one for points IS unfair.

  6. Heather H. Says:

    I definitely think that creating an identity in a cyberspace is one of the most important parts of a feminist space. For example, in my website, College ACB, anonymity rules the boards. Anybody can post at any time, without needing to sign in under a username. The website is structured around anonymity, so that even if you want to leave a username stamp, you can’t. This promotion of anonymity is one of the primary reasons that the gossip website is so hostile and ADD. People are encouraged to post without constructing any kind of identity. If College ACB allowed usernames, there would be more context in examining the messages posted. You could see that “Fratboy69” kept posting hostile messages on sorority-related posts, or you could see that “GDItilliDie” was the one stirring up trouble in the ‘Greek Sucks’ posts. Users would be able to see that the hostility was only coming from several posters – or they might be able to see that the comments are from a wide range of posters. You would be able to track the user’s other posts and see if they often trolled or if they only specifically tried to cause a debate in a certain topic. A sense of identity would provide more context for the website, and promote user responsibility. Users would be encouraged to post either funny, or informative, or thought-provoking messages, instead of the useless garbage that litters the site. Although the site is open for anybody to post – there is no exclusion, no rules, etc – it is not feminist because of the amount of hostility and the lack of user identity that the site creates. An identity promotes responsibility, credibility, and context. Without it, the messages follow the rules of the mob – whoever can post the most inflammatory posts has the pleasure of seeing his posts rise to the top. It doesn’t encourage thoughtful posting, but rather racist and sexist spam. Ultimately, College ACB is not a feminist space primarily because of the sheer lack of identity that the website fosters.

    • MP:me Says:

      responsibility, credibility, and context, really well said! Can that be done without the feeling of exclusion that Ryan presents?

  7. Elise R Says:

    Touching on Heather’s discussion of autonomy, I too have found it quite difficult to authenticate myself on my site, Popsugar. The lack of identity or, rather, the disinterest and disregard for individualism, undoubtedly characterizes this corporate site. The editors dominate the content, and even on the “community” section, there are so many ads and links to the site’s own articles, that it’s hard not establish a strong presence on the site amidst all the distractions it offers. On your profile you can provide as much or as little information about yourself, but it doesn’t seem to matter either way because interactions between site members is severely limited, and even when members create posts or comment on posts, they rarely return to continue their participation in the “discussion.”

    In regards to being required to comment on this post as a class assignment is a much different experience than turning in an assignment seen only by the professor. Knowing that my comment will be seen not only by my professor, but also my classmates, my peers, I notice I feel more self-conscious in writing my comment. This is not to say that the class is not a safe environment. Once my comment is posted, I have no control over who sees it. If I were to get a bad grade on a written assignment handed-in in class, for example, only the teacher and myself need to know about it; I don’t run the risk of being embarrassed or judged by my peers. The members on my site are strangers to me, so my concern for their opinions of my posts is less than that of people I actually know. Still, however, I find myself taking special care in my comments and posts on Popsugar in order to fit in with the tone of the other member’s comments. Having heard about the harassment of my fellow students on their sites, I would rather spare my feelings, and unsubscribe to my site than be exiled from it.

    I was shocked by the amount of misogynistic and racist content of many of my classmate’s sites. Not even a stoner website can provide a peaceful, supportive and safe environment. I’m appalled by how this hatred and narrow-mindedness is so widely accepted.

    I am keeping my membership with Popsugar, but I am looking into other more explicitly feminist sites, such as Bitch Media, as a tool for comparison and for the relief from the corporate superficiality and homogeneity.

  8. MP:me Says:

    The feelings raised by making something public (as opposed to between the class in a private space, or between you and me) are key to this question of safety online and off. How do you make an online space feel as safe as our class, or can you (given that our class may not be as safe as your dorm room, or house, or sports team, etc.)

  9. Danny A Says:

    As the professor infers, defining the line between humor and offensiveness is a problematic issue in online social media. To one person, a comment made online is purely comical, while to another person, the same comment is considered completely misogynistic or racist. As someone who has a deep fascination and love of comedy, I have become aware of this issue in other modes of entertainment such as television (eg. South Park) and stand-up (eg. Dave Chappelle). This class has made me aware how prevalent it is in the online social sphere, especially in my own online community. The stoner community I inhabited I’ve found has a definitive lighthearted/comedic tone to it– members gravitate to what is pleasant and what is funny/entertaining. This I’ve also realized has repercussions because their tendency to embrace what is funny leads them to dismiss what could be considered demeaning or hurtful. I believe it is human nature to gravitate to the pleasant/entertaining, not just in stoners but in all people, but at the same time it is necessary to at the very least take into consideration the potential consequences of a comment, especially one that is permanently stamped onto a public website.

    • Carrie Williams Says:

      I was also interested in this idea of humor playing into how twitter works. It’s easy to see if you go on anyone’s account that one of the main ways of communicating is trying to be funny as well – in fact many of the main people who have big followings are actually comedians off the internet as well. Twitter gives them another way to activate their comedic personas – a way that is cheap and seemingly effective (if people are actually reading their stuff).

      The thing I found similar regarding your assessment of the stoner community is simply that this humor has been twisted to address issues of race, class and gender – especially with regards to demeaning women. While people make jokes, it’s easy to just look in the “trends” box on any twitter page and see items like #mywomansaidthis and #getbackinthekitchen, and especially #100hottestwomen. It goes on and on, changing everyday – some taken in humor, but just hiding their real misogynistic message, and not well.

  10. Taylor Says:

    My site, totalfratmove is a very misogynistic space where it is hard to get your posts published and it is extremely hard to track any of your own moves and anyone else’s on the space. It can be considered heirarchial because not everyone ‘s posts are posted on the site, but I am unsure of how they determine which posts to use. However, I believe that a heirarchial site can be feminist because it can safeguard people who are just browsing and want to interupt the normal flow of a site.
    Totalfratmove exemplifies most of the other attributes that we have considered to be normative, corporate masculine sites. All of the posts are based off sarcasm and humor as a way to lessen the actual meaning of the posts. This allows people to make horribly vulgar and offensive comments without feeling bad because they beleive that all the viewers will just laugh at it. Furthermore it is built for ADD participants because there is not logical flow to the site but just posts that you can comment on. This does not allow for productive conversations about the topics that people write about, but instead produces a place where the normal threads become flame wars and very unsafe and unwelcoming especially for a feminist.
    Also unlike this site there is a complete loss of identity on totalfratmove with only your screenname and state identified. This allows people to make assumptions based off no knowledge of the user and to bash people based on pointless information that becomes stereotypical.
    Since this site was really hard to navigate and to make my home I have decided to search for another site that fosters creativity, openness and freedom. I hope to find a site on possibly dancing or a specific band in hopes that people with a common interest that doesnt involve bashing other people will develop a site that is more feminist friendly.

    • Matt R Says:

      The loss of identity on a site like this seems to make people feel comfortable with posting whatever they wish (perhaps their manners go out the window as well and their real selves come out?) It reminds me a lot of the concept of “time out” in which we are able to act completely mannerless when we are on vacation or in a place that is not our home (i.e. Vegas, etc.) The same sort of concept – where you don’t have to be yourself, or it doesn’t matter, comes into play.

  11. Eric Lavis Says:

    In reflecting on my own online space (greekchat.com) in comparison to this clearly defined feminist space, the most prominent difference is in the purpose that commenting in each space serves. With virtually no similarities of note, the differences are all too apparent, and so we turn to how my comments affect both spaces.

    I am required to comment in both spaces. And in doing so, every comment and response continues to shape and influence how people perceive me (as myself here in this space) or my avatars in GreekChat.com. But in GreekChat, my comments do not have the same value they do here. Designed as a forum for Greeks in college, my questions or comments that may reflect my the insecurities of my avatars, or just act as a general plea for help or assistance were sometimes met with supportive responses. But more so, the comments reflected what seemed like an indirect attack on my avatars, trying to call me out for being an imposter in their community by pointing out any ways in which my comments were invalid or ignorant (and in some cases they were, but I am taking care to ensure that my future comments are more ambiguous and more informed). In a forum, I assumed I would be met with support, but my comments were more so met with just a means for members of this exclusionary and hostile website to exclude me.

    In this feminist space however, my comments serve an entirely different function. As the Professor talks about in her last article, the commenting on this site is not discriminated against. Responded to, yes. But comments here are meant to build dialogue, community, and confidence as the Professor notes. Comments might not necessarily be “right” or in agreement with what a given post is trying to say, but in this space, those commenting can be assured that they are safe in this space; they are contributing to a community that is well defined and open, and that in doing so, commenters need not fear exclusion or censorship. Commenting in this space allows me to be establish a voice and reputation and contribute to discussion without fear of being called out for a seeming lack of credibility. In GreekChat, your reputation and your voice only has the capacity to grow which is equivalent to how “credible” you make yourself seem to a hierarchy of site monitors, waiting to discredit you or exclude you for a lack of authenticity or knowledge.

    The terms defined can definitely help direct a person to the space they want to find online. Being able to classify these online spaces with the terms can work to ensure stronger communities because membership will be comprised of people who know what they want in an online space. Knowing that a site is safe or hostile, open or censored, and knowing what to expect from a site whether feminist or not allows people to feel more comfortable in that online space, which gives those people confidence to interact and contribute. With GreekChat, I discovered a community that was not accepting unless I play by their rules. And now that I have identified what kind of online space it is, I should hopefully be able to develop more credibility as I “assume” avatars who don’t mind being in that hostile or exclusionary enviornment. The effect that comments might have on a given space may vary from site to site, but as long as people know what kind of site (and community) they are contributing to based on the defined terms, the better their chances of becoming a more respected and credible member of that community.

  12. Hana Kidaka Says:

    When I first visited my online research space, it reminded me of the feminist spaces that we had visited during class as well as this space, because it was so clean. It also didn’t seem overtly female or male so I immediately felt safe. I think the most important quality that both spaces share is that neither have advertisements that try to distract you from the true purpose of the site. I find it would be difficult for members on Indaba Music to collaborate or create their own music if they were being bombarded by flashing banner ads. Because different membership plans are the only source of revenue, I fear the space I am studying may change into a normative space as the community becomes larger and some big corporation decides to buy the site.

    Coming into this class, I had a pretty limited understanding of what feminism is and therefore, I would have never thought these terms were characteristics of online feminist spaces. I feel like they describe an ideal space that is unattainable with a large community. These terms describe Indaba Music, as well as your blog, really well, but once more people join and the comments increase, it will be necessary to trade in qualities of the online feminist space to prevent those of the normative, corporative, online space from changing the space. For example, as more people use Indaba Music, artists who are already known may use it as well, which would make it very difficult to be seen and heard. To prevent this, the site would have to restrict some people from joining, which I don’t think is something a feminist space should do.

    • Taylor Says:

      I agree with what you are saying but just as Matt asks below – is it possible for the site to stay feminist even when it must become more corporate to sustain more participants? Must it remain small to remain feminist, or could there be another way to allow more people to join without changing the face and the vibe of the site? Also just because there are banner ads does that make it a non-feminist space – because couldnt they just use banner ads that promote feminist policies?
      I think the most important question is – does a site have to be completely masculine and corporate or completely feminine? Each person has qualities that may not go with all the norms of their gender, but does that make them any less that gender?

  13. Matt R Says:

    I came across the Yahoo! Answers community under the assumption that I’d get shot down and kicked out as it is a very corporate space (corporate spaces are not feminist spaces as far as I’m concerned.) But what I came to find is that the community has changed – users of the community are mostly genuine and only pick fun/fights when they sense the existence of a troll. Sure, that troll can actually be a really person (as we’ve seen several times), but their sensors don’t seem to go off for the wrong people.

    What this calls into question for me requires a lot of thought – can a corporate space (or even a space that millions of people frequent every day) be a feminist space? Can it truly have the groundings of a community without the sense of fear in place, can it be open for discussion and free for everyone? Will we always have the feeling that we have to pretend who we are in large online spaces? I know that feminist spaces exist – I’m fairly active in forums that are built on feminist principals, but they lack the funding and user-base that the much larger spaces have. Yes, authority will have to exist as I believe that it should in all large spaces, but I second you in asking “does it have to be brutal?”

    Lastly – on a completely different subject – I’d like to share a quick story. Last year I started up an e-commerce business with my sister called The Motley – an online store for high quality and sustainable men’s grooming products. We have finally seen growth over the last three months and over the weekend, I got subscribed (somehow?) to a mailing list put out by the investing publication The Motley Fool. I have one issue with this (besides the fact that I never signed up), they signed us up under the e-mail address “fuckyourself@themotley.com”. I understand that they might feel that we’re treading on their territory, but in no way do they own our name. The Motley Fool is, without a doubt, a corporate male space. This is the first time, in a long time, that I feel completely uncomfortable even in my OWN space. And I thought that Yahoo! Answers would make me feel this way…

    • Matt R Says:

      perhaps my store is “less masculine” than their investing website?

    • Danny A Says:

      I think a corporate space has the potential to be an online feminist space. Yes, sometimes you get shut down for trolling, but my feelings are the large user-based spaces like Facebook and Yahoo are actually pretty liberal in terms of users’ content. So it is not up to the corporations to become feminist spaces, but rather the users. The one drawback of such large spaces is that unless they are molded specifically for feminist discourse, it is difficult to retain a committed focus to the subject. Feminist websites have that advantage. I’m curious if any “femnist” facebook pages exist– a narrow focus in a broader community.

  14. maggie Says:

    Since I explored a blog, and a women’s rugby blog no less, and I found that it WAS feminist, I had a little bit of a different experience than most of the people in our class. I play rugby, and have often wondered about the sexist nature of the sport (white, male refs will tell us things like, “Rugby’s a THINKING game, ladies”, as if we don’t think), so it was exciting and interesting to read a blog entirely about our side of the game. It is women friendly, and queer friendly, and the response from the (mostly female) readers is overwhelmingly positive. I don’t believe that anyone has ever been called a troll/nazi/whore on yourscrumhalfconnection, as far as I can tell, ever.

    I think that the nature of a blog is such that it allows it to more easily exist as a feminist space. It is generally authored by one person, or a small group of people, and if they consider themselves feminist, the content is more likely to be feminist in nature. Because you are interacting, as a reader, with a smaller group of writers, your input is more likely to be taken into account. And, unless the writer is an angry person, or Charlie Sheen, it is much less likely that you will be called a troll/nazi/whore… Blogs have none of the anonymity that the forum spaces provide. It is within these forum spaces that students seemed to face the most discomfort and resistance, probably because people feel comfortable being down right rude when they don’t have to be held responsible for their actions.

    The class room, on the other hand, works in exactly the opposite manner. We sit face to face in a class that unabashedly calls itself feminist, and everybody tailors their comments to fit the specific venue. In person, no one wants to be offensive, and no one wants to be wrong. This colors both the content of the talks, and the responses to other’s comments. Students are rarely called trolls/whores/nazis within the confines of our class.

  15. Roxanne Says:

    I am interested in the dichotomy that is forming here and am wondering if further work in this class may take on the challenge of breaking-up or dismantling the dualisms of feminist vs. normative online spaces.

    As someone who has, in the past, blogged regularly for a feminist blog and reads them frequently, I can speak to the fact that feminist spaces are not utopias. They often form hierarchies and antagonisms arise. This is not to say, “feminist sites are bad too” or something as simple as that. Instead, I’m curious as to whether these conflicts, when compared to those of another site, generate more productive conversations or not. Simply put, are feminist sites inherently safe, transparent and empowering OR do their tendencies towards this mode allow conversations to generate that can blossom and develop, some of which are more liberating and some of which deal with frustrations. Is it a matter of opportunity and access rather than restriction?

    • MP:me Says:

      Partly the debate is semantic: if feminist is a set of principles a site that calls itself “feminist” might not live up to these principles, or it could stop being “feminist” when it can’t handle the loss of a set of norms it understands as feminist.

  16. Maxine Welcome Says:

    I believe that my space, on Reddit.com, is a somewhat feminist. It is difficult to be seen in the midst of all the other people trying to communicate their beliefs. The hierarchal system also makes it so that I am not always at the top where all the action and response are held. In terms of the safety of the space, I do not feel like a attacked on a regular basis like some of my classmates. It was extremely alarming to see how unsettling the members of certain communities are. In class we are learning that there is a very blurred line between cyberspace and the physical space, so what is stopping those thoughts and ideals from leaving the cyber world and entering the physical.

    • MP:me Says:

      Important point, and I’d say, those lines are being breached often. Several members of our class, who had bad experiences online, seemed to carry that physically and emotionally into the “real world” of our classroom

  17. Martin Says:

    For me, one of the most influential aspects of an online space is its aesthetics. Colors, font, layout and structure all play a huge part in defining the characteristics of an online space. This blog has a white background with eye-friendly colors that bring readers’ focus to textual information. Font is easy to read, and the layout is simple. This makes me feel more comfortable to share my thoughts. Also, users can leave comments without sharing much information about themselves. In other words, readers are not required to be “members” of the blog to comment.

    On the other hand, the online space that I am currently a part of is completely opposite. http://www.blackopsforum.com is an online space for gamers playing Call of Duty: Black Ops to share their experiences and thoughts about the game. The forum also allows users to engage in other non-game related discussions. The forum sports a solid black background with multiple large-sized images that overshadow the textual content. Also, users are identified as specific “members” that can display pictures, and other information that describe them.

    From this comparison, I find this blog to be associated with more feminist characteristics. It allows users to focus on the textual information, thus encouraging them to share their thoughts and experiences as well. In the Black Ops forum space, however, aesthetics of the site makes it much less welcoming to do so.

  18. Quinlan Says:

    The question at hand is interesting in relation to my project. Being offline, as opposed to online, has left me wondering what spaces outside the virtual world are feminist spaces and which are not. I believe that a large reason why Facebook holds so much power over the physical world is that it is designed the same. Corporate power wins and harsh norms are in place that keep the public in check, of sorts. However, there are feminist spaces within Facebook and within the world, even if it is not a fe Uniat space by nature. You just have to look harder. Blogs like this exist, but are overshadowed by the mainstream sites which are not feminist spaces. This translates to the offline world as well, in my experience. It just requires some effort that the everyday person isn’t willing to put forth, unfortunately.

  19. Annie Says:

    My site, Dear Blank Please Blank, was much more anti-feminist than I expected. It is meant to be a site where people can post humorous comments about everyday issues, but I am quickly discovering that it downplays a lot of very serious problems in society – including inequality toward women. The site uses a lot of sarcasm to get the messages across, and at first I thought this was harmless and a good way of taking an intense issue and putting it into perspective, but as I navigate through the site I am realizing that it is not a feminist space at all. The first example is that the site is run by two males in their mid twenties and all comments have to be approved by them before being posted. I still have yet to have anything published after trying at least 25 times. Also, when I am able to comment on other people’s posts I only get feedback when the comment is humorous or sarcastic. When I tried to be serious, I got little to no feedback. I thought this site would be a safe place for women, but I quickly learned that even seemingly neutral spaces can be misogynistic. I am going to stick with the site but also see if I can find another online space that also seems neutral and compare the two. I never realized how websites we use everyday can be so hurtful and “unsafe” to a lot of people.

  20. Tritia Says:

    Before we started this experiment, I thought that the makeup site,a female dominated space, would show at least some traces of feminist ideals, however I was terribly wrong. I believe that the difference between my makeup site and this blog is that my site was not branded as a “feminist” space by any means. I feel that this blog is friendlier toward such feminist ideas is because it is an academic space, which is heavily based on feminism, whereas mine is specific to products, accessories, etc. Everyone is pretty much comparing each other’s looks and ventures into being “pretty”. In turn, these women are behaving in a very ugly manner because they don’t feel the need to express these ideas in a space that is non-specific to feminist ideas. Sadly..

  21. Heather Says:

    The list of qualities of feminist spaces above causes me to wonder whether all or most feminist online spaces are open to controversy and heated differences in opinion. Predictably, most of the recreational online communities that students in class have inhabited are populated by people seeking to connect with others with very closely related interests, perspectives and world-views. It is not wholly surprising to me that some of these spaces would be resistant to the introduction of perspectives that might disrupt this comfortable homogeneity. I wonder now if a similarly broad cross-section of overtly feminist spaces would reveal more openness or if in practice, feminist spaces might also be resistant to different perspectives?

    • MP:me Says:

      As I suggested in class, part of this is modelling or thinking about a set of norms about what to do when you disagree. All feminists do not agree, but could there be feminist principles around how to disagree, discuss, debate?

  22. brynn Says:

    Depending on the space that a student decides to inhabit will drastically skew the type of content and response that they will receive. In response to the hostile posts from the make-up alley website, I assume that the women on that site didn’t expect to engage in deeper conversation regarding the misconceptions of beauty or the unequal representation of diversity within the make-up industry. Yet, even though it is not a community that has been created for the purpose of in-depth conversation it still surprised and saddened me to learn that the exposure of such topics evoke such negative reactions from the make-up alley community.

    I have found these spaces within my project space, Second Life, as well. In general hotspots and areas that are known as “User Friendly” spaces are not as tolerable to conversations regarding sexuality, gender, and race. There are open and safe areas to discuss these topics with in Second Life but these are specialized areas and groups that someone would need to have the desire to seek out. For my final project I’m wondering if these feminist communities will be accepting to my questions and interest. I’m not an avid Second Life user and i feel like there are two filters I need to pass to adequately require the trust from the feminist online community within Second Life. Firstly, I need to show that I take Second Life seriously and secondly, that I am not aggressively entering the feminist community disrespectfully.

    Second life inhabits both an online feminist space as well as a normative online space. There are specialized groups that give feminists a sense of place and a more safe area to be insightful and receive feedback. These areas must be sought out because the frequently visited areas are more for entertainment and humor. I find myself having to dig deeper to understand a more complicated community where I can have more ongoing discussions. Second Life can be both embracing and toxic which will conclude two completely different reactions to my points.


  23. […] Pafunda and Betts quoted above) reverberate with the issues of safety, anxiety, self-authoring and violence I have been discussing here in regards to what we might want from online spaces. We are reminded […]


  24. One of my favorite online feminist projects is the Organization for Transformative Works (I think their organization and various projects fulfill a number of the criteria that you list above).

    Let me quote from their mission statement to give your a better sense of what the OTW does (I’m a member of the OTW, btw): “The Organization for Transformative Works (OTW) is a nonprofit organization established by fans to serve the interests of fans by providing access to and preserving the history of fanworks and fan culture in its myriad forms. We believe that fanworks are transformative and that transformative works are legitimate.” Furthermore, they emphasize, “We value our identity as a predominantly female community with a rich history of creativity and commentary” (both quotes from here: http://transformativeworks.org/about/believe).

    The OTW works on a number of projects. They created a large archive for fanworks, appropriately called An Archive of Our Own. The archive is hosted on servers that are owned by the OTW; the archive code was written by a group of mostly female volunteers. The archive is specifically non-commercial and non-profit. The OTW also runs an open-access, peer-reviewed academic journal called Transformative Works and Cultures (http://journal.transformativeworks.org/). For more on their projects, including the legal advocacy group and the preservation of fan history, see http://transformativeworks.org/projects.

    I think the OTW is an example of a feminist online space that is very much going against the commercial framework that dominiates so much of the internet. The founding of the OTW was motivated by the precarious place of fan works in commercial spaces (this is also why the OTW owns its servers) and by the perception that certain female fan practices, such as fan-created videos, were being written out of emerging histories of remix video, which tend to ignore or leave out the almost 40-year history of making videos in largely female fan communities (for more about this history, check out the documentary the OTW made in 2008: http://transformativeworks.org/projects/vidding).

    While the OTW is by no means perfect or without its flaws, I think the creation of a far-reaching feminist and anti-commercial project in the span of just a few years (the OTW was founded in 2007) is a significant accomplishment.


  25. […] of better models, like Transformative Work and Culture recently suggested to me in a comment from Melanie Kohnen who I met at my video-book showing and who wrote on this blig in response to my negative […]

  26. Hana Says:

    What I learned from the ethnography project:

    A remix is more than an overrated “club mix” of an original song. It is the reinterpretation and reincarnation of the original. Because each artist can recreate the song with new meaning, we can form conversations through remixing and maybe form a story, combining the different flows from various artists’ works. The possibilities are endless. You don’t have to connect with someone through words or lyrics; conversations can happen through notes, tempo, pitch, anything…

  27. Eric Lavis Says:

    For our second assignment in class, we had to do an ethnography of the website we have been inhabiting for the semester. As my above post mentions, I am inhabiting GreekChat.com, a chat forum for fraternity and sorority members. In reflecting on my ethnography, I have become overly aware of hetero-normativity and it’s all to glaring presence on GreekChat. I have known since the beginning that this site is corporate, censored, and all together, not a feminist space though I had pointed out ways in which the site had potential to promote feminist ideals. However, while doing my ethnography, I posted a question regarding the sexuality of my persona to which a respondent of the blog quickly outted me as a troll. It was so incredibly frustrating and hurtful, though it wasn’t me (ERIC) who was outted. Just the simple fact that people are not more receptive to what’s “different” and they are more concerned with trying disenfranchise an individual just, because. The idea that their community is so sacred that they are not willing to even address a question before flat out rejecting it. And yet my general idea on hetero-normativity is that I would like to be a part of it in some way. Not just online, but in general. But why? Why when people are so ignorant and close-minded? Looks like I need to evaluate my priorities a bit more.

  28. DubeCharles Says:

    Hey I truly are can’t wait to commence start working as a productive someone in the message board cheers web site builders🙂


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