Back in May, we blogged here about this great post by em at hermanifesta suggesting that blogging is a new feminist legal method. The mainstream press has noticed young women’s embrace of the internet. The October 13, 2007 edition of Newsweek features “From Barricades to Blogs,” an article about feminist activism:
In 1978, 100,000 women marched on Washington demanding equal rights. * * * Will anyone fill their shoes? Young feminists point to the blogosphere. But some older feminists say a blog is not the same thing as a unified social movement. * * *
Older feminists worry that ERA-era feminism’s declaration that “the personal is political” has been lost on the latest generation, who don’t realize that their personal struggles should be addressed collectively. “If you don’t have the idea that you can make a claim on society, then you’re on your own. And that’s what happened,” says Katha Pollitt, feminist author, whose latest book is “Learning to Drive.” “Take this mommy-war thing. If we all had access to day care, would we be having a different kind of conversation?”
The space for that conversation may be the Internet, on sites like Feministing, Feministe, Pandagon and Echidne of the Snakes. Valenti of Feministing.com says feminist blogs drove the million-plus turnout at the 2004 March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C., and helped secure the opening earlier this month of a controversial Planned Parenthood clinic in Aurora, Ill. But even if blogging can translate into real-world activism, will it be enough to hold a movement together? That’s a question this generation of feminists will have to answer themselves.
In my view, the Newsweek article (available in full here) exacerbates and perpetuates a false belief that “older” or “second-wave” (or choose your own adjective) feminists don’t understand “younger” or “third-wave” (or choose your own adjective) feminists and vice versa. In fact, there are feminists of all ages and experiences levels “doing” feminism in old and new ways. I don’t think any feminist of any age thinks that blogging alone can “hold a movement together.” Blogging is one way that young women in particular are influencing contemporary politics and society. The Newsweek article misses the mark. It mistakes a conversation about methodology for one about substance.
The substantive question that has not been addressed adequately, in my view, is why some women and men seemingly have abandoned the law as a way of effecting change? For culturally-saavy feminists, the traditional protest march on the Capitol Hill seems tired and old. But young feminists’ failure to link arms and sing protest songs does not mean that they are complacent. It means that they are targeting something other than the law (or targeting the law only indirectly) and doing so with methods from the twenty-first century, not the civil-rights era.
I have previously hypothesized that there are four explanations for the absence of explicit consideration of the law in writings by women who came of age in the 1980′s and after. One is that young feminists take a pre-legal approach to the law. That is, so-called “third-wave” feminists simply have not thought enough about the law in order to articulate its function in achieving their goals. Another is that these feminists take a limited-means view of the law, i.e., that the legal system has inherent limitations in what it can accomplish for women. A third possibility is that young feminists adopt a limited-ends view of the law, i.e., that the accomplishments of second-wave feminists (largely achieved through the legal system) have failed to translate into enough change (or enough of the right kind of change) in women’s lives. Finally, young feminists may take an extra-legal view of change, seeking to abandon the law entirely, and instead to transform society through culture.
My sense is that the latter three explanations hold more promise than the first, and that they are not mutually exclusive. One may percieve the law as limited by a particular approach to equality jurisprudence and feel dissatisfied by the qualitative impact that such jurisprudence has had on women’s day-to-day lives. After all, equal rights for men and women in the workforce have not translated into equal responsibilities for men and women in the home. For the socially-conscious person who may be disillusioned or dissatisfied with the law, cultural change seems much easier to bring about and measure. Through site-counters and comments posted to blogs, we know that others are (at least occasionally) reading what we write and are writing back. That sure beats a return form-letter from a Senator any day.