Blogging as a Feminist Legal Method

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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.

-Bridget Crawford

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0 Responses to Blogging as a Feminist Legal Method

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  2. rootlesscosmo says:

    I think it’s important, as part of this timely and needed discussion, to broaden what we mean by “the law” in sentences like

    why some women and men seemingly have abandoned the law as a way of effecting change

    Have people abandoned legislation? Have they abandoned struggles in the criminal justice system? Have they stopped attending to the (often neglected) family law system? Have programs to encourage women to go to law school, and resistance to discrimination throughout the practice and profession, faded away? I’m not asking rhetorically; I honestly don’t know the answers to these questions. But I do think that a decline in people’s willingness to do mass demonstrations in support of (for example) ERA, or not reversing Roe, doesn’t necessarily equal giving up on “the law” as such.

  3. bob coley jr says:

    sometimes those that come after forget the struggles of those that came before. We become comfortable in the gains made and critical of the imperfections of previous efforts. We must not forget our progress has as it’s foundation those efforts, however imperfect. To this end, comunication lets us understand what transpired, why it took the paths it did and where we go from here. The discourse on the internet, and therefore blogging, is a quantum leap to this understanding and as such, the next logical step toward equality. “WE CAN’T RETURN…WE CAN ONLY LOOK…BEHIND FROM WHERE WE CAME…AND GO ROUND AND ROUND AND ROUND IN THE CIRCLE GAME…”

  4. Ann Bartow says:

    This is a terrific post, Bridget.

  5. annike says:

    I am glad you are having this discussion. I am in the alleged “third wave” generation and also contemplating going to Law School eventually to do women’s intl human rights law.

    I would not consider these women as a new wave. They have not gone further in terms of deep thinking about what equality for women means in this society or others. They refuse to interrogate the intersection of culture and religion and women’s rights except in the case of right wing Christians here. They do not seem to understand things women figured out 30 years ago and they are not nearly as radical.

    The cover of Jessica Valenti’s book (regardless of her intent) speaks quite clearly through its naked bodice display. The feministing-type bloggers appear to be following a preference for dealing with sexual and cultural rights, however I find them merely preaching to the choir. They do not use media to its fullest– whenever Details or some other disgusting lad mag prints offensive and demeaning photos of women or their body parts, they bitch moan a little in the coments, some wonder — is this really bad? — and then don’t even bother to post a letter to the editor or mobilize to call the editor out. I’ve pointed this out to them but they are comfortable in their own little pond. Perhaps I am too critical, but I find them really going in all the wrong directions and not enough of the right ones.

    Quite frankly, as I try to educate myself on the history of women’s rights and feminism, I find myself far more in line with women my mother’s age than my own. I do think the law needs to be part of a wider feminist strategies. And I also have a question for you profs if anyone reads this:

    Re: ERA. Why wouldn’t the passage of ERA grant a more powerful constitutional basis for which to argue abortion rights, which seem to be rather precariously based on privacy rights? I’ve read it will really only help in discrimination cases.

  6. annike says:

    I tried to insert some comments but yr site won’t let me. WTF?

  7. hermanifesta says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post referencing my paper! I presented the paper on Saturday at the SCSU Women’s Studies Conference to great success…if not a great turnout!
    I particularly like your extra-legal proposition here. I am really starting to believe that my generation (mid-twenties) does not feel the law or the political system are effecting any change whatsoever and are doing just as you proposed – trying to change their society from the inside out. Blogging is a great manifestation of that.
    I got major criticism as well this weekend for my “wave” analogies. Seems the “second wavers” I met are angry that “third wavers” are so interested in separating themselves into different focus groups, while the principles of feminism stay the same…food for thought.
    Ironically, I started the presentation by handing out copies of the Newsweek article you referenced here for discussion. Following the presentation, a vocal “second waver” really called me to task in supporting the “slacktivism” of blogging. She also wanted to know where the male-feminist bloggers are…I referred her to Feminist Law Profs!
    I also met a wonderful Women’s Studies MA student, who is considering law school. She says she was inspired by my paper and started her own blog yesterday! She’s at http://advantageousfeminist.blogspot.com/ Check it out…
    Thanks again BJC.

  8. Ann Bartow says:

    Annike, comments are moderated, thanks to assorted trolls and pornographers. A human has to read them before letting them post, and sometimes that takes a while.

    Also, sometimes legit comments get caught in the spam filter, which is a different problem. If you leave a comment and it doesn’t post within 24 hours, e-mail feministlawprof@yahoo.com and we’ll try to figure out what is going on.

  9. Ann Bartow says:

    Oh, and Annike, I personally think passage of the ERA would be a lot more than a “symbolic gesture” but it’s hard to predict the exact changes that might follow. Although it isn’t exactly on point, you might find this of interest: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=993308

    Finally, I’m a different kind of feminist than Jessica Valenti in many ways, but I respect her efforts, and I don’t feel like she gets in my way at all, if that makes any sense. What I mean is, even when I disagree with her, I don’t feel like it’s some big problem for me or for feminism, it’s just a disagreement. I truly enjoy and learn from Feministing, I just stay out of the comments, and skip altogether the posts I know I’m not going to like.

    You should think about starting a blog, by yourself or with like-minded friends, exploring your own evolving feminism. You might learn a lot along the way, and your readers could as well.

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  11. rootlesscosmo says:

    As this San Francisco Chronicle illustrates

    http://tinyurl.com/ypptj6

    the law–understanding the term to embrace the family court system, which is where most women encounter it directly in its patriarchy-upholding aspect–has by no means been abandoned or transcended as an arena of activism on behalf of justice for women.

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