One of the great accomplishments of feminists in the latter half of the twentieth century involved bringing women’s voices to the fore. It was important not just that men in power listen to women’s demands, but also that women listen to each other and learn about each others’ experience. Women’s magazines and other popular media were not sufficient; women wanted to talk to each other, to hear and respond to each other, without mediation by male/corporate interests.
In this way, feminist consciousness-raising groups became a form of feminist organizing. As activist Kathie Sarachild wrote, “The importance of listening to a woman’s feelings was collectively to analyze the situation of women.” Sarachild distinguished consciousness-raising from mere therapy: “The idea was not to change women, not to make ‘internal’ changes except in the sense of knowing more. It was and is the conditions women face, it’s male supremacy, we want to change”
Here at Ma’yan, we, too, believe that creating a space where women can speak to each other and be heard is radical. Young women today still live in a mass culture which celebrates a femininity that is passive, submissive, “nice,” and therein, effectively silent. Additionally, much of mass culture vilifies, or at least mistrusts women who seek power, speak up, and or act publicly. Insofar as creating a space for young women to talk and listen to each other attempts to make “internal changes,” it is to change the conditioning to be silent to which young women are subjected.
One of the incredible things about the internet is that creates a virtually infinite amount of space for people of all backgrounds [who have computer access and some literacy] to share their voices in relative public. The volume of information and the pervasiveness of banal branded content mean that It can be daunting, as a young feminist, to figure out where you can hear women’s voices and women in dialogue online.
The internet has of course replicated the corporate women’s magazines which feminist critiques have taken apart so thoroughly since the 1960s. As Naomi Wolf explains, women’s magazines “appear to be a mix of extended family, benefit agency, political party, and guild. They make it look like an interest group with the readers best interest at heart.” But of course, women’s magazines historically have been more interested in ad revenue, and accordingly perpetuating the so-called ‘Beauty Myth’.
But the internet has also seen inception of new, more overtly feminist and more subtly branded forums for women to speak out and hear each other’s voices. The most prevalent of these is Jezebel, an off-shoot of the millennial-targeted, tabloid-tinged Gawker. For an in-depth and historical analysis of the genesis of Jezebel and its sister sites, the n+1 website ran a fantastic piece on so-called “ladyblogs” by Molly Fischer. Fischer writes:
Feminist blogs are of a different genre, with a specific and explicitly political project. The ladyblogs are fundamentally mainstream general interest outlets, even if a façade of superiority to the mainstream (edginess, quirkiness, knowingness) constitutes part of their appeal. Neither Jezebel nor the Hairpin concerns itself with the harder to articulate, more insidious expectations about women’s behavior. Neither knows how to write for and about women without almost embarrassing itself in its eagerness to please. Jezebel is too painstakingly inoffensive to hurt anyone’s feelings. The Hairpin is too charmingly self-effacing to take itself seriously, too tirelessly entertaining to ever bore a visitor. They bake pies with low-hanging fruit: they are helpful, agreeable, relatable, and above all likable.
So if we have problems with the more progressive [albeit still fun and flirty] websites where women’s voices are celebrated, what do we like? What is thoughtful and fun and still resists buying into the problematic [and even oppressive] conventions of traditional women’s media? It’s a hard question, and importantly, it doesn’t have the same answers for everyone.
Over the course of the next few months, the Ma’yan blog will be exploring media spaces, online and off, where women’s voices are prioritized. With our critical eyes and big smiles, we will comb the web, ask our friends and their friends, and report back on spaces for women’s voices in the media world.
Do you have a tip, query, or suggestion about women’s voices in media? Comment below or send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.