by Joanna Chiu, in her continuing series of posts for Vancouver’s Battered Women’s Support Services on media representations of violence against women in recognition of Prevention of Violence Against Women Week. Read the whole series at the BWSS Ending Violence blog.
It is no coincidence that BWSS is using a blog campaign this week to generate dialogue about how media critique can help end violence against women and girls.
The purpose of a blog is to not just to be read but to be part of a conversation. For media activists, blogs carve out spaces to participate in critical analysis of mainstream media and culture when mainstream media outlets typically push out critical voices.
In the U.S. 6 corporations control the vast majority of media outlets, and in Canada, 7 companies control the vast majority of media outlets. WorldAudit.org ranked Canada No. 16 and the U.S. No. 17 for levels of press freedom, making North America far from being leading champions for democratic values in the press.
I recently went to a panel in New York that was supposed to be a critical conversation of media coverage in developing countries, but the panelists said they weren’t comfortable talking about the publications that they write for, which kind of defeats the purpose of participating in a critical conversation. But I couldn’t blame them—who could risk losing their job in this economy?
Blogs fulfill the need for an independent, alternative space for social criticism, and if you have access to a computer and Internet, blogs cost no money to get started, and you can even make money from blogging if you’re savvy enough. Many user-friendly platforms like WordPress, Blogger and Tumblr host blogs for free, and offer a variety of different ways to customize your blogs.
Blogging—even if it’s just writing tweets once in a while—is also a way to access supportive communities. As discussed in my earlier posts, it can feel alienating to be a lone voice of skepticism when people around you are buying into dominant media narratives, such as the idea that survivors of violence are “asking for it” if they go out at night or dress provocatively.
I think of feminism as a lens in which to analyze all unequal power structures in society including within institutions such as media. When I first became interested in feminism and media criticism as a sixth grader in the 90s, all I could think of to do was to go to my public library and check out books about the women’s movement. I wrote down my reflections in a big pink journal, and I would carry the journal around with me while shopping in the mall with my preteen friends, asking them what they thought of Gloria Steinem going undercover as a Playboy Bunny while trying on training bras at La Senza Girl.
Thank goodness for blogs. When I started blogging in high school, my media literacy and understanding of social issues improved dramatically. Blogging was cool and quite common in my school—almost as ubiquitous as Facebook is now—and I found myself having very interesting critical discussions on things like porn, philosophy, consumer culture and body image issues with my classmates—topics that rarely came up in the classroom, and those online engagements led to real-life friendships. I was also able to connect with and learn from people all around the world.
Through blogging, I was able to grapple with ideas and questions I had about feminism and social justice issues in public for the first time, and the positive feedback and constructive criticisms I got from fellow bloggers helped give me the confidence to pitch story ideas to local newspapers and magazines. Blogging in my PJ’s in my parent’s basement eventually led to getting a job as a columnist for Canada’s largest feminist magazine, Herizons.
In the past decade, blogging has exploded, creating new opportunities for self-expression for inexperienced writers like myself, but unlike most fads, blogging continues to innovate to keep up with a rapidly changing media culture.
At the beginning of this blogging boom, bloggers who weren’t already celebrities or well-known writers were able to build their platform and quickly gain an international readership.
Although Feministing.com is now one of the most widely read feminist blogs, when it was founded in 2004, it didn’t take much promotion work to attract an audience. In a corporate media culture where it was becoming increasingly hard to distinguish between advertising and editorial content, blogs were a much-needed source of independent social criticism and news.
I talked to Samhita Mukhopadhyay, editor of Feministing.com to learn about her thoughts on Feministing’s success and ways to sustain a vibrant feminist blogosphere.
“Jessica and Vanessa Valenti founded the blog in 2004 because of the lack of feminist voices online,” she said. “I can’t say we did a ton to promote it, but we were consistent and pretty soon when people would Google ‘young women’ or ‘feminist,’ our site or a similar feminist blog would pop up.”
In deciding what to write your blogs about, Mukhopadhyay provided some good advice:
“Be consistent and only write about the things you have something to say about. No one wants to read a summary—what do you have to add that is new to the conversation? What’s the part of the story that is being left out? What is your point of view? Those are all things to consider in cultivating your voice—which will lead to people reading you.”
In Canada, the feminist blogosphere is still in its development stages, so there are many opportunities for new bloggers to jump in, quickly gain a national audience and help grow the Canadian feminist blogosphere.
You can do this either by starting your own blog or by contributing to an existing blog. A survey being conducted by WAM! Vancouver researcher Candace Coulson (from Simon Fraser University) found over 110 feminist blogs in Canada—and counting!
Canada’s Gender Focus blog editor Jarrah Hodge is always looking for guest contributors, and Canada’s rabble.ca blogs editor Alexandra Samur is looking for blog content as well, especially from feminist writers, which she says are currently underrepresented.
Mukhopadhyay, Hodge and Samur agree that progressive bloggers can only benefit by supporting each other.
As Hodge puts it, “Canadian feminist bloggers (myself included) need to do a better job of networking with each other and promoting each other’s content. The Internet is a big place and there’s room for us to work together to advance the issues we all care about.”
Mukhopadhyay agrees that (refreshingly!), blogging isn’t about competition.
“Feminist bloggers have to stick together—we can’t compete with each other, that’s what patriarchy wants us to do. There is plenty of work and each one of us has our role in the work, so through alliances and friendships—this work is only strengthened,” she said.
Samur points out that if you don’t have time, energy or inclination to write longer blog posts, micro-blogging is a quick and easy way to become a much-needed independent social critic.
“Feminist micro-bloggers on Twitter and Tumblr are a fascinating group,” she said, “And they are making a real difference.”
Sharing content on micro-blogging platforms is also an easy way to support independent media and pieces you like in mainstream media, and to have conversations with people to build a stronger movement around causes like ending violence against women and girls.
On Twitter, join in the conversation about this week’s campaign with the hashtag #resistmedia. I’m @joannachiu and BWSS is @EndingViolence.
See you online!
Your Message, Your Voice! Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS) invites guest contributors to Ending Violence Blog. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org