Tuesday, June 24, 2008

More on Feminist Blogging and Response to GTA IV Comments

Another excerpt from my paper about blogging. This is my formal response to all of the awful comments I received from my Grand Theft Auto IV post. I guess, if nothing else, I can thank those commenters for making sure that I have a career in feminist scholarship....


Early in its history cyberfeminists and other social justice activists had high hopes that the Internet would be a great equalizer. Because physical appearances would not be immediately detectable, people could share ideas without concern for race, class, gender or sexual prejudices. In discussing the amazing possibilities offered by blogging as a pedagogical tool and feminist community building it would be irresponsible not to discuss the limitations of blogging and Internet spaces in general. The egalitarian or utopian vision of the Internet has proven itself false. Apparently, people are no more comfortable with ambiguity online than they are in the real world. All of the social ills of the ‘real’ world have come to life online as well.

As of June 11, 2008, this blog has been viewed 13,851 times. With this fairly large amount of traffic comes the possibility for amazing dialogue but also for threats of violence and verbal abuse. On April 30, 2008 I read a post about the video game Grand Theft Auto IV at Feministing. I was inspired to write a post on the topic myself. As it turns out, a blogger at www.gamefaqs.com re-posted my post on that site and gamers from all over the world read my post. This cross-posting lead to a hateful anti-feminist backlash that I could not have predicted. To date, that one post has received fifty comments on my blog alone. Over at Game FAQs it received hundreds. Below are a few of the anonymous comments from the post “I Am Angry About Grand Theft Auto IV.”

“Actually I think you'll find if u beat up (or even push women) about in the game men come and help them. Sorry you might have to rethink your jam rag lesbo rantings.”

“Wow, feminists are stupid. Get over yourselves, you pretentious assholes.”

“Go make us some sandwiches.”

“What are you doing out of the kitchen?”

“You really need to get over yourself. People like you suck the joy out of everything because you think you know what is better for people than themselves…. Have fun being the old, lonely, senile cat lady, because most men will not put up with your non-stop bullshit. Feminism is a failed experiment. You wish for equality when it benefits you, but stand up in arms when you don't have doors held open for you. You cannot have it both ways.”

“Shut the fuck up. Bottom line dont bitch about GTA 4 unless you have played it for a minimum of 10 hours and if you are unwilling to do that then go burn your bra and fuck off.”

“Are you really so fucking dense? Of cousre she's not under obligation of discussing it, she only likes to discuss about things that she wants to. Like a little child that only wants to play catch up because it's the only game s/he's good at.”

“Q-What do you tell a woman with two black eyes? A- Nothing. You've already told her twice.”

“get back in the kitchen!”

“you’re a dumb cunt.”

"dumb bitch, fuck feminism and fuck you. I will go home and hit my girlfriend because of you and maker her wash my dishes and clean my clothes, because that is what women do."

Contrary the utopian vision of the Internet, online anonymity seems to allow people to display their hatred and misogyny without fear of social reprisal. Jessica Valenti, co-founder of Feministing has also experienced violence and misogyny online. In her article, “How the Web Became a Sexists’ Paradise,” she writes,

“When women are harassed on the street, it is considered inappropriate. Online, though, sexual harassment is not only tolerated- it’s often lauded. Blog threads or forums where women are attacked attract hundreds of comments, and their traffic rates rocket. Is this what people are really like? … There’s the disturbing possibility that people are creating online environments purely to express the type of racist, homophobic, or sexist speech that is no longer acceptable in public society, at work, or even at home.”

The Game Faqs page on which my blog post was re-posted attracted more comments than any of the other posts on that page. In support of Valenti’s argument, all of the vitriolic woman-hatred on my comments page was posted anonymously.

Just as in the ‘real world’ women who dare to take up space and speak their minds online experience backlash. The Internet, just like the world in which it exists is a patriarchal space. This makes cyberfeminist activism all the more important. The hateful comments on my blog were not responses to what I actually wrote as much as they were personal threats meant to scare me out of posting about video games which largely remain a bastion of unfettered male bonding over violence and misogyny. Whether female bloggers receive more threats than male bloggers is debatable but the sexualized nature of threats against women bloggers is not. I wonder how many male bloggers have been told to ‘get back in the kitchen’ or have been called ‘a dumb cunt,’ a sexualized insult for which there is no male equivalent. Kathy Sierra sums these threats up quite well in Valenti’s article,
“Well-known software programmer and Java expert, Kathy Sierra… thinks that online threats, even if they are coming from a small group of people, have tremendous potential to scare women from fully participating online. ‘How many rape/fantasy threats does it take to make a woman want to lay low? Not many,’ she says.”

While some of the comments I received were valid attempts at dialogue around misogyny and violence in video gaming culture, most were sexist epitaphs with little or no actual mention of the ideas I brought up. I am pretty sure some of the posters were under the impression that I posted a link to my blog on Game FAQs which is simply not true. I had no interest in engaging that community precisely because of the vitriol that I have come to expect from them. If I thought that a reasonable discussion could be had I would be more than happy to engage them but it seems to only prove my point that many gamers are violent and misogynistic and that is why they enjoy violent misogynistic entertainment.

These threats only serve as proof that feminist blogs are necessary forms of cyber activism.

The Feminist Blogosphere is a Site of Resistance

I was so moved by Melissa McEwan's piece about the importance of women bloggers that I wrote my final paper about blogging. The course was called "Women, Gender, Activism and Social Change." Honestly, I am more of a theorist than an activist so this course was a bit of a challenge for me. The most important thing I learned was that theory and writing are, in fact, forms of activism. Anyway, as promised, here is some of the paper. I will post another chunk about violence against feminist bloggers later because I feel the need to address the comments my post about Grand Theft Auto IV received.


America’s history of domination is evident in the media that it produces. The images that media giants perpetuate are intentional; they are chosen in accordance with what will sell the most and support the messages that are favorable to their sponsors, as well as what will maintain their hegemonic position by reproducing only those images that do not challenge the hierarchical structure of power in America. According to early Marxist media critics, especially those who identify with the Franfort School of thought, mass media act as a hypodermic needle injecting the public with ideas that they will blindly accept as truth. Essentially, in order to maintain their position, those in power use socializing institutions to maintain a social order that is favorable to them. Mass media is one such institution.

Cultural theorist Stuart Hall lodges a challenge to the hypodermic needle theory of ideological hegemony. He argues that part of the pleasure of media can be attributed to its polysemic nature. Media texts are encoded with complex meanings that are often contradictory. Because of this consumers can choose texts that adhere to their belief systems or they can read texts subversively or against the grain or they can reject the implied meaning entirely. It is my view that blogging is a tool that can be used to resist dominant ideologies. Blogging literally gives media consumers the opportunity to talk back.

In the early 1990s feminist zines quickly grew in popularity. They gave young women with access to the necessary supplies (arguably, third wave feminists) opportunities to voice their opinions and share their art with a larger community of young women who in turn could create their own zines....

Blogger, Melissa McEwan, also writes about the importance of these informal venues in the creation of feminist consciousness and dissemination of feminist knowledge. With their lack of formal gatekeepers, both zines and blogs have allowed women space to share stories that are not part of dominant culture. These forms of activism are excellent representations of standpoint feminist epistemology or, as feminist theorist Patricia Hill Collins would say, oppositional consciousness. Though she writes more specifically about the standpoint of Black women, the theory applies well to women bloggers who experience multiple oppressions. Many feminist bloggers are careful to locate their own specific standpoints (class, race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic heritage, etc) precisely because they recognize the benefits and limitations of locating their experiences in their specific realities.

Feminist blogs fill in the gaps left in dominant culture’s version of history, in popular culture, in mainstream news and in a wide variety of other spaces. Every morning I roll out of bed, grab a cup of coffee, wake my computer and look at my RSS feeds. I do not regularly read any mainstream news publications nor do I watch televised news programs. Instead I subscribe to eleven feminist blogs (see blogroll) for my daily news. Each of these blogs offers something different to feminist dialogues and community.

Feministing has nine writers and regularly features guest contributors. The analysis offered by this blog is relatively minimal but the comments section provided after each post allows readers the opportunity to discuss the ideas presented with other readers and with the authors. Many posters are regulars who get to know each other and engage in critical dialogue together. Feministing also offers an extensive blogroll or list of links to other feminist blogs. Readers interested in feminist blogs can easily find a wealth of information and an instant community with other feminists and feminist bloggers across the country.

Another widely read feminist blog is the much more analytical and controversial radical lesbian separatist feminist blog I Blame the Patriarchy. This blog has only one writer who goes by Twisty Faster, it is unclear whether this is her real name or a pseudonym. Twisty is clearly a highly educated woman who intentionally uses language as a barrier to shut down dialogue with people she does not find to be intellectually equal. While I Blame the Patriarchy is sometimes difficult to read, always controversial and is certainly not for everyone, one of the many benefits of reading blogs is that if her style does not appeal to a particular reader s/he can always move on to a different blog. I find her radical perspective very useful when compared to the more liberal feminist style employed by the writers of Feministing.

Finally, I want to look at the objectives of the feminist blog Shakesville. It is a progressive blog with many contributors and topics. Blog founder, Melissa McEwan, uses Shakesville as a combination personal and political blog and community building space. Posts about the minutiae of her own life are littered in with news stories, critical media analysis, and political analysis. Shakesville is a great example of the community built in the blogosphere. The meshing of the personal and political on Shakesville is standpoint feminist epistemology in action.

Each of these blogs and the hundreds of other ones that they link to are pedagogical tools used to advance feminist ideas. As a young feminist I came across Feministing accidentally when I was reading a friend’s Livejournal. All I had to do from there was click on any of the hundreds of links to be connected to an entire online feminist community. The idea that feminist blogs are pedagogical tools stems from the belief that oppressed groups must be engaged in the struggle for their own liberation. The Internet has made this a much easier task for many women who might not have easy access to feminist peers in their communities.

Feminist blogging gives women agency and voice. The Internet is a wide-open space with plenty of room for a vast assortment of ideas and practices. Feminist bloggers educate their readership by raising feminist consciousness, creating a recorded history of women’s lives and experiences outside of the mainstream. By offering an alternative to mainstream media and news, they make the invisible visible. Or as feminist cultural critic bell hooks might say they bring the margins to the center.

Monday, June 23, 2008

National Women's Studies Association Conference

Just got home from Cincinnati. The National Women's Studies Association Conference was wildly successful! I presented my paper "'Money, Cash, Hoes:' A Marxist/Feminist Analysis of Mainstream Hip-Hop Music Videos" in a panel session with two of my peers from DePaul. One of them wrote about Sex and the City as a site of resistance to hegemonic, heteronormative gender and the other woman spoke about Britney Spears and her representation in news media. I am very proud to have worked with both of them. I am also proud that our room was so packed! The panel discussion that I attended the day before, which was lead by my favorite UW-Milwaukee professor, Kathy Miller-Dillon, only had about ten participants. Also, I got some great questions which I fielded quite well and I got great feedback from Women's Studies professors across the country. The heads of three departments asked me for copies of my paper that they could include in their syllabi!

The round table discussion that I moderated was much smaller but it began a very heated discussion amongst the queer women and a woman who rejected the idea of politically correct language. As the moderator I was unsure as to whether I should control the discussion or let them each speak their piece.

One of the other major highlights was that I got to meet and talk with Jessica Valenti of www.feministing.com. She is a marvelous speaker and she recognized my blog when I told her who I was!

My only problem with her discussion is that her and her peers seem to be much too reliant on the notion of "wave" feminisms. I don't believe that there is a clear distinction between so-called second and third wave feminists. The people in this discussion seemed to believe that the difference was more generational than ideological. I think that we have much better terms for different feminist ideologies like liberal, radical, marxist, socialist, post structural, etc. I don't understand why they are so reluctant to use these feminist theory terms rather than the much more limiting language of 'waves.' Anyway, I am very glad to have met her and Courtney Martin and to hear both of them speak.

I finished my paper about blogging and I am going to post some of my ideas from it later. I just wanted to fill you all in about the conference.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Driving is Political

I try not to watch the national news because it gets my blood boiling like nothing else. Tonight ABC World News covered soaring gas prices ($4.50 in Bucktown). They speculated that prices are raising because of increased demand in China. One reporter exclaimed "More people are driving in China everyday!" Shocking, other people in the world want to live like Americans. How dare they.

I do not own a car. I have not for over five years. Now granted I have lived in fairly large metropolitan areas, but I have not even missed it. I think that Americans rely much too heavily upon personal vehicles and that this privilege has been ideologically constructed as a necessity to increase consumption and make oil companies, and the governments in bed with them, rich. Face it, someone is getting rich off of this, that is how capitalism/neoliberalism work. The news program also alluded to the possibility of recession from these rising costs. It seems to me that if people change their lifestyles these costs wouldn't be so painful.

Frankly, I hope gas prices do keep going up. And I am not saying that because I want anyone to suffer but because I think that only under the most dire circumstances will we as Americans come up with alternatives. Oil is not a sustainable resource, this is not debatable. One day it will be gone and in the meantime it is polluting our environments and making city air almost un-breathable.

I have found biking to be a wonderful alternative. I love the wind blowing through my hair and the breeze on my face. I love cruising past cars stuck in Chicago traffic and getting everywhere faster than I do on public transit or when friends offer rides in their cars. My bike cost $40 at Working Bikes Co-operative and requires minimal maintenance. I have heard every argument in the book for car usage instead of bikes and my best argument is that I have managed for five years without a car with no trouble.

Because I love this blog and because it offers many practical tips for people who wish to reduce dependence upon their cars, I think you all should check out Chicago Bike Blog. A lot of her tips apply to folks in any city. Most importantly, check out 50 Ways to Leave Your Car. Don't let the mega-hetero-patriarchal-white-supremacist-imperialist-corporateocracy drain all of your savings and your health! Ditch your cars because it is a major political statement!