(photo taken at the “Future of Online Feminism” event at Barnard College, April 8, 2013, 7 PM)
Crashing Parties in NYC and Speaking My Truth:
Confessions of an #AmbitiousBlackFeminist
(Written April 8, 2013; Published April 9 2013)
By Reza Corinne Clifton
When is the last time you crashed a party? Was it thrilling? Was it nerve-wracking? Was it empowering? Was it worth it?
I ask because I am on the train in route to an event that, though open to the public, will surely be attended by women (and men?) already familiar with each other and in the same network. And as such, I feel like I’m crashing a party.
But without a doubt, I belong at this get-together – an event to discuss the future of online feminism. After all, I’m a pioneering blogger in RI, I’ve won awards and received accolades for my online and multimedia work, and I’ve declared (with a history of activism and published works behind me) that I am an “Ambitious Black Feminist.”
I’ve also been sending newsletters to a contact list that includes individuals located all over the US and world; I’ve traveled hundreds (thousands?) of miles to interview and cover events featuring women in music; and I’ve made it my mission to follow an ethos of think globally, write locally – which has maximized the types of topics and lengths I’ll stretch in pursuit of peace and justice, equity and equality, and plain ol’ creative expression. And recently, upon joining the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, I’ve become a member of a movement with energy, contacts, and reverberations that can be felt worldwide.
But most of the attendees of this conference, I would venture, will have no idea who I am when I walk through the doors. Very few of them will know that each step I take past the threshold could be a step closer they get to fulfilling their dreams. And no, that’s not because I’m some fairy godmother or wealthy philanthropist. Instead, the riches I can offer are found in my anecdotes-a-plenty and my on-the-ground tips.
In case I arrive and end up feeling shy, painfully out-of-place, ignored or undervalued – or as though I’ve misunderstood the purpose of the gathering – I’d like to offer this “Reza Rites-approved” pre-event list of tips, observations and general feedback about the Future of Online Feminism.
The Future is Here
The future is here, and it looks like all the individuals typing and uploading posts onto social media sites, blogging and sharing content through sites like WordPress and Tumblr, and Instagramming photos and graphics to their network and the world. And you know what? It’s pretty unregulated, pretty open, and pretty awesome. The days of elitism and privilege guiding who can speak on a topic, controlling where such speech will lie, and slowing things down until information emerges about the speaker’s past research and who’s in their network – and placing value on the content based on these things – are becoming passé. Instead, people with things to say are saying them. People with experiences to consider are sharing them. And people with critiques for the traditional leaders and gatekeepers are unleashing their fury. And whether it feels odd to us, out-of-control or insulting, we need to be ready to accept the flood of new ideas, voices, perspectives, languages, approaches, and apprehensions.
Consumer is Producer, Producer Has Power, Let’s Share the Wealth
Related to the note above, the lines have blurred irreversibly between who produces media and who consumes media. And this is good news given what we know about the absence of diversity in the stories being told, the absence of diversity within the ranks of those who tell the stories, and the absence of diversity in the spaces that generate and push out these stories – particularly mainstream/traditional media. It’s also exciting considering what we know about media literacy; that is, once you become a producer, your lens and sensitivity to what’s being told and how it’s being told is sharpened, making it easier to dissect and more comprehensively analyze content you’re receiving from elsewhere.
Still, as some experts have wisely pointed out, there is still a digital divide in terms of some communities having more exposure to how to produce media and some having more exposure to how and where to consume media. Furthermore, there are good tenets of traditional journalism that serve as some of the most important transferrable employment skills, such as writing, oral communications, and project development – and we (the elite/privileged feminists) should be making sure that we are encouraging and sharing these gifts as part of our missions and everyday work.
She’s a Feminist, He’s a Feminist, They’re Feminists?! Yes
Feminism and who gets to be called a feminist is expanding everyday. In some cases this growth is disconcerting, such as when you hear social conservatives calling themselves feminists. But in other ways, it’s encouraging, for example when boys and young men claim the term as shorthand for all the ways in which they support women’s equality, oppose violence and prejudice against women, and communicate their values to the people in their lives.
So while yes, we want to challenge those who would use the term for personal gain or to sabotage or misdirect the movement, we also have to be ready to open the doors for the new members of our community and the perspectives they bring. And these perspectives include but are not limited to English not being an accessible language; a need for more flexible definitions of sex, gender and intimate relationships; and livable wages, affordable housing, access to quality early, primary and secondary education, environmental justice and victimization by a highly flawed criminal justice system existing as priorities for some communities above movements around equal wages, misogyny in the media, and the security and advancement of programs and departments on college campuses.
Journalism, Activism and Fundraising, from Cell Phone to Cell Phone
If the future of internet engagement is through cellphones, tablets and devices more portable than desktops and laptops, then the future of online feminism will be played out on mobile platforms. What’s the difference between communicating ideas on large screens versus small screens? How do we empower and support feminist leaders, gatekeepers and information-specialists to consider and adapt to activism and storytelling in formats that young people and future generations will receive and share? How do we switch or expand fundraising models to fit the growth of mobile platforms, while also not squeezing out donors and supporters who’d find this vehicle limiting?
Hey You: Get a Job
Sometimes traditional organizations can be stifling to energetic, innovative and thoughtful feminists, so being independent makes sense in some ways. But disregarding the value that traditional organizations can bring to individuals and feminist collectives is another form of elitism that runs contrary to ideas of sustainability and honoring the leaders and pioneers. For me, I work at a nonprofit organization that works on domestic violence issues. Now, some feminists feel disconnected from the domestic violence eradication and prevention movement because they view women who’ve been victims as weak and they view themselves above/beyond falling into that type of relationship. First, let me say, domestic violence affects women from all communities, age groups, socio-economic backgrounds, etc., and it consists of many types of abuse including verbal, digital, and sexual.
But apart from that argument, please consider this as well: activists working to end domestic violence have identified how large a role patriarchy, misogyny and gender inequality play in perpetuating violence against women (and male-to-male violence, at that) – and those are the same issues feminists address, tackle and try to work on everyday. Nevertheless, there is such a need to intervene in these relationships and help “save lives” (because homicide is, sadly, too common an aspect in domestic violence stories) that there isn’t always room to talk about the larger social issues. But through partnerships and job opportunities taken up by feminists experienced in talking about these issues, there is hope for advancing these conversations and keeping attention on the larger causes – while, for feminists, the other side of that rainbow includes steady paychecks and the space to continue to grow this work and literature.
And I could probably go on and on, but I think I’ll stop here. As I explained above, I am in route (from Providence to NYC) to attend this session. Outside the windows is one view after another of the Eastern seaboard and New England landscape – a soothing series of moving pictures to help me control the nerves and self-doubt entering my psyche as I prepare to crash this party.
Besides there’s always more room and time for other “Confessions of An #AmbitiousBlackFeminist.” Catch some of those stories here on www.ambitiousblackfeminist.tumblr.com.
For more information about the Future of Online Feminism event, visit http://barnard.edu/events/future-online-feminism. To follow Reza’s work with women in music, visit www.venussings.com. And to learn more about domestic violence in RI, visit www.ricadv.org.